Oshkosh Diary

My gadgets will work with your gadgets and other tales of an avionics industry with a box for every purpose.

For the serious airplane gimcrack shopper, the annual Oshkosh trek is like fishing with a trawl net: Sometimes the thing comes up empty, sometimes you’ll snag a trophy but more often, the catch is a mix of laudable prizes and throwbacks.

This years show-now called EAA AirVenture, of course-is an example of the latter. We saw a broad range of new gadgets, improvements on old stuff and ever more evidence that the GA market continues to climb out of its black hole. (How else to explain Barron invoices inching ever upward towards $1 million.)

The serious developments continue to be in avionics, specifically an accelerating trend toward remote sensors and boxes from one company that will happily talk to devices from another company, complete with cooperative wiring harnesses and manuals. Competition sure aint what it used to be.

Whether this is good news or bad depends on where you stand in the replacement cycle. There are so many emerging avionics products-few with discernible market or service history-that its impossible to say if a buy decision made this summer will still make sense next summer. we’ll offer our point-in-time analysis but fair warning: These judgments are necessarily perishable.

Gadgets Galore
In the here and now, Garmin continues to dominate the avionics world with cutting- edge products. As rumored, it introduced a portable color moving map GPS; think of it as a colorized 195 with a $500 price premium. The GPSMAP 295-which will retail for $1495-looks like an inflated version of the Garmins earlier GPS III Pilot, although its clearly a clean sheet design.

Its a bit smaller overall than the 195 and although the color display looks very much like the companys hot selling GNS 430, marketing exec Tim Casey told us its actually a new design. The receiver is highly menu driven and features a split screen, allowing HSI and numerical nav on one side with a topo-detailed colored map on the other. we’ll wring one out in a month or two. Meanwhile, contact Garmin at 800-800-1020 or www.garmin.com.

Speaking of color, we also got a look at Bendix/Kings KLN 94, a color-screen, slide-in replacement for the KLN 89B. Again, vibrant color and some operability improvements but alas, this wont be a WAAS-capable receiver and we wonder how many KLN 89B owners will settle for that when the receiver is introduced next spring at $5190 retail.

While Garmin charges forthwith into the GPS mapcomm fray, Bendix/King seems more interested in the color multi-function route, having brought out the KMD 150, a color display based on the Brit-developed Skyforce/Skymap series.

But even this is an interim product, soon to be followed by a more sophisticated color display capable of showing datalinked weather information, traffic and probably the companys new low-cost ground prox warning system.

As we said, you simply cant buy a dedicated box without real risk of short-term obsolescence. Bendix/King does appear to be looking ahead, however, with regard to datalink. Its partnering up with NavRadio, a small start-up thats developed ground and airborne technology for uplinking weather and traffic information.

Given the dog-eat-dog pace, we suspect this will yield a product sooner rather than later. Contact 913-712-2613 or www.bendixking.com/avpubhtml/AvionicsIndex.html.

Computers, Too
Against the flood tide of me-too products that might be old hat by the time you write the check, Avidyne continues to pitch innovative cockpit computer/display products that the company says will be infinitely expandable and upgradeable, thus offering protection against short term obsolescence.

As we reported in the August issue, Avidynes follow-on products to its Flight Situation Display are the FlightMax 440 and 740, improved products that bundle software and mapping capability into a lower priced display. All you do is buy the sensor hardware, such as a WX-500 remote Stormscope sensor.

And that sensor hardware is already available or soon will be. BFGoodrich announced that its Skywatch collision avoidance system can now be piped into Avidyne, Argus and-get this-Garmin GNS 430 displays. No major price breaks on the Skywatch box itself, however: $19,980 retail. But if youve got the budget, the choices are out there. Contact BFGoodrich at 800-253-9525 or www.bfgavionics.com.

Goodrich also rolled out what it calls a radar graphics computer, which combines Stormscope output from a WX-500 sensor with color radar on Bendix/King radar units. You can also plug in traffic information from a Skywatch or TCAS I system. Combined sferics and radar isn’t entirely new, but heretofore, it hasnt been available in this class of radar. The computer retails for $8995.

Avidyne continues to plug away with its impressive cockpit displays, but the world of cockpit computers remains uncertain at best. We have yet to see the perfect marriage of screen readability, processor capability, practical software and, most important price. None of the entries weve seen thus far scream buy me.

Nonetheless, various companies keep trying. One of the nicer looking portables weve seen thus far is the VR-220C from Northcoast Aerospace, a nifty color laptop-type design (Pentium 133 MHz) that can be mounted on a R-A-M style stalk or, judging by the size of it, merely held in the lap.

At $2995 retail, this device costs about what a mid-range laptop does and has some of the same capabilities, including the ability to run any Windows-based software. The VR-220C has something none of the others have, however: An onboard 12-channel Rockwell GPS engine that means its really a large screen moving map GPS. The version we saw at OSH was running FliteStar in demo mode and we found the screen quite bright and readable. Contact Northcoast at 877-477-6281 or www.navplus.com.

With such frantic activity in the display field, you have to wonder why no one has yet announced a primary flight display package based on cheap LCD technology. As of OSH 99, someone has: Archangel Systems pioneered EFIS/EICAS displays for homebuilts four years ago and although it hasnt achieved wild success, the company has survived.

