Author Archives: ssokol

Byssokol

Is The FAA’s TIS-B Policy Killing Pilots?

I hate to use a click-bait headline like that, but the recent news of yet another GA mid-air collision has me angry. Last summer a Cessna 150 and an F-16 collided near Monck’s Corner, South Carolina, killing the pilot and passenger in the Cessna. Two weeks ago a Cessna Caravan and a Piper cub collided in Alaska. Last week another mid-air, this time in Georgia, left three dead. Mid-air collisions are relatively rare but invariably draw the attention and condemnation of the press – something GA definitely does not need.

The recent spate of articles made much of the fact that these accidents occurred at or near “uncontrolled” airports. As pilots we all understand that “uncontrolled” does not mean “out-of-control” or “free-for-all.” The traffic rules and standard practices usually make operation at an uncontrolled airport quite safe. The general public does not understand this. Perhaps more than any other type of accident, mid-air collisions instill a fear of general aviation in the minds of the non-flying electorate. Two pilots failed to maintain visual separation. Two planes were destroyed. Multiple lives were lost. It’s not a pretty picture.

Sadly, many (most?) of these accidents could be avoided with an inexpensive traffic receiver and a comprehensive feed of local traffic. The FAA has the data. ATC radar installations all across the country collect, digitize, and forward a constant stream of real-time traffic. The information is passed to ADS-B ground towers which uplink it as TIS-B (traffic information service – broadcast). This sounds like a potential solution to the problem and it is – if your aircraft is equipped with ADS-B Out. If not, you get either a partial picture (if someone nearby has ADS-B Out) or nothing at all.

This is wrong. It verges on criminal. The FAA’s mandate is aviation safety. The only reason they exist is to make aviation safer. So why don’t they simply broadcast a comprehensive stream of traffic data? Because their current policy is to use TIS-B as a bonus or “carrot” for those who chose to equip with ADS-B Out before the 2020 deadline. This policy may very well be killing pilots, passengers, and bystanders.

I don’t know if any of the pilots involved in the recent mid-airs were using an EFB application, but given how pervasive they have become it is entirely possible. Had any of them been receiving traffic updates it is possible – even likely – that they would have detected and avoided the other aircraft. Yes, they may have been too low to have been receiving ADS-B. Yes, they may have been too low to be visible to any ATC radar. However, in the F-16/C-150 crash, both aircraft were visible to ATC and within 21 nautical miles of an ADS-B ground station making it very likely that they would have had coverage.

The change is apparently not simply a matter of flipping a switch. Originally there was some concern that the amount of data involved in comprehensive traffic broadcast could overwhelm the ADS-B network, compromising safety. According to a source at AOPA, research by an FAA / industry task force debunked this concern. The group reviewed the technical challenges involved and found that uplinking all traffic visible to ATC would not overload the available bandwidth, nor would it place an impossible burden on the towers or the network infrastructure that connects them. The change would require software be revised to provide coverage zones for the towers rather than coverage “pucks” for client aircraft.

If you happen to belong to any of the “alphabet” organizations – AOPA, EAA, NBAA, etc. – please contact their advocacy team and demand that they make opening TIS-B a priority. There is no reason for mid-air collisions to happen in 2016.

Contacts

EAA – Sean Elliott – VP of Advocacy & Safety: Email Now

AOPA – Jim Coon – Senior VP of Government Affairs and Advocacy: Email Now

NBAA – Dick Doubrava – Vice President, Government Affairs: Email Now

NBAA – Christa Fornarotto – Vice President, Government Affairs: Email Now

Byssokol

v1.0 Image File Now Available

The system image file linked from the Re-Imaging Tutorial is now updated to include v1.0r1 of the Stratux software. The image has been tested on both Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3 systems with positive results.

Note: Users only need to re-image their data card if they experience difficulties with an update or receive error notices indicating that the Linux image on their system is out of date.

Byssokol

FlightBox FB1X Dual Band ADS-B Receiver

FlightBox – Assembled, Tested and Ready To Fly.

