Pilot Products

September 1, 2001

J.P. Instruments Fuel Scan 450

Fuel — or, more correctly, a lack of fuel — is the leading cause of engine stoppage in general aviation aircraft. Vowing to always land with plenty of reserve, while knowing how much fuel actually remains in the tanks, is the surest way not to run out of gas. To help remedy the second part of this equation, J.P. Instruments recently introduced the Fuel Scan 450, a multitalented fuel computer that is a logical addition to instrument panels on a wide range of light aircraft.

J.P. Instruments designed the Fuel Scan 450 to fill a void in the general aviation market for pilots who don't need a full-featured engine analyzer with built-in fuel functions, but who want the peace of mind provided by a fuel computer — all at a lower price than traditional units. FAA STC/TSO-approved, the FS-450 sells for $795 including the wiring harness and appropriate transducer, making it a considerable value.

While a fuel computer won't tell you exactly how much fuel remains in the tanks, it does provide an accurate reading of how much fuel is fed to the engine. Given that information, knowledge of how much fuel has been pumped into the tanks, and a healthy fuel system with no leaks or obstructions, the FS-450 can provide extremely valuable information. A small solid-state transducer mounted in the fuel line provides fuel flow readings to the FS-450. Flow rate is measured as passing fuel turns a turbine rotor in the transducer to create an electrical pulse rate. The electrical pulse is connected to a numeric display. Flow rate, combined with time and distance-to-waypoint information, allow the FS-450 to deliver valuable information on its two-line red LED display.

The upper line of the FS-450's display provides a continuous readout of the current fuel flow rate in gallons per hour, liters per hour, or pounds per hour. Adding this top line to the instrument scan provides immediate information on engine performance. I found the gallons-per-hour readout extremely helpful for fine-tuning power settings and mixture leaning at altitude. It is accurate too. My installation on a Lycoming O-320 has not been more than one-half gallon off at fill-up time.

The second line displays a wealth of calculations to aid in flight planning, including total fuel used, fuel remaining, and endurance in hours and minutes. The FS-450's large two-line red LED display features an auto-dimming sensor for legibility in changing light. The display is very bright and quite easy to read, even in direct sunlight. Wiring the serial port connection harness to a GPS adds these features to the scan: fuel required to the next waypoint, fuel reserve at the next waypoint, and current nautical miles per gallon. If you don't yet own a panel-mounted GPS, the serial port wiring can be adapted to a handheld GPS.

There are just two buttons manipulating all this information. The left button indexes the second line of information through its sequence, either forward or backward. A row of amber LED cue lights directly below the second display line indicates which information you are viewing. Touching the button on the right sends the FS-450 into an automatic scan mode that sequences the lower display through all of the available fuel information. Both buttons are used to program the unit for the individual airplane. Programming the total fuel capacity, for example, allows a quick reset of the fuel remaining at startup. If you added less than full fuel to meet performance or weight criteria, that too is easily input by following the prompts on the display at startup. The FS-450 can be programmed for either main or main and auxiliary tank configurations. An alarm function notifies the pilot when the fuel level reaches a predetermined limit. The factory default is 45 minutes and 10 gallons of fuel remaining, but the pilot can easily program the unit to suit high fuel burn rates or individual comfort levels.

The FS-450 can find a home in even the most crowded panels, thanks to its compact size. It fits in a standard 2.25-inch-diameter instrument hole, is just 1.5 inches deep, and weighs but 5 ounces. Installation is straightforward and entails mounting the transducer in the fuel line, installing the FS-450 in the panel, and running the wiring through the firewall to the FS-450 and GPS. The FS-450 can also be used to replace older Electronics International, Hoskins, or Shadin units. For more information, contact J.P. Instruments Inc., Post Office Box 7033, Huntington Beach, California 92615; telephone 800/345-4574 or 714/557-5434; fax 714/557-9840; or visit the Web site ( www.jpinstruments.com). — Todd Kaho

Sporty's pilot courses on DVD

Since digitized video hit the mainstream a few years ago, a number of aviation training programs have sought to incorporate video into interactive programs with varying degrees of success. One of the problems is size: Video files are big and can easily gobble up most of the space on a CD-ROM, leaving little room for anything but the videos on the disc.

Sporty's Pilot Shop recently introduced its popular recreational and private pilot video courses on DVD. The DVD (digital versatile disk) format has tremendous capacity, compared to CD-ROMs, and allows the entire 10-hour recreational pilot course to fit on a single DVD, with the private pilot course on six DVDs. With four times the resolution of the average CD-ROM video presentation, image quality is higher and playback much easier on the eyes than in video-only CD-ROM courses. The content hasn't changed much from the existing video courses, updated last year, which feature excerpts from Richard Collins' Air Facts series. However, the advantage is that the user can jump back and forth to indexed segments, essentially going straight to the lesson desired without having to fast-forward through a video cassette. A detailed index of the video segments is lacking, but the lessons themselves are engaging, with a lot of in-flight footage and practical advice. "Interactive" in this case means a section of quiz questions at the end of each DVD for the student to review.

