Category Archives: Aviation

Writings about aviation, including chronics of my flight lessons, product reviews, and so on.

Flying Friday: O Canada! (KDCU-CYTZ and back)

Summary: fantastic trip with good weather; I enjoyed my first venture into Canadian airspace (which is operated and managed very similarly to US airspace, with a few procedural and vocabulary differences that perhaps will make for a good post later). Bishop Toronto City is a fantastic airport with lovely scenery; Toronto is worth another, more leisurely visit; and you should always pay careful attention to customs regulations.

When my boss told me that I needed to be at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference this year, I was excited, mostly because we were planning on demoing a cool new product to partners, but also because I hadn’t been to Toronto since a 7th-grade church choir trip. On that trip, we took Amtrak from New Orleans to Buffalo, an adventure in itself; this time I planned to fly.

I started by researching the requirements to fly into Canada. AOPA’s list covers it all. I ordered the required Customs & Border Protection sticker, and I already had the required FCC radio station license and a valid passport. I had a bit of a quandary when it came to navigation charts: the Jeppesen charts required for the IFD540 are quite expensive, but the 540 goes completely stupid north of the border without them. I decided instead to add Canada coverage in Foreflight, which would give me georeferenced charts and approach plates, plus airport and frequency information– but on my iPad, not on the panel. With that done, a week or so before the trip I started watching the forecast, checking fuel prices, etc. Because the convention was at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), the nearest airport was the extremely cool-looking Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which is on an island in Lake Ontario. (Fun fact: you must either use a submarine tunnel or a ferry to get between the airport and the mainland, where the taxis etc are.)

I’d planned to fly from Decatur to New Philadelphia, Ohio (Clever Field, whose airport ID is PHD.. lol) for fuel, then overfly Erie, PA, then cross the lakes and land just before sunset, with a planned departure about 3p local. I may have failed to mention that I was running an Olympic triathlon that morning, but luckily I hit the airport on time and got en route as planned. Unfortunately, over Kentucky I developed a problem, or, rather, the airplane did: the oil filler door on the engine cowling popped open. It’s  hinged at the front (towards the propeller) so the slipstream was keeping it from opening fully, but it was flapping in the breeze and that made me nervous. I diverted to Somerset (KSME), latched it, and took off– only to have it pop open again.

After landing again, I discovered the problem: the spring that holds the latch button in place no longer generated enough force to keep the door latched. I borrowed some safety wire and pliers from the FBO, wired the door shut, and took off again– but that cost me some time I couldn’t afford to lose.

Once airborne again, I took a close look at the IFD540 to see what my fuel state looked like. The outer green ring represents the maximum range at the current fuel burn, while the inner dashed green circle shows range with the FAA-required reserve. Since my planned fuel stop was comfortably within the reserve ring, I knew I’d have enough fuel to get there or to Erie if needed– very comforting. The range ring is one of my favorite features in the IFD540 because it greatly reduces guesswork: either you have enough fuel, given the current conditions of wind and fuel burn, or you don’t, and this makes it easy to see which.

The fuel range ring is your friend

The fuel range ring is your friend

I landed as planned at KPHD, fueled up, and quickly called Porter, the FBO at Toronto City, to verify what time they closed. “10:30pm” was the answer, so I figured that would leave me enough time to get there just before they closed. This pleasant fantasy remained in my mind, with accompanying scenery…

…until about 9:50pm, when I was overflying the outskirts of Erie with about an hour to go. The city lights were gorgeous, there was a quarter moon, and I could see the dark lake water ahead when I called Porter again to advise my new arrival time of 1115p. (Thanks to the Bluetooth mode of the AMX240 audio panel, I can make in flight calls on my cell phone, provided I have cell service.) Their reply, paraphrased: no thanks, customs won’t allow arrivals after 11pm. I called Erie Approach, got vectors to the airport, landed, and headed for the local Comfort Inn.

After a decent night’s sleep, I fired up the engine and headed north. I’d filed for direct CYTZ, and that’s what I got. Before going to bed, I’d updated both my eAPIS and CANPASS border crossing permissions– the former signaling my departure from the US and the latter requesting permission to cross into Canada. More on that later.