Byssokol

Firmware Version 1.0 Now Available

For the past several months FlightBox has been shipping with a copy of Stratux v0.8r2. After several months of testing we’re happy to announce that an update to Stratux v1.0r1 is now available. 1.0 fixes a number of minor issues. Updates to the software include:

  • Fixed erroneous ownship altitude values
  • Fixed occasional crashes caused by malformed ADS-B data
  • Enhanced logging / debugging tools
  • Updated web interface with traffic distance / heading
  • Added ownship traffic suppression (beta)
  • Added tail number decoding for N and C registered aircraft
  • Performance improvements
  • Stability improvements

All together these make for a more stable and powerful system. The Stratux community has been using v1.0 since mid-July with no major issues reported. I’ve put about 20 flight hours and over 500 bench hours on the FlightBox 1.0 build with no complaints.

Please see the Update Tutorial page for a link to the update file and for installation instructions. (Or just use our new iOS app to install the update.)

As always, a big thank you to Chris Young and the Stratux community for all the work that went into 1.0!

Warning! Check the update file name!

When we launched the last update a few months ago we had a number of users complain that after installing the update their system stopped working – the dreaded “bricking”. To get everything back up and running they had to re-image the SD card (or send it in for us to re-image). It took a bit of digging but I finally figured out what was happening.

When you download the firmware file you wind up with something that looks like this:

update-stratux-flightbox-v0.8r2a-db130aab76.sh

If you happen to download it again, you wind up with this:

update-stratux-flightbox-v0.8r2a-db130aab76 (1).sh

It’s exactly the same file, but the download manager adds ” (1)” to the file name. The space you see between the end of the build ID and the open parenthesis is the culprit: it causes the installation to fail – and it also causes the delete command that should remove the .sh file from completing. So every time the system boots up it finds the update file, tries to apply it, fails, and reboots. Instant “bricked” system.

If you update manually (i.e. not using the new iOS app) be absolutely certain that the filename does not have a space in it. If it does, you will wind up bricking your system and will need to re-image, send your card in for update ($3), or order a new card from the web store ($13).

A fix that eliminates this potential pitfall will be included in (embrace the irony…) an upcoming update.

Byssokol

FlightBox ADS-B Now Available Fully Assembled

Low Cost Safety-Enhancing Technology Now Available To Everyone

When we launched on Kickstarter back in February we declared the beginning of a Kit Avionics Revolution. Since then we’ve sold over 1200 FlightBox kits to pilots all over the world. In so doing we’ve learned a lot about ADS-B and about the aviation market. The Kit Avionics Revolution has been a huge success for us, but one of the more important things we’ve discovered is the range of technical aptitudes and interests in the flying community. While many pilots relish the opportunity to get hands-on with their systems, others prefer something a bit more finished.

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In order to serve those who just want to buy and fly, we’re pleased to announce the availability of the FlightBox FB1X – a fully assembled and tested dual-band ADS-B receiver with all the features of the original FlightBox kit. The assembled version includes high-gain antennas, a 12v/24v USB power adapter, and a one year warranty. It is compatible with all of our add-on products: the remote GPS, remote antenna kit, friction mount, battery, etc.

We’ve know that we were missing out on a segment of the market for some time. I’m very proud to say that we took our time and did this right. The FB1X is fully FCC certified. It has been tested over the course of more than 30 flight hours and under a wide range of conditions. It ships with version 1.0r1 of the Stratux software (updates for existing FlightBox systems will be release shortly).

The list price for the assembled FlightBox dual band receiver is $325. To celebrate the launch of our first turnkey product we are offering a $25 discount through the end of October. Our goal is to be the value leader in ADS-B, and at $300, I think we’re hitting the mark.

If you have any pilot friends who have shied away from FlightBox due to the “DIY” nature of the kit, please let them know that we’re now ready for them. They can order the FlightBox FB1X from our web store today.

