Plane & Pilot
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Handheld Avionics

Using portable gadgets to fly safer

handheld avionicsI’m sold on the concept that using portable avionics in the cockpit will make the flying experience safer and more convenient. As a flight instructor, I teach in aircraft with large differences in avionics, ranging from the latest and greatest in glass panels to ships with no radio or electrical system. Regardless, it’s always comforting to have my trusty Garmin GPSMAP 496 along for the flight to help with situational awareness and to have the latest weather at my fingertips.
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Garmin GPSMAP 496: The Garmin GPSMAP 496 combines satellite weather with a color map and terrain alerting. Garmin SafeTaxi allows pilots to view their position on taxiways and runways for more than 650 U.S. airports. AOPA’s Airport Directory is included with GPSMAP 496, allowing pilots to look up taxi, rental car, hotel, fuel availability and other airport services. Garmin’s Smart Airspace feature automatically highlights airspace close to your current altitude, providing increased situational awareness. The 496 updates map data and instruments five times per second, giving a smoother, near-real-time presentation of the analog indications on the instrument page. The higher-resolution terrain database has more than 10 times as much data as the 396. The 496 also provides terrain alerts based on the terrain and U.S. obstacles databases. With the GXM 30A antenna (included) and a subscription to XM WX, you’ll have access to continuously updated XM NEXRAD data, METARs, TAFs, TFRs, SIGMETs, AIRMETs, and Lightning and Winds Aloft. XM Satellite Radio entertainment is available for an additional service fee. The 496 will also display TIS traffic from a Garmin GTX 330 transponder or the Zaon XRX portable traffic detector. For more information, visit

Lowrance AirMap 2000c:
The AirMap 2000c offers a five-inch diagonal sunlight-viewable TFT color display with 320 x 240 pixels. Weighing less than a pound and a half, the rugged case is waterproof. It has a built-in GPS with a 12-channel WAAS processor. A key feature of the 2000c is terrain awareness, which comes preloaded on a standard SD card and provides color-coded terrain, based on height above the ground. A Lowrance-specific Terrain Profile screen shows a cross-sectional view of the flight path ahead with airspace, terrain and manmade obstructions. The card also contains the Jeppesen aviation database and Safe Flight 21 airport-taxiway mapping data. The 2000c has nine different navigation and map options including a full HSI or MAP with a CDI. A special Dual Moving Maps display allows simultaneous viewing of the destination and the current en route position. In addition to the aviation database content, the package includes a seven-DVD MapCreate that allows the unit to display detailed street or topographic maps when in your car. The AirMap 2000C comes with all accessories, including a cigarette-lighter power cord (11 to 35 volts DC), remote antenna and hard cover to protect the display while in the flight bag. The AirMap 2000C can also be powered by four AA alkaline batteries and has a built-in antenna for conditions where a remote antenna isn’t necessary. For more information, visit

Portable Intercoms

Sigtronics SPO-22 Portable Intercom:
The Sigtronics SPO-22 is a portable two-place intercom with some advanced features. It can operate for up to 40 hours on a nine-volt battery, or the DC power cable can plug into the aircraft cigarette lighter and operate on 11 to 34 volts. The intercom can be expanded to four or six outlets with optional expansion units, and has separate push to talk inputs for both pilot and copilot. The fail-safe feature allows the pilot to hear the radios even if the intercom is off. ATC will only hear the crewmember who’s transmitting; other microphones are muted. The music input for your portable CD player or iPod can make long trips more pleasant for you and your passengers. There’s even an output jack that can attach a recorder to keep a record of the dialog, which can be a great training tool for the instructor. A version for use in high-noise environments, such as an open-cockpit aircraft, is also available. For more information, visit

David Clark DC-COM 200 Intercom:
The Model 200 intercom is a two-place portable intercom with expansion options of four or six places. It’s powered by either two internal nine-volt batteries or externally (13 to 30 volts DC) via a power cable that has an attached cigarette-lighter plug. Each of the internal batteries provides up to 40 hours of operation. It comes with a battery-select switch to choose which battery to use. There’s a power LED that flashes green when a battery is in use and switches to red when you need to switch to the other battery. The LED is solid green when the external power is used. The unit has a power on-off/fail-safe switch and can select either internal or external power operation. It has pilot and copilot jacks for headsets and a push-to-talk switch. There’s a separate push-to-talk switch mounted on the panel. It has individual voice-activated intercom operation. There are jacks for both external music entertainment and for a recording device to record the flight conversation. For more information, visit

PS Engineering Aerocom III:
The PS Engineering Aerocom III is a stereo two-place intercom with an optional four-place expansion unit. It uses the same IntelliVox technology used in its top-of-the-line PMA7000 panel-mount audio panels. PS Engineering has the reputation for the best intercom sound in its panel-mounted intercoms. The Aerocom III can operate from an internal nine-volt battery (10 hours) or 12- to 24-volt DC aircraft power. The squelch is automatically computer controlled for each mic and automatically adjusts for different headsets and changes in ambient volume. The intercom accepts stereo music from a portable entertainment system. The music is automatically muted when there’s intercom or radio traffic. It has a two-position switch that allows the pilot to be isolated from the passengers. When the switch is in the “All” position, radio communications, intercom and music are heard by all. When the switch is in the “Iso” position, only the pilot hears the radios, and not the music. At the same time, the passengers hear the music and can use the intercom without being disturbed by the radio. For more information, visit

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