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Just as the world of manned aircraft struggles to understand drones, the unmanned world is trying to grasp how autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft will fit into the national airspace system.

“Most of the activity is in what’s called the Part 107 market, which is the line of sight market,” says Brad Hayden, president of Robotic Skies, a company to devoted to setting up maintenance networks and airworthiness assurance for unmanned systems.

“Everybody is busting at the seams to fly beyond line of sight. And I think the industry is coming to the realization that that’s going to require a certain amount of equipage and a certain amount of airworthiness to make that happen,” he adds.

At the Aircraft Electronics Association show in New Orleans this week, Hayden announced a partnership with a company called uAvionix that makes a line of tiny ADS-B units half the size of matchboxes. If and when these are required—and the best bet is when, not if—Hayden says he wants his company to be in a position to provide technical and airworthiness support. He sees the UAvionix partnership as just another step leading to a world where UAS are seamlessly integrated into manned flight.

“All you have to do is look at our customers. We have 10 OEMs that are making high-end aircraft, everything from multi-rotors to high-end fixed-wing systems," Hayden told us in this AVweb podcast at AEA. “This is not about segregation of UAS from manned aircraft. This is about integration.”

At this year’s Aircraft Electronics Association show in New Orleans, a number of new products were announced, albeit no major ones for the end user. Here’s a summary of what we saw at the show.

Cabin entertainment and data systems are a significant part of the avionics industry and AEA never fails to deliver new products in this segment. One of them comes from FDS Avionics in the form of Glass Cabin. Using a tablet or smartphone, it allows passengers to point the device in any direction and see a high-resolution moving map based on aircraft position. The so-called DO2D system also operates on bulkhead displays. See a demo video on the FDS website.

Such systems aren’t exactly new so some of them are looking a little dated. To freshen them up, Alto Aviation announced a modular switching system that updates and modernizes older cabin control panels. See them at Alto's website.

LED technology continues to advance rapidly, and inevitably, those products are finding their way into aircraft. At AEA, AeroLEDs announced that it has no fewer than 15 new aircraft LED applications, including several large landing light replacements for incandescent lamps. The company has also announced an LED replacement for the common 7512 bulb found as navigation lights on many aircraft. These lamps have up to 75 percent lower power consumption and longer life, according to AeroLEDs. Also new is the AEROSUN CX for Cessna 100 and 200 series aircraft. For detailed specs on the new lamps, see the AeroLEDs website.

Trans-Cal is a well-known manufacturer of altitude encoders and although this technology remains unsung, it’s also indispensable. At AEA, the company announced a new encoder the company calls The SSD120-(XX)C-(X) or “Charlie” for short. The encoder, says the company, has a smaller form factor and, something rare in aviation, a lower price. See the details here.  

Although new manufacture airplanes have 28-volt electrical systems, many older models still retain 14-volt systems. To run 28-volt avionics on those systems, you need a D-to-DC converter. Mid-Continent Instruments + Avionics rolled out a new one called the TC230. It has overload, short-circuit and reverse-polarity protection and is rated at 230 watts. See more at https://www.mcico.com. Find another DC-to-DC converter from Swiss-based Kuerzi Avionics. It converts inputs from 10 to 48 volts to selectable outputs of 5, 14 or 28 volts DC. Kuerzi's site has all the specs.

Law enforcement, survey and traffic pilots have their hands full handling not only aircraft radios, but multiple agency frequencies as well. At AEA, two companies introduced products to help with that high-stress task. PS Engineering announced the PAC45 audio control system that can handle up to six radios and seven intercom stations, to just skim its capabilities. The device also has Bluetooth capability for music and telephone interfaces. PS Engineering’s website has all the details. 

From Jupiter Avionics comes the JA-10-001, which can handle up to eight radios and the JA-95-070, which can control five, complete with split audio capability, audio levels and intercom controls. See the details at Jupiter’s website.

The aviation trade show season officially kicked off in New Orleans on Monday as the Aircraft Electronic Association opened its 60th annual convention and trade show. The show is typically attended by about 2000 manufacturers, repair station representatives and avionics shops hoping to see the latest innovations in avionics and catching up on training and installation techniques.

The highlight of the show is Monday’s product introduction session, which featured 28 presenters, a somewhat lower number than we’ve seen in previous years. We saw no major new products this year, but two companies, L-3 and Avidyne, showed enhancements to existing products and several other companies announced utility products such as power converters, data boxes and cabin connectivity products. NavWorx, which has been bickering with the FAA over ADS-B approvals, announced two revised (but not new) ADS-B products, including the $1499 ADS600-B and the $2020 ADS600-B that includes an onboard WAAS GPS source. More on those later in the week.

