Tag Archives: flying

Flying with Avidyne’s version 10.2 software

If you think updating the software on your phone is hard, try it with avionics.

Avidyne has been promising a new release of the software for their IFD line of WAAS GPS units for a while now. Originally announced on April Fool’s Day last year, version 10.2 packs a pretty impressive list of features, including synthetic vision, support for a bunch of new devices (including digital radar and FLIR cameras), display of more ADS-B weather and traffic data, and a new “IFD100” iPad app that essentially acts as a second screen for your IFD. They generously made the update available for free, but with a catch: it has to be installed by an avionics shop. The FAA lets aircraft owners make “minor repairs and alterations” (a phrase which has a very specific set of parameters around it), and avionics software updates aren’t considered “minor.” When they finally announced that 10.2 was available, the first order of business was to find a shop to install it. None of the local shops are Avidyne dealers, so we decided to head back to XP Services in Tullahoma. A quick phone call to schedule an appointment was all it took.

The flight to Tullahoma was pleasant, and the XP team had the upgrade done in about 2 hours– right about the amount of time Avidyne says it should take. The update procedure is very detailed and specific, with lots of dire warnings about what happens if you do it wrong, so I’m glad they didn’t. They also upgraded the software in our SkyTrax 100 ADS-B receiver, which will become important a little later in the story. I can’t say enough good things about XP’s staff: they did good work, quickly, at a fair price, and were very friendly. Be forewarned if you go there though: there are no vending machines nearby so bring your own snacks.

On the way home I got to start playing with the new features, but it wasn’t until last week’s Easter trip from Decatur to New Smyrna Beach that they really came into their own. Here’s a partial list of the new goodness in this release.

Let’s start with synthetic vision. The IFD540 doesn’t have a way to sense the attitude of the airplane, so its syn vis feature is limited to showing a “plane in trail” (Avidyne calls it exocentric) view of you, your route, and the surrounding terrain. In this case, I’ve programmed the ILS 18 Y approach into my home airport. You can see the magenta line indicating that I’m on the final approach segment. The white line-and-loop to the upper right is the missed approach procedure that I’d fly if I couldn’t land. There’s another airplane in the area, at 1900 feet and descending. The synthetic vision display makes very clear what the surrounding terrain and obstacles look like, and how my planned flight path would interact with them. This is not a huge deal in the flat riverine terrain near Decatur but in someplace like Montpelier, with more significant terrain, it could literally be a lifesaver.

heading for the approach

Another nifty new feature: temporary flight restrictions (like the one shown below, for firefighting in southern Georgia near Waycross) and winds aloft data (the little white flag-looking things in the second picture) can now be shown along with all the other flight data. You can see that we have about a 20kt headwind. It’s important to remember that, like all other ADS-B weather data, the wind data comes from the ground and may not reflect what’s truly happening in the air at that moment.

Don’t fly in TFRs unless you want to meet the FAA in person

The direction of the wind barb shows which way it’s blowing; the number of little flags shows how strong it is

Traffic display is greatly improved in two ways. First, you can now see trend lines showing you where a traffic target is going (along with its N number, if it’s transmitting one). This is really helpful in crowded airspace, like the area around the Daytona Beach airport. You can see that both airplanes on the display are headed in the same direction as we are, one at roughly our same altitude and the other descending.

In 10.2, you can see where traffic targets are going

I also now get traffic alerts when there’s a potential conflict, i.e. someone else is flying towards me. An aural alert (“bong! TRAFFIC”) comes first, then the screen changes to show the conflicting traffic. This is an extremely valuable feature.

When you hear “TRAFFIC,” you’d better start looking around

The IFD100 app does what it promises: it lets you control the physical IFD, but it also lets you configure its display completely independently of the one on the panel. It does about 80% of what the “real” IFD hardware does. For example, you can load a flight plan into the iPad app while the panel is showing you the map/weather/traffic page, then push a button and activate that flight plan from the iPad. You can see and tune frequencies (but not activate them), zoom in and out on maps, and in general act like you have a second IFD540. It’s pretty neat, although there are some quirks to it that I’m still figuring out.

Not quite a replacement for Foreflight

The IFD100 app isn’t a replacement for FlyQ or Foreflight though; it doesn’t let you anything that the physical IFD can’t do, so no looking up fuel prices or FBO reviews, no satellite imagery display, and so on. ForeFlight has all sorts of useful planning features like terrain mapping, wind estimation, and flight plan filing that the IFD100 doesn’t, and won’t. I don’t think Avidyne intends the app to replace a true electronic flight bag (EFB) app, but rather to give you more options and flexibility with using the in-panel hardware.

