It is not that other autopilots are unsafe, but the EZ Pilot products, an autopilot and an altitude select/hold servo (two independent units) are both designed with key safety features that are not typically seen on autopilots.
For example, the EZ Pilot autopilot and altitude hold have unique auto-disengage features that prevent pilots from accidentally taking off with the autopilot engaged. The EZ Hold has an accelerometer built into it that automatically disconnects the altitude hold if it senses excessive G forces (such as severe turbulence). This could save you from bending your airframe. Once minimum climb and maximum descent speeds have been programmed into the trademarked “smart servo” the EZ Hold will adjust the pitch of the aircraft during climbs or descents to stay within these parameters, preventing accidental stalls or overspeed descents. You can climb using rate or airspeed as a constant, all with one button and one knob to select your choices.
The EZ Pilot autopilot shares the same smart servo technology, which monitors the autopilot system on a two-way circuit every 100 microseconds and responds with adjustments. If you push on the stick, the servo’s clutch eliminates feedback through the stick. The autopilot is easily interfaced with most GPSes for tracking, and also has its own track, cross track, return-to-track and even a handy offset track function to let you fly slightly off the center of an airway (to avoid traffic). It’s 180° turn function can be called up with just a push of a button even if the autopilot is off. A VFR pilot who finds himself suddenly in IMC can push one button for 5 seconds and the autopilot will engage, level the wings, and then begin a standard-rate 180° turn that should take the errant pilot back to VFR conditions. It also works for IFR pilots who just need to track and turn 180° in a holding pattern.
Dr. Sid Tolchin, a retired neurosurgeon from El Cajon, California, hints that a complete three-axis autopilot that will retail for somewhere in the $4000 range is in the company’s future. Watch for it.
Are you a person flying a round-dial airplane in a flat-panel world? Did you start your kit airplane with traditional gyros, only to find yourself, a few years down the road yearning for a digital beauty to simplify your scan? And are you interested only in avionics that require no additional wire-pulling from the front to the back of your aircraft?
There are solutions out there for Experimental aircraft, but until recently there was little that was affordable in a TSO’d retrofit. The TSO essentially is the FAA’s stamp of approval on avionics that can go into Part 23 certified aircraft. Certified avionics shops work on these units, and they need a “yellow tag” and paperwork to follow them and document any work done for them to be “legal.” You don’t have to fly with TSO’d equipment in an Experimental aircraft, but a lot of us do. The new Aspen Avionics Evolution Primary Flight Display is the first truly affordable “all-in-one” replacement unit for the ADI and DH/moving maps in light aircraft.
The Evolution’s modular footprint slides into a standard 3-inch round instrument hole, and is only 4.15 inches deep. The 7-inch long screen can display an ADI (with flight director v-bars on the ATP version), airspeed and altitude tapes with trends and bugs (and altitude alerts), as well as moving map (built-in GPS steering), terrain, traffic, weather and a traditional horizontal situation indicator/RMI display, built-in battery and emergency GPS. The flexibility of the unit is a function of its software. You can buy the lowest cost version, the MFD 500 (which has no ADAHRS) for $5000, and then upgrade it with software and a minor add-on piece of hardware as your needs change. You can even plug it in a different instrument hole and purchase a full-fledged EFD 1000, with ADAHRS. The two screens together are an eye-catching package, and cost less than several of the non-certified boxes that are available for Experimental aircraft today.
How attractive and functional are these boxes? Good enough to attract some light aircraft OEM attention. At Sun 'n Fun, Aspen Avionics and Liberty Aircraft announced that the Evolutions will go into the Liberty XL-2 aircraft, and AOPA has the first certified unit in its Sweepstakes Piper Archer.
E-Mag Electronic Ignition of Azle, Texas, had plenty of new goodies at their Sun 'n Fun booth this year. The prototype of the new six-cylinder electronic magneto was on display, along with software that allows the pilot to precisely set the E-Mag ignition timing parameters while in flight. "It's a highly evolved platform at this point" says E-Mag's Brad Dement. "And we're making this software available to the manufacturers of other engine monitors to use in their systems."
