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Now hear this: Aural AOA warning wins EAA founder's prize

An aural warning system to help eliminate deadly loss-of-control (LOC) accidents rose to the top over four other EAA Founder’s Innovation Prize finalists to claim a $25,000 award during Shark Tank-style presentations at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 24.

The Enhanced Aural AOA Logic angle of attack warning system designed by Mike Vaccaro, Chris Jones, and Cecil Jones captured the attention of EAA Founders Prize judges for its feedback immediacy, practicality, and simplicity during EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 24, 2018. Photo by David Tulis.

The Enhanced Aural AOA Logic angle of attack warning system designed by Mike Vaccaro, Chris Jones,and Cecil Jones, of Niceville, Florida, captured the judges’ attention for its feedback immediacy, practicality, and simplicity.

The system uses a series of variable tones, beeps, and auditory pitch changes to warn pilots when they stray from correct AOA situations. The group’s head-up, eyes-out, angle of attack indicator was presented as an open-source solution based on a Dynon Avionics digital instrument panel that “listens to the back side of the drag/power curve,” Vaccaro explained, “and warns pilots during high angles of attack and low speed situations.”

Vaccaro said the device simplifies energy management, “or how pilots trade altitude for airspeed,” and the logic provides pilots with instant audio feedback. A steady tone indicates correct or noncritical AOA, while quick beeps and chirps quickly get a pilot’s attention when flying at high AOA.

“This system is caveman simple to learn,” said Vaccaro. “It’s like flying with a flight instructor all the time because it gives you a little nudge anytime you’re operating on the back side of the power curve.” He emphasized that the idea was in military use and “has proven to be an effective deterrent. All we’ve done is adapt this to general aviation aircraft.”

Reducing LOC accidents was a hot topic during a safety program highlighted by the National Transportation Safety Board forum during the annual EAA Innovation Day, which was capped off by the evening safety competition. A keynote by aerobatic legend Patty Wagstaff earlier July 24 addressed the safety issue from a training standpoint. The six-time U.S. Aerobatic Team member advocated upset training along with “unlearning” bad habits. She cited unnecessarily aggressive rudder movements and a natural instinct to pull back on the yoke or stick when in low and slow flight during landing operations.

Vaccaro agreed with Wagstaff’s idea, adding that the beeps and chirps of his group’s aural logic system would help pilots interpret and confirm the correct procedure when confronted with high AOA situations. “It’s not the total panacea but we can address training, too.”

“It’s a hobby project, we’re just trying to give back” to the aviation community, added Vaccaro, a retired U.S. Air Force F–15 fighter pilot and a Van’s Aircraft RV–4 aircraft owner. “If we just kluge everything we learned in the military and in GA, we can put it all together to mitigate loss-of-control accidents.”

Other entries included the Virtual Co-Pilot, which used a smartphone, artificial intelligence, and an app; the yoke- or stick-mounted fingertip Feel Flight Grip sensory device; a Smartphone Angle-of-Attack Sensor; and a head-up display introduced by Epic Optix.

Astronaut and judge Charlie Precourt complimented the five finalists because “each of the concepts had merit,” although Van’s Aircraft founder Dick VanGrunsven clearly had a favorite in the tactile feedback of the grip.

The smartphone and finger grip ideas were popular with attendees at the Theater in the Woods presentation, with each earning 28 percent of the text-based interactive online voting.

David Tulis
David Tulis
Senior Photographer
Senior Photographer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Awards and Records, EAA AirVenture

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