I haven’t been able to test one of the signature features of 10.2 yet, though: its ability to do two-way sync over Wi-Fi between the panel device and a tablet. I can already stream a flight plan, and GPS position data, from the IFD to ForeFlight or FlyQ. 10.2 adds the ability for the IFD to send traffic, weather, and TFR data (which means I won’t need my Stratus receiver to see that stuff in ForeFlight), but also the ability to load a flight plan from the iPad to the panel. That means I can plan a complex route at my leisure in my armchair, file it, brief it, get my expected route, and push the route to the airplane when I get to the airport with a single button press. That’s going to be glorious when it finally arrives.

It speaks well of Avidyne that they made this major feature release available for free, and I’m excited to see how they continue to build on the wireless connectivity built into the IFD line.

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Race report: 2016 IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina

Summary: At the end of my season in 2015, I decided that I wanted to try a 70.3 in 2016. I’d heard about how great the Beach2Battleship 70.3 in Wilmington, North Carolina was… in large part because they give pajama pants to all finishers. I signed up in December, right after WTC bought the race and renamed it to IRONMAN 70.3 North Carolina, and then mostly forgot about it because my friend Ingrid was “encouraging” me to sign up for IM 70.3 New Orleans (which I did). I didn’t have a great race at New Orleans and wanted to do better this time. I did, by 46 minutes.

Sunday: new wheels, part 1

My friend Tony finished his season at AtomicMan by smashing the course, and he was kind enough to offer to loan me his race wheels, a Zipp 404/808 pair. I put them on the bike and took off for a ride the day before I was supposed to leave for California. PROTIP: when you change wheels, you have to adjust the derailleur limit screws. If you don’t do this, here’s what happens: you break the derailleur hanger, ruin your chain, put a big dent in your friend’s borrowed wheel, and break several spokes. On Sunday, when no bike shops are open. And while you’re 10 miles from home. A quick Uber ride home and I was left to sort out my plan: Dana would drop my bike off at the shop, they’d fix it, and I’d pick it up Thursday when I got back.

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

A broken derailleur is a terrible thing

Thursday: new wheels, part 2

Hosanna to the crew at Bicycle Cove. Chris, Parker, and Nick got the parts in and got the bike fixed. When I went to pick it up, though, I was surprised; instead of Tony’s Zipps, it was wearing a pair of Bontrager Aeolus 5s. They wanted Chris to look at Tony’s wheel again before clearing it for riding, you see, so they loaned me a set of their shop wheels to make sure I wouldn’t miss the race. “We’ll settle up later,” they said. “Now go have a great race.” Because we were having thunderstorms at the time, I didn’t get a chance to ride the new wheels; I had to load up and go.

Friday: flying and being pathetic

On Friday, I packed up 706 and filed direct HSV-ILM. A cold front had just passed through Huntsville, and I knew I’d be going through it again en route, but I was looking forward to a nice tailwind. That’s just what I got, with 15-25 knots of wind speeding me along. I landed at ILM after a beautiful flight with only a few bumps. Air Wilmington has a strict 1-hour limit on their courtesy cars, so I grabbed an Uber and headed to the downtown convention center for race check-in. Unfortunately, I failed to note the line in the athlete guide that said check-in closed at 1pm, and I got there about 1:45p. After some nervous waiting in line, Caroline from IRONMAN was kind enough to check me in anyway. She gave me 3 bags: one for T1, one for T2, and one for “morning clothes.” I found a niche to spread out my stuff and started the process of filling the bags. See, this race is a point-to-point-to-point race: you swim from point A to point B, get on the bike and bike to point C, and then run to point D. At each point, you have to change into the appropriate clothes, so before the race you have to stage all your stuff in the right bags. If you forget something, or put it in the wrong bag… well, too bad.

I got my bags packed and found that points B, C, and D were farther apart than I expected. While wandering around, I ran into Nancy and Paula, two fellow members of the Pathetic Triathletes group on Facebook. Nancy recognized me when I mentioned taking an Uber– I’d previously asked her whether Uber was in Wilmington. Thank goodness they found me; they were invaluable in showing me the ropes of this particular race. They were also kind enough to drive me and my bike over to T1 so I could stage my stuff. Then we had a lovely Pathetic meetup at Poe’s Tavern on the beach, where I met several other Pathetics and had a delicious burger. We went to check out the swim exit, where we met a volunteer who explained the swim course to me in great detail. The course was well marked with buoys, which I appreciated since my open water sighting technique still needs some work.

Seems placid, doesn't it?

