June 1, 2004
Julie K. Boatman
Staying current on the dials can be an uphill battle. For several years, pilots have had the option of using PC-based sims of varying complexity to help them stay current. Some enlist a flight instructor to direct their review on the sim, but I'd bet that most surf around on their own — without much guidance.
Aviation Supplies & Academics aims to provide needed guidance with the introduction of its Instrument Refresher: An IPC Simulator software. The program, based on ASA's solid On Top PC-based sim, uses a simplified simulator program (simplified from the point of view that it only simulates a Cessna 172, and no customization of the aircraft is possible) along with a simulated flight instructor (with high standards) to take you through every task you need to stay proficient — and brush up for your real instrument proficiency check (IPC).
Instrument Refresher can be used with just a joystick and an average PC (see minimum requirements below). When I first launched the program, I immediately had problems using my Microsoft Force Feedback 2 joystick — the program wouldn't properly calibrate to that joystick. Since this calibration is vital (you can't fly without it), I called ASA's tech support and got the scoop: Another, more basic joystick was a better match for the program.
The program is set up as a series of lessons, starting with the basics (VOR tracking) and ending with instrument approaches. You read the lesson briefing, set the level to which you want to fly (more on this in a second), and launch. The instructor tells you what the task and parameters are, gives you cues and cautions both orally and in text along the top of the screen, and evaluates you at the end. This instructor, because of his voiceprint, sounds a little cranky, and he's a stubborn taskmaster (and no taking this CFI out for a beer after the flight to ease the criticism, either). I admit to feeling some frustration toward Cranky Carl after a few lessons. But I have advice to limit your frustration.
When you first enter the program, you have the option of doing "Free Flight," which allows you to fly around without following a lesson. I highly recommend this, as it lets you know if the joystick is calibrated correctly. Then begin the lessons at the beginning — even if you just shot a successful approach to Category III minimums in a Boeing in the real world. Because it's not about how good your instrument skills are — though those skills will sharpen with this program, no doubt — but how well you understand how the program reacts to your joystick inputs. Like most desktop sims, Instrument Refresher is pitch sensitive like no airplane I've flown. Starting with the basics allows you to learn this "airplane" just like you do in the real world. Your frustration will be less if you go through the lessons one by one, in order, even though it is tempting to skip around.
You can also set the relative lesson difficulty to easy, moderate, or difficult. Easy is a level you want when you're trying a new skill, or doing something you haven't done in a while, like no-gyro unusual attitudes. Moderate matches the standard you might expect on a checkride. Difficult is a challenge.
The evaluation at the end of the lesson gives you specific parameters, telling you in full color what you did right (you held your heading within 5 degrees — excellent!) and what you did wrong (your altitude went to 3,233 feet when you should have maintained 3,000). Carl may be tough but he doesn't lie.
The program is a worthy means to refresh your skills — and you can use the Free Flight mode to fly any approach you want when your IPC is through. (Note: You cannot log an actual IPC or instrument time while using the program.)
Price: $79.95 Minimum requirements: Pentium-class processor (200 MHz or faster for Windows 98/ME, 300 MHz or faster for Windows 2000/XP); DirectX version 8.1; 64 MB RAM; 20 MB available hard drive space; CD-ROM drive; 800-by-600 SVGA monitor; DirectX-compatible sound card and speakers; mouse; joystick or yoke Contact: 800/426-8338; www.asa2fly.com
So the flight review is looming, and you know you should crack the books so that you're not flummoxed when the instructor asks you about airspace, or cloud clearances, or weather reports — whatever your personal bugaboo may be. Sporty's has culled the points salient to a typical flight review from its library of digital video and packaged it in one 72-minute DVD, Flight Review.
While Flight Review takes a minimal amount of your time to watch, it is thorough — if you've been out of the game for a while, this DVD presents much of the information you need to know to get back in. You can also easily skip through sections you have down — maybe you're a whiz at METARs and TAFs, or you know your fuel requirements cold. One particularly useful section reviews runway markings — a current hot topic with the FAA's emphasis on reducing runway incursions.
Price: $24.95 Contact: 800/776-7897 or 513/735-9000; www.sportys.com
If you don't get up to the thin altitudes much — or if you fly a pressurized airplane — you may scoff at the idea of sacrificing your valuable baggage or fuel allowance for a bulky, heavy portable oxygen system. But the extra gas may save your life one day.
We recently tested Aeromedix's E-Ox 170 portable oxygen system with its unique Oxymizer disposable oxygen-conserving system. Replacing the nasal cannula or mask that you might use with a standard oxygen system, the Oxymizer allows any oxygen you exhale to collect so that you breathe it in with additional oxygen on subsequent breaths. The result? You waste less oxygen.
I tried on the Oxymizer and found it took a little adjustment to find a comfortable fit — but if you can get used to a cannula, you can get used to the Oxymizer; it's just a bit bulkier than regular cannulas. My headset helped secure it in place, and the Oxymizer, in spite of its size, doesn't interfere as much as a mask does with the boom microphone. The only drawback to the Oxymizer that I found was the lack of an indicator on the tubing to show positive flow of oxygen; a user must determine from the depletion of oxygen in the bottle, as registered on the bottle gauge, whether the system is delivering oxygen. Therefore, checking the state of your tubing (no pinholes or crimps) is vital.
The Oxymizer allows you to use flow rates as low as half those that the FAA recommends to achieve the same oxygen saturation. One nice feature: Aeromedix sells its bottles in liter capacities, and uses flow rates on its charts in liters per minute, so you can do the math in your head as to how much oxygen you have left. The size we tested, the 170, holds 170 liters, which will last about five and a half hours when used by one person at altitudes between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. With a Y-shape adapter sold by Aeromedix, the bottle can be used by two people for 2.8 hours. Like regular cannulas, the Oxymizer is only usable to 18,000 feet.
Aeromedix sells its system with various bottle sizes, from the compact E-Ox 36 to the large E-Ox 425. Its most popular size is the E-Ox 255, which features a bottle about the size of a two-liter bottle of Coke, according to Mike Team at Aeromedix. The E-Ox 170 sells for $269.95, bundled with the Oxymizer and regulator.
Price: from $199.95 to $309.95 plus accessories Contact: 307/732-2642; www.aeromedix.com
Challenger Aviation Products has recently introduced its spin-on oil filters with PMA approval for use in aircraft. The filters feature 25 percent more filter media inside to allow more clean oil to flow to the engine. Available at Aircraft Spruce & Specialty and other retail outlets. Price: $9.50 retail Contact: 937/667-0510; www.aircraft-spruce.com
MT Propeller's two-blade hydraulic constant-speed propeller for the Aviat Husky A-1B received FAA approval, as did the company's three-blade electric constant-speed propeller for the Grumman AA-5B and AG-5B. Contact: www.mt-propeller.com
Aero Cosmetics offers a hard-water spot remover that works on glass, plastics, vinyl, bare metal, and painted surfaces. The remover comes in a 12-ounce spray bottle. Price: $7.95 Contact: 800/927-4929; www.washwax.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).
Pilot Training and Certification,
Learn to Fly,
Pilot Youth and Introductory,
Safety and Education,
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