Archive for October, 2007

h1

That was very strange

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Last night I was returning to Austin from Rockport in the Archer. I was about 7 or 8 miles from Austin’s Bergstrom airport, talking to the approach controller. It was a perfect night to fly, cool and clear as a bell.

The controller gave me the strangest traffic call I’ve ever heard. “Archer 969, I have an unknown stationary primary target at your 11 o’clock, 4 miles, no altitude information”.

Stationary? Right in front of me! That would put this target right on the final approach to the two parallel runways to Austin.

I strained to see but couldn’t make anything out.

I guess it could have been a hovering helicopter. If so, the pilot was trashing the FARs by flying in the class D without a transponder or talking to anyone. Unless he was hovering above 4000 feet. But why would anyone do that?

Strange, very strange.

h1

Anywhere Map Review

Friday, October 5th, 2007

Update May 2, 2008: I now consider the Control Vision Anywhere Map to be an unsatisfactory product. I just can’t count on it. When it works, it works great, but one can’t count on it. My experience is that XM works on about half my flights. On the other half it gets an activation error, no signal, or shows a strong signal but doesn’t update. The basic GPS is better, but the HPIPAC isn’t really reliable. It eats its battery in minutes, and if the battery dies the unit dies. The IPac won’t run with a low battery even on external power. I could go on, but the bottom line is that I deeply regret buying this product. I can’t sell it in good faith, and I can’t afford a Garmin now. So I’m stuck with it. My recommendation is buy a Garmin.

 

Pre-history

About two years ago I flew an Angel Flight that took me from Austin to Amarillo, thence San Antonio and back to Austin.  On that particular day there were isolated thunderstorms milling around Texas. 

Even though I could see and avoid them they were a source of some anxiety.  Even when you are flying in clear air and can see a large buildup, it’s hard to judge how far away it is and where it might be headed. 

I resolved on that flight that I would obtain XM weather in the cockpit.  XM weather isn’t cheap, but its cheaper than flying into a thunderstorm. It took a while to save my pennies but at the end of July I purchased a PDA based Anywhere Map Weather GPS from Control Vision at Air Venture Oshkosh. 

Anywhere Map (AWM) is a software product that runs under the Windows mobile operating system.  There is also a version that runs under Windows XP.  AWM supports a wide variety of hardware configurations.  I purchased a bundle from Control Vision based on an HP iPaq 5915 Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and a WxWorks XM radio receiver.  The IPaq includes a built in GPS.  It communicates with the XM receiver using the Bluetooth wireless system.

A Rocky Start

IPaq PDA on yoke mount As I’ve already discussed, my first two months of AWM ownership were pretty rough. 

I was so frustrated with XM weather download problems that at one point that I contacted the district court in Control Vision’s home town to get the paperwork needed to sue them in small claims court.  I’m glad to say that I won’t be needing to follow through with that unpleasant alternative.

I remember being in the long line of airplanes waiting to depart Oshkosh when AWM began crashing. It crashed within a minute of program start, every time.  This was really a big disappointment.  After my return from Oshkosh I was told that XM had sent a ‘packet of death'; that is, a malformed chunk of weather data that AWM couldn’t process. I’m sure the software threw an exception that wasn’t caught.  

Manually clearing the weather data’s folder fixed the problem, at least to the extent that AWM ran without crashing.  Control Vision’s position was and is (as far as I know) that the problems were caused by unannounced changes in the data formats used by XM in their datalink. They make it sound like a timing issue, because they say that not all of their systems experienced the problems. I certainly had the problem. I’ve had no more crashes, but for a long time I almost never got more than one update an hour, often no weather updates for an entire flight.

AWM is an old established product with a good reputation.  Before I purchased it I conducted an informal survey at Oshkosh while riding the yellow school buses to and from the North 40.  I would just kind of shout out ‘Does anyone  here use Anywhere Map?’.  I found a lot of pilots did use it, and they all were positive about it.  This made me very surprised when I had so many early problems with AWM weather downloads. 

Crisis Resolved

Weather updates continued continue to be problematical until late September when Control Vision released AWM software version 1.93 build 126. 

 Since installing this update I’ve flown a number of flights and have found weather downloads to be timely and reliable.  I’m very optimistic that the problems are behind us now.

Enough About Me

Now let’s talk about the AWM system.  When you buy the bundled system that I have you get a big box of stuff that includes the following:

1) HP IPaq 5915 Windows Mobile PDA with AWM and Pocket Plates software pre-installed.  The HP includes a manual, a suction cup mount, a 12v cigar lighter adapter, TomTom Go software also pre-installed, and several other small PDA accessories. The IPaq has an internal battery that will run the device for 3 hours or so.  It receives external power via a mini-usb port.  It can be recharged by plugging it into a computer.  Control Vision includes a 1 Gig SD ram card that contains some of the data used by the device.

