A Wrap Up of ADS-B

Written by Luke Gomoll, SEA Aircraft Modifications Sales Rep.

It was in May of 2010, after years of input from the aviation industry, that the FAA published FAR 14 CFR 91.225 and 14 CFR 91.227. Mandating pilots that flew in controlled airspace to equip with either 1090ES transponder or 978 UAT and a compliant GPS by January 1, 2020.

Over the past 10 years, the product options for compliance has increased significantly.  From low cost, quick installations like the uAvionix SkyBeacon to innovative integrated solutions such as L3Harris Lynx product offering. A transponder replacement, 1090ES ADS-B Out compliance, ADS-B In capability, optional active traffic and TAWS-B, and dual touchscreen displays. Garmin hit it out of the park with experimental to Part 25 solutions that had the ability to mix and match and provide enhanced safety. Who would have thought of the roads to ADS-B a decade ago!

As we reflect, it’s good to remember the hurdles we had to overcome.

The financial cost to comply with ADS-B was one significant hurdle. With upgrade prices ranging from $2K to $250K just to comply, understanding all of the available solutions for each aircraft was an ever changing and challenging environment.

Technical hurdles were aplenty as well! Where do you put another GPS antenna on an aircraft that has a giant rotating disk on top? Some other technical hurdles included: Matched pairing between GPS and Transponder, Dynamic Flight ID, Enhanced Surveillance, TCAS II Integration, first generation Integrated Cockpit pairing, Aircraft Service Bulletin Compliance Research, and Structural Modifications for equipment and antennas. Just to name a few!

We cannot forget about the human hurdle. Whether dealing with an industry wide technician shortage, educating the stubborn-to-accept pilot/operator/owner that ADS-B is a thing, or correctly communicating with US/Foreign governments, there were always people, or lack thereof, standing in the way of an aircraft getting the required upgrade.

Understanding and working through these hurdles we were able to offer and modify aircraft with a solution that best fits the aircraft for its mission, budget, and future. Through these hurdles we were fortunate enough to build new relationships and learned a thing or two along the way.

As we wrap up the ADS-B installations in early 2020, we know the demand will continue for a short while longer.  We will slowly transition to ramping up for connectivity, NextGen solutions and other exciting opportunities.  While change can be painful, the path to increasing flight safety will be important for the next generation of pilots.

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Millennials Killed Mayonnaise?

Written by: Joe Braddock

Recently, I had the opportunity to present at Career Day for a few local high schools. I had never done this before and knew it might be a challenge to make my pitch interesting. Not so much because the aviation industry is not interesting. Instead, I was a little nervous imagining a middle age guy like myself presenting to a bunch of tech savvy teenagers. Instead of trying to promote the company I work for, I decided to promote the aviation industry as a whole. Being in the aviation industry for almost 30 years, I knew there was so much more to the industry than most people know. I’ve spent years answering that question of “what do you do?” from people I meet at general social events, gatherings, or other non-aviation events. I’m sure I am not the only one who has struggled in social settings where you have to painfully yet quickly try to explain what you do in aviation to another person whose knowledge of aviation did not go past commercial airlines. Anyone else experienced this?

Flying car!

Presenting to hundreds of different types of teenagers, I knew I had to keep their attention somehow. Thinking back to my high school days, I knew that most of them didn’t even want to be there. Heck, it doesn’t matter if they’re teenagers, it’s difficult to keep anyone’s attention, right?  No one likes being Powerpointed to death so I made my slides easy to read and image heavy. I threw in some silly images of unreal aircraft from video games like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto just to see if anyone caught them. Several of them called me out on it so at least I knew they were looking. As I mentioned, my presentation talked about the industry as a whole, the wide range of different aircraft it covers (i.e. not just airlines or fighter jets), and ALL of the different jobs it offers. I tried to make it the 10-minute presentation that I always wanted to give when a non-aviation person asked “what do you do?”. Although I am sure people know there’s a lot of behind the scenes people supporting a pilot flying an aircraft, I don’t think they understand all of the types of jobs available. Whether it be inspectors, technicians, engineers, writers, designers, drafters, mechanics or all of the other administrative/support jobs, most people just don’t know how many different types of jobs there are in aviation.