Sunrise + water = awesome

Sun + water = awesome

The first leg of the flight was uneventful, until I wanted to go direct LINNG at ATC’s instructions. The IFD540 didn’t have that waypoint, so I looked it up in Foreflight. That went fine– it was listed with normal degrees/minutes/seconds latitude/longitude, so I plugged it in as a user waypoint, then added the airport’s lat/long and created a route. I did notice one discrepancy: Foreflight defaults to decimal notation, which the IFD540 doesn’t accept. (Since the Nav Canada plate showed the notation I could use, I just went with it, but this will become important later.) The rest of the flight was flawless and beautiful– for example, check out this picture as I overflew the Long Point wildlife area.

DSC_3505

Long Point National Wildlife Area

The weather was flawless, so I was expecting the visual approach to CYTZ, and sure enough, that’s what I was assigned. There was a significant volume of traffic going into the airport, as befits its status as Porter’s main hub, so I got vectored around a bit between a series of DHC-8s. This eventually led to a go-around for spacing, as the controller wasn’t able to slow the following DHC-8 down enough to keep me from becoming a hood ornament. The good news is that I was able to get some fantastic pictures of the Toronto skyline:

Beautiful Toronto

Beautiful Toronto

More beautiful Toronto

More beautiful Toronto

I made a great landing, taxied in to Porter, and called the CANPASS number. After a brief wait, they gave me a reference number (which I duly wrote down) and I was free to exit the airplane and go about my business. So I did.

Here’s where I’d describe all the other stuff I did in Toronto at WPC16, but since this is a Flying Friday post, let’s cut to the flight home… well, OK, maybe one picture first, this one looking towards the airport from the observation deck of the CN Tower.

CYTZ and the National Yacht Club

CYTZ and the National Yacht Club

I’d planned for a 1330 departure on Wednesday, and I arrived right on schedule, but hungry. I had filed CYTZ-KCAK, with a plan to continue on to Jamestown, Kentucky (K24) for fuel, then home. Since I didn’t have any Canadian cash, I skipped buying food at the airport, reasoning that I could eat when I stopped for customers in Akron, Ohio. I picked up my clearance and found a bit of an unpleasant surprise: I was given the OAKVL.1 departure, which referenced the OAKVL intersection, whose lat/long I couldn’t put into the IFD because it was only shown in decimal notation. Since I knew its approximate location and the heading to fly to get there, and because I had Foreflight plates showing me obstacles and terrain, this wasn’t a big deal. I looked at the departure plate but it didn’t give any coordinates at all for OAKVL, so I manually created a waypoint and off I went.

(Brief digression: in the US, waypoints that are used as part of a standard instrument departure (SID) procedure are supposed to be listed on the SID chart. In this case, OAKVL was shown, but its coordinates weren’t. I later learned that the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) manual has a list of all the enroute waypoints and their coordinates, but not waypoints that are only used for departure procedures. I would have needed to look at the “OAKVL ONE DEP (OAKVL1) DEPARTURE ROUTING” chart. Unlike US charts, in Canada the departure routing is a separate page that’s not included as part of the SID chart. I also learned, later, that Foreflight can toggle its display format (look at More > Settings Units > Time)  to match what the IFD can accept, which would have solved my problem.)

What I did while waiting for my IFR clearance

What I did while waiting for my IFR clearance

In any event, I found OAKVL and was cleared to continue on to Akron/Canton, my planned US port of entry. I had filled out an eAPIS manifest, but I didn’t call Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to advise them of my arrival time. As a result, when I landed at CAK, ground instructed me to taxi to the “penalty box” in front of customs, but no one was there, and it took a few minutes to find an agent. When he got there, I had a brief but thorough customs inspection, during which I learned that I’d made a serious error: you must call US CBP at the port of entry you plan to use, in advance, and advise them of your ETA. 