Byssokol

More Power: Battery, Cigarette Lighter Adapter Now Available

When we launched FlightBox we consciously decided to go with a simplified design that did not include an internal battery. Batteries add weight, complexity, and liability to any product. By offering FlightBox with a standard 5v USB power input, we gave our users the option of using a cigarette lighter adapter, a battery, a solar charger or any other power source that could provide 2 amps at 5v.

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After six months I still think this was the right choice: there are many FlightBox users who have found the flexibility to be extremely useful. Some users withe experimental aircraft have installed USB transformers. Most users who own certificated aircraft use a cigarette lighter adapter. CFIs who move from aircraft to aircraft throughout the day love the option of simply swapping batteries when needed.

But… the most common issue we run into is power. Many of the tech support calls and emails we field each week come down to inadequate power. After talking with a group of users at our booth in Oshkosh, it became abundantly clear that providing a number of trusted, reliable option for power was important. As a result we immediately added a USB cigarette lighter adapter to our catalog. The search for a battery took a bit longer.

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Fortunately, it turns out that the need for a good source of portable USB power is not unique to FlightBox. As it turns out, the popular Pokemon Go game has made backup power for mobile phones practically a requirement. An old friend here in the KC area decided to capitalize on the demand for high quality batteries and ordered a large batch built to spec by a reputable manufacturer overseas. (At this point only Tesla is building lithium battery systems here in the States.) He gave me a sample to test and after a few weeks of abuse I am happy to announce that we now offer a battery.

The USB packs that we are selling are rated at 10,000 mAh which typically provide more than five hours of flight time on a full charge. (I’ve had the test unit last for 7.5 hours, but that was under cool, comfortable lab conditions.) They’re slim and weigh in at only 0.45 pounds. Most importantly, they consistently deliver up to 2.1 amps – more than enough power for a FlightBox. We’re offering them for $35 on the web store. They will come with a 6-inch USB cable and a set of velcro dots to (optionally) attach the battery to the FlightBox.

Note the supplies are limited: the Pokemon craze took up a big chunk of the supply, so we only have 50 in stock at the moment. More are on the way and should be here in September.

Byssokol

OFS At Oshkosh 2016

Our First Year At Aviation’s Biggest Show

The last time I posted anything we had just finished loading up the giant rental van for our long journey north to Oshkosh and AirVenture 2016. A huge thank-you to everyone who stopped by the booth. We had a very successful week in Wisconsin. We talked with hundreds of pilots from all over the world. Across the course of the week we sold more than 100 FlightBox systems on-site, and nearly as many over the web.

IMG_0785

Assembling our OSH booth on a very hot and muggy Sunday afternoon.

Oshkosh was also a great chance to catch up with our EFB partners. It is amazing how many innovative developers are working to make aviation safer using consumer electronics platforms. Between the iPad aviation revolution and the recent release of “approved but not certified” products from Dynon and Garmin’s Team X, the future is looking brighter than ever. I managed to talk with a number of other vendors from the experimental avionics market and several of them have already launched projects to seek FAA approval for their products. I expect that AirVenture 2017 will host the launch of a number of newly approved, affordable systems including navigators and autopilots.

As anyone who has ever been to an Oshkosh (or, as the locals call it, to an “EAA”) knows, it’s absolutely huge. It takes up the entirety of Wittman Regional Airport and spills out into both the town of Oshkosh and the neighboring lake Winnebago. According to EAA officials, more than 10,000 aircraft and over half a million visitors attended this year’s event. We spent most of the time in our booth, but did make it out to see a few events, including an awesome night air show. If you’ve never been you owe it to yourself to go – it truly is a spectacle no pilot should miss.

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The OFS crew, taking a break from the booth.

I have to thank my wife Amy, my daughter Katie, and my friend Larry for hours of tireless work, and for making the long drive into the north woods. I also owe a huge thank-you to Bryan Heitman of Aerovie for hosting us. It was an amazing opportunity and we’re already looking forward to next year’s show.

Byssokol

Onward To Oshkosh!

A bit over three months ago we exhibited at Sun-N-Fun with DroidEFB, one of our application partners. The show was a huge success and resulted in over 250 orders over the next month. However, one of the most common refrains we heard was, “If you had them for sale here, I would buy one!”. Well, we heard you.

