We’re not exactly big on heaping kudos on products that don’t exist. On the other hand, we know an exceptional idea when we see one and at least a couple of those are trickling out of tiny little Pipistrel Aircraft in Slovenia, thus we are picking Pipistrel as our company of the year for its innovation and creativity in aircraft design.
When we visited Europe last March, we put Pipistrel on our itinerary and it was well worth the effort. Having started as an illicit ultralight manufacturer in the days when Yugoslavia was under communist rule, Pipistrel has evolved to become an idea leader in cutting-edge aircraft design.Specifically, the company’s just-announced Panthera—a four-seat, 200-knot cruiser—is unique for having placed fuel economy and efficiency at the top of the design brief list. Only one other company, Diamond, comes close to that kind of commitment to resetting the bar on fundamental aircraft design. Pipistrel also won NASA’s Green Flight Challenge three times with its efficient designs.
The company is, in short, getting noticed and we predict competitors will soon be getting on the energy-efficiency bandwagon, too. And that’s a good thing for pilots and owners beleaguered by high fuel costs and flying less because of it.
In addition to Pipistrel, what follows are our top picks for the best products and services we’ve seen in the last editorial year.
Best Aircraft Battery:
And by a margin wide enough to taxi a Piper Mirage through. Year after year, our reviews and surveys of aircraft owners reveal enthusiastic satisfaction with Concorde aircraft batteries. And not just the batteries themselves, but the company, too, which gets kudos for good customer service.
Concorde batteries generally perform better than their stated ratings and we find very little evidence of premature failure. User opinions back up our findings. For more details, see www.concordebattery.com.
What with the dominance of the GPS mapcomm—the GNS430/530 line from Garmin and the newer GTN line—the lowly navcomm is now just an afterthought, right?
Not quite. While’s there’s not huge demand for simple navcomms, they still have a place when a second or third radio is needed in a panel without much space. In our December 2011 review, we reported that the SL30’s sophisticated digital circuitry packs of host of useful and practical features in a small package. It’s well designed and easy to use. For more, see www.garmin.com.
Best Battery Charger:
If you have an expensive aircraft battery, you need a charger for it from time to time, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Our top pick, and there’s really no contest here, is VDC’s BatteryMINDer.
This sophisticated charger incorporates the latest in charging technology, including temperature sensing (when needed) and float and maintenance modes. If you don’t fly much, your batter will last longer if it’s kept on a charger. And VDC’s are the best. See www.batteryminders.com for more.
Best Fuel Monitor/Totalizer:
Tie: MVP50 and Auracle
We’ll admit we’re starting to sound like a broken record on the MVP50. Last year, we picked it as the top engine monitor and this year, we’re picking it again as the best fuel computer and totalizer. But it shares top honors with the Ultra Electronics Auracle.
Both of these instruments are large-screen, multifunction devices that perform a range of engine monitoring duties. So if you’re thinking about fuel monitoring, go for the full Monty and get a large-screen engine monitor while you’re at it. We see these as worthy investments. See www.biuy-ei.com and www.ultra-fei.com for detailed specs on these products.
Best Lightning Detector:
With the widespread deployment of datalinked weather offering five-minute cycles for NEXRAD, the lowly sferics device has become less of a must-have for many owners. Still, for the really serious weather pilot, having both NEXRAD and lightning detection brings an undeniable edge.
By tracking strike rate, sferics give instantaneous information on a storm’s maturity level and of all the detectors we’ve tried, Avidyne’s TWX670 has the best overall featureset for the price. It can drive up to seven displays and uses a well-designed color-coded depiction system to sort through intensity. Azimuth accuracy is excellent. At $7995, it the most expensive system out there, but still a good value. Check out www.avidyne.com for the details.
Best Ipad Weather :
Although we’re huge fans of datalink weather from XM WX Satellite Weather and WSI, it’s an undeniable fact that you have to pay for those services. If you don’t fly that much, you spend money for something you’re not using very often.
That’s why ADS-B for the iPad is a better value. The weather service isn’t as complete or as sophisticated as datalink weather is, but it’s more than mission adequate. The sharp focus of real-time weather is the dynamic aspect of it and that’s NEXRAD. ADS-B gets that into the cockpit without much fuss.
The system to beat for doing that is Sporty’s new Stratus portable, which we reviewed in the June 2012 issue. It’s a single, wireless box that’s about as seamless as these things get. The second option is the SkyRadar portable, which, evidently in response to competition from the Stratus, has lowered its price to as little as $599 on its newest unit. (Stratus is $799 from www.sportys.com.) For SkyRadar, see www.skyradar.net. Neither work with Droid apps yet, but we suspect someone will come along to serve that demand.
