AOPA Pilot - 40 Top Technologies: Trivia

January 1, 2006

Special Report: General Aviation Technologies Technology Trivia

A good idea, but...

Here's a roundup of several 1990s general aviation innovations that go to show that what looks good in theory does not always hold up in reality.

  • Mix a communications radio and a GPS and you get a handheld GPS/com. AlliedSignal's Bendix/King KLX 100 and Garmin's GPSCom 190 arrived first on the scene. But the compromises to combine them were too great and pilots opted for individual handheld GPSs and transceivers instead. The handheld GPS/cell was a close cousin: Building on AirCell's cellular service for GA airplanes, Garmin married GPS and cell phone to create NavTalk, but it was too big as a cell phone and too small as a GPS.
  • Advancing aircraft designs was critical to help propel manufacturing into the next century. From 1985 through 1989, the Prescott Pusher was alive and kicking. This four-place aircraft composed with computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM) software was an important contribution to aviation. Some critics who experienced firsthand the Pusher's performance and handling may not share this sentiment.
  • The drawing board at Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites conceived the awesome Beechcraft Starship. Produced by the Beechcraft Aircraft Corp., the first production ship flew in 1988 - after the company plunked down development dollars of more than $300 million. It was a great concept and a beautiful design, but commercially it was a no-go. Only 53 Starships were built, and but a handful were sold. All have since been retired.
  • NASA and OMAC Inc. participated in a study of low-speed stability and control characteristics of aircraft with advanced canard configurations. Enter the OMAC Laser 300, a turboprop pusher aircraft, its design based on the OMAC I prototype. The flight-test program lasted two years, but it went nowhere.
  • Weather Fax had catchy slogans such as: "Weather-in-your-hands-in-minutes" and "There's a storm brewing in your fax machine." You'd better stock up on fax paper and ink. A fax report piled 10 inches deep predicted a no-go for this product.
  • A portable 20-pound flight-planning system developed by Lasertrack Corp., the Lasertrack FP100, used a compact optical disk of airport and approach chart information, brought together under the umbrella of Jeppesen's LZ chart service. Today's Internet and Jepp's electronic chart service are much lighter to carry around.
  • Advanced Aerodynamics and Structures Inc. had a vision: Build a single-engine six-seat turboprop, mix it up with sophisticated aerodynamics, and pump up the thrust - 320 knots at Flight Level 300. Certification roadblocks and funding shortages squashed the company's dream of turning out eight Jetcruzers a month. The company went belly up in 2004.- Machteld A. Smith, Senior Editor

Defining technology

What the acronyms and abbreviations mean

Nothing identifies a member of a certain group like his use of jargon. And, in aviation, it's fluency in the aviationspeak of acronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations that separates the wheat from the chaff: You know the lingo, you're in the gang.

The use of acronyms - the most universally accepted term for abbreviations written as the initial letter or letters of words - is relatively new. The word acronym first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as late as 1943. Aha, 1943. Yes, acronyms to identify organizations, concepts, and plans began appearing during the World War II era, when the military and Franklin D. Roosevelt began coming up with many of the commonly used acronyms or initialisms used today: "Loran," or "long-range navigation," is an acronym and "FBI" is an initialism (you say "F-B-I" not "FEE'-bee").

In aviation, especially aviation technology, acronyms and initialisms are the language of those in the know. Here's a guide to technically savvy pilotspeak. If it's an acronym, the definition is followed by (A) and the pronunciation; an initialism is followed by (I). We want you to sound like a technology-lingo pro.

