Pilot Products

April 1, 1997

Magellan SkyStar GPS

For the last 2 years, Garmin has marked the beginning of spring with the introduction of the GPS 90 in 1995 and the GPSMap 195 in 1996. This year, Magellan takes the lead, setting a new standard in low-cost handhelds.

In developing the SkyStar, pilots on the Magellan staff decided to adopt the convenient features common in other handhelds, such as menu-driven user interfaces, moving map, and databases bristling with detailed information. To that, they added a host of new features, wedged it into a svelte new case, and then beat the price down to $699 — which makes the SkyStar about the lowest-priced unit around on a cost-per-feature basis.

So what's new? Graphically depicted weight-and-balance envelopes, for one thing. Enter the weight and balance information for your airplane once. (Actually, the unit stores data for up to five aircraft — selectable by N number.) On subsequent flights all that you do is enter the weight and locations of those on board, along with fuel amounts. The unit depicts graphically the location of the takeoff CG. If you enter a flight plan, it will predict the location of your landing CG, as well.

The SkyStar uses another graphic page to show vertical navigation information. The aircraft and its projected descent path are displayed along with the descent point and the destination. The unit volunteers the destination's traffic pattern altitude as the final altitude or 1,000 feet agl if there's no TPA in the database. The user can select any altitude, however.

Also new are checklist files. The unit will store five checklists of 10 items each for each aircraft: Emergency, Engine Start, Ground Check, Pretakeoff, and Landing. A Best Glide feature uses the selected aircraft's entered best glide speed to predict whether you will make it to nearby airports. The SkyStar can show the 10 nearest airports. Those within gliding range, based only on entered glide speed, are flagged.

The entering of detailed checklist and aircraft performance and weight and balance information can be done via the unit's keypad, but it would be tedious. A better solution is to use the optional personal-computer interface kit, which will be available soon, but at a price yet to be determined. Flight plans can also be done on the PC and then downloaded to the handheld, along with database updates.

A fuel calculator determines fuel requirements for the entire trip and individual legs. A fuel timer automatically starts when the groundspeed reaches 30 knots.

Features are nice, but what about day-to-day navigation? The SkyStar gives up nothing there, either. Five navigation pages, three of them customizable, provide about any view you could ask for. Among the pages is a horizontal situation indicator depiction. The customizable pages allow you to place your choice of data anywhere on the screen. The moving map is available full screen or on two-thirds of the page. In the split depiction, panels along the right side show your choice of the usual nav information. A pan feature allows you to look ahead and left or right of course to view airports, navaids, or airspace off the screen.

The pilots on the Magellan staff seem to know what map scales are most important to users. The choices range from 0.25 to 250 nautical miles, with most choices toward the bottom of the scale: 0.5, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, and 120 nm. The display includes airspace alerts along with depiction of airspace rings and top and bottom altitudes.

Magellan predicts that the SkyStar will operate on its four alkaline batteries (actually included) for about 10 hours; we didn't have a chance to confirm the usage. The company expects the optional nicad pack to allow about 8 hours of use. Circuitry in the GPS allows the nicads to charge — but not overcharge — when plugged into a cigarette lighter. The power-boosted antenna helps the 12-channel receiver to keep its lock whether the antenna is attached to the unit or removed and suction-cupped to a window.

With its $699 price and many innovative features, the SkyStar makes shopping difficult for those who think that they need the cartography map depictions found on the Garmin GPSMap 195, the Magellan EC-10X, and other units that routinely sell for at least $500 more. Who said flying was easy?

For more information, contact Magellan Systems Corporation, 960 Overland Court, San Dimas, California 91773; telephone 909/394-5000; fax 909/394-7050. — Thomas B. Haines

A few months back, a fatal accident in Massachussetts involving a Piper Cherokee was a painful reminder of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. An inexpensive carbon monoxide detector might have saved the two occupants of the Cherokee. Generally, these detectors have a limited life — usually 30 days. The problem is, many pilots fly their airplane only a few times before the detector should be replaced. The Quantum Group of San Diego offers a longer lasting alternative to the low-cost, 30-day detectors. The Quantum Eye lasts a minimum of 18 months and has an expiration date stamped right on it so that you know when it needs to be replaced. Also, the Quantum Eye will work even after it has been exposed to carbon monoxide. The Quantum Eye lists for $9.95. Quantum is currently working on audible units to be used in aircraft. To order, contact the Quantum Group, 11211 Sorrento Valley Road, San Diego, California 92121; telephone 800/432-5599. — Peter A. Bedell

Vortex FlightPlanner

Software developer Dan McGee of Saratoga, California, dreams of owning a hugely successful software company one day, and he is off to a good start. Vortex FlightPlanner flight planning software made by his company, Legend Systems, may just help him to achieve that dream for two reasons — it can create weather graphics from a text-based computer weather briefing and lay it along a route map; and it costs only $150.

