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uAvionix testing skyBeacon for space-based ADS-B

Wingtip skyBeacon X to work with Aireon satellite system

uAvionix has announced that it is testing skyBeacon X, a wingtip-mounted 1090-MHz Mode S Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) Out transponder that is designed to meet the update rate required for reception by the Aireon satellite-based global ADS-B air traffic surveillance system.

skyBeacon image courtesy of uAvionix.

Similar to the original skyBeacon, which operates on the 978-MHz universal access transceiver frequency, skyBeacon X will be an LED position light replacement with an integrated 1090-MHz Mode S extended squitter transponder, GPS position source, barometric altimeter, and LED position and anticollision lights. skyBeacon X is expected to be certified and available in 2021.

In January 2019, Nav Canada—Canada’s privatized air navigation services provider (ANSP)—revealed that it would implement ADS-B using the Aireon satellite-based system. It also said that antenna diversity—meaning transponder antennas installed on both the belly and the top of the aircraft—would be required in order to achieve what it says is acceptable performance. (Nav Canada is the lead ANSP in, and an owner of, Aireon.) The antenna diversity requirement presents an ADS-B equipage challenge for many Canadian pilots, as well as U.S. pilots who regularly fly across the border, because until recently almost no diversity products were available for lighter aircraft; available products are more expensive than their nondiversity equivalents. And the requirement for an additional antenna increases installation costs.

“Clearly there is a technical challenge here that uAvionix is well equipped to solve,” said Christian Ramsey, uAvionix president. “We specifically designed skyBeacon and tailBeacon to target a low cost of installation, and we are doing it again with skyBeacon X. We’ve been approached by Canadian pilots asking if we can help address their needs. uAvionix has all of the right tools and products in our portfolio to give them what they need.”

Ramsey said that both Aireon and Nav Canada are proactively engaged in skyBeacon X testing.

“We are sharing data and conducting analysis to make sure the final product performs as both need it to. Test flights have been conducted in the U.S., with further flights currently being planned for Canada, Europe, and Australia,” Ramsey said. “Early testing indicates skyBeacon X’s wingtip location provides outstanding reception when received by both ground and satellite-based surveillance systems.”

“Many of our ANSP customers would like to provide air traffic control services at lower altitudes and to all types of aircraft in controlled airspace, including GA,” said Cyriel Kronenburg, Aireon’s vice president of aviation services. “We are excited to participate in testing and validation with uAvionix to ensure skyBeacon X meets performance requirements to be used with the Aireon system. We believe these transponders offer an affordable, reliable solution for ADS-B Out equipage that would help many of our international ANSP customers and regulators increase equipage rates for GA aircraft. This will also allow GA to leverage both the safety and operational benefits of a space-based surveillance system.”

“We certainly see the future of ADS-B devices for GA as being easy to install and conforming to all international specs at a decent price,” said Bernard Gervais, president and CEO of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. “SkyBeacon X aims to check all those boxes, so this is certainly a step in the right direction.”

Ramsey said skyBeacon X currently is being tested in a form factor very similar to the company’s existing skyBeacon product, but with a different antenna configuration. “We are absolutely thinking about it either as an upgrade to as a complementary product to the existing skyBeacon,” he added, noting that it’s too early for uAvionix to discuss pricing.

He also said that while the 1090-MHz Mode S product will not be available in time for U.S. customers to meet the FAA’s approaching Jan. 2, 2020, mandate, it is expected to be available and TSO certified before Phase 3 of the Canadian mandate, which would require 1090-MHz ADS-B Out with antenna diversity below 12,500 feet msl, takes effect in 2023.

Updates on the development of skyBeacon X will be available online.

Mike Collins

Mike Collins

Technical Editor
Mike Collins, AOPA technical editor and director of business development, died from COVID-19 at age 59 on February 25, 2021. He was an integral part of the AOPA Media team for nearly 30 years, and held many key editorial roles at AOPA Pilot, Flight Training, and AOPA Online. He was a gifted writer, editor, photographer, audio storyteller, and videographer, and was an instrument-rated pilot and drone pilot.
Topics: Avionics, ADSB, EAA AirVenture

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