As I pitched all this about different jobs, I saw even the most uninterested students in the room perk up a little. At the end of my presentation, I was happy to see them ask questions. Most of the questions were insightful and meaningful. Well, one student did ask me about flying cars in space and how much that would cost. I didn’t have a real answer other than “a lot?” However, I would have taken any question just to know they were interested.  And, my point is that THEY WERE INTERESTED!

Duke's Mayo

You hear negative things about “Millennials” out there but I don’t think it’s all fair. I even read an article recently about how millennials killed mayonnaise.  Really?  Anyone ever think that maybe people just want to eat healthier?  But I digress…

Through my recent observations as a parent, there doesn’t seem to be a lot that impresses younger people these days. Why? It seems like every generation critiques the next one and so on. We can all take things from one generation and say that wouldn’t happen “back in my day”. How do you know? The truth is you don’t know and you probably would have done the same things if you had the same things available to you. Perhaps younger people these days aren’t as interested in the things that us middle-aged people were interested in. Maybe there is not as much wow factor to flying things and gadgets as there was back in the day. Just take a look at what technology infants are being brought up with now. People can see almost anything they want to anytime on their phones. On a phone!

Everyone in the aviation industry knows there is a real shortage of people getting into the industry. The veterans of the industry are getting their much deserved retirement while the aviation world continues to grow at the same time. Unfortunately, the amount of skilled people coming in is not keeping up with that. What can we do about it?

I don’t have an immediate answer but I do think there is hope based on what I saw at that Career Day. If I had to throw out some ideas, I would suggest that we try to get more young people into aircraft and see how one really operates by getting them into the cockpit. You know, more hands-on kind of stuff. Have them turn a wrench on some part of the aircraft to see what that actually does. Show them the inside of a stripped out cabin so they understand how many wires are really running through there. Ask them for their help operating a drone (legally) so they can understand how much more equipped they are to operate those than us old folks.

We can’t give up trying to bring new, fresh talent into the aviation industry. There’s no hidden, undiscovered reserve of experienced aviation people that we have yet to find. It may take a lot of mentoring and coercing to get some people to take a look at the aviation industry. It may take donating your time or money but we have no choice. I believe that people of any age working a job want to feel that there is meaning in their job and that it makes a difference. Just saying that airplanes being neat, complex, and difficult to fly is not enough anymore. We have to show them even more about this great industry. Where it came from, where it is going and everything in between. Most people just don’t know. We have to think outside the box to relate to where people’s minds are at right now in relation to technology and the future of air travel. It’s going to be amazing so let’s get that message out there!

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For The Love Of God, Update Your Avionics!

Written by: James Brewer, Your Guy on the Inside

James “Jamie” Brewer, SEA Avionics Tech

Avionics can easily be overlooked when budgeting for an airplane.  It’s happened to everyone I know, and I’m sure if you have a plane it has happened to you.  You start thinking about replacing your radio after getting that repair bill, but then you notice a low oil pressure indication on your next weekend outing.  Shortly after that, the money you had to use for a replacement radio is going into your engine.  And although I have an affinity for all things electronic in an aircraft, engines tend to be a higher priority.

>>>> Why should you bump up the priority of updating your avionics beyond the ADS-B mandate?  The same reason anything gets bumped up in priority – cost.

The avionics of the mid 80’s to late 90’s were phenomenal.  Then again, that can be said for every era of avionics with their respective pushes of technologies to further limits.  But the convergence of small scale integration circuits such as logic gates and basic processors, predecessors to the revolutionary 8088 microprocessor that really kicked off home computing in the 80’s, made for some of the most inventive and flexible circuits ever.  Autopilots that processed analog signals to provide accurate acceleration curves to the servos are works of art.  It’s literally using analog devices to perform calculus.  And they have worked.  For decades.

But the world marches on.  Now the functions of entire circuit cards are contained on one small section of a chip that does thousands of other functions.  The amount of data available to a pilot or flight crew is akin to having an AWACS at your disposal.  And for a fraction of the (inflation adjusted) cost of the older units.  But with that aging beauty of analog / digital hybrid electronics comes a lack of availability of parts.  There’s not a big market for standalone components any more.  Some of the same transistors used in those giant home stereo systems are also used in avionics components from that era.  The stereo systems are gone, but the avionics are still functioning.  With a lack of demand, manufactures have moved on to bigger and better things (or rather smaller and better).  Look around your own environment outside of the cockpit.  What’s the oldest electronic device you have that you use regularly?  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s less than 20 years old.  Here is an autopilot that was last checked by the factory in 1978, the 24th week (June 12th through June 18th) of 1978 to be exact. I couldn’t tell you when it was manufactured; the date codes were so old the ink had degraded to the point of illegibility.