Sporty's Complete Recreational Pilot Course retails for $99, and the private pilot course costs $159. Both courses include a study guide with test questions and a syllabus. For more information, contact Sporty's Pilot Shop, Clermont County Airport, Batavia, Ohio 45103-9747; telephone 800/643-8633 or 513/735-9000; fax 513/735-9200; or visit the Web site ( www.sportys.com).

Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel

After you've been a pilot for several years, it's easy to forget what it's like to view aviation from the outside. In his new book, Free Flight: From Airline Hell to a New Age of Travel, James Fallows bridges the gap between aviation "enthusiasts," as he calls pilots and those in the industry, and the nonflying public by explaining why all should be interested in specific technological advances happening in general aviation.

Fallows proposes that a revolution is quietly taking place, whereby the traveling public may someday abandon the stress-ridden hub airport terminals in favor of small aircraft — sophisticated air "taxis" — flown from general aviation airports for trips of less than 500 nm. To this end, Fallows points out recent accomplishments in aircraft and engine design by Cirrus Design, Williams International, and Eclipse Aviation as evidence that these new aircraft are no pipe dream — and the continuing advance of GPS, highway-in-the-sky (HITS) concepts, and datalinked weather promise a level of safety that will soothe the fears of the average nonpilot traveler.

It's a fascinating proposal, and Fallows has the background and the passion to give it proper development. Fallows began work on his private certificate during his stint as an editor of U.S. News and World Report, and he currently serves as the national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. Fallows is an instrument-rated pilot and owns a Cirrus SR20. While obviously a fan of Cirrus Design, his arguments are cogent and echo those of many pilots out there who wish to see general aviation thrive. Free Flight also provides depth to the respective stories of the companies involved and the driving forces behind their creations.

As is often the case when a charge is made to make more pilots out of the general population, however, one question pops up: Should aviation be made so simple that the average person could ostensibly have an airplane in their garage? Or do we as pilots carry an elitist attitude toward the intricacy of our craft as they are now? Fallows steps around the question, sticking to his idea that aircraft have become less complex to fly over the course of history. One might argue with that — while aircraft have indeed become less dangerous to fly, the systems behind this level of safety are far from simple.

Free Flight, available nationwide in bookstores and online, retails for $25. For more information, contact Public Affairs Books, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 1321, New York, New York 10107; telephone 212/397-6666; or visit the Web site ( www.publicaffairsbooks.com).

Yaesu Aviator Pilot II VXA-200

Aviation transceiver manufacturers believe that the radio with the most options wins the market. To that end, Yaesu has just one-upped the market by offering the option of a density altitude calculator in its latest handheld nav/com, the Aviator Pilot II VXA-200.

As air band transceivers get smaller, the list of options gets longer. Even without the $40 barometric pressure sensor, the VXA-200 has features that were unheard of just three years ago. The radio is 5 inches long and less than 2 inches wide, counting the belt clip. The small size alone is a revolution. Yet its reception was termed "as good as any radio out there" by an enthusiastic unicom operator who participated in a recent test. And it can navigate to or from a VOR with accuracy nearly equal to that of a panel-mounted navigation radio. A navigation display will more easily keep you on course. A scan function allows you to search for those interesting frequencies heard at airshows or when near large airports.

A test flight resulted in reports of strong signals 20 nm from the airport: The radio has a healthy five watts of transmitting power, and a headset adapter comes standard. Also standard are a rechargeable battery and charger, and a case for alkaline batteries.

The VXA-200 comes with the ability to scan National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather channels and lock in on the one with the best reception. The keypad is backlit for night operations. You'll have 150 memory channels, including many that are preprogrammed in what Yaesu calls Book Memory. You can program your own frequencies from any PC. And all VXA-200 models can tell you the outside temperature.

Then comes the optional barometric pressure, altitude, and density altitude measuring capability. One distributor sells the barometric sensor, the circuit board that makes all those features possible, as a snap-in option. During a recent test, the barometric pressure seemed to be inaccurate until we discovered how to add a correction factor. Once that was done, the calculated density altitude was only 200 feet lower than the one reported over the airport's AWOS station.

The average price of the Aviator Pilot II without the density altitude calculator is $400, with the barometric sensor selling for an additional $50. Options include an antenna adapter for plugging the unit into an aircraft external antenna, a speaker microphone, and a DC adapter with noise filter. The Aviator Pilot II is available at most avionics supply outlets. For details, call 562/404-2700 or visit the Web site ( www.yaesu.com/aviation/vxa200tx.html). — Alton K. Marsh

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).