If it seems like you can hardly open your car door without bumping into a Garmin GNS 430 or at least a color ad for one, youre not alone.
While the rest of the avionics world has been wringing its hands about what to do next or pursuing what sometimes seem to be desperate joint ventures, Garmin has seized the day-and the sales lead-in selling the new 430 at a blistering pace. (Never mind that deliveries are months behind.)
But hold the phone, says IIMorrow, which has come up with a few surprises of its own. This spring, as Garmin was busily defining and selling the future, IIMorrow introduced its own version of the next millennium GA avionics suite and were sure it will give potential 430 buyers something to think about.
Just as you thought things had settled down a little…
Big versus Little
Eighteen months used to be a lifetime in the avionics business but lately it has become the standard product cycle, at least for GPS navigators. In mid-1997, the debate raged over what direction the market would take for primary navigators. Would it be large multi-function displays or semi-integrated boxes more along the lines of what weve all come to know and love?
Garmin broke the logjam last summer with the introduction of the GNS 430, an alpha box navigator with GPS approaches, VOR, ILS and a comm all rolled into one. Buyers evidently liked what they saw and despite the $8500 and up installed price, the 430 is being snapped up as fast as Garmin can make it.
If this development drove a stake into the heart of the large multi-function display, no one told IIMorrow. At this springs Sun n Fun show at Lakeland, Florida, IIMorrow unveiled what has mostly been the subject of rumor: A stunning large-format multi-function display with vivid color and the capability to accept external sensor input.
Although it may seem like just another moving map, we see IIMorrows entry into this market as significant, because it marks the first time a major player has voted for the multi-function approach in place of and in addition to conventional boxes. Heretofore, ARNAV, Archangel and Avidyne have developed such products and although theyve achieved some success, we sense that many buyers see these companies as fringe players.
One Box, Many Purposes
The sex appeal in navigation systems for the next century/millennium/decade seems to be the map display, or, to borrow a term from the glass cockpit, the multi-function display (MFD).
The MFD started out as the thingy in the middle between the pilots, that wasnt a primary flight display or a navigation display, but a spot to show other goodies. IIMorrows new MX20 ($5995, list) MFD has some goodies to show, too. The display is about 5 inches tall and contains 300,000 pixels, with the capability of 65,000 colors, according to IIMorrow.
From what we saw in an initial demo-the system is not flyable yet- there are more than enough colors to make a great representation of a sectional. The LCD is cry bright and we had no trouble seeing it in the Florida sunshine.
As nice as it looks, its also capable of saving your life. Of the six functions the MX20 has, one really got our attention: the terrain awareness charting mode. AlliedSignal has an enhanced ground proximity warning system that costs more than many new singles and its becoming must- have equipment in new airline jets. But by simply coupling a GPS to a terrain map database, IIMorrow can accomplish the same thing at a fraction of the price.
Terrain awareness mode will show black areas for terrain thats 1000 feet or more below the airplane, turning yellow for dirt thats closer than 1000 feet but more than 5000 feet and an amber hue for ground closer than 500 feet. Any parts of Mother Earth that are above the airplane are painted red; a good idea.
Another mode designed with safety in mind is the lightning display. This works with the BFGoodrich Stormscope 500 sensor to show the bolts of destruction waiting along your flight path, all superimposed over a moving navigation map.
Of course there are many maps and the MX20 offers VFR sectional display, and IFR en route charts. Both will overlay the current flight plan on the vector-drawn map.
Did you catch that? The fact that the MX20 uses a vector-image is important, when you consider the moving map. If the maps are scanned images, they can look magnificent in one resolution or zoom and become incomprehensible when you zoom in for a close up.
Since the MX 20 creates the image from its own program, it can show the details in correct relationship, from a hemisphere to the runway and taxiways. Morever, if vector-based graphics ever become standard for display of approach plates, this display will be ready.
There are two more modes, a custom chart thats user configurable and a text flightplan summary page. IIMorrow plans to expand the utility of the MX20, with datalink capabilities and since IIMorrow is instrumental in some of the ADS-B anti-collision and data research, we think this is a sure bet for the future.
The MX20, like other maps, has its own datacard and so will add another subscription to the list. All that map detail will likely eventually be found on CD-ROM or other high density storage device.
Nothing brings out the best in industry like a little competition. With the untimely demise of Trimble/Terra, the systemic illnesses at AlliedSignal and Narco and the unprecedented growth of Garmin, its little wonder that talented avionics manufacturers have rolled out more competing products.
IIMorrow was once seen as a niche loran manufacturer, then a niche GPS maker but with the introduction of a new transponder and navcomm (see sidebar), the company is now a full-blown avionics powerhouse. (Not to drag up old history, but things have come full circle. Ray Morrows first forays into comm radios were, to be diplomatic, less than successful. All that seems to have changed.)
For years, the general assumption has been that no avionics company could be considered complete without a full line, from the audio panel down; autopilots optional.
Bendix/King has been there for years, Garmin recently joined the club and now so has IIMorrow, with the introduction of a transponder and new navcomm. Of the three, only Bendix/King still has the market lock on autopilots but theyre being challenged at every turn.