Somehow I missed that in the AOPA checklist. I mistakenly thought that filing an IFR flight plan and filing an eAPIS manifest was sufficient, but no. The agent who cleared me in was firm on that point and cited me. Now I have to wait to see if they assess a fine for the infraction– not my favorite. I had joked with friends that I’d have about 800lbs of usable weight to bring back stuff from Canada– suggestions included Cuban cigars and Timbits. Thankfully I resisted the temptation.

Anyway, after I sweated my way out of CBP, I refueled and bought a soda at the FBO, but their snack machine was out of order. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll eat when I stop at Jamestown.” I waited for this guy to arrive and clear…

Hold short for landing traffic

Hold short for landing traffic

…then took off, found a protein bar in my flight bag to tide me over, and off I went. When I arrived at Jamestown, I was crushed to find only a single empty, dusty vending machine with nothing edible nearby (except maybe some dead bugs). I fueled the plane, took off, and let the reassuring noise of the big IO540 up front drown out my stomach’s complaints. After an uneventful flight, I landed at home base, transferred all my junk to the car, went home, and slayed an entire Domino’s pizza while catching up on Game of Thrones— a good ending to a long but fruitful day.

 

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nFlightCam vs Squawk Shoppe cockpit audio adapters

First I bought this adapter from nFlightCam. It didn’t work properly— my phone didn’t recognize that it had a mic plugged in so all I got was loud propeller noise. After testing it, I sent three mails to nFlightcam customer support (since they don’t have a phone number) and got no response. 

Then I ordered this adapter from Squawk Shoppe. Immediately after placing an order, they offered to connect me with their Facebook bot for order status, which worked flawlessly. I got the adapter when promised and it worked perfectly.

Then, just before a cross-country plane trip, nFlightCam answered my support email and offered to send me a replacement. That was 13 days ago and, you guessed it, no replacement has arrived.

Executive summary: don’t buy anything from nFlightcam; despite their heavy advertising, their customer support is slow and unresponsive and (at least for me) their build quality suspect. I see from reddit that other users have been happy with their products so YMMV.

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When to declare an in-flight emergency 

From Thomas Turner’s excellent FLYING LESSONS newsletter, here is a simple guideline for knowing when you should contact ATC to declare an emergency. 

Should I declare an emergency?

If I’m:

  • Performing a task or procedure from the Emergency Procedures section of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook or Airplane Flight Manual;
  • Violating or in danger of violating an airplane Limitation;
  • Violating or in danger of violating a Federal Air Regulation (or international equivalent) with no way to rectify the situation; and/or
  • The safe outcome of the flight is in any way in doubt;

then I should declare an emergency. There is no question; it is not a judgment call. Get the help you need right away.

Clear, simple, and memorable. 

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Appareo Stratus and planned obsolescence

Back in September 2013, I bought an Appareo Stratus from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. I thought it was expensive, but getting in-cockpit weather and ADS-B traffic data, displayed conveniently on my iPad, was highly valuable. I have used it on almost every flight I’ve made since and it’s proven its value multiple times— being able to see weather while in flight is a huge safety benefit.

Recently I noticed that it was running out of battery unusually fast. Even if I left it plugged in overnight, it would only run for a few minutes when unplugged. I sent Sporty’s customer service an email asking about repair cost. Here’s what they said:

I am sorry, but we are unable to repair the Stratus 1.

We are able to offer $100 off the purchase of a Stratus 1S or 2S.

This is infuriating. The device is not even 3 years old yet, and the manufacturer won’t even attempt to repair it. Offering to let me pay $449 ($549 for a Stratus 1S minus the $100 credit) to get a device that, when it dies, likely will suffer the same non-support is a complete non-starter. I don’t expect a $50 consumer device to have lifelong support, but an $800 aviation device is a completely different story.

So, no thanks, Sporty’s. I’ll keep my money and build a Stratux instead. If this is the level of support I can expect, I might as well save a few bucks and do it my damn self. And when my Foreflight subscription expires, I’ll have to give serious thought to whether I want to continue to support them given their interlocking relationship with Appareo and Sporty’s. Meanwhile, time to take apart the Stratus and see about replacing its battery pack.

