November 1, 2000
The thought of a midair collision strikes fear into the heart of any pilot, so when one occurred near our home airport, I went looking for protection. Unfortunately, I learned that collision-avoidance equipment generally requires an investment of $5,000 or more plus installation, well beyond my personal budget.
A friend, however, alerted me to the little-known Monroy ATD-200 Air Traffic Detector, a comparative bargain at $789. This compact device is entirely portable, connecting only to a cigarette lighter receptacle and the pilot's headphone jack. Since no installation is required, pilots who fly multiple airplanes or rent can readily carry the device from one aircraft to another.
The ATD-200 is surprisingly simple to operate, given its capability. Red LEDs depict target distance from your aircraft, the first illuminating when targets approach within approximately four nautical miles. Additional lights go on sequentially as the traffic gets closer, with all five illuminated for targets within 0.5 nm. At approximately three nm, a female voice says, "traffic," in the pilot's headset, and at the one nm range she says, "traffic nearby." (Monroy has done a nice job with this voice, which is clearly audible but not in itself alarming.) Green LEDs show that the unit is powered and indicate your own transponder reply, while a yellow light identifies Mode S transponder targets (generally Transport-category aircraft).
Now for the limitations. All current collision-avoidance devices, from the ATD-200 on up to airline traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) equipment, work by interpreting transponder replies from nearby traffic, meaning that aircraft not delivering transponder replies do not generate alerts. This includes not only aircraft without operating transponders, but also those flying in areas without radar interrogations to stimulate transponder replies. No current technology entirely replaces the human eyeball to protect us from traffic under visual conditions—we pilots must still look out the window.
Another limitation of anticollision devices is that feedback can be overwhelming when many targets are nearby at the same time. Therefore, the ATD-200 and other such devices are less useful in really busy areas than one might hope, since proximity warnings from numerous aircraft may sound almost continuously. To address this problem Monroy provides a selector limiting voice warnings to "traffic nearby," along with one for muting voice announcements altogether.
The ATD-200 does not deliver target bearing or altitude information like its more expensive relatives, nor traffic-avoidance commands as in airliners. Only proximity of the target to your aircraft is depicted, meaning that when alerted to traffic, you must crane your neck out the window in all directions to find it.
The distance to a target is determined by the strength of the target's transponder signal response, based on a 200-watt transponder unit. Therefore, if the target's transponder is stronger, the target is perceived as closer. Also, the accuracy of the distance given is plus or minus 20 percent—the closer the target, the more accurate the distance shown on the ATD-200.
That being said, we've flown with our ATD-200 for more than a year and are delighted with it. Perhaps most surprising has been how much traffic passes nearby that one never sees. Having learned not to panic every time the voice says, "traffic," we now search only when LEDs progressively illuminate, or when the lady says, "traffic nearby." (Targets illuminating only one or two LEDs are generally too far away to see.) We've also found that in busy areas it's best to limit voice warnings to nearby traffic, and, in crowded traffic patterns, to mute the device altogether and peer out the window in time-honored fashion.
But where this unit really shines is in supplementing pilot awareness when one is either distracted or busy—like on long cross-country flights, when operating at uncontrolled airports, shooting practice approaches, flying in marginal VFR weather, or when attention is diverted during flight training, shuffling of charts, or setting the GPS. We cannot always visually identify traffic alerted by the ATD-200, but never when operating the unit have we seen an airplane pass nearby without its first triggering an appropriate traffic warning.
While anticollision devices like the ATD-200 cannot provide a total safety shield, they do serve admirably as "extra eyes" in the cockpit to back up your own. Until or unless we can afford something higher up the ladder, neither I nor the three other ATD-200 owners I know would care to fly again without one. For more information, contact Monroy Aerospace Corp. by telephone at 954/294-9006, or visit the company's Web site ( www.monroyaero.com). — Gregory N. Brown
Sometimes a simple modification can help you get a little more out of a common device. Robert Peckham, AOPA 569219, has developed an audio input adapter for a talking timer from Radio Shack. This adapter allows you to hear the timer's count up/down and alarm functions in your headset.
I tested the unit to see how well it worked during various operations in a Piper Archer. Installation is straightforward: A cable is wired into the timer, and it plugs into an adapter that also has a jack for your headset's mic plug. The adapter is then plugged into the mic jack on the airplane. From there, the timer functions as outlined in an instruction booklet included with the package.
