August 1, 2005
JULIE K. BOATMAN
Since we first looked at Digital Cyclone's Pilot My-Cast service for cellular phones (see " Pilot Products: Digital Cyclone Pilot My-Cast," December 2002 Pilot), the company has expanded both its service and availability by leaps and bounds.
Pilot My-Cast uses Internet service on Java- or Get-It-Now-enabled cell phones and certain personal digital assistants to access weather and notam data from the National Weather Service. The service is available through any of 10 cellular service providers and dozens of different phone models. A current list is provided on Digital Cyclone's Web site. We tested the product using a Motorola V600 with AT&T Wireless service. Some phones do not support all of the features; specifics are given on the site.
Weather information includes animated Nexrad radar loops; graphical and textual METARs and TAFs; airmets, sigmets, and pireps; temporary flight restrictions; winds aloft; satellite and infrared imagery; and lightning data. Graphical presentations of current conditions are standard — depicted by colored icons determined by whether the conditions are VFR, marginal VFR, IFR, or low IFR; wind data is given in standard barbs overlaid on the map.
You access the weather information by selecting an airport and making a request to the Pilot My-Cast server. A separate request is required for each download. Though this doesn't take long (a few seconds in every case, as long as the signal is reasonable), it can get a little tedious if you need to access several kinds of data. So doing a detailed briefing takes time. But getting an update — say, to determine the current location of a line of storms along your route, or the conditions at your destination — is quick.
Once you select an airport you can save it to a favorites list for future reference. Then you select the type of report you wish to receive, and make another request. Depending on the service you have, and your phone, you can automatically set the phone to request data without asking "are you sure?" prior to making the request — but with some phones, such as the one we used for testing, it prompts you with this question before every request. Again, a little tedious, but if you're quick with your thumb on the Accept key, you won't notice it much.
Service availability varies with your cell-phone provider and handset. Using the AT&T Wireless network, we found several airports along the southeastern coast of the United States at which we weren't able to get a signal — and therefore had no access to weather data. But at about half of these airports, a signal was available on our personal cell phone, on the Sprint network.
Until we have cell towers in every tree, bush, and bale across the country, coverage simply won't be 100 percent. But as a cost-effective weather service with robust information, Pilot My-Cast is a worthwhile addition to your bag of tricks.
Price: $12.95 monthly (in addition to any service fees from your cellular provider) or $129.95 annually Contact: www.digitalcyclone.com
Weight and balance software programs abound — from the simplest home-brew models conjured up in Microsoft Excel to more elaborate programs worthy of their own engineering degrees. Momentum Interactive has introduced its Weight & Balance Visualizer Computer that finds middle ground between the two extremes, with clean design and good graphics in a product available for many popular models of general aviation aircraft.
The base program gives you one module with the aircraft model of your choice; you download the program from the company's Web site. Aircraft include the Cirrus SR20B and -22; Cessna 152, 172, and 310R and K models; Diamond DA40; various Mooney M20 models; Piper PA-28 and -32R-300 models; and Tigers, Cheetahs, and Travelers from various vintages.
The program illustrates the center-of-gravity position on a 2-D image of the aircraft, with graphics for passengers, baggage, and fuel on board. Warnings pop when loading is out of range or over maximum gross weight. Loading also can be shown on graphs similar to those found in the aircraft's pilot operating handbook. I found the program easy to download and straightforward to use.
Price: $24.99 for initial program and module; $9.99 for each additional aircraft module Contact: 915/203-5349; www.momentum-i.com
AvShop has added several of its own flight bags to its lineup, including the AvShop Design Halifax Flight Bag 2.0.
Several features distinguish this bag from others, including a dedicated chart organizer with a zipper closure in the bag's flip-over top. Two transceiver-size pockets on one side of the bag can hold a handheld radio and GPS, with a middle pocket for an approach chart booklet. Headset pockets flank the bag, and a mesh pocket inside the top can hold a pilot certificate.
More charts fit in pockets on the other side of the bag, which zips open to reveal a flashlight holder and several small pockets for loose items like spare batteries.
Price: $99.95 on the AvShop Web site Contact: 866/928-7467; www.avshop.com
Sporty's has updated the GPS Techniques installment of its Air Facts series on DVD to include glass-panel technology. In-flight footage using a Cessna 182T and Cirrus SR22 provides practical applications of the new technology. The two-program DVD includes "GPS Approaches" and "GPS En Route."
Price: $25 Contact: 800/776-7897 or 513/735-9000; www.sportys.com
VNS Corp. offers its VNS1000 Voice-Directed Guidance Annunciator System, which provides aural deviation alerts for ILS, VOR, and GPS approaches. The system uses the same signals that drive course deviation or horizontal situation indicator needles to produce vertical and lateral guidance. Price: $2,495 plus installation through Eastern Avionics International Contact: 909/599-1037; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; www.avionix.com/voicenav.html
Power Flow Systems has introduced a "short stack" exhaust pipe for Cessna 172 Skyhawks and 177 Cardinals, which is designed to reduce the drag profile and weight of the original exhaust duct. Performance enhancements are similar to those of earlier Power Flow modifications, according to the company. Price: $2,200 to swap out original system; $450 option with new order or retrofit to earlier Power Flow installation Contact: 386/253-8833; www.powerflowsystems.com
Airframes Inc., of Big Lake, Alaska, has received parts manufacturing approval on engine baffles for Cessna 150, 170, 172, 180, 182, 185, and 206 models. Parts are available individually as well as in sets. The baffles have reinforced silicone seals installed, and are available bare or powder-coated. Price: kits from $975 Contact: 907/892-8244; www.enginebaffles.com
A new company, Harrison Designs, LLC, has designed vortex generators (VGs) for several experimental and production aircraft. Landshorter VGs are constructed from Lexan, the same material used in bulletproof glass; a complete set weighs less than 1 ounce, according to the company. Price: starting from $95 Contact: 877/272-1414; www.landshorter.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 Gear and Services,
Weather and Seasons,
Pilot Safety and Skills,
Aircraft and Avionics,
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The Aviation Safety Reporting System is a voluntary safety reporting program that allows airmen to make anonymous reports to the government about issues encountered in aviation, with anonymity allowing the airman to be candid–even when their actions may have been a violation of the regulations.
Five aviation apps developers make their pitch to AOPA members.
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.