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Group works to STC new lower-cost autopilot

The migration of modern and highly capable gear from the experimental and amateur-built world into production aircraft is continuing with an announcement Nov. 28 that a new group is working with Trio Avionics to bring its non-technical standard order autopilot into Cessna 172 and 182 aircraft.

Dynon and Garmin cracked the code earlier this year on bringing non-TSO’d digital attitude indicators into production airplanes.

Paul Odum, a San Francisco IT executive and aircraft owner, has established The STC Group, LLC, to develop and own supplemental type certificates to install the Trio Pro Pilot in certified airplanes. “Trio’s Pro Pilot autopilot has a proven record of reliability in the amateur-built and warbird fleets. As such, the Trio Pro Pilot is an excellent off-the-shelf choice to retrofit into the legacy GA fleet based on its record of safety and reliability,” said Odum.

Trio was established in 2000 and has been delivering autopilots around the world for more than a dozen years with some 3,000 systems flying. The two-axis Pro Pilot model utilizes roll and auto-trim pitch servos to provide precise horizontal and vertical navigation capabilities. Altitude control includes climb and descent functions with altitude pre-select. Vertical navigation can be flown at pilot-selected speeds.

When connected to a WAAS-enabled GPS, Pro Pilot can fly the lateral and vertical portions of RNAV approaches and other procedures. The digital autopilot also provides flight envelope protection, nudging the flight controls away from an overspeed or stall situation. An “automatic 180-degree turn” feature can guide VFR pilots out of inadvertent weather encounters—a feature that has been credited with saving lives in EAB aircraft. Chuck Busch, Trio Avionics president and designer of the Pro Pilot, said, “As experimental aircraft builders, our primary design goal has always been safety of flight.  We are especially proud that our Pro Pilot incorporates many safety features that are unique in the industry.”

The Pro Pilot autopilot will be STC'd under a process similar to one the Experimental Aircraft Association leveraged earlier in 2016 to earn approval to install a Dynon D-10A digital attitude indicator in a variety of light GA airplanes. This summer, Garmin earned an STC to install its non-TSO’d G5 attitude indicator in some 562 models of single-engine and twin-engine airplanes.

In September, EAA announced that it was working with TruTrak Autopilots to bring its Vizion autopilot from the EAB market into certified airplanes.

Similar to the Dynon STC, the Trio autopilot will be approved as a Commercial Part under the STC Odum is seeking with the FAA.

AOPA and others in the GA industry, including the FAA, have expressed a desire to provide lower-cost, safety-enhancing technology for legacy airplanes. While the average age of a GA airplane is 45 years, many in the fleet have decades of service left in them. However, installing conventionally certified new technologies into the older airplanes has been met with resistance by owners because of the high cost. The industry’s goal is to provide lower-cost alternatives, a means to keep the fleet viable and improve safety and reliability.

AOPA has said publicly and to the FAA that the availability of lower-cost autopilots is an important element in improving the safety and reliability of the legacy airplanes. AOPA plans to upgrade the panel in its 2017 Sweepstakes airplane, a remanufactured Cessna 172, with a new-generation affordable autopilot before it is awarded to a winner next summer.

According to Odum, the STC Group is well along in its efforts to demonstrate the capabilities of the Trio autopilot when installed in Cessna 172 and 182 models. An STC is likely in the second half of 2017, he said. Pricing for the STC’d autopilot has not yet been set. The STC is expected to cover most variants of the 172 and 182 from the start of each model’s production through 2006 models. STCs for additional makes and models will be developed later, said Odum.

Thomas B. Haines
Thomas B Haines
Contributor (former Editor in Chief)
Contributor and former 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.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Avionics

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