Fortunately, this unit was able to be repaired. But more and more, parts are no longer available for these aging works of art.

Gas discharge displays that were used for every radio ever known are as rare as winning at black jack when you hit on a 20.  The units that have early microprocessors are the same way.  And even if the part is available, it’s often more expensive than a new radio, and has been sitting on a shelf atrophying since Michael Jordan was the king of basketball.  Ultimately, the cost has gone up, and the reliability has gone down on the individual components inside radios.  As a technician I like to think I can fix anything, but the sad truth is without good parts, there’s nothing I can do.  Even when parts are available, the cost has gone up so much that paying the repair cost over the remaining life of the unit vs. the cost of a new replacement unit, means that a repair may be more costly than replacing the unit.

There is a convergence in the near future.  The old radios still have value, but that is diminishing quickly.  The new avionics are coming down in price, especially for the added features.  And I expect that trend to continue with a far shallower curve than normal consumer electronics. I can’t say when exactly that convergence will be perfect for updating an airplanes avionics systems, but it is within the next 5 years given current trends.  Of course that is also dependent on individual and/or company budgets.  Parallel to those trends is installation costs.  Currently, they are quite high relative to normal conditions, but shortly after the ADS-B crunch, there may be some opportunities for discounted installation costs.

There’s a multitude of other factors involved with deciding to change out avionics systems, but value of old equipment, price of new equipment, and cost of installation are the primary influences on the market that I see from my point of view, sheltered in a nice and cozy avionics shop.  But in the end, please for the love of God, update your avionics soon, and quit expecting a unit that was manufactured when Donna Summer was topping the charts to work as if it were a brand new fully integrated avionics package.

As an aside:  I still have my first computer, a Tandy CoCo2 manufactured in 1983 and it still works.  But I know the day is coming where I can’t keep it going anymore either, nor do I rely on it for anything important, such as safety of flight.  And no, I did not write this on that computer.


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2018 End of Year Thoughts & Reflections

Written by: Joe Braddock

Hard to believe that 2018 is almost a wrap and we are thinking about what 2019 will bring. We all get so involved in the busyness of our daily lives that we don’t get a chance to sit down and reflect on happenings, trends, or challenges that might be around us. The aviation industry continues to change and evolve. No doubt about that. Here at Southeast Aerospace, we’ve seen our share of happenings and whatnot so I thought I’d share a few with you.

On our side of things, ADS-B is dominating the avionics world. 2018 finally saw many aircraft owners committing to comply with the 2020 ADS-B Out mandate. Most avionics shops, big or small, are scheduling out ADS-B installations well into 2019. Most ADS-B equipment manufacturers appear to be keeping up with demand although a few are already experiencing some backorders. It’s safe to say that shops should start thinking of stocking some ADS-B equipment if they are not already. I cannot imagine that manufacturers and distributors will have ADS-B equipment ready on the shelf all throughout 2019. While there’s more options than ever for ADS-B equipage, some aircraft owner/operators are still waiting to comply with the mandate. It’s not all about procrastination either. Some aircraft owners (mostly bizjet and up) are weighing the investment of implementing ADS-B Out into their aircraft versus selling and investing in a new aircraft. It will be interesting to see how many owners in 2019 opt to comply or not. Regardless, 2019 should be hectic for shops to juggle existing, scheduled, and last minute installs as 2019 comes and goes. No doubt that 2019 will be an exciting year for ADS-B.

Obsolescence and support for legacy parts continues to be an interesting topic for the bench shop and part sales world. Support for many legacy parts is getting more challenging as manufacturers discontinue their own support, lifetime buys of piece parts run out, or other issues render some parts unrepairable in some way. This is obviously a natural progression in most industries, however, in years past, it didn’t happen as quickly in aviation. With the affordability of digital, glass systems and retrofit units, it is becoming a no-brainer to upgrade certain legacy systems and components. Conversely, it’s amazing to see some manufacturers continue to increase prices on the support of certain legacy items without having an affordable upgrade for the customer to consider. As manufacturers continue to reconsider their traditional dealer network and large companies are getting larger through mergers, the choices for customers to maintain their legacy systems in their aircraft will continue to be affected. That’s not to say that it’s all bad and legacy parts/systems will disappear overnight. However, as time goes on, this support aspect may not get easier and it’s probably time for a lot of aircraft owners to upgrade in some way. Most manufacturers are doing a great job of bringing realistic, affordable upgrade paths for many aircraft. I think 2019 will bring even more affordable upgrade options for aircraft owners. I can’t wait to see what is next as technology seems to be advancing exponentially.