(n.b. the avionics stack in our plane has ADS-B weather and traffic, and it will soon be able to push those to the iPad over wifi. However, when I fly rentals or in other peoples’ planes, having a portable device is still a big winner, as is having the redundancy of a second ADS-B receiver just in case… so although I don’t have a single-point dependency on the Stratus I’ll still replace it).

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On currency

True fact that sometimes shocks people when I share it: a pilot certificate never expires.

Sure, it can be revoked by the FAA if you do something stupid. I suppose you could ask the FAA to cancel it for you, sort of like resigning from a church. But once you obtain the certificate, it’s yours forever, even if you stop using it.

However, in order to legally exercise the privileges granted by that certificate, you need (at least) two things. First, you need a valid medical exam (a worthy topic for a future post). The type of exam you need varies according to the certificate, and the frequency at which you must have it varies both by the type of exam and your age.

Second, you need to be current. This is an interesting word. The FAA doesn’t say you have to be “proficient,” just “current.” What does that even mean? Glad you asked. To be legally current as a private pilot, you must have completed a biennial flight review within the preceding 24 months. That’s it. There’s no set structure for the BFR, other than that it must consist of one hour of ground training and an hour of flight. There’s no set syllabus or standard, as there is with almost every other type of flight training activity. The FAA’s guide to conducting BFRs likens the BFR to a checkup, where each individual doctor is supposed to tailor the specifics of the checkup to a specific patient. Many organizations, such as the Redstone flying activity, specify what they consider the minimum coverage for the BFR to be in order to use their airplanes, but that’s not mandatory.

The currency structure changes a bit if you want to fly under specified circumstances. To carry passengers, you also need 3 landings within the previous 90 days– so you can’t just get a BFR after being inactive, then load up your plane with your friends and head out. To fly with passengers at night, you need 3 landings to a full stop, at night, within the previous 90 days. To fly in instrument conditions, you need 6 instrument approaches (including course tracking and holds) within the preceding six months.

The purpose of these currency requirements is to force recency and proficiency. The idea is that if you fly regularly, you will stay proficient. If you don’t fly regularly, you need to regain currency before you can fly with passengers, thus forcing you to regain proficiency. However, the way the regs are written, you can not fly for 20 years, jump in an airplane and have a de minimus BFR, then do 3 laps around the traffic pattern to get your landings in and then immediately start flying with passengers. That might be legal, but it wouldn’t be either smart or safe.

One approach to keep proficiency is just to fly enough to stay current. If you never let your currency elapse, the theory goes, then you’ll be getting enough air time to stay proficient. This isn’t true for everyone; I know that after I’ve been away from the plane for longer than a few weeks, some skills need sharpening on my next flights. This is especially true for instrument flying, and even more so when you have an unfamiliar airplane, new avionics, and the like.

Last night, I went on a currency flight. I had lost my night currency and needed a couple of instrument approaches to keep my instrument currency. In order to log an instrument approach, you either need to fly in IMC or with view limiting devices, which means you need a safety pilot. Since I am super safety minded, I brought two (hi, Alex! hi, Greg!) Interestingly, when you are not current, you can’t take passengers with you, but you can take safety pilots and/or instructors. Anyway…

After a perfectly normal preflight, runup, and takeoff, we were in the air about 810pm, just over an hour after sunset. According to the FAA, that’s when night starts. The plan was to do an LPV approach at Huntsville Executive, an ILS at Huntsville International, and then another LPV at Decatur, landing at each. That would give me 3 night takeoffs and landings, plus three instrument approaches and a procedure turn (which counts as a hold for purposes of maintaining IFR currency).