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Not as much fun as the Tiger but it has a much higher gross weight.

We’re showing up to Oshkosh with nearly 400 dual-band FlightBox kits plus remote antenna kits, friction mounts, and remote GPS units. We’re exhibiting with Aerovie, another application partner. You can find us in Hangar C, Booth 3078.

Sun-N-Fun was a solo gig for me, which was something of a challenge. This time the whole team will be at the show, plus we have a number of volunteers who will be joining us. We’re offering a new service as part of the Oshkosh experience. The new offer – called “20 Minutes To Taxi” – is a factory assisted build: you can borrow our tools and work with one of our expert builders to get your FlightBox system assembled, tested, and ready – usually in less than 20 minutes.

We will be exhibiting all week, so if you’re able to make it up to the big show please stop in and introduce yourself.

Byssokol

Ghost In The Machine

At least once a week somebody sends me an email about an ADS-B traffic target that suddenly appeared on their EFB app, often just a hundred feet above or below, and less than half a mile behind. The reporter is never able to spot the target, which appears to doggedly follow them for a few minutes before disappearing. No, this is not a UFO or a new stealth drone. It’s just an annoying (and occasionally panic-inducing) artifact of the way ADS-B works.

No, you are not being followed by one of these.

No, you are not being followed by one of these.

If you’re being chased by ghosts, don’t worry – you’re not alone. It’s not an issue that’s specific to FlightBox or to whatever EFB app you’re using. Every ADS-B In system occasionally displays a ghost, even for those of us equipped with ADS-B Out. Here’s what appears to be happening:

You’re receiving ADS-B traffic data from the FAA ground towers. Those towers are receiving data from secondary surveillance radar. The radar data is collected at various center and terminal radar sites and sent to the towers for processing and broadcast. The software in the towers use the “hockey puck” algorithm to determine what traffic targets get broadcast.

Apparently, the delay between the time the radar site picks up a target and the time it arrives in your cockpit can vary quite a bit. Most of the time your EFB is able to determine which of the various targets it’s receiving is your aircraft (often referred to as “ownship”) which it filters out. But if the latency (time lag in delivery) is too great, the software can’t be absolutely sure if a given target is really “you” so, so it displays it – frequently with a traffic conflict warning.

Theoretically, this shouldn’t happen with aircraft that are equipped with ADS-B Out. Each Out-equipped aircraft broadcasts a unique identifier (ICAO code) which should allow both the towers and your local software to filter it out, preventing ghosts. But even the towers sometimes can’t correlate between your radar target and your position as received directly from your ADS-B Out transmissions. They fall victim to the same latency-induced issues that plague your EFB. Rather than take a chance on miss-reporting a conflict, they rebroadcast the radar data as an anonymous target which suddenly appears on your screen as a ghost.

The ghost effect appears to be worse when you’re in an area covered by multiple radars and multiple ADS-B towers. In talking with ADS-B experts, it does not sound like there’s any obvious fix for this. Lower latency links between the radar sites and the ADS-B towers can help, but even that’s not a guaranteed fix. As we get closer to 2020 and more aircraft are equipped with ADS-B Out, it should get better. Until then, don’t panic every time a mysterious traffic target appears on your screen. But don’t ignore it, either – that way lies midair ugliness.

Byssokol

Back From Vacation, AHRS Challenge Extended

Just a quick “thank you” to everyone who has waited patiently for the past two weeks. The vacation in France was amazing and an excellent opportunity to recharge the batteries. I’ve already begun digging out and will be shipping all of the backorders on Monday. I’ll also be going through nearly 500 email messages. It may take a day or so, but I will respond to all of them.

One other item of business: I’m extending the deadline for the AHRS Challenge. If you’re interested, you now have until July 15. Please keep in mind that the entries will be tested in the order they were received. The first entry to meet the qualifications will receive the bounty, so get your entry in as soon as you have it tested and feel confident that it will work.