Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aspen Has Connections

Aspen’s latest product emphasizes connectivity

Aspen Avionics’ Connected Panel allows iPads to communicate with the Aspen system to load flight plans, tune radios, record flight and engine data, log flight time and monitor maintenance requirements.
It’s becoming an interactive world. Like many of you, I own an airplane that’s a legitimate antique but that will probably outlive me. Similar to many older flying machines, my 1969 Mooney Executive has been progressively updated and improved so much that pilots unfamiliar with Mooneys sometimes comment on my “new” aircraft.

Older airplanes can be literally made to look and fly new with mandatory annual inspections, airframe and powerplant upgrades and a variety of other improvements. The instrument panel is a different story. It’s often a dead giveaway to an airplane’s age. Updating a panel to a fully modern configuration can extort an amount equivalent to the national debt of Bolivia, and that’s exactly the reason so many aircraft, fully refurbished in all other respects, are betrayed by their panel.

My Mooney’s panel is disguised with one of Hal Pflueger’s teak wood panel covers, and the avionics contained within are far from antiques, but the airplane’s age is a dead giveaway because of the six-pack of steam gauges. Anyone with an eye for instrumentation and avionics can recognize the basic configuration as 40 years old.

That’s not to suggest the avionics included aren’t talented. It does mean, however, that there’s a minimum of continuity between systems. There’s not much cross talk because my avionics—the latest acquired only two years ago (a Garmin 696)—have been added one at a time over 20 years, some with little relationship to one another.

That’s an important consideration for pilots to whom instant gratification isn’t fast enough. The governing concept is: The more information displayed in the shortest period of time, the better.

My airplane’s panel doesn’t understand that concept. The number-one VHF NAV/COM GPS talks to the EHSI, and the TIS/transponder communicates traffic information to the screen of the main radio, but for the most part, each sensor remains relatively independent.

Such realities are part of the reason Garmin created its G1000 for production aircraft and G500 for the aftermarket several years ago. Garmin introduced the glass-panel PFD/MFD system to encompass virtually all functions in two, flat-screen readouts.

Integration was also the justification for Aspen Avionics offering similarly capable PFD/MFDs for the aftermarket in its entry-level Evolution Flight Display 1000. Founded in 2004, Aspen Avionics is located in Albuquerque, N.M., more of a haven for technology than you might imagine. Indeed, there are dozens of companies in the Duke City that concentrate on advanced technology and electrical engineering for the aviation market.


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