September 1, 2003
Julie K. Boatman
Keith Fowler designed the 16-ounce Mafco "Mayday" beacon in 1964 for use in general aviation airplanes. At a cost of $89.50, only 30 sold in the first year because back then pilots could not count on anyone listening on 121.5 MHz for the signal. How times have changed. While airliners have guarded the frequency for downed aircraft for years, many more GA pilots these days are listening in — if only for the chilly prospect of an intercept following a temporary flight restriction bust.
The ACR Electronics GyPSI 406 PLB (personal locator beacon) offers a lightweight, portable addition to the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) installed in the airplane. With the flip of a switch, the PLB sends a coded signal, unique to each unit, on 406 MHz to the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system. Via Doppler shift, the satellite determines the PLB's location within 1.2 km. The location is then transmitted to a ground station and forwarded to the company's 24-hour mission control center. The center alerts local search-and-rescue (SAR) departments, while verifying the emergency by calling contacts given to the company by the pilot when registering the device. Local SAR uses the 121.5 MHz signal also transmitted by the device to home in on the PLB.
Why would anyone want a PLB? Doesn't the ELT do enough? The GyPSI 406 gives pilots the option of interfacing the device with a GPS source so that a more precise location can be determined. Plus, the PLB, with its five-year lithium battery, provides another level of security against ELTs that have failed or cannot be activated. The PLB also can be carried with the pilot if evacuating the crash site is necessary.
The PLB gained FCC approval for use in the United States July 1. The product has been selling in Canada, Australia, and Europe for several years, and has had special dispensation to be used in Alaska since March 2000.
The bright-yellow waterproof case is about the size of a portable transceiver, and has a flexible stainless-steel blade antenna that wraps around the case for storage. LED and a test sequence allow for operational testing. The unit weighs just over a pound and comes with a nylon carrying case.
Price: about $800 Contact: 954/981-3333; www.acrelectronics.com
Gleim Publications has released its updated Private Pilot and Flight Instructor Refresher Courses. The courses feature color graphics and the company's unique knowledge transfer outlines to help private pilots maintain proficiency and to allow flight instructors to renew their certificates. The eight-lesson private pilot course is designed to help pilots prepare at home for a flight review — and you can try it free (lesson one of each course is offered for a hands-on trial). Each lesson is preceded by a 10-question true/false quiz to find out what you've retained from your flight training, however long ago that was. You must answer 10 multiple-choice questions correctly before you move on to the next lesson.
Subjects covered include regulations, airspace, airport operations, weather, decision making, and aircraft-specific weight-and-balance and performance. For the most part, the questions are straightforward and informative, and the outlines are thorough.
Gleim has also added a weather page to its Web site ( www.gleim.com/aviation/weather/) that allows users to link to weather radar sites across the country and access textual weather free of charge.
Price: $29.95 for the private pilot course; $99.95 for the flight instructor course Contact: 800/874-5346; www.gleim.com
Even if you didn't need to take the kitchen sink with you, it would just about fit inside the newest flight bag from W. Waller & Son. The Captain's bag is really three bags in one: the two end bags zip off and can be used separately, or these two bags can be attached to use as a single unit. While most pilots would look at the end bags and instantly say, "headset," the bags are lined with high-density, closed-cell insulating foam and could be used as toiletry bags or to carry food.
In fact, all sides of the bags are lined with the same foam to protect the contents from impact. So not only your headset (and your lunch) but also your transceiver or (lucky you) your handheld GPS are cushioned from turbulence both in flight and on the ramp. The entire bag measures about 26 inches in length (each end bag is 4 inches deep), sits 10 inches high, and is 12 in-ches wide. The bag comes in black, grey, and red heavy-duty urethane-coated Cordura nylon that is water repellent. The bag has a detachable shoulder strap and leather-wrapped carry handles on the main bag and on each end bag.
Price: $219 Contact: 800/874-2247; www.wallerandsons.com
A twist on the LED flashlight is Petzl's Zipka headlamp. Pilots may recognize the style as one long used by mountain climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts for hands-free illumination while active. This product adapts well to cockpit use in the event of an electrical failure or any time when additional light is required.
We tried the Zipka and it fit several users comfortably. The thin head strap practically disappears under a headset, and the lamp stays in place during light activity — it would take some pretty good knocks of turbulence to shake it off. The three LED lamps illuminate an instrument-panel-size area, with the brightest core of light about the same width as an approach chart at two feet. The white bulbs can be modified with a red or green filter.
The best part is the Zipka's portabil-ity — it's about the size of a kiwi fruit and weighs just less than 3 ounces. The light is powered by three AAA batteries. The product carries a three-year manufacturer's warranty, and it's available through AvShop, as well as outdoor retailers.
Price: $26.95 Contact: 800/805-9415; www.avshop.com/zipka.html
Aviation photojournalist Russ Munson takes pilots along with him as he flies along one of the world's most famous highways on the DVD Flying Route 66. Tracing the 2,500-mile, almost mythical road with his Piper Super Cub, Munson also incorporates some of the images he created for Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Price: $29.99 Contact: 800/776-7897; www.sportys.com
Microsoft released Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight in mid-July. The program features painstakingly modeled historic aircraft, including the Wright Flyer, Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, and seven others. New dynamic weather responds to live updates, and improved scenery enhances the realistic flight experience.
Price: $54.95 Contact: www.microsoft.com/games/
Pacific Coast Avionics now offers its PCA ANR headset, with classic dome ear cups for passive attenuation in addition to the 12 to 14 decibels of active noise reduction provided electronically. PCA offers a 3-percent discount to customers purchasing selected products, including transceivers, headsets, intercoms, and JP Instrument monitors, from the Web site. Enter code 45377.
Price: $235 Contact: 503/678-6242; www.pca.aero
Power Flow Systems has developed a ceramic coating for retrofitting mufflers on its exhaust systems that sustains the chrome appearance of the muffler, preventing the discoloration that occurred with original muffler installations. The upgrade is also available for new orders.
Price: $550 for existing systems Contact: 386/253-8833; www.powerflowsystems.com
The Flashfire flashlight from Approach Aviation features up to 100 hours of LED light on one set of watch batteries and is available with white, red, or blue lights. The Flashfire switches between long flash, quick strobe, or steady light, and a screw-on wand extends the pocket-size flashlight's reach.
Price: $19.95 Contact: 877/564-4457; www.approachaviation.com
Fboweb.com recently added historical flight tracking data to its list of online services. Flight information from November 14, 2001, on is available, as is current airspace data. Pilots can also look up a variety of other information, including N numbers, weather, airport data, and real-time GA and commercial flight data.
Price: Begins at $9.95 a month Contact: www.fboweb.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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