Open up any aviation magazine or newsletter and you will see something about the hiring challenges in the industry. Whether it’s pilots, technicians or mechanics, the industry is facing a significant shortage. Talk to almost any aviation company and they will tell you that they are looking for people. That sounds like good news for the people already in the industry as far as wages and salaries. It will be interesting to see how much the industry can bear in relation to supply and demand. It will also be interesting to see the affect on labor rates, overhead and sustainability for most shops. Expenses, wages, and just the cost of doing business in aviation will probably increase again in 2019. The bottom line is that it’s not getting easier to run an aviation business for a lot of reasons. How much of all that is the end customer willing to absorb?  On a positive note, this issue facing the industry has brought together many organizations and associations to market and promote ways to bring more people into the industry. While smartphones and computers might be more interesting technology to the younger generations, airplanes and all aircraft in general are still cool, high-tech and incredible in a lot of ways. We need to continue to remind the public about that as we promote and market.

All in all, it has been a good year for the industry in many ways. There will always be challenges and issues that arise but that’s part of life whether we like it or not. Part of who we are as people, a community and society is defined on how we choose to react to something challenging: rise above and grow from it. For better or worse, the aviation industry gives us those opportunities fairly regularly :). The end of a year also gives you that opportunity to reflect on what you appreciate and value. I know one of the things I appreciate about my daily work is the relationships I have with my co-workers and friends in the industry. People are still what make the difference in this world. Maybe the world would be an easier place to live in if we all just said “Thank You” and showed genuine appreciation to the people you talk to every day. Perhaps this holiday season, we all can do that and start 2019 on a high note!

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Aviation Companies Beware

As fraudsters grow more daring with scams targeting businesses we thought it might be a good time to highlight what to be aware of so you can take precautions and not become a victim of this scam.  Understanding how some of these scams work is your first line of defense in not falling for the deception. These scammers have gotten very tricky and very smart, but hopefully by reading this you can be one step ahead of them.

One of the more prevalent scams that has started to become very popular with these criminals is a fraud scam involving quotes and large orders for products that originate from a university. It goes like this:

  • The scammers find the purchasing contact for a major university and assume his/her identity. This can easily be found on the Internet.
  • They set up a fake website to create an online presence and obtain a fake email address that mimics the university, usually ends with something like xyz.edu.net.
  • They call and email companies to place an order for random products and identify themselves as being from that university.
  • They create fake purchase orders that resemble an authentic university purchase order.
  • Ask for Net 30 terms by sending false bank & credit references as well as fake W-9 (all the while using university contact names & addresses.)
  • Lastly they request shipment to a location that is somewhere in proximity to the university location.

After what appears to be a legitimate request and order, businesses fill the requested PO only to find out that they have been scammed and will not be getting paid for the products they provided.  Having been given Net 30 terms for payment, the scammers have at least a 30 day head start on any investigation that may arise, making it very difficult to recover the businesses money or product.

Here are a few things you can do to try and avoid being scammed when you receive PO’s from universities (or any institution for that matter):

  1. In the case of a university, if the email address or website URL does not end in .edu, it is likely fraudulent.
  2. Question the shipping address if it is not the same as the university or business address.
  3. Verify the phone number calling actually matches the purchasing agent at the university. Then call that person and verify they have or have not requested an order.
  4. Do your research! Legitimate companies are going to have some kind of history or “digital footprint” on the Internet. If you can find little or no information on a company that should raise red flags.
  5. Be extra diligent with unusually large orders from new customers.
  6. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Confirm and verify all the info and then verify it again.

If you do become the victim of one of these scams it is very important to contact your local authorities and the FBI as soon as you find out. You should also report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

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REMINDER: Value is what someone is willing to pay

Written By: Joe Braddock

As a seller/distributor of avionics components and instruments for over 25 years, we have seen our share of interesting vendors and negotiations.  We routinely receive calls and emails asking what someone’s parts or excess might be worth to us. Most of the time, we can reach a fair price for both and agree to purchase. Other times, the other person may not like our offer and decide to either go elsewhere or hang on to what they have.  I’m here to tell you that it’s not a good idea to hold out or hang on to your parts anymore.

