October 1, 2001
Julie K. Boatman
For years headset manufacturers have tried to make the traditional aviation headset as comfortable as possible. Today's models are lighter than ever and use sophisticated electronics to cancel out noise. One company, however, has done away with the often clamp-like headset apparatus in favor of hearing-aid-like devices that contain a speaker buried in one earpiece and a microphone in the other. This setup completely eliminates the traditional headband, ear cups, and boom microphone — the compact and comfortable set may be just what many pilots have been waiting for — the headsetless headset. Ear pieces in each ear block noise passively and with active noise reduction electronics. One earpiece contains a speaker for intercom and radio transmissions. The other carries a microphone, replacing the traditional boom mic.
Panther Electronics, of St. Cloud, Florida, is the maker of this device, called the C.A.T. (cranial audio transmission) System. List price is $464 plus shipping. Each set comes with the earpieces, which are claimed to weigh an ounce or less, and a small 9-ounce controller box that can be clipped nearly anywhere. The controller has a volume control and optimizes the transmission performance. The unit is just like a regular passive headset in the sense that it needs no batteries.
Panther sent me an ear-molding kit; the company uses the molds to create customized earpieces. The ear-molding process is definitely a two-person job so be sure to have a volunteer who is able and — most important — willing to squirt clay in your ears. Strict adherence to the instructions is critical because the quality of the ear mold directly affects the quality of the headset that you'll receive from Panther.
In a few weeks my new "headset" arrived, and I put it to use in a Cessna 172 equipped with a PS Engineering Aerocom III intercom. When extra care was used to fit the earpieces properly, the Panther's noise-reduction properties were as good as the noise-canceling Flightcom 6ANX that I ordinarily use in the Skyhawk. This was quite impressive, since I didn't have the bulk of a traditional headset or a boom mic to hassle with. Panther claims a 46-decibel noise- reduction rating without any battery-eating, noise-canceling electronics.
One downside to the C.A.T. System was immediately apparent. Like a stethoscope, the wires dangling from your ears transmit an amplified sound from any contact. If you touch the wires with your hands or a chart, or simply turn your head so the wires drag across your shirt, the noise is piped right into your ears. A clip on the wire allows you to fix the wire to your shirt, which minimizes this effect somewhat. Over time, however, I grew accustomed to it much as I became comfortable with wearing a headset 20 years ago.
Panther recommends using the supplied ear lube for several months until the ear molds "break in" completely. The lube — nothing more than K-Y Jelly — allows for easy installation and removal of the earpieces while assuring optimum performance and noise reduction. The lube does make a difference for the user — and anyone else on the intercom.
Why would others on the intercom care if you use K-Y Jelly in your ears? Background noise in the cockpit funnels into your ears and is picked up by the unit's ultrasensitive microphone. A poor-fitting earpiece allows more background noise to go past the earpiece and break squelch on the intercom. In addition, the more noise you can keep out of your ears, the better noise-canceling you'll get.
With an ultrasensitive microphone buried in one of your ears, the Panther set picks up every sound from your head including swallowing, sneezing, humming, and coughing. Since the intercom in our test airplane has automatic squelch circuitry, it opens the intercom so everyone in the cabin can hear your bodily functions. Panther solved this problem by adding a mute button on the cord. When you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, you simply press the button to inhibit the microphone, sparing everyone an ear-splitting racket.
In another airplane with a Sigtronics SPA-400 intercom, which has adjustable squelch control, the Panther headset was much more compatible since I was able to set the squelch threshold high enough to filter out most of my bodily noises. The aforementioned new muting function should take care of the rest of the predictable noises making the C.A.T. System headset more suited to intercoms that have an adjustable squelch.
Several calls to different ATC facilities were met with "loud and clear" responses, which was amazing since I was talking through my left ear. Comments from others on the intercom ranged from "slightly muffled" to "underwater but readable." I rarely, if ever, had to repeat anything I said for lack of comprehension.
Other advantages of the Panther C.A.T. System: You will no longer have to deal with "headset hair." You can say goodbye to the clamping feel and often-resulting headache that traditional headsets cause. You can eat or drink without having to deal with a boom mic — although chewing and swallowing may break squelch on the intercom. The entire assembly can be coiled up and stored in a small glove box — try that with a regular headset.
Those who listen to stereo music in flight or have intercoms with automatic squelch may find a conventional headset more suitable. But for those pilots or passengers who loathe the traditional headset, Panther's C.A.T. System may be the long-awaited answer to their problems.