The 5915 includes an internal GPS that works well.  There is a tiny connector for an external GPS antenna (a ~$20 option) but I haven’t needed it.  This GPS locks on quickly when on the yoke in our Cardinal and our Archer.  I have yet to see it lose GPS position in flight.  Control Vision also sells a Bluetooth gps which works with this iPaq.

2) A WxWorks XM receiver. This device is round, about six inches in diameter and an inch thick.  I keep the XM receiver   a map pocket. Anywhere Map XM weather receiverThe receiver has a small XM antenna connected to the unit by a long thin wire.  This antenna has a small magnet, but it is easy to remove.  Just peel off the white plastic cover on the button and pop the magnets off.

XM antenna

  Unlike the Garmin system, the antenna is just an antenna. Replacement antennas can be had for $17 on the web or about $25 from Control Vision.

3) An excellent yoke mount designed and manufactured by Control Vision. The mount can be adjusted to fit yokes of many sizes and is very low profile. Its not a giant plastic claw looking thing. I really like this mount, I find it far superior to the RAM mount that came with my Lowrance aviation GPS.  The IPaq clips to this mount and can be quickly installed or removed to show the display to your copilot.

4) A Control Vision cigar lighter adapter that has two wires, one terminates in a mini-usb connector for the IPaq, the other in a barrel power connector for the XM receiver.  This adapter provides voltage regulation and can be used in both 12 and 28 volt airplanes.

5) Control Vision distribution disks for their software.

6) A laminated checklist for AWM, an extra stylus, and a nice red backpack to carry everything.  I’ve been using a pistol case to carry my AWM system and two Peltor headsets.  This works well for me.

The AWM software is really a system kludge of products.  My bundle included the following:

1) Anywhere Map Weather for PDAs: This software is the aviation GPS software combined with the XM Weather download and display software.  Its the core product. More on AWM in a moment.

2) 100LL:  An AWM plug-in that adds a database of fuel prices to the AWM airport information database.  Its nice to have, but I check Airnav.com for the same information. I’m not sure if I’ll pay the $40/year subscription when mine runs out next summer.

3) Pocket Plates:  This companion program allows one to store all the NACO approach plates, airport diagrams, arrival and departure procedures on your PDA’s memory card.  In flight you can call up images of the plates .  There is a procedure which you can use to calibrate the plate display by clicking on two points in the image that correspond to points in the geo database.  When calibrated and running with AWM Pocket Plates shows a little blue airplane super imposed over the actual approach chart image.

These charts are FAA legal to use in flight.

  My Pocket Plates introductory subscription runs out next week, I have not decided if I’m going to renew it or not.  It costs $145 a year to subscribe to the approach plate data.  If I had a tablet-based system Pocket Plates would be a no-brainer. 

The problem I have is that the PDA display is pretty small to display an approach plate.  If I display the entire plate then I can’t see the detail or read the print. If I enlarge the plate then it is somewhat awkward to use. With any turbulence at all it would not be easy to scroll around the Pocket Plate display using the stylus.

Still, if I renew I will always have legal plates no matter where I fly. 

The superimposed airplane is nice, but just as a general situation awareness tool.  I find that the touch screen on the IPaq is just not accurate enough to get really fine calibration.  Its not hard to get close, but very hard to get your click right on the calibration points.  I consider plate calibration a preflight task, it would be really hard to do in flight with the PDA.  With a tablet it would be much more practical. 

It’s important to note that Pocket Plates is a separate program from AWM.  AWM itself doesn’t include actual approach plates, but it does include ILS fans, victor airways, intersections, and waypoints.

On the PDA it is easy to switch back and forth between the Pocket Plates display and the AWM display. 

Flying with Anywhere Map

As a GPS system the AWM product is the very best I’ve used.  It is far easier to use than our Garmin 430, and shows far more useful information. 

The screen is the same size as that on the Garmin 396 and 496.  It is almost, but not quite, bright sunlight readable. 

The display is the same size and as on the Garmin 396 and 496 units, but it has higher resolution and greater color depth than the Garmins.

One normally interacts using a stylus, but it has a ‘rough air’ mode where large finger useable buttons appear for the most commonly used functions. 

The key to success with AWM is to explore the different views that the software provides. 

A ‘view’ is simply a set of display options grouped together.  The stock views are VFR, Terrain, IFR, Approach, WX, and Emergency.  Selecting a view configures the displays options for that purpose.  The user has great control over colors, options, and detail level for each view type.

I usually use the VFR and IFR views for routine operations.  In the VFR mode I have it programmed to show antennas, provide terrain and obstacle warnings, public and private airports, and geographical features. In VFR mode I show weather products except satellite or cloud top views.

