Pilot Products

November 1, 1997

LightSpeed 20K ANR

Active noise-reduction headsets continue to flourish. In a field that seems almost awash in these high-tech attenuators, there's yet another player. LightSpeed Technologies has introduced not one, but two models — the 15K and the 20K. A main selling strength here is price: These headsets come in well below the $600 point that is about the industry average for full-coverage ANR sets. A principal difference between the two is price — about $150 separates the two — a few mechanical specifications, and degree of active noise reduction. Suggested retail price for the 15K is $299, while the 20K lists for $445; street prices are around $295 and $425, respectively. Both are said to weigh 16 ounces.

At first glance, the LightSpeed twins appear to be quite a departure from the more familiar ANR offerings. They're made to look as if they're constructed entirely from plastic, although the headband has a hidden metal strap. The deep gray tone is either quietly handsome or blandly utilitarian, depending upon your point of view. The ear cups are triangular and none too large; we didn't have any problems with our testers' ears finding room, but the LightSpeed's cups are by no means capacious. If you have large lobes, try on a set before buying.

These ear cups mate to your head, using thick seals filled with temperature-sensitive foam. The 20K uses three densities of foam, while the 15K employs two. What's more, the LightSpeed ear cups are angled in the stirrup to better follow the long dimension of the ear. This means, of course, that the headset will fit only one way, which also forces you to wear the microphone on the left side. For the majority of pilots, this will be familiar. A thick, pillowy headband has quite soft padding. Two AA batteries reside in a module about 6 inches from the microphone and headphone plugs; this housing also contains twin volume controls, a mono/ stereo switch, an on/off switch, and the press-to-test battery indicator.

Inside those ear cups are proprietary electronics. Two speakers inside the cups split duties; the larger introduces the inverted, anti-noise signal, while the smaller issues radio calls and music to the pilot. LightSpeed's circuitry aims to cut noise at frequencies a speck lower than is commonly used, primarily to work in the world of large-displacement engines swinging two-blade propellers — a world that typifies general aviation. (The difference here is not great, but it's noteworthy that LightSpeed has given the issue consideration.) As a side effect, the 20K's noise damping is most effective at a lower frequency but also tails off before some of the other ANRs reach their optimum frequency.

If this sounds like the kind of minutiae that excites only electronics nerds, you may be right. But the results in the cockpit are remarkable. We tried both the 15K and 20K headsets in a couple of airplane types, including a turbocharged four-place single and a high-powered twin. In both aircraft, the LightSpeed's performance was commendable. Each headset reduced annoying low-frequency noise with a minimum of electronic artifacts; some ANR sets introduce quite a bit of "white" noise, and a few others distort the frequency range of received audio enough to be annoying. Not with either LightSpeed, thankfully.

Performance differences between the 15K and 20K are most noticeable in louder airplanes. LightSpeed says that the 15K uses a slightly less effective ANR module and, combined with somewhat different ear seal construction, makes for less total noise reduction. According to the company, the 15K provides 16 decibels of active reduction, compared to 22 dB in the 20K. In the single-engine aircraft, side-by-side comparisons showed no clear winner. But louder environments tend to show off the 20K's better electronics. It's not a night-and-day contrast, however.

One other way the 20K sets itself apart from the 15K is in comfort. The triple-density temperature-sensitive ear seals are indeed gentler to the human head, in particular where they are asked to work around the temple pieces of glasses. The 20K's seals are firmer, which gives them a more planted feel; the 15K's seem to move around a lot more. Both models are more comfortable on long flights than are the ANRs based on more conventional headset designs, but still not as painless to operate as the class-leading (and price-list-topping) Bose.

Because the power supplied to either headset must come from batteries — there's no provision for external power — their life is a consideration. We never managed to reproduce the 25 to 30 hours claimed by LightSpeed, but each set would make it around 15 hours before the last red "low battery" light would show.

LightSpeed has entered this crowded segment with a solid pair of products that sport extremely competitive pricing. Both headsets are comfortable and appear to be durable — we didn't break anything, but we also didn't try to drive a fuel truck over the headsets. It's true that neither the 15K nor the 20K looks like a $600 headset — and even though LightSpeed has once lengthened the gooseneck microphone boom, we'd like it still longer — but neither costs six bills, either. Value is the watchword here.

For more information, contact LightSpeed Technologies, 15812 S.W. Upper Boones Ferry Road, Lake Oswego, Oregon 97035; telephone 800/732-8999 or 503/684-5538. E-mail litspeed@teleport.com, or visit the Web site: ( www.lightspeed-tek.com). — Marc E. Cook

Rigel Systems' Skylite

Rigel Systems has introduced the Skylite, a compact flashlight with both red and white LEDs for illumination. Rigel claims that its red LEDs are spectrally pure lights, as opposed to an incandescent bulb that is filtered red. They are also claimed to last longer.

