After a final detail is resolved, certification flight testing for Appareo Systems’ new Stratus ESG 1090-MHz Extended Squitter transponder will commence. The Fargo, North Dakota, company has leased a Cessna 172 that will soon receive a special airworthiness certificate in the Experimental category for research and development to allow the testing. The Extended Squitter function transmits Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) data, mandated by the FAA beginning Jan. 1, 2020, for most operations in airspace where a transponder is required today.
Appareo announced the ESG in April during the Aircraft Electronics Association convention in Dallas. While there are a number of 1090ES transponders on the market that can help aircraft owners meet the ADS-B Out mandate, Appareo’s ESG could become only the second certified 1090ES transponder to offer an integrated Wide Area Augmentation System-compatible GPS receiver (ADS-B Out requires a WAAS GPS position source). And at $3,490, it would be the first at its price point. (L-3 Avionics Systems’ 1090ES transponder, the NGT-9000, also offers an integrated WAAS GPS receiver—as well as ADS-B In, an interface to cockpit displays, and its own integral display, none of which the ESG offers. NGT-9000 pricing begins at $6,800.)
Appareo is best known among pilots and aircraft owners for its popular Stratus line of portable ADS-B In receivers, but they don’t represent the firm’s first foray into aviation.
In 2006 the Bristow Group, which operates a large helicopter fleet, asked Appareo to develop a lightweight, low-cost flight data monitoring system. This resulted in the Aircraft Logging and Event Recording for Training and Safety (ALERTS) FDM program, and the GAU 2000 data recording device, which received FAA certification. The system allowed Bristow to identify trends that likely would have resulted in incidents or accidents.
Since then, Appareo developed and certified another, smaller recording device—the Vision 1000—which has replaced the GAU 2000. The ALERTS program provides automated events analysis, helping to ensure compliance with standard operating procedures, and offers the ability to replay flights for training, maintenance troubleshooting, and incident investigation. Among other aircraft, it’s used on many Airbus helicopters and a number of Piper piston-engine aircraft.
Work started on the company’s first ADS-B project, a UAS Sense and Avoid testing avionics under an Office of Naval Research contract, in 2009 with the product delivered in 2010. It was used for UAS cooperative airspace demonstrations. “It showed that we could build things small, light, and compact,” said Jeff Johnson, Appareo’s vice president for business development.
In 2011, Tyson Weihs—co-founder and CEO of ForeFlight—asked the company about building an ADS-B receiver. That led to a partnership between ForeFlight, Sporty’s Pilot Shop, and Appareo for the Stratus 1 portable receiver. “It leveraged our ADS-B knowledge into a commercial product,” Johnson said. “We were just shocked at how receptive the market was to it.” Introduced in May 2012, the product line has evolved, and now consists of the Stratus 1S ($549) and Stratus 2S ($899).
The company decided to focus next on a cost-effective ADS-B In product for the non-glass-panel market. A transponder would eliminate the need to synchronize squawk codes, as well as a separate control head, and Appareo believes installation costs will be less than for a universal access transceiver (UAT) operating on 978 MHz. “We decided the easiest, lowest-cost thing we could do was create that panel-mount avionic,” Johnson said.
To keep costs down, the company has developed and is working toward technical standard order approval for its own WAAS GPS receiver. Instead of incorporating the optional ADS-B In, Appareo customers who want ADS-B weather and traffic information can continue using their Stratus receivers. The Stratus 2 and anything newer can receive ADS-B and GPS signals, as well as power, from the ESG; users get more flexibility because the Stratus no longer needs to sit on the glareshield.
Mike Paulson, manager of Fargo Jet Center’s flight school at Hector International Airport, will pilot the certification test flights, each with one or two Appareo engineers on board. A Bendix/King KT 76A transponder was removed from the leased 1977 Cessna 172N to make room for the ESG. The Skyhawk is equipped with a standard six-pack of flight instruments and the panel appears to be substantially as delivered. An operating transponder still is required after the ADS-B Out mandate kicks in, and Appareo considers the new, solid-state transponder an important part of the ESG’s value proposition.
“We’re interested in seeing what this is all about,” said Paulson, who has been involved with aircraft modification projects before—although it’s his first certification project in the Experimental category. The flight school is a Cessna Pilot Center that primarily operates G1000 aircraft, he said.
Vern Miller, Appareo’s certification specialist, has planned eight different flight profiles. “We’re looking at specific maneuvers to ensure that we can show continuity with the ground stations,” he said. “We’re looking to repeat them about five times,” in different locations. After each flight, engineers will correlate radar data from flight following, as well as ADS-B data on the flight from the FAA in Washington, D.C., and observations from the aircraft’s occupants. Ground testing already has been completed.
Miller said the 40 planned flights should accrue 35 to 40 flight hours. “That’s subject to change if we learn a lot, or other issues come up. After a flight, we’ll put three or four engineers on the data and analyze it before the next flight,” he added, noting that changes can be made between flights if necessary.
Like the Stratus receivers, the Stratus ESG transponder will be manufactured at Appareo’s Fargo headquarters. The company moved into a new building—located between North Dakota State University and Fargo’s Hector International Airport—in March 2015; manufacturing became operational in the new facility in May. It contains two SMT lines (surface mount technology, where electronic components are positioned on circuit boards and soldered in place) and has room for two more before the building, designed for expansion, would have to be enlarged. Three-fourths of the new building is comprised of manufacturing space; engineering offices are located next door in the company’s previous building.
ESG manufacturing preparations already have begun. “We have to be able to vet out the manufacturing process, to make sure what we designed is what we produce,” Miller explained. “Pretty much everything’s sourced.”
Appareo was an early participant in North Dakota’s Centers for Excellence program, started in 2003 to leverage research in the state, said Tony Grindberg, manager of the company’s aviation business unit. The company partnered with North Dakota State University’s engineering program in Fargo, and University of North Dakota Aerospace in Grand Forks, for seed funding. Appareo also will provide free ADS-B Out and In avionics to 70 North Dakota aircraft owners.
The company has said it would like to complete its certification submission this year, and receive FAA certification and begin deliveries in 2016.
What’s next for the company? “ESG for us is a starting point,” and a flagship product, said David Batcheller, president and chief operating officer. “We’re going to exploit our understanding of the certification process and the business’s ability to certify new products.” He said he would like to jump into Part 25 and large turbine aircraft.
“We’re also in the agricultural industry,” Johnson noted, “and there’s an intersection” between agriculture and aviation—unmanned aircraft systems.
AOPA offers a variety of online resources to help members better understand Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). These resources include an ADS-B selection tool to help you determine the best solutions for your aircraft and where you fly.
Whether you’re installing ADS-B or want to upgrade your entire panel, AOPA Aviation Finance offers loans for avionics and other aircraft upgrades.