Avidyne announced its long-awaited software revision (R10.2) that adds synthetic vision and in-cockpit wireless capability to its IFD500-series navigators. From L-3 comes a major revision of its Lynx ADS-capable transponders that similarly adds a host of features, including traffic alerting, Stormscope display capability and terrain display. L-3 plans to have TCAS I traffic available on the Lynx later this year. Look for video reports on these products and others as AVweb’s coverage of the AEA show continues this week.

Embraer, which is based in Brazil, now is forming new innovation campuses in Silicon Valley and Boston, the company announced on Tuesday. “A major transformation is unfolding worldwide, and it has been accelerated by the evolution of artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles,” said Antonio Campello, Embraer’s director of corporate innovation, who will lead the initiative. The objective, Embraer said in a news release, is to explore business opportunities in the future of air transportation, with the collaboration of startups, investors, academia and corporations. The team will seek partnerships that enable new business models and technologies. Operations will begin this month. 

“We want to integrate with the Silicon Valley and Boston communities, and create value for transporting people and cargo through the world's largest innovative ecosystems,” said Embraer CEO Paulo Cesar Silva. Embraer’s Silicon Valley outpost won’t be the first for an established aircraft manufacturer — Airbus already has a team there, called A^3, working on similar projects. Other transportation-oriented companies, such as Uber, also have recently invested in research teams that are focused on the development of new urban transit systems that incorporate autonomous flying vehicles. Officials in Dubai recently said they expect to launch an autonomous flying taxi service as soon as this summer. 

David Esteves, 52, who was director of maintenance at the now-defunct Avantair fractional-ownership company, pleaded guilty on Friday in a federal court to charges that he tampered with evidence during investigations by the FAA and NTSB. Both agencies were looking into why an Avanti turboprop crew flew from California to Nevada, with passengers on board, with the left tail elevator missing. The flight landed safely and nobody was hurt. Federal authorities charged that Esteves asked an aviation maintenance contractor in Las Vegas to cover up evidence, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The contractor told the court that a few days after the incident, Esteves asked him to run the aircraft’s engines for 30 to 45 minutes, which would have wiped clean the cockpit voice recorder, but the contractor refused. He was also asked to tighten a loose nut he found on the right elevator, but refused. At its peak, Avantair employed about 500 people and operated 60 Piaggio Avanti turboprops in fractional ownership programs, from its base at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport in Florida. The company declared bankruptcy in 2013. Esteves was released on his own recognizance pending a sentencing hearing.

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The B-21 Raider long-range stealth bomber, under development by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. Air Force, has passed its preliminary design review, according to a recent report in DefenseNews. “It's making great progress, and we’re pleased with the way it’s headed,” said Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing. Northrop Grumman has been working on the project since October 2015. The company is expected to deliver at least 100 of the airplanes at a cost of about $500 million apiece, with first deliveries in about 10 years. Details of the airplane’s design and development are secret.

According to Northrop Grumman, “The B-21 Raider will be capable of penetrating the toughest defenses to deliver precision strikes anywhere in the world. We are providing America’s warfighters with an advanced aircraft offering a unique combination of range, payload, and survivability.” The B-21 will replace the two oldest bombers serving in the U.S. Air Force: the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer.

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With a new cost-cutting budget proposal from President Donald Trump expected on Thursday, general aviation advocates took the offensive on Monday and sent a letter to Congress asking them to protect funding for contract towers. NBAA, AOPA and eight other groups sent a letter to Congress asking them to fully fund the towers in the FAA appropriations bill for this year. President Trump’s proposal is expected to include $54 billion in budget cuts and dramatically reduce the federal workforce, according to news reports from The Hill and The Washington Post. The contract-tower program needs at least $159 million, according to the letter. All controllers who work in the contract facilities are certified by the FAA, and meet the same training and operational standards as FAA-employed controllers.

The program saves the FAA about $200 million per year while providing essential services, the letter states. “The bottom line is that, absent this highly successful partnership, many local communities and smaller airports would not receive the significant safety benefits of ATC services,” the letter (PDF) concludes. Contract towers now number 253 in 46 states, and handle 28 percent of all tower operations in the U.S., yet the contract towers account for only about 14 percent of FAA's overall budget for control-tower operations, according to NBAA. Back in 2013, the FAA threatened to close the 149 contract towers that serve smaller GA airports, but advocates lobbied successfully to save them. Since then, every year at budget time, advocacy groups rally once again to be sure the budget makers don’t forget about these towers.

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Two unusual aircraft are working their way through development and preparing to fly soon. The damage to the Airlander hybrid lighter-than-air cargo aircraft, sustained during a test flight last August in England, has been repaired, and crews are prepping it for another flight soon. While completing repairs, the company also made several improvements to the aircraft to reduce the chance of future mishaps. An extra air cushion has been added forward of the landing gear, which allows the aircraft to land safely at a greater range of attitudes, and the mooring line now can be recovered by the flight crew, to ensure a stray line doesn’t interfere with approach and landing, as it did on the day of the accident. Meanwhile, the builders of SolarStratos, who aim for it to be the first solar-powered airplane to reach the stratosphere with a pilot on board, plan to start piloted test flights this month.

