Pilot Products

September 1, 1998

Lowrance AirMap 100

Despite increasingly elaborate feature sets and further emphasis on IFR-approved GPS receivers, the hottest activity continues to surround the low-priced, novelty-laden portables. Garmin has recently revamped its trendsetting GPS 90 into the 92, supplanting the single-channel, sequencing receiver for a 12-channel parallel model; Magellan has added a host of new features to its inexpensive SkyStar Plus and enhanced its larger handheld, the EC-20X; and Lowrance has cast its line into the feeding frenzy with the new AirMap 100. Carrying a minimum advertised price of $599, the 100 is about $200 less expensive than the company's first aviation offering, the AirMap 300, and right in the middle of the pack with regard to the Magellan and Garmin offerings.

Sharing basic software logic and screen layouts with the AirMap 300, the 100 squeezes into a svelte package a 12-channel Rockwell GPS engine and a full database including obstruction data, communications information, and impressive ground-mapping capabilities. Lowrance has plainly listened to AirMap users who wanted a smaller package than the robust 300; the 100 fits into the same mold as the Garmin 92 and Magellan SkyStar. Such a form makes it easier to place on a yoke mount and facilitates storage between flights. Instead of a predominantly horizontal screen, the new 100 aligns the bulk of its pixels vertically, a much better arrangement for a moving map. Power is by four AA batteries — the 300 has an optional nickel-metal-hydride pack — with a listed endurance of eight to 10 hours. Our test unit chewed through a set of alkalines in six to eight hours with minimal use of the backlighting.

If you've spent much time with the AirMap 300, you will recognize the 100's operating software instantly. It uses the same 12 keys — four cursor keys plus a Pages key that moves the screen among the various map and status pages; a Menu key that allows for context-sensitive map alterations and various system-level adjustments; and two hot zoom keys that put the ranging functions at your fingertips. Moreover, the software is sufficiently intuitive that the manual becomes superfluous quickly.

Three basic map pages and two numeric pages form the essential navigation screens on the AirMap 100. The first map page presents the topographic data full-screen, while the other two have three boxes of "how-goes-it" information across the bottom; these boxes are user-selected through an intuitive menu system. (You can also choose to set up one or all maps to a certain configuration, allowing such versatility as having one map in the north-up format while another is in the track-up mode.) There are 32 screen ranges from 0.1 mile all the way out to 2,000 miles; an auto-declutter routine makes it so that even the wider scales are reasonably useful. Even so, for most navigating, you'll find the ranges from 10 miles to 80 miles to be most useful.

Lowrance has brought over to the 100 all of the 300's ground-mapping features, including major roads and rivers and an obstruction database as well as the usual airports, navaids, intersections, and special-use airspace. For each airport, the 100 contains full communications, runway, and services information — all items that pilots are now accustomed to seeing in full-featured database boxes. Generally, these displays are well laid out and eminently readable; with some practice, it's easy to work your way though the menus and screens.

Unfortunately, some of the sub-menu screens use letters and numbers that are just too small for easy reading, particularly in the cockpit. For example, the waypoint-selection page, while offering a usefully large legend to indicate whether you're scrolling through airport, navaid, or intersection data, presents the rest of the information in a miniscule type font. Moreover, the AirMap 100 has picked up a few software miscues from the 300 — such as architecture that typically requires more keystrokes than other popular GPSs to accomplish any given task. It's easier for neophyte users to work through the subsystems, but accomplished key-pokers will find the additional steps tiresome.

Lowrance learned some valuable packaging lessons from the AirMap 300, which used an awkward removable antenna system. For the 100, the internal antenna stays put, even when you elect to use the supplied external puck. Our early production AirMap did not include the antenna, but no matter; even lashed to the yoke, the 100 faithfully pulled in the satellites and provided a three-dimensional position solution using just the internal antenna. Moreover, the 100's satellite reception was particularly insensitive to its orientation in the cockpit.

With Lowrance's first product, additional map features were carried on replaceable cartridges that fit into the back of the case. For the 100, Lowrance decided to employ a serial PC interface to transfer new features into its flash memory. Using your desktop or laptop computer, you can update the basic Jeppesen-supplied database from a floppy or use the optional ($54.95) CD-ROM to upload maps with far greater surface detail. There's room enough in the unit for only one database, so when you're done using the AirMap 100 as a fishing tool, you'll have to reload the aviation software. Lowrance should by now have database updates available on its Web site ( www.lowrance.com). Along with the database changes, Lowrance plans to make available operating-system updates the same way.