Before takeoff, I programmed the IFD540 with the airports, but didn’t load the approaches. Once airborne and talking to Huntsville departure, I asked for the RNAV 36 at MDQ, got the clearance, and programmed the box, then engaged the AP. It flew us to the procedure turn, through the turn, and on course flawlessly. I had the AP in HDG mode, the GPSS in GPS mode, and all was fine. Inbound to the FAF, I armed the GS mode on the PSS, and shortly thereafter found that the AP had turned me about 30° to the right of course. I don’t know if it was the GPS or the AP, but I disconnected the AP and manually flew the missed procedure. This was a great illustration of why currency matters– with new avionics, I’m still learning how to set up and program approaches, and it’s a hell of a lot smarter to get that practice with two other pilots on board, in good weather, than to try to figure it out in the midst of an actual IMC approach.

For the second approach, I got vectors towards HSV for the ILS to runway 36R; the controller  put me between the ENIKY and UJOTY intersections, so all I had to do was turn inbound and intercept the localizer. I manually tuned the localizer frequency on NAV2, used the FREQ button to tune it for NAV1, and verified that I saw “GPS->VLOC” on the display– that’s the signal that the GPS is aware that I want to transition from GPS-derived guidance to guidance signals from the ground-based localizer and glideslope. I armed GS mode on the PSS just after the final approach fix (FAF); the localizer and GS both came in normally and the AP flew a flawlessly coupled approach down to about 1000’, when I disconnected and hand flew the rest. That was full-stop night landing #1. Because Huntsville has such long runways, I was able to land, stop, and take off again on the same runway, which is always nice.

On takeoff, I asked for vectors to the RNAV 36 at DCU and got them. This time, I wanted to check my proficiency at hand-flying the approach. I hand flew the climb, cruise, and approach, using the GPS only for reference, down to about 1300’ AGL and then landed (night landing #2) and a back-taxi, followed by 1 lap of the pattern and a visual landing for #3. Having the advisory glideslope on the approach was nice since DCU doesn’t have VASI or PAPI lights to indicate whether you’re on the right glidepath.

All in all, a good night; I am once again legally night current and have extended my instrument currency.  I still want to fly some fully coupled LPV approaches to make sure I understand the buttonology but my knowledge of the IFD540 is definitely coming along. Thanks to the latest Foreflight app update, Greg, Alex, and I were all getting GPS position and flight plan data from the IFD540 streamed to our iPads, which was cool. We also saw active weather and traffic on the IFD, which I loooooove. Avidyne announced last night that they’re about to start streaming traffic data to Foreflight as well, which will be really nice. Now to get ready to fly to KNEW in two weeks for my race!

 

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First impressions: flying the Avidyne IFD540

cShort version: The transplant was a success and the patient made it home.

Now, the longer version.

I originally dropped the plane off on 31 December at Sarasota Avionics at Tampa Executive (KVDF). The plan was to have the plane ready by late January. That didn’t happen. When I went to pick the plane up on February 10th, it wasn’t ready as promised: the GPS steering steered the plane in the opposite direction as commanded, the interconnection between the new GPS and our engine monitor didn’t work, and the plane failed its initial FAA ADS-B Out automated compliance report (ACR) check. I was really unhappy, flew back to Huntsville, and started firing off emails to get the problem fixed. Long story short, Kirk Fryar, the co-owner of Sarasota, moved the plane to their Venice location, fixed everything that was wrong, tested the plane thoroughly, and had it ready for me on the 25th. (I note with some irritation that I still haven’t ever had an experience with any aircraft maintenance shop that resulted in the plane being ready when it was promised.)

I met Leonard, Sarasota’s check pilot and flight instructor, at KVDF and we flew the plane down to KVNC, stopping along the way to hand-fly the ILS 32 at KSRQ. It was a windy, bumpy day and ATC was vectoring me all over the place (including nearly to the Gulf ADIZ). I was a little rusty, and it showed. Another thing that showed: the localizer flag on the NAV1 CDI (we’ll call this squawk #1). This little flag is supposed to pop out to indicate that the associated signal is unreliable. It’s definitely not supposed to appear in a brand-new avionics installation, especially not when my secondary nav radio didn’t show the flag. We flew a missed approach and then took the RNAV 5 approach into KVNC. This time I let the autopilot and GPSS fly the approach, which it did flawlessly.