The parts business (especially with avionics and instruments) has changed so rapidly in just the past 10 years that what you have now could be worth less and less as time goes on. The rate of declining value is increasing even more with the introduction of new, more affordable technology for even the smallest of aircraft.

So what is your stuff worth?

Let’s look at the definition of a free market first.  The ways and means of a free, open market are that prices for goods are determined by the market and consumers.  At the same time, the laws and forces of supply and demand are free from government intervention or monopolies (in most cases).  Free markets have operated this way for thousands of years. For the most part, it doesn’t matter if you are selling goats or GPS receivers.  After all is said and done, something is only worth what someone will pay for it.  You may think it is more valuable but your buyer may not share the same love affair with what you have.

In the past, avionics systems were less centralized meaning that comm, nav, and other boxes were bought and sold independently not part of a larger avionics system.  Glass cockpit retrofits have flooded markets with parts from these legacy systems.  High supply + lower demand = lower prices.  Economics 101.  I often like to use comparisons to products that people are more familiar with like automobiles. Would you pay today’s New price for a 10 year old car?  No.  So what would you pay?  Whatever the ‘market’ says you should pay.  That’s the way a free market works.

Today, it is easy and quick to get a rough idea of what something is worth – EBay, e-commerce sites, search engines, and online databases.  No more mystery or guessing needed. You can easily get an idea of someone who is lowballing you. Once again, there’s not a whole lot of uncertainty with the value of someone’s offer.  Receiving a lower than expected offer is an unpleasant surprise and may be dejecting but it’s part of a free market for better or worse.  On one hand, you may think you are taking a loss. However, look at it this way – something is better than nothing.  I’ve seen my share of inventory around the world that once was worth something, held on for too long, and now is scrap. We’ve made offers on inventories where people told us “No Way” only to have them come back later and have to tell them that we have no interest.  As mentioned earlier, that amount of time it takes for a part to decline in value is decreasing.  Sorry, we can’t buy yours if I already bought 10 others since we last spoke.

Sometimes, as the saying goes, you have to take the money and run. We all don’t like to do it, but at times you have to take a loss to get something instead of nothing.  That’s business.  It’s tough to make the decision but sometimes you have to cut your losses.

I’m not here to lecture anyone about basic economic principles or obvious day-to-day business activities. However, look at it as more of a reminder that the value of what you have laying around in surplus is definitely not increasing. It’s quite the opposite and there are many current market factors driving that. And maybe you don’t have any cost in to your parts and don’t really care if you sell them or not. We get that, and it makes sense but someone still has to lift all that stuff into a garbage dumpster when it is completely worthless someday.

So let’s make a deal!

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The Great American Eclipse

27 years ago as a young boy, I remember seeing my first solar eclipse at the Buehler Planetarium at Broward College in Davie, Fl. At the time I can remember thinking, what’s the big deal? Why are my parents dragging me to this open field on a college campus in 100 degree heat to watch the Moon pass in front of the Sun? I would much rather be playing or swimming or doing anything else except looking in the sky with these weird, ugly glasses on.

2017 Total Solar EclipseFast forward to this past Monday, August 21st and I find myself standing outside, wearing those same ugly glasses, in complete awe of what I am witnessing. I understand now why my parents made such a big deal about it all those years ago. It is an experience I will never forget. Now being a parent of 2 small children, I can’t help but think to myself that I cannot wait for the next solar eclipse so that they can witness this truly amazing celestial event.

2017 Total Solar EclipseThis eclipse was called “The Great American Eclipse” because it was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years. The eclipse followed a 67-mile-wide path across the United States and millions of Americans witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime event as the Moon passed between the Earth and the Sun and day turned to night for up to almost three minutes. The next coast-to-coast total solar eclipse will be August 12, 2045 and will travel on a course starting in northern California and exiting the United States in central Florida. There is also another pretty great eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024 being called “The Great North American Eclipse.” It will cut a path from Mexico to Texas to Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada.latest409601712copy

Make sure you don’t miss the next total solar eclipse, it’s a must see event and make sure to get your kids outside looking skyward. It is a great big universe out there and you never know what you will see. They will appreciate you making them wear those funny looking glasses and one day they will thank you for it.

