Pilot Products

August 1, 1999

PS Engineering Aerocom III

PS Engineering has taken the most desirable features of its high-end panel-mount systems and incorporated them into an affordable and portable package. This small Tennessee company, which pioneered the integration of audio panel/intercom systems for light airplanes, recently introduced the Aerocom III, a two-place portable intercom. With the Aerocom III, you'll get PS Engineering's IntelliVox voice-activated squelch system, stereo sound, a music input, automatic muting, and pilot isolation, which disconnects the pilot from the intercom circuit.

PS Engineering's IntelliVox system eliminates the need for a squelch knob — it's automatic. The system samples the ambient noise at each microphone and sets the squelch threshold for that particular station. So if you have two different headset brands in use by pilot and copilot, or a first-time flier who doesn't know to put the mic close to his or her mouth, the IntelliVox system should compensate automatically.

Besides being a useful tool for CFIs and renter pilots, portables are an inexpensive way for an owner to have a "permanent" intercom. Using a cigarette lighter adapter and some creative routing of wires, we've had a portable Sigtronics Transcom II installed in a partnered Cessna 172 for more than a dozen years. The installation was clean and inexpensive, since we didn't need an avionics shop to install it and fill out the paperwork, as would be required for a panel-mount job. Swapping the Sigtronics with the Aerocom III took no more than 20 minutes; the associated wires were neatly tucked away behind the panel, as they were with the old unit.

As with the higher-end PS Engineering intercoms, the Aerocom III provided excellent sound quality and did not clip the first word or syllable of a transmission, as some older intercoms tend to do. (You may notice that many pilots start their radio transmissions with the word and just to break squelch on the intercom.) The IntelliVox system worked as advertised in compensating for the two vastly different headsets in use: an active-noise-canceling Flightcom 6ANX and a passive Avcomm AC-900.

To simulate the first-time passenger, our test involved moving the microphone of either headset as far as four inches from the mouth of the user. In both cases, the intercom automatically compensated for the distance and opened the vox circuit to allow the other user to understand what was being said — albeit at a slightly lower volume and with some more background noise. We found that the Aerocom III broke squelch a bit more easily than the old Sigtronics unit, but the Sigtronics' squelch was set at a point where the mic needed to be within one-half-inch of the user's lips to open the circuit.

Using a nonattenuating one-eighth-inch stereo patch cord from Radio Shack, we plugged a portable compact disc player into the Aerocom III and enjoyed some in-flight music. Portable cassette players also can be patched in. Sound quality through the stereo headsets was excellent but would surely be better through higher-caliber headsets such as the Bose X. Nonetheless, it was quite a treat for both of our testers, neither of whom had ever before listened to music while flying.

The Aerocom III features a muting function that automatically silences the music whenever there is chatter on the radio or whenever someone speaks through the intercom. If you are flying in the busy Northeast on a day-IFR flight, your music will be constantly interrupted, to the point that it's not worth bringing your favorite tunes. Likewise, all must be quiet in the cockpit for uninterrupted music enjoyment. The aforementioned sensitivity of the vox circuits will momentarily open the intercom as a result of the rustling of a chart or other in-cockpit noise. In fairness, though, the Sigtronics unit did the same thing.

After the interruption of the music, the Aerocom III's Soft-Mute feature gradually returns the music to the previous volume level so that listeners aren't bombarded. Another feature PS Engineering added to ensure that pilots don't forget about the main task at hand is the pilot-isolate switch, which takes the pilot out of the intercom loop and connects him or her directly to the aircraft radio. In pilot-isolate mode, the passenger will hear uninterrupted music but will not be able to talk to the pilot. The unit also features a fail-safe connection that allows the pilot to continue transmitting and receiving on the aircraft radio despite any loss of power to the intercom system.

The Aerocom III is powered by a 12- to 28-volt cigarette-lighter adapter or a nine-volt battery, which provides 10 hours of continuous operation. When under battery power, the Aerocom III sounds a tone every minute when the battery power is at 20 percent of capacity or less.

An expansion module — the Aerocom EX — also is available to bring two more passengers into the intercom loop. It has another music input so that back-seaters can listen to a separate music source.