While I barricaded myself in their conference room to get some work done, Kirk investigated the cause of the localizer flag problem. It turned out to be simple, stupid, and Avidyne’s fault. There’s a known compatibility issue between early hardware revisions of the IFD540 and the King KI209A CDI we have. Sarasota sent our original unit back to Avidyne to have the hardware modification installed– we needed mod 14 but, for some unknown reason, we got a unit back that only had mod 11. This means that we have to take the plane back to the shop to swap in the new IFD540 unit when it arrives, which is a hassle… but more on that later.

After a thorough preflight, during which I confirmed that the fuel flow data presented to the IFD540 was intermittent (and that’s squawk #2, but not a huge deal since there’s a workaround: power-cycle both the CGR30P and the IFD540), I took off and picked up my clearance to Grady County. They gave me a route out over the water: direct TABIR, then direct 70J. I plugged it in, climbed out, and engaged GPSS. It flew smoothly to TABIR. There’s a lot going on in the picture below:

TABIR-with-traffic

  • The magenta line is where I’m going. Note that at the TABIR intersection, the onward path changes to a “candy cane” stripe to indicate the next planned leg. Other legs further on show up as white. This makes it easy to see what the box is planning on doing at all times.
  • The little blue diamonds are other airplanes, with their relative altitude shown and little up or down arrows indicating climbs or descents. The inner dashed ring has a 5nm radius, so I can clearly see where interesting targets are and what they’re doing.
  • The blue flags indicate VMC at those reporting points. this is a bit of a change from Foreflight, which uses little green dots for VMC METARs. However, the FAA specifies the exact symbology and colors that have to be used in certified devices so we’re stuck with those.
  • Just above the “FMS” button you can see a tiny label that says “Rgnl Rdr 9 Min”. That means I have relatively fresh radar data on screen; however, since the sky was completely cloudless when I took the picture, there’s nothing shown.
  • The radio at the bottom of the stack “knows” that 119.275 is the AWOS frequency for Venice. Why? The GNC255 has an onboard frequency database, and now that Sarasota connected it to a GPS position source, it can look up the frequency and aircraft position and use that combination to label who you’re talking to.

There was a stiff (25+kt) headwind and I was burning fuel faster than I liked, so I decided instead to stop at 40J. I landed, took on 62 gallons (meaning I had 20gals left, or a little over an hour’s flying time, in reserve) and set out for home. Along the way, I customized the datablock display– one of the big features of the IFD540 is that you can extensively customize what data is displayed and where it appears, then save that configuration in your own profile. That way Derek and I can each set up things the way we like, then load our own profiles on demand. Here’s what I came up with:

datablocks set up the way I like them

datablocks set up the way I like them

  • The left side top shows me the current communications and navigation frequencies I have tuned. Note that the unit automatically labels the frequency as soon as you tune it. (Not shown is the extremely useful FREQ button, which, when pushed, shows you a list of the frequencies you are most likely to need based on your location and phase of flight).
  • Below the frequency datablocks, I see my destination, distance, and estimated time enroute. I will see fuel remaining on arrival once the fuel flow issue is fixed.
  • The top line shows the current ETA to my destination, my groundspeed, and the current navigation mode. It says “GPS” in this picture, but it could also show other labels depending on whether I have an approach loaded, the type of approach, etc.
  • The right side shows, in order, the destination and distance (which I’ll probably remove), the bearing and distance to the nearest airport, and the track, distance, fuel remaining, and ETE for the next waypoint (that info is shown in magenta, indicating that it’s tied to the current waypoint). Because I am going direct to my destination, this magenta block is the same as the destination data on the left. (You can also see the minimum safe altitude and flight timer, right over the traffic display thumbnail).

On the way home, I decided to do a couple of turns in the hold at the ATHEN intersection. This is normally part of the RNAV 36 approach to Decatur; I didn’t want to fly the whole procedure, but I wanted to see how the IFD540 handled a hold at an arbitrary waypoint. Turns out it’s just about as simple as you can imagine: you pick the waypoint (any one will do: airport, intersection, VOR, whatever), tell the box you want to fly a hold, and then watch it do its stuff. When you want to exit the hold, you sequence the next waypoint as direct and the magic happens. Thanks to GPSS, the plane happily flew the entire hold on its own, including compensating for the winds.