Listed below are a few great websites for information on this eclipse and future eclipses.


Photo Credits:  Top Image: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani – Middle Image: NASA/Rami Daud – 2nd Image From Bottom: NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory – Bottom Image: Hinode Internaational Solar Observation Satellite






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Autopilot Troubleshooting

By James Brewer

Your guy on the inside at SEA

As an avionics tech, I have specialized in autopilots primarily. I find it quite fascinating using electronics to do motive work in flying the aircraft, and how interesting it is using the electromagnetic force to overcome gravity! At least, when it’s all working well.

When there is a problem with an autopilot, it helps to have an understanding of the system. All autopilot systems have the same basic tasks to perform and so have (mostly) the same type of components involved. In short, they need to know what the airplane is doing and what it is supposed to be doing. It does this through the use of sensors and feedback loops. (With feedback loops nested inside feedback loops and more feedback loops inside of those feedback loops.)

Let’s get into the basic components that an autopilot needs to function.

  • Gyro. Typically a spinning mass to let the autopilot (and pilot) know that attitude ofAuto pilot the aircraft. Although accelerometers are beginning to replace the spinning mass, they provide the same type of information to the autopilot. You could say it is the heart of the system, but in staying with the biology metaphor, it is more like the inner ear where we get our positional information from.
  • Computer. Something has to do all the thinking! They take on many forms, but like all computers they take in information and output control data. Newer ones are real computers with processor chips, but the older ones are able to process the data without changing it to 1s and 0s.  (personally, I find that quite amazing)
  • Control mechanism (servo). The muscle of the system. The part that changes electronics to motion. Yes. I know that technically the electronic and the mechanical energy both come from the electromagnetic force, so it’s still fundamentally the same thing being used, but it is a conversion none the less. It’s all the more fascinating when it’s a vacuum servo! I wish I could have been there the day those were invented! “Hey, why don’t we use this whoopee cushion to fly an airplane?” “Great idea! Let’s get started!”

That really sums up the basics for an autopilot system. Everything else is another layer added on to the system to change what the computer thinks it needs to do. If there is an autopilot problem, the basic system needs to be checked since all other functions are dependent on them.

In flight, the best way to check the basic system is to get the aircraft straight and level and engage the autopilot with no modes (or only flight director mode) in clean air. At this point the basic feedback loops are in use and under control by the autopilot. Any deviation will be an indicator of a problem. Such as:

  • A slow wing rock or a pitch porpoise can indicate a problem with the control mechanism; be that a drive motor, bladder, feedback motor, or loose control cables.
  • A fast wing rock or pitch porpoise indicate a problem with the gyro. This failure mode is faster because it is reacting to the feedback loop that is the airplane itself. Autopilot 2The gyro is putting out information saying that it is moving and the computer is commanding the control mechanisms to drive quickly to get back to where it is supposed to be.
  • Drifting or climbing / diving uncommanded. Just like the wing rock and pitch porpoise, this one has degrees of difference separating the failure modes. A quick turn or dive indicates a problem with the gyro, where as a slow change indicates a problem in the control mechanism.

If the autopilot system handles basic flight with no problems, add in some offset by changing the aircraft attitude. Or more simply, grab the wheel push it. Change the attitude and see how it responds. It should return to straight and level flight. If not, see the above points for suspected problems. If no problems exist, check the modifier buttons; UP and DOWN. These are generally part of the computer and change its internal settings. A failure here indicates a problem in the computer itself.

If everything is still checking out OK, you can move on to the additional layers of complexity and additional components (sensors). Start with Heading mode. If it does not follow the bug correctly, there is most like a problem in the component that provides the heading information (HSI, DG). Next move on to the Course/ NAV mode. If the system doesn’t follow the CRS pointer, then the most likely culprit is the component that has the course data (HSI/DG). If it does not follow the NAV needle it’s likely the NAV source (radio or GPS).

Staying with the roll axis, move on to Approach if the Course/NAV modes pass. If this fails but NAV was OK, it can likely be a faulty computer. There are gains in the feedback loops that are changed inside the computer when switching to approach mode. Move on to Back Course to check that the system knows the difference. Again, a failure here is likely the computer if all other tests have passed.

