March 1, 2013
By Thomas B Haines
The Max-Viz 600 infrared camera sees right through a plastic shopping bag held by the company’s Lou Chuchville shown on a Garmin MFD.
The principle of enhanced vision systems is simple enough—different surfaces have different temperatures. Measure that difference precisely enough, and you can create an image even if no visible light is present. With that, pilots can see what’s outside in complete darkness and, in some cases, even through light fog, precipitation, and clouds. The trick is that whole temperature differential thing—how to measure it precisely enough to paint a useful picture. While cryogenically cooled systems have been around for years on some intercontinental business jets, they are expensive and heavy. Astronics Max-Viz has cracked the code on providing a much lower-cost and lighter-weight, uncooled system that Cessna announced in January is ready to be installed on its 172, 182, and 206 models.
The Max-Viz 600 system uses a 1.8-pound camera in a small housing installed in a preexisting inspection port under the right wing just outboard of the strut. The camera can measure temperature differences between surfaces as small as one-tenth of a degree, and does not detect what we see as visible light. Sitting in a completely dark hangar or in bright sunlight, the image it shows does not change.
Also included is a visible-light-sensing camera similar to the one in your cellphone. That is used to enhance the image of runway edge lights. The system superimposes the two images to create one image on the ship’s Garmin G1000 multifunction display. On the MFD, the pilot can choose between two displays—one where the infrared image takes over the entire MFD or a split screen with a moving map on the bottom.
We flew a Cessna Employee Flying Club 182 with the system in Wichita. Max-Viz’s Lou Churchville demonstrated how the system can see through light fog and clouds by holding a white plastic department-store bag in front of his face (left). The camera easily saw through the bag to reveal his face, making the bag seem to disappear.
Taxiing out well after dark with Eric Nickelson, chief flight instructor for the club, the yellow taxiway stripes—slightly warmer than the taxiway surface—clearly showed up on the infrared display, easing our progress through Wichita Mid-Continent’s complex taxiway system. Turning west after takeoff, the lights of Wichita quickly fell behind us, leaving only the plains ahead. Using the combination moving map and infrared display, Nickelson maneuvered us to a small, unlit grass strip. Out the window, we saw nothing, but using the infrared, we could clearly make out the dark (relatively cold) lakes near the airstrip—and ultimately the runway itself, because the clipped, compacted grass on the runway has a different temperature signature than the taller grass next to it.
At one point, from an altitude of about 800 agl, we saw only darkness ahead. But on the infrared we easily could make out a straight, deserted county highway that would make for an ideal landing strip should we have needed it that dark night.
Back nearer town, we made a low pass at Riverside Airport, where the runway edge lights were on—making the runway fairly easy to see visually. But what we couldn’t see well without the infrared was a row of trees just short of the runway and the river bank next to it. On the display, the trees had that haunting glow to them that you’ve seen on old-fashioned film negatives. On approach to Mid-Continent, we picked up the heat signature of a Citation on final ahead of us, including as he rolled long on the runway.
A primary purpose for the system is to help pilots flying at night to spot animals and vehicles on the runway, but it also can be used to avoid clouds at night. Clouds are warmer than the surrounding clear air, causing them to image well on the display. Similarly, pilots can easily avoid terrain when they can “see” it at night.
The system is popular on helicopters, which can use it to improve situational awareness during night medevac flights and off-airport landings. The Max-Viz 600 has been available on Cirrus models for a couple of years, with Churchville reporting some 600 installations, or about 60 percent of new airplanes sold carrying the option.
Such systems installed on some airliners and business jets with head-up displays can allow for reduced landing minimums. The Max-Viz 600 system displayed on an MFD does not yet permit that, but the company is looking at making a case for reduced minimums for what is being called “head-down” systems.
New Cessnas delivered for the past couple of years have been provisioned to accept the Max-Viz 600. Retrofit kits available for installation at Cessna service centers go for about $30,000. As a factory-installed option, the cost is $22,145.
GTR and GNC replace SL30 and SL40
Garmin is replacing its decade-old line of nav/com radios with more powerful models that add features and comply with coming European regulations that require 8.33 kHz frequency spacing. The new GTR (a VHF transceiver) and GNC (a VHF nav/com) replace the popular SL40 and SL30 models, but they’re not slide-in replacements since the new models are slightly taller.
“These products demonstrate Garmin’s commitment to aviators worldwide by providing the solutions they need to meet the latest regulatory requirements in their regions,” said Carl Wolf, Garmin’s vice president for aviation sales and marketing.
The new radios are FAA-approved and come with 10 or 16 watts of transmitting power, up from 8 watts in the SL series. They also have a built-in, two-place intercom; the ability to listen in on a standby frequency; store up to 20 frequencies in memory; and look up frequencies using airport or VOR codes. Prices range from $1,995 for a 10-watt GTR to $5,495 for a 16-watt GNC with 8.33 kHz spacing. Garmin officials declined to say how long they will continue offering the SL30 and SL40 models. —Dave Hirschman
AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.
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