Its newest product is the PFD2000, a primary flight display display intended to replace the standard electromechanical six pack with a solid-state no-gyro display that has tape indicators for airspeed and altitude and a sophisticated AI/HSI combination. Although the PFD2000 will find its way into homebuilts first, its ultimately intended as a certified system. If that seems like a tall certification order, we think it is.

And it will be pricey, too, since the already available Archangel EFIS/EICAS systems retail for more than $23,000 in non-certified experimental version. Still, someone has to start somewhere and sometime; this technology seems inevitable. Contact Archangel at 334-826-8008 or www.archangel.com.

New Georges
To our July report on autopilots, lets add two new ones as of OSH 99. Ever-active S-TEC announced the System FortyX and FiftyX, stack-mounted units that include new yoke-mounted disconnects and control wheel steering buttons, just as Bendix/Kings have.

These new autopilots also have GPS roll-axis steering and are thus able to follow the roll steering commands many of the newer generation GPS navigators output. That means they wont go nuts chasing needles during waypoint passage but will smoothly transition to the next course leg. Contact S-TEC at 940-325-9406 or www.s-tec.com.

After a long dry spell, Insight has finally introduced something new: An air data computer called the TAS 1000. It calculates and displays all sorts of stuff relating to fuel and air data and has a clever little gadget called a Windicator which continuously displays wind direction and velocity, independent of what the GPS is doing. Retail is $3495. Contact 905-871-0733 or www.strikfinder.com.

If your reason for flying is to escape the mindless nattering of everyday life, you might be disinclined toward another product we saw at OSH: The VNS1000 voice navigation system. Basically, this is a cut-rate Bitchin Betty of the sort found in airliners and military aircraft for at least the last two decades. Its a tiny panel-mounted box that, once armed, will monitor needle position during VOR nav or ILS or GPS approaches. It has 22 voice prompts, such as on course or right of course 3 degree, correct left. Retail cost: $1545. Contact VNS at 909-599-1037.

For some years, Mountain High Equipment has been selling microprocessor-controlled oxygen conserving regulators that instantaneously sense when youre about to draw a breath and then electronically dispense a pulse of oxygen in just the right volume.

These devices vastly reduce oxygen consumption and use a tiny cannula. At Oshkosh, Mountain High introduced a new model, the EDS-D1. Its barely half the size of the older A1 and has additional features. Contact 800-468-8185 or www.mtn-high.com.

Engines and Airframes
We saw no earthshakers in the engine and airframe realm, although Diamond trotted out its long-awaited DA40 four-place follow-on to the Katana trainer. The Diamond Star has a forward opening canopy and a left-side door for the pax. Powered by a Lycoming IO-360, the Star looks like a 145 to 150-knot cruiser, carrying about 750 pounds with full fuel.

A Diamond marketeer told us the airplane could very we’ll have a different engine when certified for the U.S. market sometime next year. Price: In the range of $155,000, making it comparable to the Cessna 172 but sexier and faster. (Diamond: 519-457-4000 or www.diamondair.com.

Cirrus scored some sex appeal points, too, with the display of the first production SR20 with a sold sticker in the window. A bit late out of the blocks but kudos to Cirrus, nonetheless.

The flag waving netted some show orders, too, as fence-sitters seem ready to buy with Cirrus delivering. Total claimed orders: nearly 330 airplanes, with 100 planned for delivery this year. (Cirrus at 218-727-2737 www.cirrusdesign.com.

From the we-thought-they-couldnt-do-it department, Morane Renault continues to push forward with its 200 HP turbocharged diesel. The company flew the engine last year and has been demoing it ever since in a Socata TB20.

Theyre predicting Euro certification next year and sales shortly thereafter. These guys look serious. So does Orenda, the company that successfully converted a big-block GM engine into a 600 HP aircraft powerplant suitable for shouldering aside the PT-6s found in King Airs, Otters and other working airplanes.

STCs are approved; orders are flowing. Orenda at 905-677-3250 www.bristol.ca/orenda.html

Short Takes
From Jeppesen, two software introductions, one an upgrade to FliteStar and FliteMap, bringing the revision level to 8.0 and the other a new product called SIMCharts, designed to work with flight simulation programs.

Also from Jeppesen, the Skybound Datawriter, which will allow customers to download navigation revisions and burn their own datacards. (www.jeppesen.com)

From Icarus, a new and relatively cheap cellphone designed to work with the Iridium satcom system. Contact 301-891-0600 or www. icarusinstruments.com.

From Unison Industries, sparkplug competition in the form of re-introduced Autolite plugs for aircraft. Contact 815-965-4700 or www. unisonindustries.com.

A hybrid fuel scanner/computer from Matronix at 925-606-1001 or www.matronics.com.

From Electronics International, a bar graph engine analyzer that looks just like offerings from Insight and JPI. Contact 503-439-8484.

From Northern Airborne Technology, the AMS50 intercom and audio panel. Contact 250-763-2232.

From Microsoft, Flight Simulator 2000, a quantum leap in capability over previous versions. www.microsoft.com/games/fsim/

From PS Engineering, the PMA7000 audio panel with advanced features, see www.ps-engineering.com/

From Sandel, software enhancements for its impressive SN3308 electronic HSI, includes SUA and other airspace details, plus innovative database delivery. Contact 760-727-4900 or www.sandel.com

-by Paul Bertorelli