Moving to the pitch axis, engage Altitude Hold mode and make sure it holds. Manually change the altitude and see if the autopilot recovers correctly. Next, adjust the speed of the aircraft. This will cause the autopilot to adjust the attitude of the aircraft to compensate to maintain the correct altitude. Failures here indicate a problem with the autopilot system altitude sensor (generally not the same as an altimeter). Likewise if the autopilot is equipped with an Indicated Airspeed mode. The aircraft will adjust as necessary to maintain the indicated speed. Failures here indicate a problem with the airspeed sensor (most likely) and just as with the altitude sensor, it is probably not the same as the airspeed indicator.

Glideslope mode can be difficult to troubleshoot. But as with most inputs to the autopilot computer, it is likely the sensor (GS antenna and or NAV radio.)

Most autopilots go through quite a bit of Pitch Trim testing as part of their initial internal tests. And quite often it is manually tested on the ground as part of a preflight. Testing it in the air is the same as on the ground. Set the autopilot up for straight and level flight, and then offset the pitch axis with the control wheel. The auto trim should kick in to recover the aircraft. Just don’t offset it too much! (Not that I speak from experience with that. Many years ago. With reoccurring nightmares.) A failure here actually indicates the pitch servo as the main culprit as the sensors that tell the computer that it needs to adjust the trim setting are located in the pitch servo, not the pitch trim servo.

Aside from some other less common options, that sums up most checks and in general the additional modes are going to be related to their unique sensors. (½ Bank mode is just a nightmare so I don’t want to talk about it. Suffice to say, it’s probably the computer, or the servo, but maybe the gyro)

PanelThis of course is by no means a comprehensive troubleshooting guide, and comprises thousands of pages of technical information along with too much tribal knowledge compressed as densely and as concisely as practical. The purpose of this being to give an understanding of how an autopilot tech thinks about the system and provide a means of communicating a failure mode as precisely as possible to eliminate troubleshooting time and expenses. One of the good and bad things about autopilot failures is that they generally manifest themselves in flight. This is bad because it can be expensive to troubleshoot an odd problem, and good in that I enjoy test flights.

Of course all of the information above presupposes correct wiring and structural integrity. If there has been major work done to an airplane, check that area first before troubleshooting the autopilot. For example, if a wing has recently been replaced, it’s a good idea to pass that information on if there is a wing rock problem in the autopilot; before two techs spend 40 hours each troubleshooting, scratching their heads since it passes on the ground and fails in the air then finding out about the wing replacement and finding a loose connector that would have been looked at in hour one had that knowledge been available. Hypothetically of course.

Below is a quick checklist that I have used when checking out an autopilot system in flight. It’s quick and paints the problem with a broad brush, but it does help to narrow down complicated problems into manageable sections that can be addressed individually.

In flight (assuming self-tests pass)

  • straight and level
    • AP eng – level flight
    • Offset aircraft – recover
    • Maintain offset – trim function
    • UP / DN modifier
  • Roll tests
    • HDG mode
    • NAV
      • CRS pointer OK
      • NAV needle OK
    • APR – gains
    • BC – opposite gains
  • Pitch tests
    • ALT HOLD
      • offset aircraft / recover
    • GS – capture and follow

And as always, make sure to follow all applicable flight instructions, operating handbooks, pilot’s guides, and other such directives when flying.

P.S. I wanted to write about the recently discovered (maybe) 5th fundamental force that will (possibly) add to gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to relate it to aircraft. Unless it’s the force that causes avionics to fail….hmmmm

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Drone Rules for the Recreational Operator…Part 2

As the drone or UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) industry continues to flourish, the publicdrone1 continues to eat up everything drone related. The FAA estimates the number of consumer drones stands at over 1.1 million and by 2021 they are expecting that number to increase to 3.5 million. With that many drones in the sky, UAV’s are a very hotly debated topic right now. Many people and government agencies have several concerns when it comes to recreational drone use, such as:

  • Privacy
  • Unmanned Aircraft vs. Manned Aircraft
  • Skill Level of Pilots

So in Part 1 of this blog we listed several rules to follow so that you can stay out of trouble and fly safely. We are going to re-list those regulations to refresh your memory, because there have been some changes to those rules. The biggest one being that you no longer have to register your drone with the FAA, as long as they are operated in compliance with section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. If you already registered your drone and you wish to delete your registration and receive a refund of your registration fee, access the Registration Deletion and Self-Certification Form.

