As a technology enthusiast and consummate early adopter, it grates on me how quickly things become outdated, outmoded, and incompatible. Some of these challenges are a result of the march of progress. I get that HDTV and digital video connections are far superior to old analog TV and cables. But that doesn’t mean I want to make it impossible to connect to my old turntable just because my stereo manufacturer won’t make money by giving me the privilege of continuing to listen to it.
I see this problem becoming ever more acute in the world of aviation. You’re either “in the ecosystem” marching towards a homogenous panel or you’re an afterthought to some other avionics manufacturers. Proprietary protocols and interconnects with a “walled garden” approach is giving us less choice, and making flying less affordable. uAvionix doesn’t subscribe to this approach, and here is why and what we’re doing about it.
When we launched the AV-30, our 3” round AI and DG replacement, it lived a fairly solitary life. It offered no connectivity between AV-30s, and limited connectivity to other instruments and sensors. Being front and center in your six-pack, we’ve always envisioned it being something much greater. I’d like to talk about our plans, and more specifically exactly what you’ll see uAvionix deliver over the course of the next year to improve your flying experience.
I’ll start off by admitting that our pace of development and certification hasn’t met our own, and possibly your, expectations. There is no doubt that certification is time consuming and difficult to predict, but we’re applying significant and growing resources to improve the process. Everything we discuss here is a real product, and is either already available or will be coming soon for experimental or certified aircraft.
GPS and OAT (Outside Air Temperature)
Let’s start with the basics. We launched the AV-30 with support for integrating with both an Outside Air Temperature sensor, and a GPS navigator over a serial connection.
With our latest free AV-30-E software release Version 2.4.1, we’ve greatly improved the GPS display capabilities, and in most cases are now able to display full flight plans – not just next way point information. Although broadly compatible, the GPS serial connection is still limited to providing VFR navigation information. Read on to learn how we’re upgrading that experience for instrument flight (see IFR HSI below).
In keeping with the “uAvionix way”, we want the AV-30 to be as simple and cost effective to install for as many people as possible. That typically means limiting required connections and making the AV-30 mostly self-contained. Sometimes that works well, and other times technology bumps into the realities of a given aircraft installation. In this case, we designed the AV-30 to work as an “unaided” DG to eliminate the need to connect a GPS (not all aircraft have them) or a remote magnetometer (not everyone can or wants to install them). For some aircraft, that works great and the mechanical gyro-like precession is acceptable. For others, especially those operating in IFR or accustomed to magnetically slaved DGs, higher and more predictable heading performance is desired. Our AV-Mag accessory brings that remote magnetometer capability to AV-30 and is available for both experimental and certified installations, today. We’ve made it easy to install and many customers have found it provides the long-term stability they desire for more complex operations.
Many of you are familiar with our ground-breaking line of ADS-B transmitters. Our skyBeacon and tailBeacon are the world’s most popular retrofit ADS-B solutions because they are simple to install and “just work”. But when it came time to replace your aging transponder, we didn’t have a solution. Enter tailBeaconX, our all-in-one ADS-B transponder and GPS in a rear position light. Unlike our earlier ADS-B products, this one needs a way to enter a squawk code, and the AV-30 panel display provides an ideal interface at no additional cost, weight, or panel space. And it allows the AV-30 to use the certified GPS information from the tailBeaconX. This is available now for both experimental and certified aircraft installations.
ADS-B and EFB (Electronic Flight Bag)
uAvionix is known as an ADS-B company. As the manufacturer of Sentry and SkyEcho, the world’s most popular portable ADS-B receivers, we celebrate the critical safety benefits that widespread access to traffic and weather in the cockpit bring. Traffic received by Sentry and other ADS-B receivers are traditionally shown on popular EFB software, like ForeFlight, running on tablets. Our exciting AV-Link adds Wi-Fi to your AV-30, and breaks traffic information free from solely being viewable on an iPad. It allows you to use your existing portable ADS-B receivers to show traffic, front and center, on your AV-30.
