The Inexpensive Glass Cockpit

AEOLUS-SENSEI spend a lot of my time installing and flying behind the latest in top end experimental avionics - full touch screen EFISs, advanced autopilots that will fly a coupled approach and make you coffee while doing it, and audio systems that rival a concert hall in capability and clarity. But there is another end of this business - the inexpensive yet capable end that can help folks who just want to fly get and stay in the game.

I have recently been experimenting with a compact little box from Talos Avionics called the Aeolus Sense. This small cube is a full ADAHRS – attitude and air data computer – that communicates with my iPad to give me a real-time six-pack of instruments to use as a backup to the big expensive panel – or as a primary panel in a small, simple airplane. Problems with glare and brightness aside (and these issues seem to vary widely from pilot to pilot and cockpit to cockpit), the iPad (or iPhone) can make a nice panel display for a VFR fun flyer. If I had an ultralight or no-electrical airplane, this would be a neat panel solution.

short_talosavionics_logo-4The Aeolus Sense box has ports for pitot and static, a temperature probe (so that it can do TAS calculations), and a GPS input so that it knows where it is and how it pointed. It includes an internal magnetometer to track magnetic heading as a bonus. I’ve been flying with this little unit in my RV-8, with the air data tapped into the test ports under the panel, and the power just coming from a 12 volt outlet. While the first unit we had exhibited some problems in attitude stability and the WiFi link to the iPad was flaky, the second unit seems to confirm tat the first one had some sick hardware, and is performing just fine.

Getting a good compass calibration with he little box sitting on the cockpit floor (near steel rudder pedals, cables, electrical bundles, etc.) is problematic – but if this was installed in a nice magnetically quiet location in the airframe, I am pretty sure it would do a god job at providing basic flight instruments.

The software used on the iPad is downloadable from the App store for free – if you are willing to use the iPad’s internal sensors and look at a black and white picture. In an emergency, this might be enough to keep the wings level and the airplane upright. Once linked to the Aeolus, the display changes to full color and the air data becomes real and alive (the black and white version tells you that you are looking at GPS-derived speed and altitude). Talos gives away the black and white version as a back-up for pilots – the color version can be purchased, or self-activates if you buy the ADAHRS box.

No, I am not going to give up all the big, fancy, capable boxes in stalled in my panels – but if I was looking for an inexpensive panel for a simple machine, or as a backup in something more capable, the Talos Aeolus would be worth a look. At current exchange rates, the Aeolus Sense is selling for just under $600 – and if you already have an i-thingy, that is a pretty cheap six-pack solution.

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Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and a Subsonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

4 Replies to “The Inexpensive Glass Cockpit”

  1. At about $1200 for an electronic six pack, the cost of high tech is now below the cost of comparable steam gauges. The only weak link of high tech is generational obsolescence and the ephemeral nature of software and hardware support.

  2. Plus the ever-present but often unmentioned truth that the iPad is totally invisible and useless in a bright cockpit.

  3. Mike you are absolutely correct. The more glass you have around your cockpit the worse the glare and the term "sunlight readable" is just a LIE. The only thing I have found to help is Armorglas
    Lou Lacy

  4. The article states: "Once linked to the Aeolus, the display changes to full color and the air data becomes real and alive (the black and white version tells you that you are looking at GPS-derived speed and altitude)."

    This is not completely correct. I've been playing with the A-EFIS app on a cheap smartphone, without the Aeolus box, just to see what it can/will do. The free app is in B&W only, but it offers the option of using GPS data or input from whatever sensors your tablet may include. My cheap phone doesn't include either a gyroscope or magnetometer, so my internal options are limited. Once I changed the settings so that all readings default to GPS, the velocity, speed (which is ground speed when using GPS), and compasses all came alive, and seem to be more than accurate enough for use in an ultralight, and probably an E-LSA, for VFR flight. On the ground, the speed "sensor" is sensitive enough that just walking around at a normal pace activates the compass to display my "heading," even when the speed registers as zero.

    For the three major factors: speed, altitude, and compass -- the A-EFIS includes two indications for each. With the appropriate sensors, they can be configured to have one of each on sensors and one on GPS, for cross-verification. Since I'm limited by my hardware to GPS only, obviously the two readouts are redundant because they are reporting the same data.

    All in all, it's a very neat little app. And the basic A-EFIS app itself is free.

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