CFIs, renter pilots, and owners who aren't quite ready to splurge for the latest in panel-mount technology will find the Aerocom III to be an excellent value in intercoms, portable or not. The Aerocom III is available for $189 exclusively through Sporty's Pilot Shop; the EX is available for $179. For information or orders, call 800/SPORTYS or 513/735-9000. — Peter A. Bedell

Avionics Innovations' CD Player

With an entertainment channel so commonplace on intercoms and audio panel/intercom setups, getting music into the cockpit comes down to finding the right source. By far the most common provider is the portable CD player. Thanks to plummeting prices in consumer electronics, these portables are easy to find, cheap, and rugged.

Convenient they are not. Either you rely upon the portable's internal battery or come up with some kludgy way of getting it juice. Then you have to find someplace to secure it out of the way, yet still accessible enough to swap disks from time to time. In the end, the desire for music must outweigh the hassles.

No such problems with the Avionics Innovations CD player and AM/FM receiver. This is a custom-made box designed to fit a standard 6.25-inch-wide radio rack; it's about 2 inches tall. It accepts either 12- or 24-volt power and outputs to your intercom or audio panel/intercom set. Although it's a stereo unit, the AI CD can be mated to monaural systems.

We put the AI unit in the AOPA Aero SUV sweepstakes airplane and have come to appreciate the convenience of a permanent installation. A small antenna on the belly feeds the AM/FM receiver and, in the 206, doubles as an outside antenna for a handheld comm. Airborne Electronics in Sacramento, California, installed the unit as part of the 206's panel refurb and reported that the AI was easy to integrate into the stack.

Using the AI radio couldn't be easier. Slide in a new CD, set the volume, and you're ready to entertain yourself and your passengers. In both CD and radio modes, the AI's audio quality is excellent; electronically managed bass/treble/balance controls allow you to tailor the sound to your liking. Playing through the Garmin GMA 320 audio panel, the AI presents enough distortion-free volume to please all but the most hard-core head bangers. And although the CD sound comes through best with high-end ANR headsets, it's more than passable with less expensive gear.

You can set up to 30 radio presets, but you'll probably find scanning the radio waves to be the normal mode. An airplane's altitude gives it an excellent chance of pulling in distant stations. But an airplane's speed also means that you'll be changing channels fairly often, as you move into and out of range of the stations.

The AI CD player and AM/FM radio retails for $1,595 (a radio-only version is $995), which will buy you a crateful of portable units. But if you treasure convenience and abhor cockpit clutter, you'll find that's not too much to pay for entertainment on the airways.

For more information, contact Avionics Innovations, 2450 Montecito Road, Ramona, California 92065; telephone 760/788-2602, fax 760/789-7098, www.avionicsinnovations.com. — Marc E. Cook

Briefly Noted

Those who have stayed on the desirable side of the old adage regarding gear-up landings — that there are those who have and those who will — may be intrigued by a new product from Aircraft Components Inc. called Gear Alert. The product uses a belly-mounted transducer that emits an electronic signal toward the ground, similar to a much more expensive radar altimeter. When Gear Alert senses that the aircraft is within 150 to 200 feet of the ground, it checks the gear indication light to determine whether the gear has been lowered. If the gear is still up, the system issues a voice warning, "Check landing gear, check landing gear." The voice warning, which can replace the ambiguous throttle-warning horn, continues until the pilot lowers the gear or the airplane climbs above 200 feet agl. A 20-second time delay prevents the system from activating on takeoff, giving the airplane time to climb above 200 feet agl. Gear Alert can be installed in most retractable-gear airplanes with 12- or 24-volt electrical systems. For more information, contact Aircraft Components Inc. at 727/726-4661 or via e-mail ( [email protected]). — PAB

Aeroshell has introduced W 100 Plus, a new single-weight, ashless-dispersant oil approved for use in both Lycoming and Continental engines. The oil contains many of the same anticorrosion additives found in Shell's 15W-50 oil and also includes Lycoming's LW 16702 additive, which is recommended for use in several Lycoming engine models. For more information, see the Web site ( www.shell-lubricants.com) or call 800/231-6950. — PAB

To prevent wind damage to airframe control surfaces, York Associates has introduced a new Gust Lok for owners of single- and twin-engine Cessnas. York Gust Loks simultaneously lock the ailerons, elevator, and rudder of most Piper; Beech; and, now, Cessna airplanes. The $119.95 gust lock, which can also double as a security device, can be padlocked in place to hinder would-be thieves. For more information, telephone 800/927-6275 or 405/495-8946; or visit the Web site ( www.gustlock.com). — 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.