This functionality is available today for experimental, and is in the final stages of certification for delivery in the first half of 2024.
We see this as just Phase One of bringing together a modern, connected cockpit. EFBs have already redefined how we fly. A rich link between EFBs and installed avionics are the end-game for how we will operate our aircraft. It will bring functionality and ease of use beyond what even the most complex full glass panel offers. This hybrid approach to steam, retrofit electronic round-gauges, and EFBs applies the best technology to solve the right challenges. More on this vision to close this article.
Last year we launched digital autopilot interface capabilities, enabling communications with the Trio Prio Pilot and AeroCruze/TruTrak. Those are available now for the AV-30-E (experimental). This year, we are introducing AV-APA, our “Analog Port Adapter”, which is a rather dull name for something that has been more requested than any other capability. AV-APA functions as an interface to analog autopilots. In its launch configuration it can emulate a Bendix King KI-525A HSI, and interface to S-TEC System 20/30/40/50 autopilots.
Depending on the interfaced systems, the AV-30 becomes capable of providing heading bug, GPS course, and set altitude guidance. For pilots looking to ditch legacy HSIs that provided steering information to their expensive autopilots, there is no capability more important. We are delivering AV-APA to the experimental market today, and expect certification in 2024.
IFR HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator)
If you were lucky enough to visit AirVenture 2023, we hope you were able to stop by our booth. If you did, you may have seen us demonstrating not just the autopilot support described above, but another key capability. Second only to autopilot support, pilots are rightly demanding we interface with a variety of IFR navigation sources to display course and glideslope guidance for GPS and ILS approaches, and course guidance when enroute. In many cases, not having that capability means pilots have needed to maintain existing HSIs in their aircraft, minimizing the value that an AV-30 can provide.
As these capabilities are not available solely using the hardware built in to the AV-30, we invite you to meet AV-HSI, which adds the needed ARINC 429 capabilities among other benefits. Nearly universally compatible with GPS Navigators and NAV/COMMs, AV-HSI is the key to unlocking not just IFR navigation capabilities, but also interconnectivity between AV-30s.
When installed in the aircraft, AV-HSI becomes the network “hub”. Navigation information, including RNAV LPV, RNAV LNAV+V, localizer back course, ILS, and VOR becomes available and visible on the AI, DG, and new CDI displays of each AV-30. Further, key features like heading bug, barometric pressure, and OAT can now be synchronized between units.
The Big Picture and What Comes Next
Circling back to my promise at the start of this article. Why are we doing what we do? We believe in choice, and we believe many of your avionics have a lot of life left in them. With our resources focused on solving connectivity problems, we’re breathing new life into your existing avionics, not just trying to sell you replacements.
If it’s not clear, we are bullish on the AV-30 serving as the keystone for a modern, fully connected cockpit. One with capabilities beyond what even the most technically advanced aircraft contained just a few years ago, and doing so without sending your panel to a chop shop.
With the connections in place, there are whole new classes of functionality we intend to enable. Consider the capabilities of a modern iPad for your Multi-Function Display. The compute power, graphical prowess, and user interface of an iPad is light years ahead of the best installed avionics. And the massive investments made in consumer electronics will ensure it stays that way. If you’re using ForeFlight, you already know this because you experience it on every flight. Now consider that MFD with full connectivity to your legacy avionics. Flight plan interchange, transponder control, and even autopilot guidance being provided from your EFB’s familiar magenta line. Consider the power of bringing information from your certified avionics to your iPad – attitude and certified GPS position information to feed synthetic vision displays, indicated and true airspeed data, along with angle of attack information to provide real time and logged information through maneuvers.
uAvionix is engaged in a different way of doing business, and we’re continuing to subscribe to our core principals of providing real value to the pilot. We appreciate the incredible support you’ve provided thus far, and hope we can continue to meet even more of your avionics needs as we build a more Open Connected Cockpit.