In IFR mode I show airways and fixes.  The AWM has the same IFR chart data that one finds on enroute charts.  The use can choose a full HSI display or an EFIS type heading arc.  The user can select track up or North up presentations.

In WX mode I show a north up view with all weather products and less aviation data beyond place names.

As you fly along you can tap on just about anything you see and get more information.  Tapping works for airports, airspace of all types including tfrs and military airspace, and even antennas.  In the case of airports the first tap gets a little yellow tag with the name and current weather (if available). A second tap displays an information display which has more information, including a runway diagram, current weather, TAFs, radio frequencies and fuel prices for some airports (part of the 100LL plugin).  The airport information includes most of what is in the Airport Facility Directory.  Airports that report weather show a little square icon that tells you at a glance if the conditions are vmc, marginal vmc, or imc. 

The device can be set to show terrain above the current gps altitude in red, and it will display a warning if you approach a co-altitude obstacle. 

I think that the AWM antenna information is just as valuable as the weather for VFR flyers.  It is amazing how many antennas are out there, and how hard they are to see.  I didn’t even think about this feature until I got my AWM. Now I’d be scared to fly without it.

The AWM has feature called ‘Cones of Safety’.  These are circles drawn around airports that show an estimated glide range at your current altitude.  The size of circles are based on a user entered altitude/glide distance figures.  I’ve done a little flight testing, and have sent my ratio at 9nm/6000 feet for the Cardinal and 8nm/6000 feet for the Archer.  These are pretty conservative values. 

The main problem I have with the cones is that they are always green. Low elevation terrain, such as the Texas Coastal Bend area where I fly a lot is also green.  I find the cones difficult to see over ‘green’ terrain in the daytime.

The AWM has a night setting that optimizes the display for night viewing, everything shows up well in night mode.

The AWM supports timers of various sorts.  I have 30 minute ‘switch tanks’ reminder for example.  Timing starts when the airplane exceeds 35 knots of ground speed.

Another useful feature of the AWM system is called ‘Anywhere Link’.  This feature uses the PDA’s wifi connection to download updated weather and database information from Control Vision servers on the internet.  This makes it simple to ensure you take off with current data.  For example when I flew the other day I noticed that my airspace database had expired the prior day.  Fortunately our FBO has wifi, so I was able to download an entire US database, current weather, and TFR data in about 3 minutes.  Note, the wifi link won’t update the Pocket Plates database, you have to synch with a PC to do that.

 

Using XM Weather

Austin Texas (KAUS) to Rockport Texas (KRKP)

 

 I bought the AWM for XM weatherNow that it works it’s terrific. You just get real peace of mind knowing what’s ahead.  With the current software weather begins to display in about five minutes.  I have the ‘ Aviator Light’ XM subscription which shows NEXRAD radar, echo tops, TFRs, METARs, TAFs and precipitation.  Don’t tell XM, but I’m also seeing lighting data even thought that is listed as part of the more expensive Aviator subscription. 

AWM will ‘loop’ NEXRAD images if desired.  As it loops the age value in the upper left hand corner of the displays changes to show the age of the current display. 

The XM datastream for the Aviator level includes AIRMETs and SIGMETs, but as far as I can tell these are not displayed on the AWM.  

There is an icon on the upper left of the display that alternates between signal strength of the XM signal and age of the current weather information.  When tap one can get details about how many products of each type have been downloaded, the time of the last download, and the strength of the XM signal from the two satellites and any ground station in view.

Costs of ownership

Control Vision frequently runs sales and specials, and they change the contents of their packages frequently so check their web page, or better yet see them at a show to find out the current best deals.  They don’t sell through dealers.

My package cost right at $1400 and came with a years subscription to AWM databases and Anywhere Link service.

Going forward I think you really want to subscribe to at least the AWM database.  This subscription includes current airspace data and current software updates to the AWM product.

The Anywhere Link wifi/internet service is a separate subscription.  It is a tad on the expensive side, but I think it’ll be worth it to me. 

As discussed above I’m not sure if I’m going to continue with Pocket Plates or not.

Right now Control Vision has been offering lifetime subscriptions for around $350.  The price seems vary hour by hour so check with them for the current lifetime price.

Here is a table showing the current annual subscription prices as of 10/6/2007, check with Control Vision for current prices:

Anywhere Map 28 day database and Program updates $95
Pocket Plates $145
Anywhere Link $95
100LL fuel data $40

Even including Pocket Plates and 100LL the annual cost of ownership is less than Garmin charges just for database updates.

Of course the cost of XM subscriptions are the same for all XM weather GPS systems.

After a rocky start and a few sleepless nights, I’m satisfied with my AWM system. 

It wasn’t cheap, but I’m a much safer pilot for having it.