With Wings As Eagles: Tech/Computer/Electronics Entries

A new capability in flying

2013 July 21 09:20

My Mooney (airplane) is pretty well-equipped. I have reasonably sophisticated GPS guidance (although no autopilot) and I can fly all the same approaches that all but the very must well-equipped airliners can. I'm quite happy with the equipment list at the moment. Until yesterday, though, I didn't have any capability to receive weather while flying, which is a great tool for situational awareness and is becoming more commonplace.

I use a software product called ForeFlight on an iPad for all my charts and approaches. Their company has teamed up with Sporty's Pilot shop and a hardware manufacturer to make gadget called a "Stratus". It's a GPS receiver and it receives signals called ADS-B, which is a relatively new digital network that the FAA is rolling out that will eventually replace air traffice control radar. ADS-B signals are broadcast from the ground and contain information like weather radar.

The stratus module also creates a wireness internet hotspot that an iPad can connect to and access the GPS position data and the data stream that's coming in through ADS-B. What thsi means is that the ForeFlight app now knows where it is and also can overlay any information it gets from the ADS-B data stream, such as weather radar, right on the Foreflight chart displya. I believe it can also query things like current weather and forecasts from airports with weather reporting.

I flew up to the Sporty's store in Ohio yesterday to pick up a second-generation Stratus, which just came out recently. I managed to use it flying home, and I was very happy with its performance and how easy it was to get going and set up.

How nice of Mooney to put such a nice holder for the Stratus when they put together the airplane in 1967!

This is the pull handle on the passenger door on the right side. I was flying home around noon, and the sun was from above and slightly to the left, so by putting it there it kept it out of direct sunlight.

I think the interesting pattern that the camera digitization makes with the lights is cool. The middle light doesn't look like that; I guess it's flashing two different colors rapidly and the camera picks then up as it scans down the image.

And once I had the proper thing turned on in the iPad, I got position information and I could see that I wasn't going to run into any rain in the last leg home. Nice.

I have to say, the corporate philosophy of this does bother me somewhat. I think generally it's a bad idea to buy a piece of hardware that's so closely tied to a single piece of software. However, ForeFlight is my electronic flight bag app of choice and it will likely be around for at least a few years. The Stratus is cheap enough (on the scale of aviation devices; it's less than a good Bose noise-cancelling heatset) that I'm willing to take the risk that it might only be good for a few years. The upgraded capability is worth it.

So my initial impression is that it's easy to use with Foreflight, does everything it's supposed to, and is absolutely worth it as a capability upgrade if you don't have on-board weather. I'll report back after I've used it in my flights to Oshkosh and back.

238 days ago

2013 July 01 08:23

Busy spring, behind on blogging, etc etc. Things are looking up, though.

One quick really awesome thing that I did yesterday, and then a general status update. I airplane that we bought has an engine monitor and a data recorder, so it keeps track of engine temperatures while you fly. The resulting data gives a rought history of the flying history of the airplane. Until yesterday, I knew the data recorder was there, but I didn't know if it worked, or if it was recording data, or what.

I hooked it up and I pulled data out, which is intelligible. I haven't put together scripts to really analyze it yet, I was able to establish that it is recording data, the data seems reasonable. The data goes up to the present time. It goes back to the first flight I took in it about 238 days ago at the beginning of November 2012, and it goes back something like 5 years! This will be a treasure trove of historical information.

I'll cover more details of this in a future post, but the short story is first I hooked up the data download cable that EI Engineering sent me (for free) to the download port on the panel

From that cable, went to a Belkin USB-serial converter

I figured up gkterm, attached it to the USB serial port /dev/ttyUSB0 and configured the baud rate, data bits, parity bits, stop bits (first time I've done that in years)

Then I powered up the airplane's electrical system and turned on the avionics, and immediately the serial port showed diagnostic information and sensible looking numbers. Holy crap--it worked the first time!

Like I said, more later, but I'm totally jazzed that this worked.

Lots of airplane news. The oil consumption problem was a bad ring on cylinder #2. Removed and replaced, oil consumption is way way down. I flew it almost 2 hours on Saturday, it's ready for cross-country flying. I think I figured out the problem we were having with the GPS. I don't think it was seated correctly in the tray, and I think it's better now. We'll have to see, but I'm going to cancel the appointment we had at the avionics shop.

I have a new fuel pump in the vintage beetle, so that's running. I still need to change the oil again to get the last of the gasoline out. I drove it around town; the suspension is still sloppy. I'm going to have to do a top-end rebuild. I'll try to work on that in August.