McGee's software "reads" the text radar summary reports and creates color precipitation maps showing six levels of intensity. Also included are standard weather symbols for wind direction and speed. The graphics are made up of green, yellow, and red blocks, depending on the intensity of the storms. They appear a little chunky but give an excellent idea of what's out there in relation to your planned route.

That means you will have weather graphics plotted along your route with every briefing. The flight planning chart over which your course is laid is based on Jeppesen data, with updates ranging from $60 for one update per year to $400 for 13 updates.

Ever wish you could get a graphic weather map of just your local area without having to plan a route? Click on your state, or up to five states and regions selected from a list, and click on Dial. Vortex will download a text briefing from a DUAT service for later review and chart radar returns and winds on the Jeppesen map of your local area. This feature didn't work every time, however, indicating that this new program still has a few bugs.

Legend Systems is a young company (McGee and his wife are the owners) with a young software product, meaning that there are a few bugs in the program. For example, the software failed to load properly on a home computer, while loading quickly on another more advanced computer. In a few days McGee sent a replacement disk with a fix. But the reward of free weather graphics outweighs the problems of any first-version software problems.

The company has no staff at present, so you will have to leave a telephone message or send an e-mail for technical help and have a little patience. McGee works during the day as a researcher for a major computer company. The staff at JetStream Catalog is able to answer some of the questions that arise, and McGee, an avid instrument-rated private pilot, will also provide technical help over the World Wide Web ( www.legendsystems.com).

Something had to give to keep the price at $150. While there is basic airport information, there are few airport details; for example, there are no runway diagrams or FBO information. There are also no preferred IFR routes, SIDs, or STARs.

Requirements are an IBM or compatible 386 PC or better, with 4 MB memory, a hard disk with 4 MB of free space, a 1.44-MB floppy drive, a VGA display or better, Windows 3.11 or better, and a modem. To order, call 800/707-5343, leave a message at 408/252-2114, or call JetStream at 800/470-2359 or 503/693-3522. — Alton K. Marsh

Briefly Noted

Flightcom Corporation has released the DVR 300i digital voice recorder and clock. The unit provides checklist items, timing functions, and playback of audio such as TWEB broadcasts and taxi clearances. The DVR 300i lists for $585 and has a 1-year warranty. Contact Flightcom at 7340 Southwest Durham Road, Portland, Oregon 97224; telephone 800/432-4342. — Peter A. Bedell

Skyforce Avionics has released the color versions of its Skymap II and Tracker II handheld or panel-mounted GPS moving maps (see " Pilot Products," February Pilot). The Color Skymap and Color Tracker use a color LCD that can be viewed from angles in excess of 45 degrees and in low-light conditions. A front-loading PCMCIA card contains Jeppesen-supplied database updates as well as any software upgrades. Price for the Color Skymap is $4,999; the Color Tracker, which does not have a self-contained GPS receiver, is $4,199. For information, call 703/502-7909. — PAB

Bird-X has introduced Terror Eyes, a 2-foot orange sphere with owl-like markings and holographic eyes that "follow" birds as they move. For information, contact Bird-X, Inc., 300 North Elizabeth Street, Chicago, Illinois 60607; telephone 312/226-2463. — PAB

Sporty's Pilot Shop now offers the AOPA Zulu Time Watch featuring simultaneous views of Zulu and local time, a 24-hour chronograph, alarm, timer, and an Indiglo light. The battery-powered watch lists for $59.95 and can be ordered by calling 800/SPORTYS. — PAB

CH Products has developed the Force FX joystick for computer games that offers force-feedback capability. At the moment it works for only a few games, including Warbirds by Interactive Creations, Need for Speed SE by Electronic Arts, and Jet Fighter III by Mission Studio. The stick will yank your hand as you pull Gs, buffet as you experience turbulence, and simulate a stiff airplane throttle. It is pricey, at $249.95, but you may find a discount price $50 to $75 lower. For information, contact CH Products, 970 Park Center Drive, Vista, California 92083; telephone 619/598-2518. — AKM

Unless otherwise stated, products listed herein have not been evaluated by AOPA Pilot editors. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors. However, members unable to get satisfaction regarding products listed should advise AOPA. To submit products for evaluation, contact: New Products Editor, AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701; telephone 301/695-2350.