Note to anyone hoping to cash in on the next big thing in aviation: Dont get involved in anything to do with color cockpit displays for just as soon as youre sure youve got the slickest glass panel this side of the Boeing R&D department, the nerdy kid next door will roll something better out of his basement skunk works.
Or so it seems. At this years annual EAA AirVenture show at Oshkosh, the color cockpit display is the ubiquitous gadget du jour, popping up like ants at a picnic. And these arent just any cockpit displays, but serious and practical contenders that may spell doom for the venerable steam gauge.
As for prices, to avoid hyperventilating, think not in raw dollars but in upgrades priced as a percentage of your airplanes worth. When the avionics invoice exceeds the Blue Book value, its time to stop.
This year, besides the displays, the buzzword seems to be expanded capability, including datalink weather and traffic, a design trend that appeared as pie-in-the-sky when color MFDs surfaced six years ago but looks real now.
Eclipse Tour de Force
None of the displays we saw at OSH were more impressive than that planned for the new Eclipse personal jet, whose ambitious presence continues to define whats new in GA. Last year, Eclipse had a wingless feel-good mock-up for show goers; this year they added a full-size model standing on its gear, plus an improved cabin mock-up that gave a detailed glimpse at the airplanes stunning avionics.
The panel is edge-to-edge with three giant flat-panel displays, a primary flight display for each pilot plus an enormous center stack map/multifunction display. We were impressed with both the size and crispness of the displays but we sense a speed bump ahead: Each pilot has his own keyboard and its not just a couple of function keys and a toggle but a full-boat QWERTY job. Eclipse said the airplane would be highly automated and theyre not backing off. Computer geeks will welcome this; stick-and-rudder salts will doubtless need some indoctrination. Eclipse continues to move smartly through the air castle stage and claims to be on track for cutting metal this fall to roll out the first flight article before AirVenture 2002. The first customer delivery is planned for 2004. Other than minor schedule slippage, nothing weve seen thus far suggests that Eclipse cant walk the walk, although we continue to doubt the low-ball price point of $837,500. To quote their new promo jingle, We can and we are. As for us, well see. Contact Eclipse at 505-245-7555/www.eclipseaviation.com.
As with NASAs space ventures, the assumption is that big dollar projects like Eclipse inevitably trickle down technology to the hangar rats at Mud Flap Muni and, indeed, its true. Elsewhere in this issue, we report on the Meggitt Magic glass displays installed in the Piper Meridian.
At OSH, we saw a demo of this system installed in a new Cessna 182. Its not that Meggitt has its eye on glassing up piston singles, but there are plenty of twin turboprop owners who wouldnt think twice about dumping a tired old Collins HSI/ADI with a high-tech LCD pair. At $53,900 to start, Meggitts Magic is a mere trifle in a three-quarter million dollar turboprop or even a new Baron.
Whether Meggitt goes downscale with a less expensive variant for the piston crowd may be moot, since other manufacturers will. One of the interesting low-end glass packages we saw this year is an LCD DG/AI pair from long-time instrument maker Sigma Tek.
Just think of the conventional instruments rendered in LCD-type color, fitting in the same holes and with a few extra keys and switches; thats what Sigma Tek has in mind.
The target price is under $10,000, according to Sigma Tek, and unlike the current market leader in affordable EFIS, Sandel, Sigma Teks instruments will be just-the-basics glass, no storm dots, no nav data, no fancy arc views. (Contact Sigma Tek at 316-775-6373 and Meggitt at 603-669-0940/www.meggitt.com.
The intriguing thing about Sigma Teks glass is that it will obsolete one of the companys primary products: The engine-driven vacuum pump. The displays will be driven not by an external electromechanical remote gyro but by a solid- state inertial gyro package of the sort made by Crossbow Technology.
Crossbow is marketing an all-in-one remote gyro package that uses inexpensive solid state silicon ring gyros to sense roll, pitch and yaw and then outputs that to the display of your choice. The price, says Crossbow, will be in the $7000 to $8000 range, with certification underway now. The IMU box is half the size of a shoebox and can be mounted anywhere. Contact Crossbow at 408-324-4840/www.oxbow.com.
