Avionics: AV8OR Ace

Bendix/King’s touch-screen GPS grows up

March 1, 2010

Following on the success of last year’s versatile, touch-screen AV8OR, Bendix/King’s first handheld GPS offering in nearly a decade, the company has followed up with a far larger and more capable AV8OR ACE.

The ACE is based on the same software as the original, but its larger hardware platform and additional features make it much more than just an upgrade. It’s meant to provide general aviation pilots with a full, easy-to-use electronic flight bag (EFB) that allows truly paperless IFR flying. The slim 1.25-pound unit has a seven-inch (diagonal) color screen that, with a $399-a-year subscription, displays low- or high-altitude en route charts, SIDs, STARs, and geo-referenced airport diagrams and approach plates. (Weather and traffic are options, too.)

The ACE carries a retail price of $1,995—a big leap from the original AV8OR’s price of $750. But the ACE’s real quarry is Garmin’s GPSMAP 695/696—the tablet-size portable that sells for roughly $1,200 more. Both the ACE and 695/696 can be used as EFBs for FAR Part 91 operations, and both can display real-time weather, traffic, and IFR charts and plates, with the proper subscriptions.

The main differences are that the ACE weighs about half as much as the 695/696 and is less cumbersome in confined cockpits; the ACE shows photorealistic IFR charts instead of representations, and the ACE’s approach plates are geo-referenced to show aircraft position; the ACE has a roads database for use in cars, as well as a touch screen with only four hard keys. (The 695/696 has a combination of buttons and a “click-stick” for screen navigation.)

The battery life on both units is similarly short—about 90 minutes—because of their large, power-hungry displays. They both get excellent satellite reception, even without external antennae, and they both can show a helpful profile view of upcoming terrain on the main map page.

Garmin’s 695/696 retains an edge over the ACE, however, in terms of its brighter, more clearly marked display screen that’s easier to read in direct sunlight, and its split-screen “panel page” that shows aircraft performance on the top and a moving map on the bottom. The ACE’s touch screen seems like a big step forward, and it’s nice to be able to peek ahead by touching and dragging the map forward. But in practice, it can be difficult to correctly type the identifiers for airports, VORs, and intersections using the small, on-screen keypad, even in smooth air.(Garmin also recently introduced its “aera” family of touch-screen, fly/drive GPS models with a top-of-the-line aera 560 at the same price point as the ACE.)

I recently had a chance to fly (and drive) with the ACE and found it extremely useful both on the ground and in the air.

The unit takes about 30 seconds to power up, and entering a flight plan is a simple matter of following the menu keys. My first trip was an IFR flight in congested East Coast airspace where the low-altitude airways display was a real blessing.

Instead of having to unfold a paper chart with each re-route (and there were several), looking ahead and finding the proper airway was a simple matter of ranging out using the plus/minus hard key, identifying the entry and exit points, and entering them in the flight plan.

There’s always the Direct button, another hard key, for jump-starting the process. And the miniature airplane representation showing current position has a clever “predicted course” dotted-line extension that makes flying to a point ahead on the map quite simple. Just put the predicted course line on the destination and fly the heading.

Identifying airports and navigational aids on the touch screen is especially intuitive. Touch the object on the screen you’re curious about, and then hit the “more information” soft key. The ACE gives you the airport name, identifier, runway length, elevation, communications frequencies, and services. For a $99 annual fee, the ACE also will provide comparative fuel prices.

The ACE screen isn’t quite large enough to display a full approach plate, so extracting all the critical information requires using a finger (or stylus) and dragging the screen view up and down, an easy and intuitive operation. There’s also the option of pressing a hard key that shows the frequency box for each approach.

Geo-referenced approach plates are becoming increasingly popular among IFR pilots who credit them for greatly enhanced situational awareness. I’ve got to confess, however, that I prefer viewing the map page (track up) while approaching in actual IMC.

WxWorks provides the satellite weather for the ACE through a wireless Bluetooth device, or an RS-232 receiver with a cable attachment. The Bluetooth device has a retail price of $722.61 (a $200 discount card is being offered with new ACE purchases). An XM Weather subscription also is required for real-time weather; subscription prices begin at $29.99 a month.

The ACE also can display traffic via a ZAON Portable Collision Avoidance System interface.

For VFR flying, the ACE displays a topographical map complete with terrain and obstacle warnings. It also clearly marks restricted airspace on both the plan and profile views, a great benefit near the nation’s capital. Avoiding Class B, C, and D airspace is a simple matter of touching any of the rings around the busy airports and reading the restrictions (for example: Class B 4000MSL/8000MSL).

Inexplicably, however, some of the most heavily restricted airspace such as the all-too-frequently-violated P-40 prohibited area surrounding the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, is marked only faintly with a black-and-yellow circle. Such boundaries should be boldly and unmistakably highlighted.

I made a few embarrassing blunders getting acquainted with the ACE. The first was being unable to figure out how to switch the screen view between vertical and horizontal. I wanted to fly with the ACE on a kneeboard and the view looking forward, but I couldn’t find how to alter it in the quick reference guide. It turns out making the change only required pushing a soft key on the main menu page, but it wasn’t obvious, and another user had the same problem.

The roads database is extremely useful for out-of-town trips, and it takes the mystery out of finding hotels, restaurants, and other addresses in unfamiliar cities. Entering an address is simple, and the spoken directions are clear and easy to understand—usually. My kids have a mischievous habit of toying with the GPS settings menu to alter the speaker’s language. The AV8OR ACE has dozens of languages, male and female voices, and regional accents to choose from, and I never know what I’m going to get.

In summary, the ACE is a big step up, in price and capability, which adds features and builds on the momentum of Bendix/King’s reentry into the handheld marketplace.

The AV8OR line has given Bendix-King a head start in the touch-screen aviation GPS market, and Garmin has followed with its aera products. There’s real competition now at the high end of the portable GPS market, and Bendix/King appears determined to stay in the game.

E-mail the author at dave.hirschman@aopa.org.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

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.