The team aims to fly to at least 75,000 feet, which they say is high enough to see the curvature of the Earth and to see the stars even during the day. To keep weight low, the cockpit will not be pressurized, so pilot Raphael Domjan, who leads the project, will wear a pressure suit. The mission will last about five hours, including two hours to climb, fifteen minutes to enjoy the view, and three hours to descend. The aircraft is being built in Germany, and the test flights are planned for Switzerland. Test pilot Klaus Plasa will fly the testing regime.

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During the opening of the Aircraft Electronics Association show in New Orleans Monday, AEA chairman David Loso made a remark that caught my ear. He said it was time to think about life after ADS-B.

Welcome as that sounds, I’m not sure we’re quite there yet. The ADS-B 2020 mandate is but 33 months away and the general aviation fleet is a long way from being equipped to operate in the mandated airspace. Although installation volume is picking up, only about 20,000 aircraft are equipped out of a fleet variously estimated to number about 160,000, according to one manufacturer I spoke to Monday. I’ve heard that number many times. We’re not even a quarter of the way there yet. If you do the quick math and reduce the number of eligible aircraft to say, 130,000, the avionics industry will need to do about 3300 installs a month or more than 100 a day until the finish line. Is that even doable? AEA President Paula Derks says it is and that the association’s member shops will staff up and resource the problem with whatever it takes to meet the deadline.

Whether it’s doable or not doable, one thing is becoming clear to me: It’s quite possible that many owners simply aren’t interested in this technology because they either don’t see the value or don’t plan to fly in the mandated airspace, which roughly corresponds to where Mode-C transponders are required now.

Perversely, it’s almost as if you can’t pay some owners to install ADS-B. Recall that last fall, the FAA put into effect its $500 rebate program for would-be ADS-B buyers. The program runs for a year and we’re seven months into that, yet the uptake has been lukewarm at best. As of last month, only about 4000 owners had taken advantage of the rebate and fewer than 3000 had stepped through all the hoops necessary to get the check in the mail. The program has funding for 20,000 installations and hasn’t reached even a quarter of that. If you’re interested, better get busy. The program will likely time out before the money runs out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the FAA extend the rebate deadline. To be fair, it was a noble and honest effort at pump priming. It’s just that the market is cranky and resistant to getting on board.

One reason for the lackluster response is that in the overall scheme of aircraft ownership, $500 is—sorry, FAA—a mere bagatelle. It’s even more trifling when you consider the airplane has to be flown to and in airspace where the required FAA data collection can be done, collected and validated before the check is cut. One shop owner told me that owners don’t see overwhelming value in this process and I don’t think I do either. It’s a nice to have, maybe, but not a motivator.

I think some owners are still occupying the fence slats awaiting the clouds to part for a better deal. I doubt if it’s coming from the FAA, nor do I expect any price breakthroughs in the hardware. The manufacturers are already at rock-bottom margins and there’s not much wiggle room left to reduce prices. I see no reason to expect shops to suddenly devise assembly line practices that cut installation costs much below the $1500 to $2000 threshold we’re seeing now. In ADS-B, what you see now is pretty much what you’re going to get.

On Monday, NavWorx announced a low price on their ADS600-B UAT product of $1499. It assumes you have a WAAS GPS position source aboard, since it has none of its own. Typically, that should install all-in for $3000 to $4000 and is about as cheap as I think these things are going to get. As an upsell, it even has wireless capability, so if you still think the required ATC part of the deal is a loser, you can at least get FIS-B weather and TIS-B traffic on your tablet. If I needed to fly in the mandated airspace, I’d find that tradeoff worth the investment. I get that owners are becoming fed up with mandatory upgrades, equipment and rules, but there’s nothing particularly new about this. Bluntly, if you can’t afford these modest expenditures, think about a cheap legacy LSA or an older airplane in which you don’t need to navigate the mandated airspace.

Unpleasant as this reality may be, it is nonetheless reality. At least you can recover $500 if you get busy between now and next September. Maybe a small bagatelle is better than none at all.

Not that long ago, a transponder was just a transponder, but now ADS-B-capable transponders like the L-3 Lynx series are doing traffic, weather and other functions. In this video shot at the Aircraft Electronics Show in New Orleans, AVweb reports on the latest revisions from L-3 that definitely make this the most sophisticated transponder out there.

 

Just as the world of manned aircraft struggles to understand drones, the unmanned world is trying to grasp how autonomous or remotely piloted aircraft will fit into the national airspace system.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

We've had a lot of floatplane winners lately but we are unapologetic. The aquatic crowd is exploiting something we all know and that flying floats can get you into some truly beautiful circumstances. Congratulations to Rusty Eichorn for this nice image of a Supercub at the seaplane base in Grand Rapids.

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