Proving that solid-state inertial guidance is now cheap enough for even the most skinflint homebuilder was Icarus Instruments, well known for its niche-within-niche altitude alerters and nav displays. Using a solid-state gyro box from Sellers Aviation (contact www.pcflightsystems.com) outputting to an ordinary PDA-a Compaq IPAQ-Icarus has whats essentially a $1495 non-certified EFIS thats perfect for experimentals but could do back-up duty in spam cans, too. That price doesnt include the PDA but youre shopping in that market, the IPAQ appears to be the top contender.
With air data and GPS inputs added, the Icarus version of this technology projects a combined display that rivals anything found on a Boeing flight deck and the entire get-up can simply be Velcrod into the airplane and operated on battery power. Well be looking at this system in detail in a future issue. Meanwhile, contact Icarus at 301-891-0600 www.icarusinstruments.com.
And speaking of PDAs, Control Vision announced weather capabality for its Anywhere PDA-based navigator, an intriguing option. Contact 620-231-6647/www.controlvision.com. Look for a review in a future issue.
Weather to Go
For a half decade now, weve been hearing about data uplink that will deliver text and graphic weather services to the cockpit. Finally, these services are now near ready for market. Both Bendix/King and AirCell-in conjunction with UPSAT/Apollo-demonstrated weather datalink systems at OSH.
At a glance, we estimate that Bendix/King has the most mature system but it too isnt quite a done deal, since it relies on a network of ground stations yet to be installed. Bendix/Kings service will deliver text, weather alerts and NEXRAD radar for flat monthly fees ranging from $49.95 to $99.95, depending on the level of service. Text-only weather is delivered free of charge, as per FAA contract requirements.
Well, not entirely free. Youll have to buy the hardware, which consists of a KDR 510 remote data receiver and a card inserted into whatever cockpit color MFD you wish to use. Price isnt firmed up yet, but Bendix/King says the headware will be under $5000.
The system uses a network of dedicated ground stations which is just now being built out. At press time, only a slice of the Ohio valley has coverage but most of the eastern U.S. is scheduled for coverage above 8000 feet by years end.
What we like about this system is that it used something called VDL Mode 2 to continually upload fresh weather which resides in the onboard box, ready for instant retrieval by the pilot. Display is thus close to instantaneous, a nice feature to have when you need radar data in a hurry.
The competing system announced at OSH by both UPSAT/Apollo and AirCell, uses AirCells airborne cellphone technology to mimic a dial-up internet connection for weather access. It too will deliver text or graphical products, but will be billed on cellphone-type pricing plans, typically in the $20 per month range, plus $2 per minute. (The data rate allows downloading a map in about a minute or so, says AirCell.)
AirCell will offer two hardware options: A data-only remote box for $1995, which does the dialing, retrieves the weather and displays it on an MFD or a voice/data panel-mount box called the Guardian 1000, which will sell for $3495. It includes voice phone capability and a 911 emergency feature that autodials the nearest ARTCC at the push of a button. It has battery back-up and could represent a back-up comm system that actually works. Contact AirCell at 303-379-0201/www.aircell.com. Bendix/King can be reached at 913-712-2613/www.bendixking.com.
Garmin International, the reigning King Dog of new avionics, is also in this market but appears to uncharacteristically lagging. It has paired up with EchoFlight and plans to use weather information datalinked from low-earth-orbit satellites. Garmin expects hardware later this year or early next year. Another start-up, Blue Sky Network, also proposes to provide its own airborne data and phone service. (Contact 858-551-3894/www.blueskynetwork.com.
Whats most intriguing about datalink is that the suppliers are offering three different technologies to deliver weather. Whether any of it sells is debatable but buyers cant complain about no choices.
Approach Plates, Too
As expected, the trend toward the paperless cockpit continues to perk along, although paperless is a misnomer, since youll need to line the cockpit with $100 bills to afford any of this stuff.
UPSAT/Apollo announced that Jeppesen approach plates are now available for its popular MX-20 MFD. The so-called Chart View displays detailed plates, taxi diagrams and terminal information thats nicely geo-referenced, so theres no excuse for getting lost. It automatically switches from the taxi chart after takeoff and from the approach to the taxi chart after landing, based on a 50-knot groundspeed threshold.
Apollos price on the upgrade for the MX-20 is $2495 but the company was offering a $500 discount for early orders. So far, so good; the price is reasonable, in our view. The pain comes from the cost of ongoing revisions from Jeppesen, which will be $839 for U.S. coverage, with a reduced price for smaller regions.