For more information, contact Panther Electronics, 4540 Lake Gentry Road, Building 100, Saint Cloud, Florida 34772; telephone 877/957-1600 or 407/957-1600; or visit the Web site ( www.pantherelectronics.com). — Peter A. Bedell
Jeppesen has announced several new training products, including online courses, maintenance materials, and Joint Aviation Authorities-compatible pilot knowledge manuals, as well as version 8.4 of FliteStar/FliteMap. JeppChart Training Online subscriptions are now available for approach and airport charts, with en route, area, and departure and arrival procedures courses to follow. Tentative pricing for 90-day access to the course is $39.95. The new version of FliteStar/ FliteMap offers subscribers the ability to update their NavData and program software via the Internet. For more information, contact Jeppesen, 55 Inverness Drive East, Englewood, Colorado 80112; telephone 800/621-5377 or 303/799-9090; fax 303/328-4153; or visit the Web site ( www.jeppesen.com).
Sporty's Pilot Shop now offers an E6B computer slim enough to fit in a notebook or airway manual binder. The E6B-F operates on two three-volt lithium batteries and features 19 navigational, weight and balance, and fuel computation functions. The 7-square-inch screen also displays three separate clocks or a timer that will count up or down while the pilot performs other calculations on the computer. The E6B-F retails for $79.95. For more information, contact Sporty's Pilot Shop, Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio 45103-9747; telephone 800/543-8633 or 513/735-9000; fax 513/735-9200; or visit the Web site ( www.sportys.com).
The Proficient Pilot Volume 2 by Barry Schiff is available in softcover for $19.95 from Aviation Supplies and Academics (ASA). The book is based on Schiff's monthly column in AOPA Pilot and covers flying techniques and emergency procedures. ASA has also released IP Trainer version 6.0, the instrument pilot procedures software training program. The program runs in a native Windows environment and includes updated U.S. and worldwide databases. The program costs $195. For information visit the Web ( www.asa2fly.com) or call 800/426-8338 or 425/235-1500. — Alton K. Marsh
Based on the new devices turning up lately at airshows, a form of datalink is probably in your future. Here are a few on the horizon.
Satellite weather data will soon be available through Garmin's GDL 49 datalink transceiver. With the GDL 49 and an Echo Flight satellite weather data subscription, pilots can download Nexrad graphics and textual weather information for display on GNS 430 and 530 receivers. The GDL 49 is expected to retail for $3,495, with deliveries later this year. For more information, contact Garmin International, 1200 East 151st Street, Olathe, Kansas 66062; telephone 913/397-8200; fax 913/397-8282; or visit the Web site ( www.garmin.com).
The DataComm 500, currently available from AirCell, brings voice and data communication to smaller GA aircraft. The transceiver weighs just over 2 pounds and allows for the uploading of Nexrad weather information, textual METAR and TAF reports, and airborne Internet access via AirCell's ground-based communications network. DataComm 500 also allows pilots to listen to ATIS and AWOS voice channels by telephone dial-up. The DataComm 500 retails for $2,000. Also available from AirCell is the Guardian 1000, an airborne cellular communication system with battery backup and a special feature that dials the nearest air traffic control facility in the event of an emergency. The Guardian 1000 retails for $3,500. For more information, contact AirCell, 1172 Century Drive, Suite 280, Building B, Louisville, Colorado 80027; telephone 888/328-0200; fax 303/926-8970; or visit the Web site ( www.aircell.com).
The Bendix/King KDR 510 VDL Mode 2 datalink receiver delivers Nexrad graphics and textual METAR/TAF information over VHF frequencies. Ground stations in the network will total 220 nationwide; seven stations were up and running by late July, giving coverage to a flight from company offices in Olathe, Kansas, to Oshkosh. Weather data on display at EAA AirVenture 2001 ran from one to six minutes old before refreshing automatically. The KDR 510 supplies data for viewing on KMD 550 and 850 multifunction displays. Retail price is $5,500 for the KDR 510 hardware and the card for the multifunction display. For more information, contact Honeywell, 23500 West 105th Street, Olathe, Kansas 66061; telephone 913/712-2613; fax 913/712-5697; or visit the Web site ( www.bendixking.com).
Vigyan Inc. was awarded a research contract from NASA and, along with private investments, will use these funds to finalize development of its Pilot Weather Advisor (PWA) satellite datalink system. PWA is expected to deliver updated Nexrad and textual weather information every five minutes for the continental United States, and the system will be compatible with multiple portable and panel-mounted displays, according to a company spokesman. Certification of the receiver and antenna is expected in spring 2002. For more information, contact Vigyan, 30 Research Drive, Hampton, Virginia 23666; telephone 757/865-1400, extension 221; or visit the Web site ( www.pilotweatheradvisor.com).
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).
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