All told, Lowrance has dramatically upped its game with the 100, erasing the packaging complaints of the marine-derived 300 and providing a glitch-free navigator the first time out. (Our unit suffered no software hiccups.) It's full of useful features such as runway centerline extensions, numerous customizing options, and a simplified database-updating scheme. And at $599, the AirMap 100 scores high on value. It seems that Lowrance has cast its line where the big fish swim and, this time, has the right bait.

For more information, contact Lowrance Avionics, 1200 East Skelley Drive, Tulsa, Oklahoma 75128; telephone 800/324-4740; or visit the Web site ( www.lowrance.com) — Marc E. Cook

Briefly Noted

PS Engineering has introduced an advanced audio panel/intercom called the PMA7000. Picking up where the company's groundbreaking PMA6000 series leaves off, the 7000 incorporates a fully automatic voice-activated intercom. Using proprietary software, the 7000's intercom section can tell background noise from speech and control the VOX circuits accordingly; there is no squelch knob at all. In addition to this new-technology six-place intercom, the 7000 has a full audio panel capable of managing three com radios, as well as an auxiliary input. A dual-com mode allows the pilot and copilot to transmit on separate coms simultaneously. New in the PMA7000 is a mode that keeps the intercom between front-seaters alive when the split-com function is in use, as well as an improved music-delivery scheme. Price for the stereo 7000 with marker beacon receiver is $1,995. An optional user-recorded digital recorder and warning system is $299.95. Contact PS Engineering, 9800 Martel Road, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37772; telephone 800/427-2376 or visit the Web site ( www.ps-engineering.com). — MEC

Pilots tired of constantly switching between sunglasses and reading glasses in flight may want to try MagnaFlyers, nonprescription sunglasses with built-in magnified reading glasses. The $129 specs feature gradient tinting for maximum protection when looking ahead and up, and minimum tinting for instrument and chart scanning. MagnaFlyers are available with varying magnification strengths of 1.75, 2.25, or 2.5 diopters. To order, call Soter Associates at 800/563-8109 or 801/375-6200. — PAB

Research Management Consultants, of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, has introduced its Quick Refresher series of laminated cards for VFR and IFR pilots. The Quick Refresher IFR, for example, contains useful information for IFR pilots faced with emergencies such as pitot-static system blockage or vacuum system failures. The IFR version also contains handy tables for figuring climb gradients and holding pattern entries. Quick Refreshers are available in IFR, VFR, or Weather formats for $5.95 each. For information or orders, call 905/796-3066. — PAB

Gitter Products has introduced Cap Covers, lead-filled mats that cover flush-mounted fuel caps to prevent water contamination. The low-profile 10-by-12-inch covers weigh more than three pounds each, so they will not blow away in strong winds. Cap Covers are available through Sporty's Pilot Shop by calling 800/SPORTYS or 513/735-9100. — PAB

Bose Corporation introduced an all-new lightweight noise-canceling headset. The new Bose Aviation Headset X (that's ten) weighs a svelte 12 ounces, 10 ounces lighter than the Bose Series II headset. A new magnesium headband houses a torsion spring at the apex to provide a light clamping effect. Bose claims that the X clamps the wearer's head with 40 percent less tension than the Series II. List price for the headset is $995. Shipping is expected to begin in four weeks. For more information, visit the Web site ( www.bose.com) or call 800/242-9008 or 508/879-7330, extension 64990. — PAB

The Lamar division of Precision Airmotive has received FAA parts manufacturer approval for a lightweight starter applicable to counterrotating Lycoming 320-, 360-, and 540-series engines. According to Precision, the Lamar permanent-magnet starters are 40 percent lighter than starters originally installed on these engines. Lightweight starters for right-hand-turning Lycomings are already available and are standard equipment on new Cessna singles. For more information, contact Precision at 425/355-6400. — PAB

RAM Aircraft Corporation now offers an oil filter for Continental IO-520 and TSIO-520 engines. The $60 replacement filter has many improvements that are claimed to catch debris as small as 20 microns in diameter. "Particles larger than 20 microns significantly contribute to engine wear," says RAM. Features of the filter compared to a Champion version include a 25-psi bypass spring instead of 14 psi, eight inlet holes versus four, and an aluminum wire mesh that surrounds the filter media on both sides. RAM claims a 99-percent filtration of 20-micron particles versus the Champion's 36 percent. Waco, Texas-based RAM expects approval for other engine models in the near future. For more information, call 254/752-8381. — 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. Links to all Web sites referenced in this issue can be found on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilot/links.shtml).