Revisions will be sent via CD-ROM which must be loaded into a PC, then dumped into the MX-20s flashcard via an adapter provided with the Apollo upgrade kit. The Jeppesen program also allows users to print out plates so, presumably, theres no need to have a parallel paper chart subscription. (Contact UPSAT/Apollo at 503-391-3421/www.upsat.com or Jeppesen at 800-621-5377/www.jeppesen.com.)
The MX-20 isnt the only offering in the electronic plate market but it appears to be the most reasonably priced. We saw several portable/kneeboard type cockpit PCs that will also run Jeppesens FlightDeck software including the Fujitsus FG-3500 EFB and LT-C-500, the latter marketed as something called Paperless Cockpit. Runing as a pen-based PC, it retails for a minimum of $3680, depending on the amount of RAM. Its sunlight readable and and can be stalk mounted or used in as a portable. ( 901-751-2687/ www.paperlesscockpit.com.)
Another supplier of a similar system is Advanced Data Research, contact 248-371-1857/www.adrsoft.com. Yet another portable cockpit PC was shown by eflightpad, running a PC called an Intermect 6642, a 266 Mhz Celeron. Again, not cheap: $7106 ready to play with Jeppesens FlightDeck data. Contact 972-742-8441 or on the Web at www.eflightsystems.com.
Engines and Airplanes
OSH is, of course, fundamentally about airplanes and we saw a couple of interest this year. In 1994, a German company rolled out a nice looking composite called the Ruschmeyer R90, well ahead of the Cirrus SR20. We flew it and we liked it. But it sold only a few in the U.S. Now the design has resurfaced with a new name- Solaris-and some marketing and sales horsepower from a Florida consortium.
Three models are being offered, the Sigma 230, 250 and 310, all retracts. Fixed-gear versions are planned later. The 230 uses the Lycoming IO-540 that powered the R-90 while the 310 has Continentals IO-550N, with a claimed top speed of 210 knots. The 250 is a higher performance version.
These aircraft are all-composite, four-place retractables in the Cirrus SR20/22 class, with vaguely similar range and payload. Components are being built in Poland and assembled in the U.S. Standard price of the Sigma 310 is $279,000. (Contact Solaris at 954-757-5480/www.solarisaviation.com.)
Remember the Glastar, a quick build two-placer from the Glasair kit company? You can now buy it as a certified airplane called the Symphony for $120,000, complete with a minimal avionics package-it can be certified for IFR-and claimed performance of 120 knots. The airplane looks like a streamlined Cessna 150 and might find a niche in the trainer market.Contact: 360-474-9394
From the where-did-these-guys-come-from file is the TAE 125 certified aircraft diesel soon to be marketed by Superior Air Parts for both the experimental and STC replacement market. Developed under wraps by Theilert Aircraft Engines in Lichtenstein, an auto racing engine house, the TAE 125 is a four-cylinder direct injected, water-cooled diesel of 125 HP.
Says Superior, it has accumulated about 1000 test flight hours in a Cherokee and has been certified in Europe under JAA specs. Its a turbonormalized design so, presumably, offers potential speed and range enhancements over the gasoline engine it could replace. Contact Superior at 972-663-2678/www.superiorairparts.com.
Meanwhile, avgas powered engines havent rolled over yet. At OSH, Teledyne Continental Motors announced that its Powerlink FADEC ignition system is now available for the Lycoming O-360 series engines, a conversion that converts a carbureted engine into an electronically controlled injected engine. Price: $6175 for the hardware, plus a couple of days of labor.
TCM and the subsidiary that developed the FADEC, Aerosance, says Continentals IO-550 series will soon have FADEC as an option. Contact 334-436-8397/www.tcmlink.com.
In our Gear of the Year report in the August issue, we noted that Aeromedix.com had limited supplies of the AIM carbon monoxide detector. Theyve replace it with a detector from Senco. Cost: $74.95. Contact www.aeromedix.com.
Goodrich has reduced the cost of its Skywatch to $17,980, down some $2000. Hardly a bargain but still a capable system.
Aerostar of Romania is selling a taildragger version of the Yak 52 aerobatic trainer for $139,000. Contact 802-868-5633/www.gesoco.com.
Garmin announced a new mode-S capable transponder-the GTX 330- which will sell for about $5000. Contact www.garmin.com.
-by Paul Bertorelli