Pilot Products

January 1, 1999

Yaesu VXA-100 handhelds

"They're so small!" That is the universal reaction from pilots who saw Yaesu's two new handheld models - a communications-only radio and a navcom - during testing by AOPA Pilot. Anything that can make the flight bag lighter is much appreciated.

Yaesu (properly pronounced Ya-A-sue, but known to Americans as YEA-sue) is no newcomer to the electronics market. Like Icom, another top-quality brand also made in Japan, Yaesu has made ham radio gear for years. In fact, the Yaesu Aviator Pilot navcom transceiver with its 16-key keypad and the Aviator Pro com radio started life three years ago as ham radios. The same design and case were then used for public-band transceivers by making software and transmitter changes. Finally, Yaesu has entered the aviation marketplace.

The miniaturization that Yaesu has attained is even more impressive when you consider that more than half the package is taken up by the battery. Both radios come standard with a nicad battery that lasts six hours. A $38 alkaline battery pack is also available, or a $58 nicad battery may be purchased to ensure that the model you choose never runs out of power in flight. The radios also come with a headset adapter cord and battery charger. Each offers a full five watts of transmission power and 760 communications channels.

Yaesu includes a sheet offering direct comparisons with only one other brand: Icom. For example, the two Yaesu models have more memory channels, an adjustable battery saver, and eight-character memory titling. Yaesu has automatic scanning of civilian weather channels, a lamp that lights when an active frequency is encountered, a low-battery indicator, and a feature that allows programming of the radios from a personal computer. The Pilot offers a course deviation indicator (CDI) with VOR channels and allows the user to intercept and track exact radials, as well as to monitor both a communications and a navigation channel, with the flip of a switch. There is even a "book" of pre-entered frequencies that are user changeable. Included in the book are unicom, center, flight school, ground, and even "forest" airband frequencies. Don't ask for an explanation of that last one.

The radios tested by AOPA Pilot were loaned to other pilots, who reported that the radios' operation is not as intuitive as that of some other brands. For example, there is no squelch knob, although squelch settings can be adjusted by accessing the setup menu. On the Pro that means holding in the Set button for a few seconds, then pushing downward on the volume control, setting the squelch number desired, pushing the volume button again, and finally the push-to-talk switch. Rather than transmitting, the push-to-talk switch returns the radio to transceiver operations. The Pilot is a bit more complicated: First, push the Function key; next, hold down the volume knob for a few seconds; then adjust the squelch number and, as with the Pro model, hit the push-to-talk button. Squelch on most models seemed to splatter as it was keyed by a transmission. Yaesu engineers say that they can't duplicate the problem we reported. On our test models, the problem seemed to be cured by turning off the multiple battery saver modes available to the user.

Tuning the Pro requires hitting the Fast button to start the third digit in the frequency display to blinking, rolling in the number with the larger tuning knob (for example, a 4 for 124 MHz), then hitting the Fast button again and rolling the large tuning knob until the remainder of the frequency is tuned.

The range of the two radios generally seemed limited to about 10 miles from inside our Beech Bonanza test aircraft; an external antenna would have cured the problem. Miniaturization required the use of a screw connector for the antenna. Our test airplane has an external connector that uses a BNC-type connector. Yaesu sells an $8 adapter that converts the Pilot and Pro antenna terminals to a BNC connector. Once, when using the external connector, there was a report of strong transmissions; a pilot several miles away thought that the Yaesu Pilot sounded "better than a panel-mounted radio."

