Pilot Products

March 1, 2004

Whelen LED beacon light

Whelen Engineering Corporation, maker of interior and exterior lighting products for general aviation aircraft, has hitched on to light-emitting diode (LED) technology for light aircraft. The company now installs bright, long-lasting LED position (navigation) lights on new Cessna Citations and Beechjets instead of standard incandescent light assemblies that require frequent replacement. Most recently, Whelen introduced an LED replacement anticollision/beacon light that fits thousands of general aviation airplanes that were originally fitted with rotating beacon lights.

Over time, LEDs are less expensive to operate than incandescent and halogen lamps since bulb life is measured in tens of thousands of hours rather than just the 100 hours or so you might get from an incandescent bulb. LEDs also have no filament to break, making them the light of choice in high-vibration applications such as helicopters. In addition, LEDs don't emit any electrical or radio frequency noise that can be picked up by aircraft radios as some strobes and rotating or flashing beacons do.

The LED beacon drops right in the standard 3.75-inch opening that accepts self-contained beacons or strobe lights on light airplanes and helicopters. It has a clear lens with red LEDs deeply inset into a silver reflector. It has crisp on and off cycles clearly visible day and night. Although the light is quite bright, the aviation red color doesn't destroy a pilot's night vision.

Unlike the rotating beacons of old, Whelen's LED beacon has no moving parts and no expensive bulbs or motors to replace. It's lighter than a self-contained strobe and allows for a cleaner installation since there is no large power supply affixed to the bottom of the LED light. Strobes also are subject to periodic flash-tube replacements to keep them bright while LEDs retain their brightness for years. Installation of the LED light is a matter of simply removing the old light and splicing in the new one.

Whelen's new LED replacement beacon isn't cheap. But the one-time price will be recouped over the years since the light will require no maintenance and owners will enjoy 100-percent dispatch reliability. — Peter A. Bedell

Price: From $750 to $850 through distributors
Contact: To locate a Whelen distributor or contact the company, 860/526-9504; www.whelen.com

Destination Direct

Always a top contender in the flight-planning and moving-map software wars, Destination Direct has now expanded in several directions, including software, new hardware, and an Internet site that participates directly with the flight-planning program.

The explosion of technology came after Destination Direct owner Rebecca Anthony sold the company to IMAPS, of Columbia, Illinois. That company, in turn, owns a variety of additional companies and Internet sites that now make up the total package of products and services offered to Destination Direct customers. The central player is a marine navigation firm called Captn. Jack's. Going to the Destination Direct Web site eventually gets you everywhere you need to go.

The package now offered includes the Destination Direct software, a tablet PC to run it on in the cockpit, a wireless GPS that can transmit from anywhere in the aircraft to the computer, and the aeroplanner.com Web site that can provide a trip kit of information, called a Trip Tick, from within Destination Direct. Destination Direct will grab the information for you from the Web automatically. You can buy the flight-planning software from Destination Direct and the tablet PC and wireless GPS from Captn. Jack's. All items can be purchased separately.

The Trip Tick is the neatest new feature in Destination Direct, and it combines the software with AeroPlanner, an online flight planner. You must buy the Destination Direct Web Enhanced version of the program to access this feature. Destination Direct "Web Enhanced" versions range in price from $199 to $299. Versions that are not Web enhanced start at $149. Here's how it works: Plan your flight in Destination Direct and click on the AeroPlanner Trip Tick button. The software automatically goes to the Web and grabs a packet of information unique to your flight. The information includes your route on chart strips that are always current, approach procedures, current TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) along the route, and weather. You can schedule your AeroPlanner download ahead of time. For example, it could be programmed the night before a flight to download the next morning.

Captn. Jack's then developed a screen-enhancement display for the Motion Computing tablet PC that makes the computer screen readable in the brightest sunlight, based on results of two AOPA test flights. The screen enhancement is a $540 option available when buying the computer. The computer costs $1,999 and has an external CD-ROM available for $149.99. Captn. Jack's bonds a brightness-enhancing display glass directly to the computer's LCD panel.

The $229 Emtac Bluetooth GPS receiver is smaller than the palm of your hand, but more powerful than many I have used. We conducted two test flights, primarily because the GPS stopped transmitting to the computer about 30 minutes into the first flight. I had tossed the GPS, which does not depend on line-of-sight communications, into the front window of a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Apparently there was too much metal between it and the tablet PC on my lap to retain constant contact with the receiver in the computer, but when I put it on top of the instrument panel it retained its link to the computer.

Did the computer get in the way of the yoke? No. The tablet PC has no permanently attached lid as do most laptops.

Destination Direct has more improvements planned, one of them involving weather. Expect an update later this spring. — Alton K. Marsh

Price: $295 for Destination Direct IFR Professional
Contact: www.destdirect.com; 888/227-5225

VFlite Garmin GPS 196 trainer software

Garmin's GPSMap 196 handheld GPS navigator contains functions for weight and balance, a flight log, and E6B calculations — but do you only know how to enter a direct-to route? The VFlite Garmin GPSMap 196 Interactive Guide by Pegasus Interactive teaches you how to utilize more than 35 functions within the GPSMap 196 — and get the most from your investment.

Building upon a two-step process developed for its first software product, VFlite Garmin GNS 430/530 Interactive Guide (see " Pilot Products," February 2003 Pilot), Pegasus Interactive designed a demo mode followed by a training mode within the program using a realistic GPSMap 196 "emulator." Pegasus incorporated several user comments from the GNS 430/530 software into the new program, adding a slider bar during the demo mode that allows users to easily review exactly the spot in the demonstration that they need to, and reducing the amount of information covered in a particular segment for better understanding.

The program covers topics from start-up to en route to arrival procedures, with a chance to view each process in demo mode and practice each procedure right away in training mode. Quick tips for functions such as map panning, aircraft profiles, and inverting (or reversing) routes help you get what you need from the GPSMap 196 quickly.

The graphics are clean, and the information is detailed. We liked the GNS 430/530 software, and this latest installment furthers the company's building reputation for excellence.

Price: $49.95 introductory price from various dealers
Contact: 610/738-6901; www.vflite.com

Quick Hits

Micro AeroDynamics recently released its STCed vortex generators for Piper Saratoga aircraft. The kit, available for installation by any A&P, enhances slow-flight characteristics and reduces stall speed on the Saratoga by 8 percent. The company also added VGs for Piper Comanches onto its parts manufacturer approval (PMA) list.
Price: $1,450 for the Saratoga VG kit
Contact: 800/677-2370; www.microaero.com

Sporty's Pilot Shop has a way to quickly identify the correct circuit breaker to pull in an emergency situation, such as a runaway electric trim or landing gear malfunction. Circuit breaker caps come in red, yellow, and green and affix to pull-type circuit breakers.
Price: $2.95 each or $2.25 each for three or more
Contact: 800/776-7897; www.sportys.com

Executive Twin Aviation announced its supplemental type certificate for a new door seal on Piper PA-28, PA-32, and PA-34 aircraft. The seal is composed of a rubber compound with memory to compress and conform to the sealing surface in the doorjamb. It installs in the channel on the fuselage rather than on the door itself.
Price: $24.95 to $59.95, depending on door and model
Contact: 405/755-2151; www.aircraftdoorseals.com

EcoMat introduced its reusable oil-absorbent mats for use in hangars and on ramps. The mats contain oil leaks and spills without use of cat litter or cardboard, and a grid layer on the mat allows the mat to be walked upon without risk of tracking oil across floors or taxiways.
Price: $39.95
Contact: 888/930-4888; www.ecomat.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).