A New Navcomm

Apollo/UPSATs SL30 advances navcomm state of the art and we think its a good choice for conventional navcomm upgrades.

If youve been out of the avionics loop for the past six month or youve been deafened by the roar of new boxes from Garmin, you might not have noticed the serious stuff being marketed by UPSAT, the company that used to be IIMorrow, Inc.

United Parcel Service bought IIMorrow in 1986 but only renamed the company recently. The products still carry the Apollo brand name which, to our mind, beats the heck of UPSAT. But what do we know?

Although Garmin has become the dominant player in GA avionics, UPSAT is giving them a run for the money with innovative and well-designed products. The company has recently reorganized and re-focused its engineering strategy, changes which have been apparent to avionics shops.

Not the least of the new products emerging from UPSAT is the SL30, the first all-new conventional navcomm to come on the market in two decades.

We think it has some well-thought-out and useful features and although the heydey of the standalone navcomm with glideslope is gone, there’s still need for the species, both in the replacement market and for from-the-ground-up panels.

At $3995, the SL30 is a good value, in our view, and is far more feature-rich than its competition, namely the Bendix/King KX 155 and the 155As being installed in new Cessnas.

Follow-On Product
The SL30 utilizes the same communications transceiver found in the well-regarded SL40 standalone comm unit, which we reported on in the April 1997 issue of The Aviation Consumer.

Weve had one installed in the company Mooney for the last six months and have found it to be a first-rate performer. In some cases, it has outperformed the comm section in the Garmin GNS 430, in terms of reported signal quality and reception.

With the SL30, UPS now owns the only digital technology navcomm on the market. Its digital signal processing (DSP) is not new, however, to most electronics geeks, who can chatter on for hours about the benefits of DSP.

DSP got lots of press back in the late 1980s and early 90s, in part due to Cincinnati Microwaves line of radar detectors. Remember the companys Passport radar receivers? They claimed a smaller receiver design that could detect from a greater distance with fewer false alarms due to digital signal filtering.

A similar marketing strategy-for much the same reasons-is used in the SL30 nav receiver. The company claims that the SL30 will track weaker VOR signals with more accuracy than the conventional analog receivers do.

Gone in the SL30 is the left/right needle scallop that has plagued other VOR receiver designs. With DSP, the snaps, pops and needle wandering is filtered out, something we wish would have happened years ago.

Besides advanced features, the SL30s main claim to fame is its small form factor. SL stands for Slim Line and these boxes are indeed that. Theyre only 1.3 inches high, requiring behind-the-panel mounting depth of 11.5 inches, which allows room for the tray and associated hardware.

This unit is definitely the ticket for space-challenged panels and with large format multi-function displays becoming the rage, many panels are getting pressed for real estate. (Indeed, we’ll be installing an SL70 transponder in our own stack to make room for Apollos MX-20 MFD display. No other transponder would open up enough space. Such shoe horning is common in many panels.)

The SL30 is quite lightweight at 2.25 pounds. Construction quality seems decent although we have heard some customer comments that the SL line is not mechanically substantial enough. Compared to the competition, faceplate construction and feel is on the light side.

The buttons are nicely backlighted and the 32-character 5X7 dot matrix alphanumeric displays dimming and sunlight readability is acceptable, as is the rest of the SL line. Power up is accomplished with a rotary knob that does double duty as a comm squelch override.

Controls are we’ll labeled, but perhaps a bit small for large fingers in turbulence. Mounting racks and connectors are of different construction than the competition and experienced install technicians will be eager to bring this to your attention. Some have commented that installation procedures for the Apollo line are round about, which is to say not all that great.

This is a personal preference and shouldnt really matter to the consumer, however. Find a shop who can do the work without complaining. Garmin has excelled in the hardware department, with well-made and solid mounting racks, unit casing and button/faceplate design.

In the current market, they are the exception to the rule but they have set the standard. And if Garmin can do it and make money, why cant everyone else? In other words, we would like improved installation manuals and kits and better phone support.

Another installation consideration of note is the lack of required forced air-cooling. There’s no provision for external cooling, which reflects UPSATs confidence that these boxes don’t generate enough internal heat to be troublesome.

Still, we think cooling is a good idea. Just because the Apollos run cool as a cuke, doesnt mean the rest of the stack does, especially if there’s an MFD nearby or older boxes that make a lot of heat.

The SL30 has been condition-tested for altitude and temperature for Category C1 with no cooling required and tested to 35,000 feet. The unit is happy with aircraft voltage from 10 to 40VDC, so no voltage converters are needed.

Internally, the SL30 is logically layed out with a notably high quality power supply. In fact, general component quality is very good, according to a seasoned bench tech we had examine the unit.

Lots of Features
The DSP used in the SL30 is only half the story. The avionics market-be it handheld or panel mount-has a preference for gadgets and features and the SL30 has them. In fact, it probably has more features than you’ll ever use.

For example, there’s frequency storage capacity for 250 combined nav and comm channels. If the internal database gets full of stored freqs-unlikely-the display warns the user. As an added plus, the SL30 talks to other Apollo units and can retrieve frequencies from other boxes, say the GX55 GPS navigator.

Further, the SL30 will prioritize frequencies. For example, if localizer channels have been sent by the remote GPS, this list will be displayed first, followed by VOR frequencies. Thats logical and useful if you tend to fly more ILSs than VOR approaches.