Overall, you'll like having the palm-size radio as a backup and for frequency scanning during air shows. Priced to do battle with Icom models, the Pilot sells for a street price of $549, while the Pro averages $369. For information, contact Yaesu U.S.A., 17210 Edwards Road, Cerritos, California 90703; telephone 562/404-2700, or visit the Web site ( www.yaesu.com). - Alton K. Marsh

Briefly Noted

Since much competition exists for a cylinder's single CHT receptacle (engine monitor probes, preheater thermocouples, etc.), Tanis Aircraft Services has introduced FAA-approved heated rocker gaskets for most Lycoming, Continental, and radial Pratt & Whitney engines. Each $129 gasket installs in place of those normally used between the cylinder and rocker cover. For more information, contact Tanis at 800/443-2136 or 320/634-4772; or visit the Web site ( www.tanair.com). - Peter A. Bedell

Ground Tech, of Salisbury, Maryland, has introduced the Cessna Rain Cap to cover leak-prone areas of Cessna 172s and 182s. The $305 cover requires no snaps and no modification for Cessnas with the standard IFR antenna setup. For more information, contact Ground Tech at 800/825-1245 or 410/749-6693; or visit the Web site ( www.cabincover.com). - PAB

PS Engineering PMA7000

As intercom technology has advanced, pilots have become accustomed to using the squelch, or voice-activated switch (VOX) control, less and less frequently. The better designed the i

ntercom, the less often the pilot has to change its settings to accommodate a different number of passengers or varying cabin noise levels.

PS Engineering, arguably the big gun in the intercom business these days, has taken this hands-off theory to its logical extreme. In the new PMA7000 audio panel/intercom system, there is no squelch control at all - nothing for the pilot to set or fiddle with. That's because PS Engineering has concocted a proprietary VOX system that uses microprocessors to sample the sound picked up by the headsets' microphones. The PMA7000 then analyzes the sound signatures to determine if they're noise or speech; if the intercom's computers think "he's talking now," the squelch opens as it would on a conventional intercom. It's important to understand that the processors do more than merely set the VOX threshold and leave it there; this system is truly dynamic. There are six intercom stations, each with its own VOX circuit.

This auto-squelch concept looks great on paper, but is it wise to turn over total control to the processors? With the PMA7000, the answer is a resounding "you betcha." We sampled the unit in last year's Timeless Tri-Pacer sweepstakes airplane, mainly because the 7000 is a slide-in replacement for the PMA6000/II Morrow SL 10 audio panel/intercom that we put in the Piper. It turned out to be a good testing platform for another reason: It's loud in that tube-and-fabric airplane. A series of flights using several different headset combinations failed to vex the 7000 - the new VOX system is absolutely seamless and competent at dealing with noise and dissimilar microphone types.

While they were ripping the squelch knob off the face of the unit, PS Engineering's tech types took the opportunity to clean up the interface. The audio-select buttons are much larger than before - a welcome change, in our view - and come standard with soft amber lighting that's really snazzy. The company has also made black buttons standard, in place of the white ones on our test unit. There are provisions for a third com radio, and PS Engineering also has included a flight-phone connection through the intercom. As with the PMA6000 before, the 7000 has split stereo entertainment channels, split communications capability - where the pilot and copilot use two different transmitters - and a remotely switched swap function that moves the transmit-select switch from Com 1 to Com 2 and back again. A new feature of the 7000 is what you might call swap-mode intercom. With the 6000, when the two front seaters are working in split mode, they have no intercom connection between them. On the 7000, intercom functions are front-panel selectable in the swap mode.

The new circuit boards - made up of totally surface-mount devices, the state of the art in microprocessor electronics - have made room for an innovative checklist system, called DRAWS (for digital recorder and audio warning system). This system is triggered by other aircraft systems such as an engine monitor. When an alarm is tripped, DRAWS will provide a factory-set recorded-voice warning.

Unlike the PMA6000, the 7000 will be available only in stereo for $1,795; the marker beacon adds $200 to the price tag. The DRAWS feature costs another $300. Fashion-conscious buyers can have the 7000 with or without the silver trim ring at no charge. Finally, PS Engineering will have prewired adapters to connect most popular portable cell phones to the 7000 so that you can pick up IFR clearances on the ground more easily. (The common cell phone network is not legal for use in the air.)

For more information, contact PS Engineering, Incorporated, 9800 Martel Road, Lenoir City, Tennessee 37771; telephone 423/988-9800; or visit the Web site ( www.ps-engineering.com). - Marc E. Cook

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/links9901.shtml).