One more squawk: the IFD540 and the other devices are super-bright in their default night modes. I think the dimmer settings are wrong, because the panel light rheostat that controls all the other lighting (including the CGR30p) did nothing to change the brightness of the IFD540, so I had to manually adjust it. All of these squawks will be addressed when we take the plane back to Sarasota’s shop, this time the one in Tullahoma, just a short flight from here. It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so to swap out the IFD540; fixing the other issues might take a bit longer.

First impressions of using the IFD540 for a cross-country IFR flight:

  • I am very impressed with the display brightness and clarity and the overall build quality of the switches and knobs on all of the hardware.  Being able to switch between items using the left/right rocker switches (labeled “FMS”, “MAP’, and “AUX”) is easy and intuitive. Touch response is fast, and multitouch for panning and zooming worked flawlessly.
  • The UI is responsive and the graphics are clear and readable. The screen seems huge compared to my old KLN94.
  • By default, the combination of land and navigation data presented on the map is cluttered, but it’s easy to declutter.
  • Avidyne brags about their “hybrid touch” interface, in which nearly every action can either be performed directly on the touch screen or by using the knobs and buttons. That  flexibility works very well and was most welcome during my bumpy flight home– aiming precisely at a touchscreen in moderate turbulence can be a challenge.
  • Once you get used to the notion that there are sliding tabs (like the “DATA” tab visible next to the “minimum safe altitude” field in the picture above), it becomes very easy to flip between sets of data, such as the flight plan view when in FMS mode.
  • The location awareness features of the IFD540 are a real time saver. The FREQ button knows what frequencies to present based on where you are, the unit can automatically tune (and ID) the next VOR in your flight path, and so on.
  • Speaking of FMS: flight plan entry, approach management, and so on use a metaphor that’s close to, but still different from, the King/Garmin-style interface that most pilots are used to. It’s like the difference between Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese Portuguese: lots of common vocabulay and idiom, but some very important differences. I’ll have more to say about that once I have more time flying with it and learning the FMS way of doing things. (It’s interesting that Bendix King, whose KSN770 competes with the IFD540, has the same issue in that the KSN77o steals a lot of FMS-style behavior from BK’s jet FMS family.)
  • The top-of-descent (TOD) marker is a really nifty feature; it tells you where to start your descent in order to hit an altitude constraint on the flight path. The audio cue, along with the audio cue for 500′ AGL, are very valuable prompts. I’d love to see Avidyne add an audio prompt indicating when you reached the missed approach point (MAP) for approaches that define them.
  • I think, but have not confirmed, that the IFD540 should be able to drive the STEC PSS so that the autopilot  can follow an LPV-generated glideslope. It will take a little knobology for me to figure out how to set this up, though.
  • There are many things I learned to coax the KLN94 into doing that I don’t yet know how to do on the IFD540, so this learning process will take a little while. On the other hand, there are many, many things that the IFD540 can do that the KLN94 and Garmin GNS-x30 series can’t.

What about the rest of the stack? Well, the transponder just works… not much to say there. It transmits ADS-B Out like it’s supposed to, so I’m delighted. The AMX240 audio panel is a huge improvement in audio quality and functionality over the old KMA20 we had before. I’ll have more to say about those gadgets, and the GDC-31 roll steering converter, in the future. Overall, I’m delighted with the new stack and can’t wait to fly it a bunch more!

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Flying Friday: my airplane’s broken, so here’s a blimp

I went to Tampa yesterday to pick up 706 from the shop. I was expecting to write a triumphant post today about flying behind all the new goodies. However, the GPSS steering system is confused and steers the airplane in the opposite direction, so I had to leave it there for further troubleshooting. Instead of my triumphant post, here’s a short video of the DirecTV blimp, which happened to be at the airport at the same time as me.

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