The list will show airport identifier, runway identifier for the appropriate channel and actual channel frequency. As with the comm side, the pilot can monitor the standby nav frequency. So, in effect, you can receive one VOR station and monitor two others.

Moreover, the nav receiver displays the radial of the second (monitored) VOR station, so you can identify an alongtrack intersection without retuning or flip-flopping to the other station. Its essentially like having two VOR receivers in one box.

Still havent learned to read Morse code? The SL30 will listen to the dashes and dots and display the VOR station identifier-along with bearing information. Also, the digitally decoded OBS setting is displayed on the screen, so there’s no squinting when setting the CDI. Just read the numbers on the display as you twirl the OBS. Not bad.

The box has a backcourse mode that takes the mysteries out of properly flying a localizer backcourse. You simply set the LOC channel in the active, enable the backcourse mode (BC is displayed on the screen), select the nav standby channel to the appropriate VOR station for the approach and then monitor it. Both the external and internal CDI (on the display itself) will properly guide you on the approach. If this sounds easy, it is. It may take the fun out of flying and administering instrument proficiency checks but its undeniably a better mousetrap.

If the box is interfaced with a DME providing serial output for remote channeling, DME information is displayed on the screen (i.e. distance from station, groundspeed, time to station, and frequency.)

Smart Comm
Summarizing the comm features we discussed in the August, 1997 review of the SL40, the SL30s comm side has a number of advanced features including the ability to store and recall comm frequencies and monitor a second comm frequency when another is primary.

For example, you might be talking to approach but listening to ATIS. The ATIS will continue to play until approach says something, at which time ATC takes active priority. This feature greatly improves the SL30s utility, in our view.

There’s also a dedicated button to autotune the emergency guard frequency, plus open access to seven domestic weather frequencies.

There’s also stuck mic protection, which allows the transmitter to remain keyed for 35 seconds, after which it shuts down the transmitter and flashes a stuck mic warning. Releasing the PTT or fixing the short restores normal operation.

Easy Maintenance
Even though DSP technology has proven robust and accurate, the SL30 will still require the mandatory legal 30-day VOR checks required by FAR 91.171 for IFR flight.

The SL30 takes this routine pilot-performed check one step further than do other navcomms. The most recent VOR check results may be entered into the box via the system mode VOR check. Such storable information can include date of last test, type of VOR test, location, bearing error and even pilot name. Simply hit the SYS key to reach the system mode and select VOR equipment test function and begin editing. The factory all but guarantees that the unit will always pass a VOR check, since its computer software checks the VOR receiver at start-up. If the unit comes up without any faults, its 100 percent ready for IFR-caliber navigation.

In fact, it better be because there are no internal adjustments or calibrations to be made for this nav receiver. No pots to tweak or filters to adjust, just solid state Nirvana.

UPSAT does recommend, however, that the reference oscillator frequency for the comm portion of the box be checked every three to five years. This will ensure that the transmitter hasnt drifted off frequency.

We suspect that a certified shop can do this, with a little help from a factory engineer. As with most of these new boxes, little field service will be available, at least for the short term. you’ll have to send them to the manufacturer for most repairs.

External Hardware
Common driver outputs are included with the SL30 and include CDI/HSI, resolver interface, autopilot and backcourse annunciation.

The CDI/H S I outputs can be connected to a dedicated CDI or HSI or to a shared indicator utilizing an appropriate switching relay. The SL30 has an internal VOR/LOC converter, eliminating the need for a separate remote converter when interfaced with an HSI.

If your aircraft doesnt have an HSI, UPS markets the Mid-Continent Instruments model MD200 series indicator (commonly used with Garmins GNS 430). This is a high-quality 3-inch internally lighted CDI that retails for $1595.

Mid-Continent is a first-class designer, manufacturer and supporter, in our view, providing indicators for virtually every GPS on the market. Their recent venture into conventional nav/glideslope indication has proven as successful as we thought it would.

To streamline routine operations in the cockpit a remote flip/flop momentary push button switch can be installed on the control yoke to transfer comm and nav standby freqs to active status, saving you a reach for the box when you may be too busy to do it.

Standard navigation and communications antennas are required for the SL30. We recommend replacing the comm antenna and cable if it appears aged. This will ensure peak performance and decent receive audio in an older aircraft.

The One To Beat
Although the era of the color mapcomm is obviously in full bloom, there will always be a place for a conventional navcomm, especially as a replacement for aging Narco and Bendix/King equipment.

Packed with features and sporting a compact design, the SL30 is, in our view, destined to fill that need. With all new major re-designs, however, there could be some hiccups. DSP in this realm is relatively unproven and it will be up to UPS to address any potential problems by providing good dealer support, an area we feel needs improvement.

Worth noting, however, is that over the past few months we have seen improvement in product support. And unless Bendix/King/Honeywell/AlliedSignal awakens soon from its long slumber in the avionics market, UPSAT may evolve to be the only serious second choice to Garmin.

And frankly, we think having a second choice in the market is vital to keep prices and services in the customers favor.

Contact- UPS Aviation Technologies; 2345 Turner Road SE; Salem, OR 97302; 800-525-6726; www.upsat.com.

Also With This Article
Click here to view “The Case For Conventional Navcomms.”
Click here to view the Checklist.

by Larry Anglisano