August 1, 2009
By Dave Hirschman
Sick of your six-pack? Take note
By Thomas A. Horne
Bendix/King by Honeywell has rolled out a new primary flight display (PFD) designed for the under-6,000-pound, FAR Part 23 piston retrofit market—the Apex Edge KFD 840.
The idea is to toss out the old “six-pack” of round gauges and replace them with a single, very crisp, very daylight-readable display capable of providing a complete range of flight and navigation information. The unit’s 8.4-inch display screen has vertical tapes showing airspeed, altitude, and vertical speed, and contains an electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI) with the capability to display a primary course arrow plus two bearing pointers for information from additional navigation sources.
The KFD 840 comes with an integral air data and attitude and heading reference system and a remote-mounted magnetometer to provide heading data. If you have a Bendix/King KCS-55A slaved compass system, its wiring can be used to hook up the 840 with its magnetometer, which is typically wing-mounted. To guard against a loss of data in the event of a complete electrical failure, an optional, $2,288 backup battery is available from Mid-Continent Instruments of Wichita; battery life is 30 to 45 minutes.
While electrical power relieves you of the worry of vacuum pump failures, it’s important to remember that regulations for IFR operations require a separate, independently powered source of attitude information. That’s when an electric standby attitude indicator, powered by its own internal battery, becomes necessary. That, or a vacuum-driven attitude indicator pirated from your pre-KFD 840 panel. Come to think of it, retaining your old vacuum-powered heading indicator might not be a bad idea when creating your standby instruments—as well as your original airspeed indicator.
On-screen air data outputs include not just airspeed and altitude data (including rolling numbers and six-second airspeed and altitude trends) but wind vectors, true airspeed, and outside air temperature. The attitude indicator’s roll indicator can be programmed to have either a sky pointer (pointer is stationary and roll arc moves) or a roll pointer (arc is stationary and the pointer moves). Most GA airplanes use roll pointers.
As replacements for turn coordinator functions, the 840’s roll scale uses inverted “V” roll carats to indicate standard-rate bank angles at all airspeeds; a symbolic inclinometer is beneath the roll pointer, and it serves as a substitute for a conventional rudder ball. In a “heavy iron” adaptation, red pitch chevrons automatically direct corrective pitch actions when pitch angles exceed pre-set limits. When this happens, the screen de-clutters for maximum visual impact.
The 840 is customized for each airplane via an SD card that plugs into a slot on the unit’s bezel. That’s how the appropriate airspeed arcs are derived, and that’s how the airplane’s checklists (up to 20 of them) and specific weight and balance numbers are entered. Which brings up an important feature: you can perform on-screen weight and balance calculations during the preflight by pressing the left rotary knob. Select “WT/BAL” and up pop the loading stations. Rotate the knob to move around the stations and add passenger, baggage, and fuel weights. This is factored into the preprogrammed empty weight and moment-arm information, the 840 crunches the numbers, and the result is a plot of the airplane’s center of gravity—front and center on the display screen. Add or subtract weights, and watch the CG plot move accordingly. It’s a great safety feature that simplifies a task that many would be tempted to skip.
Those two rotary knobs and a series of five pushbuttons at the lower bezel let you configure the PFD. There are airspeed and altitude bugs, and with the latter you can set a minimum altitude for use on instrument approaches as well as target altitudes for use either as a reminder or as an altitude preselect for use with autopilots having this feature.
The KFD 840 will work with 14- or 28-volt electrical systems, and can handle analog or digital navigation and autopilot equipment. Command bars will appear when the 840 is lashed up to an autopilot such as the S-Tec Fifty Five X. In addition, there is an audio output for voice alarms, and the unit has upgrade paths that will permit engine instrument displays.
At $16,995, Honeywell says the KFD 840 is aimed at Garmin’s G600 and Aspen Avionics’ EFD1000 PFDs. And while the 840 is simple to operate, weighs just eight pounds, and is loaded with capability, its future will be more secure once Honeywell certifies its companion multifunction display, the $13,995 KSN 770. That’s set to happen later this year. Meanwhile, deliveries of the KFD 840 begin in July 2009. It will no doubt be a strong competitor in what’s becoming an exciting market niche in an otherwise troubled GA scene.
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Glass-panel simplicity - no longer a contradiction in terms
The glass-panel revolution that has been sweeping general aviation has brought tremendous new capabilities, but also vast expense and complexity. A newly FAA-certified attitude indicator by R.C. Allen Instruments—the RCA 2600—aims to bring digital reliability to a simple, familiar display.
The RCA 2600 comes in two- and three-inch sizes that are direct replacements for electric attitude indicators (or turn coordinators) and fit in existing instrument panels. And instead of costing tens of thousands of dollars and requiring complete panel and electrical-system overhauls, these carry a retail price of about $2,500 and plug directly into 14- or 28-volt aircraft electrical systems.