As our innovator of the year, Pipistrel is quite active in the LSA segment, with five powered airplanes in the lineup. What caught our eye as this year’s best LSA is the Virus. OK, we’re not crazy about the name either, but there’s no debating that the underlying design is brilliant.
The Virus is superbly constructed in the company’s factory in Slovenia, a region with a long history of glass sailplane manufacture. What sets it apart from other LSAs is its performance and economy. With only the 100-HP Rotax 912, the Virus can steam along at 140 knots true on under 5 GPH. With the new 912 iS, the fuel economy will be 15 to 20 percent better than that.
What that means is the Virus is one of a small handful of LSAs fast enough to be serious cross-country airplanes or at least sport airplanes with legs. We’re not sure that constitutes a serious market draw, but we would rather have the speed and endurance than not. For more, see www.pipistrel.com.
Best Tiedown Hardware:
Following the great tornado fiasco at Sun ‘n Fun in 2011, we set out once again to find the best portable tiedown hardware. It didn’t take long to settle on a system made by Abe’s Aviation, an Oregon-based company with an interest in back-country flying.
The Abe’s system consists of trapezoidal-shaped steel plates driven into the ground at a perpendicular angle to resist the load. We connected these things to a truck and tried to pull them out of the ground with no success. They’re overbuilt from stainless-steel plate and rod, so they ought to last awhile. If you really want your airplane to stay put in a blow, these tiedowns will get the job done. For details, see www.abesaviation.com.
Best Windshield Cleaner:
LP Acrylic Polish/Sealant
You could get lost in an aviation supply catalog looking for a decent windshield cleaner. We’ll keep you from entering the woods in the first place by simply recommending the best one we’ve tested: LP Acrylic Polish and Sealant. LP Aeroplastics is a leading maker of aircraft windshields and they’ve been at it for years. All of the polishes we tried worked well, but LP’s had the best rain-resistant qualities, which is what we were looking for. It’s a respectable cleaner, too, but its real strength is as a polish to resist dirt build up and shed water. Get it from Aircraft Spruce at www.aircraftspruce.com.
Best Portable Intercom:
Although the world seems to be dominated by high-dollar glass panels and digital audio panels, what about those of us flying 30-year-old Cherokees with coffee-grinder ADFs or even a no-electrical system Cub or Champ? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a modern intercom?
It would and in the 205e, DRE has the best one we’ve tried recently. Priced at around $300, this intercom has a host of “big audio” features including remote audio inputs for music or traffic, squelch that actually does what it’s supposed to, even in a noisy cockpit, and first-class audio quality. Getting the squelch right for high-noise environments isn’t easy, but the 205e pulls it off.
Other features include music muting and a stuck-mic indicator. You can power the intercom using batteries or ship’s power, so it would be useful even in older LSA-qualified airplanes with no electrical system, a real plus in our view. We’ve come a long way since that old Cherokee rolled off the line. For specs and details, see www.drecommunications.com.
Best Logbook App:
In our estimation, pilots either love filling out logbooks or they hate it. We have no other means to explain why we get more requests to review logbook programs than about any other kind of app or program. So review them we did.
The fruit of that exercise was our conclusion that there’s LogTen Pro and there’s everything else. This app is highly and easily customizable, covers virtually every imaginable base and is easy to use.
Further, it has good utility for such add-ons as currency, business expense reporting and instruction. Speaking of instruction, it even allows a CFI to enter a signature right on the tablet, so no excuses for carting a paper logbook to your next instrument proficiency check. For more on the app, see Apple’s App Store or www.coradine.com.
Best Android App:
In case you’re wondering, it’s not all about the iPad. We’re seeing more and more apps for the Android operating system, both phones and tablets. The market is hardly one to one, however; we don’t see a Droid version of every iPad app. But there are more choices in Android hardware every month. If you tilt toward the Droid platform, we recommend Avilution’s AviationMaps, which is easy to use and has all the basics, such as the FAA chart of your fancy and layering of graphic weather products on the map display.
Like the iPad apps, it also does on-the-fly flight planning and weather retrieval for an airport or a route. We’ve found that Android apps in general seem to be a step or two behind iPad apps, but this one is the best evidence that the Droid app writers are catching up. Get all the details from the Android Market or www.avilution.com.