For most pilots, aviation headsets are a necessary evil. They protect your hearing from long-term damage due to engine noise and make it easier to hear passengers, other pilots and ATC on the radio. But most do so by clamping down hard over your ears to block out sound; if worn for more than a few hours, they can give you a headache. I started with the generic passive headsets sold at my flight school, and when I started making long cross-country flights (up to 10 hours in a day), I upgraded to somewhat lighter and more comfortable automatic noise reduction (ANR) models. With those, the clamping pressure is less, the background noise is cut down, and it takes longer for me to get a headache—but I still get it.
My first exposure to the Spot Satellite Messenger came on a rainy March afternoon when air show pilot Gene Soucy arrived at the NAS Meridian Air Show in Meridian, Miss., where we were both performing. Gene got out of his Showcat biplane, shook my hand and said, “hello,” then pulled a little orange device out of his pocket and hit a button. He explained that he had just checked in with his coperformer, Theresa Stokes, by sending her a message that he had arrived safely. I asked the obvious question, and he said, “It’s a Spot, man, you need to get a Spot.”
Just a few years ago, state-of-the-art instrument panels for GA aircraft included a traditional “six-pack” of flight instruments connected to a panel-mounted moving-map GPS. Those panels look dated in comparison to modern glass panels, which replace all flight instruments with a single primary flight display (PFD), and provide moving-map and other functions on a companion multi-function display (MFD).
For years now, Control Vision has offered GPS moving-map software on portable devices based on assorted versions of Microsoft Windows. When I first looked at Anywhere Map, it ran on a Pocket PC and required cable connection to an external GPS; the result was a nice (but small) color moving-map display.
Better airplanes and scenery for your home computer
You may view a home flight simulator as akin to a game. True, simulators can be fun to play with, but X-Plane is much more than a game. Twelve years ago, I bought X-Plane 1.0, the work of one pilot, aeronautical engineer and programmer, Austin Meyer.
Bendix/King strikes back with its Integrated Communication Navigation Display
For many years, Bendix/King (a division of Honeywell) had a virtual lock on avionics in general aviation (GA). Get in a 20-year-old airplane with a panel that hasn’t been upgraded and you’ll probably find at least one Bendix/King NAV/COM, ADF, transponder or audio panel (on many airplanes, you’ll find a complete Bendix/King radio stack). Even today, many used airplane ads list “King panel” or “King radios” among their selling points.
Flying the G1000 IFR Like the Pros! by J. Robert Moss, a Master CFI, offers a truly advanced course in IFR operations. Furthermore, many topics covered in this “ground school” apply regardless of the avionics installed in your airplane. It’s advertised as containing more than four hours of material, and if anything, that’s an underestimate. It took me about seven hours to get through both CDs, even though I skipped over some parts!
Owners and pilots of airplanes with traditional “steam-gauge” instrument panels will shortly be able to upgrade to a modern glass panel without the need for an expensive custom instrument panel. The Evolution EFD1000 primary flight display (PFD) from Aspen Avionics will be initially available in two versions. The EFD1000 Pilot, with a $5,995 MSRP, is aimed at VFR pilots. It functionally replaces the attitude indicator, airspeed indicator, altimeter, rate-of-climb indicator and directional gyro, but doesn’t provide autopilot support or interfaces for navigation instruments.
So comfortable and quiet, you’ll want to experience it beyond the airplane
I first learned about the Lightspeed Zulu from a friend at the Reno Air Races last September. He was as pleased as he could be, enough so that he seemed like a walking advertisement for the product. I was a little skeptical about the durability of a Lightspeed headset in my aerobatic Edge 540, but he insisted it was truly great and described a change that had occurred within the company. Lightspeed has always focused on providing a good value headset with great comfort and outstanding customer service, but now they have such a high-quality piece of equipment that there’s little need to use their world-class service department. The active noise-reduction (ANR) headset includes features such as Bluetooth wireless capability, an audio-in jack for MP3 players and leather ear seals.
Flight Guide Online, by Airguide Publications Inc., offers pilots a vast amount of information with their subscriptions. It’s also low in cost and physically small (it resides on your laptop, as if it were paper, but it’s not paper, it’s more convenient and has a lot more features).
Zaon’s PCAS (portable collision-avoidance system) XRX is “the first ever portable, passive, stand-alone collision-avoidance system for general aviation to offer direction from within the cockpit.” After flight-testing one at four busy airports one recent Sunday afternoon, I can confirm that it does exactly what Zaon claims.
Glass-panel functionality comes in a portable package
If you’re like me—a pilot who mainly flies airplanes with “steam gauge” instruments that look increasingly out of date—you probably salivate over the glass flight decks that are common in new airplanes. Even the latest (smallest) singles from Cessna and Piper have them. And while it’s possible to retrofit similar hardware in older airplanes, for most of us, the cost (in the high tens of thousands of dollars) is prohibitive.
IFR flight planning, electronic charts and moving map all in one package
In the fall of 2004, I closed a review of Jeppesen’s JeppView/FliteDeck 3 with a complaint about the lack of serious flight-planning functions in Jeppesen’s flagship electronic charting products. A Jeppesen representative responded: “At some point, we hope to offer a single solution.” He must have been serious because that single solution now exists.
Mid-Continent Instruments’ Lifesaver attitude indicator with built-in battery backup
Every pilot knows “Hoover’s Law”: It’s not a question of if your vacuum system will fail, but when your vacuum system will fail. To eliminate the vacuum problem, many owners have opted to go with an electric primary or standby gyro. Great idea—until the power goes out. Then what? Well, thanks to Mid-Continent Instruments, pilots who install its new 4300 series Lifesaver electric attitude indicator with built-in battery backup can keep flying for up to an hour.
The wunderbox that brings satellite uplink weather and radio capabilities to the cockpit
Fourteen years ago, when I met Tim Casey of Garmin International, we were at the Paris Air Show, and Carl Pascarell and I had just ferried the prototype Sino Swearingen SJ30 jet across the Atlantic to Le Bourget Airport with little more than point-and-shoot VHF radios. Like most prototypes, the first SJ30 was having its share of systems problems, and electrical glitches had burned up both of our VLF/Omegas on the eastbound crossing. By definition, we were flying IFR above 35,000 feet and needed a method of positively identifying our position for the trip back to San Antonio, Texas.
I count myself lucky that I’m allowed to fly with virtually all the new portable GPSs, and I’m just as amazed as you are when avionics manufacturers continue to find new worlds to conquer. Just when it seems there’s nothing new left to be done, someone does it.
For those of us who routinely fly in busy airspace, the need to constantly “keep your head on a swivel” competes for our attention with ATC instructions, terminal area charts and instruments on the panel. The folks who fly “heavy iron,” on the other hand, have had options like TCAS (Traffic Alert/Collision Avoidance System) for more than 20 years, which they can rely on for warning of other aircraft on a collision course. But the cost of such a system (which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars) has been prohibitive for most of the GA fleet.