AHRS: air data attitude heading reference system (A - AH'-da-harz)
ADC: air data computer (I)
ADDS: Aviation Digital Data Service (I)
ADIZ: Air Defense Identification Zone (A - AY'-diz)
ADS-B: automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (I)
AFSS: automated flight service station (I)
AI: attitude indicator (I)
airmet: airmen's meteorological information (A - EHR'-met)
ALS: approach light system (I)
ANR: active noise reduction (I)
APU: auxiliary power unit (I)
ARSR: air route surveillance radar (I)
ARTCC: air route traffic control center (I)
ARTS: automated radar terminal system (I)
ASDE: airport surface detection equipment (I)
ASOS: automated surface observation system (A - AY'-saws)
ASR: airport surveillance radar (I)
ATIS: automatic terminal information service (A - AY'-tis)
AWOS: automated weather observation system (A - AY'-waws)
CAS: collision avoidance system (I)
CHT: cylinder head temperature (I)
CFIT: controlled flight into terrain (A - SEE'-fit)
CTAF: common traffic advisory frequency (A - SEE'-taf)
DUATS: Direct User Access Terminal system (A - DOO'-ahts)
ECDI: electronic course deviation indicator (I)
EFAS: En route Flight Advisory Service - everyone calls it "Flight Watch"
EFIS: electronic flight information system (A - EE'-fis)
EGPWS: enhanced ground proximity warning system (I)
ELT: emergency locator transmitter (I)
EPNdB: effective perceived noise in decibels (I)
ETOPS: extended-range twin operations (A - EE'-tahps)
EVS: enhanced vision system (I)
FADEC: full authority digital engine control (A - FAY'-dek)
FIS: flight information service (I)
FMS: flight management system (I)
GPS: Global Positioning System (I)
HITS: highway in the sky (A)
HIWAS: hazardous in-flight weather advisory service (A - HY'-wahs)
IHAS: integrated hazard avoidance system (A - EYE''-has)
LLWAS: low-level wind shear alert system (I)
loran: long-range navigation (A - lor-AN')
METAR: aviation routine meteorological report (A - MEE'-tar)
MFD: multifunction display (I)
Mode C: altitude-reporting mode of secondary radar
Mode S: Mode Select; discrete addressable secondary radar system with datalink (A)
nexrad: next-generation weather radar (A - NEKS'-rad)
PAPI: precision approach path indicator (A - PA'-pee)
PCATD: personal computer-based aviation training device (I)
PDA: personal digital assistant (I)
PFD: primary flight display (I)
RNP: required navigational performance (I)
SATS: Small Aircraft Transportation System (A - SATS')
sigmet: significant meteorological information (A - SIG'-met)
SUA: special-use airspace (I)
TAA: technically advanced aircraft (I)
TAWS: terrain awareness warning system (A - TAWZ')
TCAD: traffic alert and collision avoidance device (A - TEE'-kad)
TCAS: traffic alert and collision avoidance system (A - TEE'-kas)
TFR: temporary flight restriction (I)
TIS: traffic information service (A - TIS')
tracon: terminal radar approach control (A - TRAY'-kahn)
TKS: Tecalemit, Kilfrost, and Sheepbridge Stokes (brand of icing-protection system) (I)
VASI: visual approach slope indicator (A - VAS'-ee)
VLJ: very light jet (I)
VNAV: vertical navigation (A - VEE'-nav)
WAAS: Wide Area Augmentation System (A - WAHS')- Julie Summers Walker, Managing Editor


Whatever happened to...?

Here today, gone tomorrow

Some general aviation product technologies, manufacturers, and concepts are gone. But where did they go? And why did they vanish? Let's take a look.

Seven years ago, Trimble Navigation discontinued its general aviation product line. Trimble was best known for its loran and GPS receivers and generally forward-thinking approach to products. Today the company is alive and well, providing GPS, laser, optical, and inertial technology services - to name a few - to a commercial market spanning from the military and defense sector to mining and agricultural operations.

You cannot say Trimble without thinking of Terra. Its lightweight, compact avionics radios were a decisive factor in equipping the center panel of the 1994 AOPA sweepstakes airplane - AOPA's Better Than New (Cessna) 172. AOPA was not the only one to see the value of Terra's ingenuity. In mid-1996, Trimble acquired Terra Corp. lock, stock, and barrel. But the Terra products went away with the rest of the Trimble aviation products.

A company that spearheaded moving maps in general aviation cockpit panels, Eventide - the manufacturer of the Eventide/Argus 5000/CE and 7000/CE - stepped out of the avionics market to focus its energy on the commercial audio/communications side.