Indeed, with more E-Mag models coming on-line, and with the addition of magneto control software, the engine efficiency bar has been raised once again. "In addition to all of the normal benefits you get from electronic ignition," says Dement, "you can precisely adjust the ignition timing in flight to find that 'sweet spot' for your particular engine. With the price of gas what it is, the E-mag is a great tool to keep costs down."
Many pilots have shied away from electronic ignition systems in the past because of an understandable concern about these systems' dependency on aircraft power. E-Mag has a solution. "The P-Mag has a built-in alternator whose sole job is to power the mag in the event of aircraft electrical failure. With two P-Mags, the pilot has triple redundancy where electronic ignition power is concerned," Dement says.
With the one moving part of the E-Mag line being the center shaft, the system is much simpler and less prone to mechanical issues than the traditional mechanical mags of the past. And, unlike its predecessors, these mags require no periodic maintenance. "And we're anticipating starting the certification process once the six-cylinder unit is in production" Dement says.
Experimental types can enjoy the benefits of E-Mag right now. The E-Mag lists for $895, and the P-Mag is $1395. Further information is available at E-Mag.
Following on an impressive line of fuel system components manufactured from high quality materials and methods, Andy Phillips of Andair is proudly displaying his new throttle quadrant system at this year's Sun 'n Fun. Designed primarily with the RV market in mind, the Andair throttle quadrant features up and down flap buttons on the throttle handle, simplifying the pilot's workload during the approach to landing. "You don't have to take your hands off of the throttle or stick during landing anymore," says Phillips. "Of course, it doesn't work with manual flaps."
Built from the same aircraft-grade materials as the the rest of the Andair product line, I found the new throttle quadrant was a joy to operate, even while just standing in the Andair booth monkeying with the prototype. "I've got about 700 hours with it in my RV-7," says Phillips, "and it fits the hand just perfectly."
The Andair quadrant is designed to work with all conventional push/pull engine control cables, and the most expensive model controlling throttle, prop and mixture functions has a price tag of $395. More information is available and orders can be placed at Andair.
"For the fella that has a young family, struggling to make it, don't put it off. Do it now. You can always go quickbuild later on if your circumstances improve. What's a 4 by 8 sheet of aluminum these days? 80 bucks or so. You can build the rudder for your airplane from that one sheet. And then you'll have a finished part ready to go!" So says Mark Townsend of Can-Zac Aviation, the Canadian distributors of Zenith Aircraft. Mark was waxing enthusiastic as he proudly described the recently released 3.5-hour DVD, which takes the novice builder by the hand and gently leads him into the construction of a complete Zenith rudder and wingribs.
Townsend freely admits that production values may fall a bit short of the Hollywood blockbuster category, but this is more than made up for by the addition of a few humorous elements. "There is a sock puppet," Townsend says, "who steals lunch."
Targeted at the budget minded builder who can't justify the extra expense of the quickbuild option, "Scratch Building Basics for Metal Aircraft" is a two-DVD set that sells for a modest $39. It can be ordered online at www.homebuilthelp.com. If you're considering the realities of scratch-building, or are just unsure of what's required of a builder, this series is a good place to start with minimal investment.
If you have a phone or PDA with a Microsoft OS, you might well be interested in the WingX software now marketed by Jeppesen and introduced today at Sun 'n Fun. For $169 the first year, you get graphical weather, TAFs, winds aloft, a complete Airport Facilities Directory and JeppGuide with one-touch dialing for FBOs. You also get FARs with Jeppesen FAR Explained, weight and balance with nearly 500 planes already in the database (but no homebuilts, and not my Cessna 175), sunrise/sunset, and a section that keeps track of all your currencies—tailwheel, IFR, BFR and more. Blackberry will be next, and then iPhone. After the first year, renewals are $129. And if an Internet download gets interrupted, you don't have to start over from the beginning.
WingX is at hiltonsoftware.com, and the manual for the Jeppesen version and FAQ are at jeppesen.com/mobile.