Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flight Recorder For The Little Guy

A partial solution to the flight-recorder problem that doesn’t cost a fortune

Small cigar cams with surprisingly good resolution have been de rigueur in television journalism for years. They gradually trickled down a while back to a variety of sports enthusiasts, from motor sports such as Formula 1, NASCAR, drag racers, off-roaders, motorcycles, snowmobiles and boaters, to helmet cams in skydiving, skateboarding, dog sledding and a hundred other pursuits. More recently, they’ve been modified to work as aircraft flight recorders. If only someone could come up with a dual-purpose device that would allow fun applications and the secondary function of data recording.

Fortunately, someone has done just that. Hal Shevers of Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio, now offers a system called Nflightcam GPS, which may

be mounted practically anywhere inside an aircraft. In addition to the obvious benefit of providing a personal log of your trips, it can record all radio/intercom communications, GPS position (lat/long and altitude, as recorded by the camera’s own sensor) and even instrument/radio indications if the camera is focused on the instrument panel. The standard lens is a wide angle that will record an image 135 degrees wide. Standard memory is one hour, but you can buy as much memory as you wish relatively cheaply.

Using anything from simple suction cups to one of the remarkably flexible RAM mounts, the system may be mounted virtually anywhere in the cabin—or even outside it, if that’s your preference. You could mount it looking back from the panel at the pilot and copilot, or on top of the glare shield to record the pilot’s view. You also could attach it to the aft cabin roof structure pointed forward to show the two front seats and some instrument indications. Some aerobatic pilots mount an Nflightcam on an outside strut, looking back at the cockpit.

The system is extremely portable, delivers 1080p resolution, weighs only about five ounces and has a laser-level feature to align with the aircraft’s longitudinal axis. The intercom interconnect is silly simple. It plugs directly into the aircraft headset jack and records all tower and cockpit communication.

It’s certainly not a flight recorder in the traditional sense—it’s not hardened to withstand a crash or fire—but it allows you to bring home personal video of your trip, and some flight instructors even use the footage as a training aid for student pilots.

The Nflightcam GPS is a relatively painless method of recording your flight for posterity, a fun investment that could provide hours of entertainment long after the flight is complete.

I’m not advocating the government-mandate installation of such devices on general aviation aircraft. No one argues that transponders weren’t a good idea when they were introduced as mandatory equipment for operation in certain congested airspace. Unfortunately, they’re a little like mandatory TCAS and weather radar, a second engine and a full-airframe parachute—also good ideas, but more than the mission requires.

Let’s hope a video camera in your airplane would never need to be used to help determine probable cause.


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