Seems placid, doesn’t it?

The sunset was pretty impressive, too.

Yay for bonus sunsets

Yay for bonus sunsets

Nancy and Paula dropped me off at my Airbnb (summary: nice and quiet, no New Orleans-style murder) and I was in for the night, modulo a quick run to CVS for some Advil. I checked the weather forecast a few dozen times to get some idea of what the winds would be like. As I tried to drift off to sleep, I mulled over what reasonable goal times for the day would be. All I really wanted was to beat my NOLA 70.3 time, but I

Saturday pre-race: patheticness everywhere

Stan, Karen, Paula, and Nancy were kind enough to let me carpool with them, then stop so I could grab some breakfast, then to loan me $5 because I had pathetically forgotten my wallet. I had a gas station protein bar and a 20oz Coke… breakfast of champions, right? We got to T1 in plenty of time for me to fill my bike bottles with Mercury, pump up my tires, and check once more to make sure I had everything in my “morning clothes” bag that I wanted. See, at the swim start, you leave that bag there, and you don’t get it again until after the race. It’s a good place for things like eyeglasses and cell phones. T1 was crowded, as you’d expect for a race with nearly 3000 athletes. I was way in the far left back corner, which turned out to not be so bad because it was easy to find.

Transition 1 on race morning

Transition 1 on race morning

Last-minute preparation accomplished, I caught a shuttle to the swim start and met up with my pathetic pals there.  Stan had loaned me a cap, which I was glad to have because it was chilly; I put on my wetsuit earlier than I normally would have, and it helped quite a bit while we waited. I got to the swim start about 8:10, and my wave wasn’t due to start until 9:06, so I had some time to mill around. I found that I still had my chapstick with me, even though I should’ve left it in my run bag. Solution: put it in the top of my swim cap. It survived, luckily, and didn’t get too much extra ocean flavor. Almost before I knew it, they were herding our swim wave across the street and into the waist-high water behind the start line. The water was warmer than the air, and it felt great after I’d been standing outside being cold for an hour.

The swim

39:53, a new PR for me at this distance and roughly 20 minutes faster than my New Orleans performance. This course was linear so my poor sighting didn’t put me at much of a disadvantage, and there was a fast current to boot. I swallowed a good bit of salt water so I was worried about having to vomit– usually an automatic cause for the support staff to pull you– but I ended up OK. At swim exit I was wobbly from all the time spent swimming through chop; the second half of the swim was mostly into the surface chop so I was a little, if not seasick, then seasickish. When I exited the water, I noticed that my watch said “Resume?” and had recorded only about 1030 yards of the swim. I guess I accidentally hit a button with my wetsuit cuff or something. So much for an accurate swim distance.

T1

14:28? Jeez. The run from the swim exit to the bike corral was long, and I did stop in the changing tent to put on sunscreen, a dry shirt, and lots of chamois butter… but I had no idea I was in T1 for this long. I felt really stupid when I saw my race results, because this should’ve been no more than a 5-minute stop. Once I got all my stuff together, I got to the mount line and headed out on the bike.

The bike

Before the race, there was a great uproar because of IRONMAN’s decision to shorten the full-distance bike course. During race week, they announced a couple of route changes (and more were rumored), but by race day they’d settled on one 56-mile route for both half and full-distance races. It was windy, with forecast winds of 13-15 mph from the west. We got all that and more– the wind history at ILM was 12.1mph for 24 hours, with a highest sustained wind of 22mph and peak gusts of 27mph. The bike course itself was a big part of the problem– its structure meant that we went out, did a loop, and then came back, starting from the green dot. The loop was south on 421, then north to the turnaround (where a gas station was selling fried chicken that smelled indecently delicious), then south again. Since the wind was coming from the west, we had very significant wind exposure– more miles than I think we got in the out-and-back New Orleans course.

the bike course

the bike course

If you look at my lap times you can absolutely see the last 8 miles of tailwinds… and the other 48 or so of cross/head winds. I averaged 14.5mph on the first 39 miles and 17.6mph on the way back. Despite that gap in speeds, I felt really good on the bike. I passed nearly 100 people, which was an absolute first for me– I usually start at a deficit when coming out the water that I can’t make up on the road. I held the power target that I wanted, I didn’t wreck in the strong crosswinds, and with the winds, I came in just over my target time of 3:30. (obtw, those Aeolus race wheels were excellent.)

bike data… too many cadence spikes

bike data… too many cadence spikes

There was a fair bit of (justified) complaining online because the aid stations weren’t were the athletes’ guide promised, and each one only had 2 porta-potties.