“To pilots, the new units function the same as traditional attitude indicators,” said Becky Miller, sales director at R.C. Allen Instruments in Wichita. “The difference is that, internally, there are no moving parts. It’s all circuitry. There are no bearings to wear out or parts to fail. These new units are going to be much more reliable and have far longer life than traditional gyros.”
Unlike mechanical attitude indicators that tumble at extreme pitch and/or bank angles, the RCA 2600 moves fluidly through 360 degrees of pitch and roll.
Miller said the company is focusing on selling the new units as emergency backups for aircraft with vacuum-driven attitude indicators. When equipped with a slip/skid ball, they are drop-in replacements for turn coordinators. R.C. Allen is also trying to certify a battery pack that could power the RCA 2600 for up to six hours in case of an aircraft electrical power failure. If the backup battery is certified as a redundant electrical system, the company plans to sell RCA 2600s as primary attitude instruments.
The solid-state instruments are designed to be less susceptible to vibration damage than mechanical units, and Miller said R.C. Allen is marketing them to the helicopter industry. The company plans to add features such as heading and autopilot capabilities. It also plans a digital directional gyro that it hopes to have certified in two years or less. R.C. Allen is a wholesaler that sells products through a broad network of retail outlets. The RCA 2600s are manufactured in Florida.
“We started this project about seven years ago and we’re glad it’s finally on the market,” Miller said. “We believe the time is right for a simple, reasonably priced unit, and the market reaction so far has been very encouraging.”
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An indispensible tool you’ve never heard of
By Dave Hirschman
Your business meeting’s going long, and the pressure to get home is building. You’re already thinking about the flight home and all the necessary precursors: checking the weather, filing a flight plan, making FBO arrangements. Until now, those time-consuming and inescapable preflight chores required a flight planning room, an Internet connection, and a telephone.
But Garmin’s Pilot My-Cast, the company’s new cell phone application, is rapidly changing all that.
The $10-a-month service enables pilots to get detailed and up-to-the-minute aviation weather (including radar, sigmets, airmets, METARs and TAFs), file flight plans, and contact FBOs via voice calls or text messages—all from your cell phone.
“The utility and user friendliness of this service is hard to grasp until you see it with your own eyes,” said Jessica Myers, a Garmin spokeswoman. “It’s had a devoted fan club for some time. But as cell phones, iPhones, and BlackBerrys become more capable and more widespread, it’s opening up the floodgates.”
Pilot My-Cast presents the weather information in much the same way as a call-in briefer—but the information is accessible much faster, and the briefing can be more detailed, more thorough, and focused on the things of particular interest to you. You see the radar images and weather maps of the regions you plan to fly rather than listen to a briefer’s description of them. The same is true for winds, cloud cover, ceilings, and lightning. Pireps are mercifully given in plain English, so you don’t need your decoder ring to figure them out.
Pilot My-Cast also includes an online AOPA’s Airport Directory with a full listing of services available at each facility. FBOs, rental car companies, hotels, and restaurants are listed along with their contact information. FBO information is listed at the beginning, where pilots arriving at a new destination can easily find it.
Filing flight plans is a simple matter of entering a departure time, altitude, true airspeed, N-number, and route. Then review the information and hit “confirm,” and the IFR or VFR flight plan will be filed automatically via DUATs. A subsequent message lets you know the flight plan has, indeed, gone through. There’s also the option of clicking the “call Flight Service” command and filing the old fashioned/spoken way.
Pilot My-Cast doesn’t include recently filed or ATC-assigned routes. I found myself filing “direct” and being ready to copy a long clearance when I actually checked in with ATC on the aircraft radio. Since it’s all done on a cell phone, there’s no handy print-out of your flight plan to take along with you in the airplane. So keep your own notes.
The radar service is designed to be used on the ground, not in the air. It’s possible to pick up cell phone signals at some lower altitudes, but the radar service isn’t meant to be used that way.
Using Pilot My-Cast requires registering your pilot, aircraft, and DUATs information with the service so you don’t have to repeat it each time you file a new flight plan. The signals are collected and distributed via servers at Pilot My-Cast headquarters in Minnetonka, Minnesota. (The company began offering the first version of its service in 2002 and Garmin bought it in 2007.)
Pilot My-Cast is available through U.S. wireless companies that include AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Alltel, and a few others. The application is extremely convenient and a tremendous help in streamlining the preflight process. It’s one of those technologies that, until you see it, you don’t realize you need it. Some pilots will surely prefer to talk to a real briefer and continue to do so. Personally, I’ll file flight plans by cellphone.
And the next time a meeting starts cutting into your flight planning time, don’t get anxious. Just take out your cell phone, look at the weather, and (discreetly) file your flight plan. You’ll be way ahead.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
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