Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

2010 Grab Bag

Our picks for the most impressive products of the year

Get a bunch of pilots together, and the talk will eventually turn to gear. Aviators tend to be folks who embrace technology, or at least the technology that centers on aviation. Some of us may not be able to program our digital video recorders or configure a wireless network at home, but we’ll tell you the headset we think is best and why, or which engine analyzer has the best specs and performance. Pilots will pore over feature lists for days and ask 20 minutes worth of questions at a vendor’s booth at a fly-in. We know our aviation products.

It’s with that same gusto that we approach our list of impressive products for 2010. Roaming through the hallways of Plane & Pilot (both the real ones and the virtual ones), each of our contributors gave one of their favorite products of the year. Aviation continues to leverage technology to make flying safer, more efficient and more fun, and this year introduced some interesting new products. Whether a refinement on something already there, or a new twist on something universal, some products were downright trendsetting. So from our P&P experts, like air show star Patty Wagstaff, to our guest columnists, like 2010 CFI of the Year “Mossy,” and all of us in between, we present our “grab-bag” list of aviation products that made us take notice.

SolidFX FX8 chart viewer
Frankly, viewing this unit’s super-crisp 6x8-inch display is downright soothing. It’s actually easier to read than paper. Currently the only digital reader for displaying Jeppesen terminal charts, this 13-ounce beauty is easy on the eyes and a serious innovator in creating a truly paperless cockpit. The FX8 can serve as a chart reader, notepad, electronic briefcase and library. The unit’s instant-on performance and 24-hour battery life adds to its friendliness in the cockpit, and its size allows it to go anywhere. The screen works with a stylus (that stores neatly into the FX8) and allows the usual pan and zoom, but also allows you to make notes right onto the screen for things like ATIS and clearances. The FX8-3G version adds wireless connectivity, and we love the new FXVIEW software that lets you add PDF files to the FX8 for checklists, manuals, procedures, corporate documents or anything that can be converted to PDF.

Spidertracks Aviator
Spidertracks combines a GPS position receiver and satellite transmitter in a package the size of a handheld video game, and without an external antenna. The unit will relay coordinates from your airplane (or any vehicle) at specific intervals to servers around the globe. In addition to giving searchers your precise location in an emergency, Spidertracks overlays coordinates onto terrain maps (like Google Earth), allowing people, whom you choose, to view your progress through the web. Pilots also can send preset text and e-mail messages in flight with an optional keypad. The unit is portable and operates on an Iridium satellite network with real-time, 100% global coverage.

Lycoming AEIO-580 Thunderbolt Competition Engine
How can you not love a specially made high-performance engine that’s so powerful and unique (each one is built by a two-person team in a dedicated build-cell) that Lycoming recommends them “only for highly skilled, experienced pilots?” This beast of an engine has earned a rabid following in the serious aerobatic world, from pilots like Patty Wagstaff, Michael Goulian and Matt Chapman. The secrets behind these engines include precision static balancing to within half a gram, performance crankshafts and cases, specially designed ignition, fuel and induction systems, significantly increased compression, water injection and a slew of other envy-inducing modifications. Each engine can be built to a customer’s specifications and even includes custom engine colors. So extreme in performance that they’re not even certified and come with no specific warranty, Thunderbolts are what every kid, err, pilot, dreams about.

Anywhere Map Quadra
Contributing Editor Marc C. Lee likes to kid that he grabs his Quadra like he grabs a pack of gum on his way out to the airplane. This portable navigator (it’s more than just a GPS) is that simple to use, reliable and compact. When one considers all the features packed into this gizmo, the under-$600 price is impressive. The Quadra’s 4.3-inch high-def screen is easy to read even in sunlight, and the touch screen takes about a millisecond to adapt to. Wi-Fi connectivity for updates, an included fuel-price database, 180-meter terrain resolution, airport taxi diagrams and the cool “CoPilot” alerts and reminders are just a few of the features we like, as well as the Cones of Safety function that shows pilots where they can glide to from their current position. Add XM weather, sectional charts and approach plates, and you have a serious portable electronic cockpit.

Bose A20
The new Bose A20 got a lot of votes from our staff. Bill Cox has been using one now for a few months, and P&P Guest Speaker and 2010 CFI of the Year J. Robert Moss (“Mossy”)—who has 12 headsets—tells us, “The Bose A20 is twice as good as the Bose X.” With competitor manufacturers coming out with headsets that had the same or better noise attenuation than the legendary Bose X, Bose pulled out all the stops and introduced the A20 to immediate success. We love the increased comfort of the A20 and the way it fits your ears better, especially with the redesigned ear cups and cushions. The noise attenuation is improved for even louder cockpits, and the A20 feels lighter overall. Another great addition is the AUX input for connecting external devices and annunciators, and full Bluetooth connectivity so you can connect your cell phone wirelessly. As Mossy says, “The A20 is the best new product this year, hands down.”


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