Marine and aviation navigation share common desires, such as this one: to simplify chores inside their respective cockpits. Not a surprise then that in 1970 the son of a commercial fisherman founded Northstar. After introducing loran navigators for marine use, the company also entered the general aviation market and once absolutely dominated the panel-mount loran market. Northstar's approach-certificated M3 GPS held promise to make GPS approaches a cinch. In the end, the sea persevered and the company returned to its original charter.

GPS, here we come! 1994 was a good year. Why? The FAA decided to scrap the microwave landing system. This came as a welcome confirmation that AOPA had been effective in lobbying the government to bury this expensive dinosaur and support maturation of affordable, effective, and reliable navigation in the form of GPS.

From one-way gosport speaking tubes used by instructors in the early days of naval aviation to two-way built-in speaking tube "telephones," general aviation cockpits finally saw electronic intercoms make their debut in the 1970s. The intercom business boomed in the early 1980s, and offered many features, including battery-powered portable intercoms. Renters loved them as they moved from one aircraft to another. But aircraft owners were hip to panel-mount devices. Today, most aircraft are outfitted with headset outlets near each passenger seat and connected to the panel-mount intercom. No more untangling numerous wires connected to a box dangling somewhere in the cabin.- MAS


The top 10, 10 years ago

Technology that was hot...then

A decade ago, general aviation technology's advancement was like a train that could not be stopped. So what was all the rage in the 1990s?

  • Eventide's 1980s moving maps in general aviation cockpit panels were wonderful, but in the 1990s monochrome green was so passé. The trick to continued success? Adding some color to Eventide/Argus 5000/CE and 7000/CE units.
  • It's the early 1990s: a moving map? Class B, Class C, and special-use airspace depictions? It must be the Garmin 95XL VFR GPS receiver. This great concept, introduced in 1994, inspired the GPS units of the 1990s and today.
  • The FAA did something terrific on February 17, 1994: It certified the first GPS unit for nonprecision approaches under instrument flight rules. Congratulations to the Garmin GPS 155, the first panel-mount receiver to earn IFR approach approval. This breakthrough paved the way for IFR-certified GPS panel-mount receivers.
  • More pixels to go: With the II Morrow (née UPS, née Garmin) Apollo Precedus handheld GPS, the company introduced smart improvements to its existing navigator, such as user-friendly map-declutter options and better panning functions to decipher data on special-use airspace boundaries, airports, and navaids.
  • Aviators of yore yelled across noisy cockpits or through speaking tubes to be heard. Active noise reduction (ANR) technology, conceived during the 1930s, finally became a welcome reality for general aviation pilots in the 1990s. Enter ANR headsets - especially effective at reducing the low-frequency racket generated by engine and propeller noise, saving you from hearing loss.
  • Lightning can be frightening, especially when you're bouncing along the airways. In the late 1970s, a lightning-detection device - the first Stormscope - was introduced to general aviation cockpits and really came into its own in the 1990s. Invented by Paul Ryan, it continues to be hot when sparks fly, saving many hides from inadvertently penetrating a thunderstorm.
  • Who else but the inventor of Stormscope would come up with yet another techno device, the Ryan TCAD, to help you avoid that which you'd rather not bump into? And so the traffic alert and collision avoidance device was born.
  • An engine hiccup gets your attention fast. A quick way of knowing what's going on under that cowling would help. The J.P. Instruments EDM-700, an electronic engine analyzer, proved to be a great diagnostic tool to keep the engine beat and your heartbeat in check. Thanks to JPI, everything you ever wanted to know about exhaust gas temperature, cylinder head temperature, and fuel flow is presented in one tidy box.
  • Personal Computer-Based Aviation Training Devices (PCATDs), certified to log certain IFR training, have drastically improved general aviation pilots' instrument training. What better way to build and hone IFR skills than to practice approaches on your desktop PC under the guidance of your CFII until you fly them flawlessly? PCATDs became a reality in the 1990s.
  • The late 1950s saw composite sailplane certification in Germany. Recreational boat hulls and homebuilt-aircraft structures made of composite materials followed globally. Eureka! The mid-1990s finally witnessed the acceptance of composite technologies used in construction of general aviation production aircraft. It took a while to get here, but composite's here to stay.- MAS

Visit AOPA Online for additional information.