There is no way to adjust the audio output levels on the timer, so you need to spend a moment setting levels on your aircraft's audio panel and/or intercom before you take off. The package materials state that if the timer isn't heard or is breaking up, you should adjust the squelch on your intercom. However, I had no problem hearing the timer—to the contrary, it was a little on the loud side. This could very well be the result of the particular airplane's intercom system. I did note some breaking up when I transmitted with the unit plugged in, which went away when I took the unit out of the loop. I normally have to open the squelch more than the average person because of my quiet voice, so this should be taken into account.
In practice, the timer operated as promised. The countdown function allows you to select either a voice countdown or a simple alarm. The voice announces every minute until there's one minute left, then announces every 10 seconds until there's 10 seconds left, then begins a "10, 9, 8…" countdown until the alarm sounds. I found the countdown voice function to be overkill while shooting approaches, but the simple alarm function was perfect. Other applications may include using the timer as a reminder to switch tanks or when you reach your personal fuel minimums.
Having an alarm ring inside your headset adds to the timer's utility enough to make this a sound addition to your flight bag if you find your memory needs jogging. The unit sells for $70. For more information, contact the manufacturer by telephone at 512/331-8552, or via e-mail ( [email protected]). — Julie K. Boatman
In the current era of glamorous active noise reduction (ANR) headsets, it's nice to know that some companies are out there making the basic models better. Aviation Communications recently added the AC-454 to its Avcomm line of products, with a couple of important updates.
The set features light micro simarium cobalt speakers to give a richer, smoother sound for both voice and music, while emphasizing the high frequency range most often heard in radio communications. The speakers are complemented by the noise-canceling M-60 microphone with a ceramic hybrid circuit. The mic should allow you to be heard more accurately when transmitting, even in noisier cockpit environments.
I tested the AC-454 in a relatively quiet airplane, and I found these claims to be valid. The mic had no problem picking up my voice, even with no adjustment to the squelch knob—not my usual experience. The noise-attenuating headset clamps to seal out the cockpit chaos, but it wasn't uncomfortable after an hour's wear. The set given to me to test weighed 17.9 ounces and felt relatively light. My head must be smaller than most, because some headsets are simply too big, but I felt comfortable with the headband in the first detents. The AC-454 comes with cotton ear seal covers, head pad, and a mic muff. Retail price is $169.95. For more information, contact Aviation Communications at 1025 San Bernardino Road, Covina, California 91722; telephone 800/845-7541; or visit the Web site ( www.avcomm-inc.com). — JKB
NFlite has debuted a new annunciator panel for small aircraft with a number of interesting options. The unit consists of a 3-by-2.25-inch display, which mounts anywhere on the instrument panel and connects to the electrical system. The display has six annunciator lights, two of which are standard—an alternator warning light and a unique mic warning light to alert you to a stuck mic condition when wired to the aircraft's push-to-talk circuit. The remaining four LEDs can be connected to various sensors on the airplane, such as oil pressure or temperature, vacuum pressure, or landing gear. You may label each annunciator with the stickers provided or personalize them with your own labels.
The unit's LEDs are bright enough to be seen in strong daylight and normally flash to alert the pilot of an unsafe condition. However, since flashing lights prove particularly distracting during night flights, a photosensitive cell in the middle of the display detects low light conditions and switches the unit to a continuous mode. The lights are available in red or yellow.
The alternator warning light may help the unit pay for itself, if it stops you from leaving the master switch on after engine shutdown. Smaller annunciator lights in many GA aircraft don't draw as much attention to themselves on sunny days as these bright LEDs.
Solid-state circuitry provides for very low power consumption and high reliability. Although the unit wasn't reviewed in an airplane installation, each annunciator panel is tested by the manufacturer prior to shipment and can be returned if not deemed suitable. This is the first product offering from NFlite. For more information, contact the company by phone at 208/367-1195; fax 208/429-9159; or visit the Web site ( www.nflite.com). — JKB
Flight Tech introduces its latest portable intercom, the ITC-401-ENRI. The unit is a basic two-place intercom designed for use by pilots who don't need extra audio/music inputs and want a straightforward intercom. Flight Tech's electronic noise reduction (ENRI) circuit is purported to eliminate background noise problems common with voice-activated intercoms by monitoring the headset mic at all times. The ITC-401-ENRI is powered from a nine-volt battery and features a single volume control. The unit measures 4 by 2.5 by 1.5 inches. For more information, contact Flight Tech Intercoms by telephone at 630/971-9692, or visit the Web site ( www.flighttech.com). — JKB
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/links0011.shtml ).
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