Our evaluation Skylite performed very well in the cockpit environment. The so-called white light seemed to have more of a bluish tint than white. The white light emits a much wider beam than the tightly-focused red LEDs. Compared to a Mini Maglite equipped with a red filter, we thought that the Skylite offered much more brightness but lacked the ability to adjust the beam width for a wide overall view. On the other hand, the Skylite has a dimming rheostat to tame the brightness to a tolerable level.

Outside the aircraft, the svelte (4.5 x 1.3 x 1-inch) Skylite didn't quite have the oomph for preflighting items more than 5 feet away. The Mini Maglite with the red lens removed was marginally better, but neither could match a good D-cell flashlight for preflighting purposes. The Skylite is better suited for the cockpit. With an included lanyard, the $34.95 Skylite can be hung around the neck for quick access and reading of charts in one's lap. It is powered by a single 9-volt battery.

For more information, contact Rigel Systems, 26850 Basswood Avenue, Rancho Palos Verdes, California 90275; telephone 310/375-4149. — Peter A. Bedell

Virtual Wings

Cat III Systems recently unveiled the latest in the long line of flight simulators — Virtual Wings. The Macintosh-based software goes a step beyond most entertainment-style simulators by providing some realistic scenarios and is self-proclaimed to be more than "a crash course in becoming a private pilot."

Based on the Socata TB20, this single-engine, retractable aircraft simulation is a ringer for the real thing. Interface design has been carefully thought out and provides a nice array of instruments on the panel. Additionally, texture maps provide beautiful detail in a wide range of scenery and atmospheric conditions covering locations in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Italy. Thanks to the use of Jeppesen's navaid and airport facilities data, you can expect to see every airport, VOR, and NDB exactly where you would find them in a real-life flight.

Technically, Virtual Wings was a breeze to install and offered decent stability while in use. With QuickDraw 3D standard on most Macs today, the only considerations in setup are the 3D acceleration card, a joystick, and the ability to support a resolution of 832 X 624 at thousands of colors. Keyboard control, as can be expected, is clumsy at best. AOPA Pilot tests were done on both a Power Macintosh 8100 running at 100 MHz with 80 MB RAM and a PowerComputing 200 MHz Power Mac clone with 64 MB RAM. Incidentally, the ATI acceleration card on the PowerComputing Power Mac was noted as incompatible, yet it worked fine in the version that we tested.

Virtual Wings can be purchased from the 4Cds multimedia catalog, either on the Web ( www.4cds.com/flight.html) or by calling 508/865-7660 or 800/322-8866. Retail price is approximately $125. — David W. Weigelt

Briefly Noted

Global Assistive Devices, Inc., of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is now offering the Vibralite vibrating and flashing alarm watch/timer. Originally designed for the hearing impaired, the Vibralite will probably come in handy in the high-decibel cockpit of most general aviation aircraft. Strapped to the wrist, the Vibralite will vibrate to remind pilots when it's time to switch tanks, for example — without going unnoticed, as an audible alarm can be. An electro-luminescent light is installed to provide night viewing capabilities of the display's 12- or 24-hour clock. The Vibralite lists for $34.95 and comes with a two-year warranty. For more information, call 888/778-4237 or 954/784-0035. — PAB

Micro Aerodynamics, of Anacortes, Washington, now offers a vortex generator kit for the Beech Duke. The kit consists of small aluminum tabs affixed to the upper leading edge of the wing, the leading edge of the rudder, and the underside of the horizontal stabilizer. VGs on the underside of the stabilizer are intended to improve pitch control at low airspeeds. In addition, two strakes are placed on the outboard sides of the engine nacelles. The kit is claimed to reduce VMC by 13 knots and reduce stall speeds while improving low-speed handling. Micro is offering an introductory price of $1,950 for the kit. For more information, call 800/677-2370 or 360/293-8082.

Beryl D'Shannon now offers a vortex generator kit for Beech Bonanza models 33, A35 through V35B, and 36 through the A36TC. The $2,750 kit contains VGs that excite the air in the boundary layer just above the top surface of the wing to allow the airplane to fly at a higher angle of attack, thereby lowering stall speeds. With the lower stall speed, BDS has received approval to increase the maximum gross weight of the applicable aircraft by 100 pounds. For more information, call BDS at 800/328-4629 or visit the company's Web site ( www.beryldshannon.com). — PAB

Chandler, Arizona-based SoftComm Products has introduced its ATC-100 Time Alert feature for headsets. By pushing a button mounted on one of the ear cups, you activate the timer to begin a one-minute countdown. Each push of the button adds another minute for Time Alert to count down. When the time expires, Time Alert sets off a tone in the pilot's headset only. Time Alert will help with holding patterns, instrument approaches, fuel tank switching requirements, and other phases of flight. The self-contained timer can be purchased with a new SoftComm headset or it can be affixed to an existing headset for $49.95. For more information, contact SoftComm at 602/917-2328 or visit the company's Web site ( http://gramercy.ios.com/-softcom). — PAB

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.