EDITED TO ADD: here’s a video of the bike route provided by relive.cc.

T2

Back through the changing tent and out again; this time it only took me 9:21… still ridiculously slow. That time comprised walking my bike down a long string of rubber mats overlaid on top of the gravel/dirt construction mix on the street where the bike finished, getting into the corral and getting my run bag, hitting the changing tent, and actually changing, then leaving again. I’m still not really sure where the timing mat was.

The run

2:28. That’s really all I have to say about that. Faster than NO, but still ~ 30min slower than my standalone 13.1 pace. Lots of room for improvement here. The run course was semi-scenic; the first leg went through downtown, where there was a moderate crowd, then along an ugly industrial section of Front Street, then over to Greenfield Lake, which is ringed with city-provided signs that say “YES, there are alligators in this lake. Do not feed, harass, or tease them.” It’s a delightfully scenic lake, though, and (unlike the bike) there were plentiful, well-stocked aid stations. The full-distance racers had to do two loops of the course, whereas I only had one, for which I was grateful. I tried Red Bull for the first time on the course; while it didn’t give me superpowers, it also didn’t make my stomach convulse, so I’ll score that as a draw. I saw Pathetic Nancy on the run (I spotted the “#P” marked on her calf as I passed her), and I met Robert Moore, one of the “PPD Heroes” featured by the race sponsor. Then I ran the last mile or so with a lady who was finishing the full-distance race and we chatted a bit– that was a pleasant way to get to the finish line. Oddly, there were fewer spectators out when I came back through downtown on the return, which surprised me a bit.

YES, there are alligators in this lake

YES, there are alligators in this lake

 

Post-race

The finish line experience was great– I crossed, got my medal and pajama pants, and wandered around for a bit catching my breath. Unfortunately, soon I had to go pick up 3 bags of stuff: my run, bike, and morning clothes bags were all in different places. It took me close to 30 minutes of schlepping around to collect the bags and my bike, which was far longer than I wanted to spend. I grabbed an Uber back to the house, took a badly needed hot shower, and headed over to Hops Supply for dinner. I wasn’t up late.

The trip home

This morning, I woke up at 5 with a goal of being wheels-up by 6. Plot twist: there aren’t any Uber drivers awake that early, apparently. I eventually got a car and got to the airport to find that my plane was parked out on the back 40 and had to be towed to where I could access it. 45min after my desired time, I was airborne for Peachtree-DeKalb to meet my best friend from high school, the illustrious Brian Albro. We had a fantastic but short visit (thank you, Flying Biscuit, for breakfast), then I headed back. My flight was smooth and beautiful. I got to see some Harriers parked on the ramp at ILM, some great river fog, and a lot of greenery.

img_1378

The fog follows the river path exactly

The fog follows the river path exactly

Summary
A great race and a worthy effort. There were a lot of logistical hiccups; for example, the 70.3 athlete tracking on the IM website never worked, and the bike course caused a ton of traffic problems for locals that mean this will be an unpopular race next year. I got 7.5 flying hours and 7.2 hours on the triathlon route, so it was a good trip.

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Flying Friday: the great Gulfstream migration

Y’all may have heard of a little thing called Hurricane Matthew (or, as the Weather Channel continually called it, to the great amusement of my son Matthew, “DEADLY HURRICANE MATTHEW.”) And you may have heard of Gulfstream, the wildly successful purveyor of extremely expensive and capable business jets. But did you know that, for a while, our own Huntsville International Airport hosted nearly a billion dollars worth of Gulfstream hardware?

See, Gulfstream is based in Savannah, Georgia. They have a large factory there, with a satellite facility at Brunswick where they do paint and interior work. With a category 4 hurricane headed their way, Gulfstream made the very wise decision to find another place to park their airplanes until the storm passed, and Huntsville won the toss. On October 6th, I was listening to LiveATC and noticed a few airplanes checking in to Huntsville Approach with callsigns of “Gulftest XXX.” Neat, I thought. These must be test or acceptance flights. Then I heard a few more. Then one of the controllers asked a pilot how many more flights to expect– the pilot nonchalantly replied “oh, 30 or so.” That led me to check FlightRadar24 and, sure enough, the migration was well underway. (Sadly I didn’t think to capture any screen shots).

Last Sunday I drove out to the airport to take a few pictures of the shiny goodness on the ramp. These are links to my Flickr stream, which has lots of other airplane pictures if you’re into that sort of thing:

I was out of town this past week, so I missed the return flight, but sadly they’re gone now. It was fun to see them here, as that’s probably the closest I’ll ever be to such expensive hardware.

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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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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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