Here are some of those regulations to abide by:drone2

  • Always keep you UAV in your line of sight
  • Fly below 400 ft at all times
  • Never fly above a group of people
  • Make sure your drone is under 55lbs
  • Always avoid manned aircraft and never operate in a careless or reckless manner
  • Understand airspace restrictions and requirements. Know your TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions)
  • Never fly within 5 miles of an airport without previous permission from both the airport operator and air traffic control tower
  • Do not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires or accidents
  • Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol

These are just a few of the rules that you should be following when you are flying your drone. It seems like a daily occurance where we are hearing of another drone operator not following the rules. Close calls with manned aircraft, flying in restricted areas, or causing damage or harm to people or property are the most common regulations broken. Listed below is a list of links and their descriptions that will give you all the information you could ever want about flying drones. These links are there for you to educate yourself before flying. The more you know, the less likely you are to have an issue with the regulations. Fly safe!







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Are You Ready For Hurricane Season?

Hurricane season is upon us once again. The official Atlantic hurricane season stHurricanearted June 1 and runs through November 30. Experts are forecasting the 2017 season to be more active than historical averages with regard to the number of named storms. NOAA is forecasting 11-17 named storms, 5 to 9 of which would become hurricanes and 2 to 4 which will be considered major hurricanes.  These major storms can cause considerable damage to or total loss of your aircraft. So do you have a game plan for keeping your aircraft safe during this busy hurricane season?

GivFloridaen the unpredictable nature of hurricanes, even the best-made plans can break down in the face of a storm, but having a plan at least puts you ahead of the game. The first thing you should do is check your insurance policy and make sure it is up to date and you know everything that it covers. Here are just a few precautions you can take to give you and your aircraft a fighting chance during a major storm.

    1. Don’t take any chances and get out! Make sure you pay attention to the “cone of uncertainty” that is projected by the National Hurricane Center. Each tropical system is given a forecast cone to help the public better understand plane upside downwhere it’s headed. If you are able to get your aircraft out of this projected path you have a much better chance of making it out with no damage. Try and keep a list of airports and their contact information so that you can make educated decision on where to go. Just keep in mind you will not be the only aircraft owner or pilot getting out of Dodge. Make sure to give yourself  a sufficient amount of time to get to your chosen evacuation airport or FBO.
    2. If you don’t have enough time to get your aircraft out-of-town, the next best thing is to get it into a safe hangar. A good hangar will be the best protection for aircraft during any severe storm. You are going to want to attempt to secure a hangar spot as quickly as possible because these spots will be costly and they will be gone before you know it. Remember though that hangars are not 100% storm-proof and there is still the possibility of your plane getting damaged if the hangar were to collapse or become damaged itself. So move fast but find the safest and strongest hangar possible.
    3. It’s Hail Mary time. If you can’t leave the area and there is no hangar space available, the last thing you can do to give your aircraft a fighting chance is to tie it down. Here is a list of procedures you should try to follow if you must resort to tying your plane down:
      • Make sure the surrounding area is clear of all debris that could become flying projectiles.
      • If possible park your aircraft up wind from all other aircraft. This will Tie downprevent them from blowing into your plane if they become loose.
      • Move it to the highest ground you can to stay away from flooding.
      • Make every effort to park your plane with the nose into the wind.
      • Double check that all doors and windows are closed and locked. Also cover all engine openings and pitot-static tubes, to protect them from any flying debris.
      • Choke the wheels and deflate the tires to keep the airplane from rolling around.
      • Use both an external and internal control lock.
      • Most important is to make sure you have top rated ropes or chains and tie down anchors that are in top-notch condition. If you are not using chains, use nylon or Dacron rope because of its higher tensile strength and make sure to not leave any slack when tying off.

Hurricanes and tropical storms can turn an airport into a junk pile in a hurry. Plan ahead and make sure you have a solid game plan in place well before any storms are threatening. Take the time to familiarize yourself with your procedures, aircraft manuals, and local airport/FBO policies. Of course it goes without saying to make sure your family and home is your first priority. Keep this American Red Cross Hurricane Safety Checklist handy when the time comes. Stay informed and don’t wait until it’s too late to take the necessary precautions to keep you, your family, and your aircraft safe.

Statistics and information from NOAA, The Weather Channel, and The National Hurricane Center.



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