Since every good little airplane needs a transponder, IIMorrow has introduced the SL70, which is priced at $1995. This is a standard ATCRBS transponder, no Mode-S funny stuff.
Still, this is one of the better looking transponders around. It matches the companys Slimline products in all respects, with squelch code on the left and consistent Mode-C altitude readout on the right side. The SL70 is solid state, with no cavity tubes to wear out. IIMorrow claims that the unit will crank out 300 watts, which is impressive for a solid state design in this small package. While most transponders are installed for the convenience of ATC, this product actually has a feature for pilots. It has an altitude hold button, which when set, will alert you if you stray from your intended altitude, with the safety zone set by the user.
Well, okay, this feature is also for ATCs convenience, since it saves them the trouble of writing you up for an altitude bust .
This transponder, manufactured by a GPS expert, has a GPS-friendly serial data output. All GPSs need to know the altitude, it helps to keep track of the receiver integrity and can add altitude features to the navigation.
Typically, the output from the altitude encoder is routed in parallel to the transponder and the GPS, adding about 10 wires to the installation. The SL70 accepts the standard encoder gray code and translates it to the RS232 serial data that can be easily used by the GPS, plus lower installation costs, added features, lots of RF energy and a competitive price may may it a contender. The SL70 has some interesting prospects and is definitely the smartest transponder to hot the market yet.
As Garmin concluded last year, a complete IFR airplane still needs a VOR and ILS system, but probably not DME or ADF. IIMorrows new SL30 fills these requirements as a full-feature navcomm.
The SL30 ($3995, list) has a comm transceiver, like the SL40 comm and SL60 GPS/comm, but it also incorporates a 200-channel VHF nav receiver, plus a VOR/localizer converter with glideslope receiver/converter.
The SL30 has the same 32-character LED as the other Slimline radios, which we have found easy to see in all lighting conditions, thanks to the intensity and lens filers. The navigation data includes a digital OBS information and a CDI presentation.
IIMorrow has thoughtfully included a Morse decoder for the identifier, so you can be certain you have tuned the right station without having to consult the chart and squint at the dits and dashes. An even more useful feature is automatic back-course sensing. GPS non-precision approach or not, having the localizer backcourse user friendly is a great idea, in our view.
The SL30 can get its frequency assignments from the IIMorrow GPS, too, through a serial data interface. This adds integration into the avionics stack, without putting it in the same box.
The SL30 has the same features as the SL40, such as NOAA weather channel reception and the ability to monitor the audio on the standby frequency when the active frequency is not receiving. A 16-channel tuning memory is also available.
So what does it all mean to you as an avionics buyer? Clearly, IIMorrows new equipment raises the stakes and expands choices for buyers. But it introduces a level of confusion, too.
Now, as ever, the avionics community is divided into two camps when it comes to integration. Stuffing all of the eggs into one basket may be good for manufacture, installation and operation, but many-including some engineers-believe it stinks when it comes to reliability and redundancy. What if the power supply fails? Ill be blind!
Wont it get too hot?
If something breaks, my entire airplane will be down!
Proponents of large-scale integration can point to products such as the KNS80 or even the KX 155 or KX 170B, and say, Look at these products. They worked very well.
To be fair, the history of the KX 170-series, KX 155 and KNS 80 are long and distinguished. But single-point failures could, and frequently did, render the navcomms dead for all modes. Although few remember this, the KNS 80 was far from a stellar performer for its first few years of existence.
Plagued by heat problems, display faults and intermittent failures caused by internal connections, King Radio could have lost that battle in an instant if there were anybody to compete with them. But there wasnt.
The integration also-ran list includes the Bendix BX2000, a marvel of engineering but a nightmare to install and operate. Lets not forget Narcos NAV122, a single-box receiver, indicator and glideslope that really filled a need. But it has taken more than 20 years of electronic technology advancements to make the system practicable. Fully integrating the avionics can lead to wonderful utility but it does have pitfalls.
Garmins GNS 430 includes a GPS, a map, a comm, a nav and a glideslope, all in a single box. The MX20 represents a not-so-subtle sidestep to get to the same place.
The new IIMorrow stuff isnt available yet. Youll have to wait until at least the late summer of this year to wrap your airplane around the MX20. But if youre shopping major panel work, we think its definitely worth at least looking at this system. It looks well thought-out to us and will be price and feature competitive with anything coming out of Olathe.
In the old days, like three years ago, you couldnt go wrong with a new AlliedSignal retrofit. But times are changing dramatically. The move into a comprehensive new panel built by the likes of Garmin or IIMorrow is likely to be state-of-the-art for 10 years or more.
Waiting a few months and carefully evaluating all of the options makes good sense. Well get a chance to thoroughly evaluate the IIMorrow gear this summer and better report on the competitive struggles in the avionics industry.
One thing is certain, the avionics consumer is the true beneficiary of the remarkable progress the recent innovations from both IIMorrow and Garmin represent. Our cup truly runneth over with good choices in radio gear.
Also With This Article
Click here to view the IIMorrow MFD Checklist.
Click here to view “What to Do About Number Two.”
-Aviation Consumer staff report