TL;DR – A new FlightBox update is available that adds AHRS support for ForeFlight and GPS NMEA output over RS232.
Welcome to the middle of winter. Things have been rather quiet for the past couple of months, which has allowed us to spend some time heads-down on new features and functions. First among those is AHRS support for ForeFlight*. This has been the number one request since we rolled out the original AHRS support back in March of last year.
The update is available for download from our site or for installation using the FlightBox Utility app. New systems ordered after February 14 will ship with 1.4r4 installed. The code has seen quite a bit of testing from the Stratux community, so it should be smooth sailing under most circumstances.
A few notes on the FF AHRS feature:
Web Interface – To get to the FlightBox web interface, you normally open a web browser and go to 192.168.10.1. Because of changes in the update this might not work in some cases (please see below for geeky details). If you update to the latest version and cannot get to the web interface on 192.168.10.1, try accessing it on 10.26.36.1. If that doesn’t work for you, go into your computer’s (or mobile device’s) network configuration and use the “Renew Lease” function to get a new IP address. (Or just reboot it – that will do the same thing.)
Fully Automatic, Mostly – Once you’ve installed the update you should be able to fire up ForeFlight, select the PFD view, and within a few seconds you’ll see the attitude display lock in. If the display is not level, make sure you have the level-point set from the “GPS / AHRS” page of the FlightBox web interface before you try adjusting the level point in ForeFlight. You may have to restart the ForeFlight to get it to detect the AHRS data.
Requirements – You must have the AHRS hardware installed and configured for this to work. You also must have a ForeFlight subscription that includes synthetic vision to be able to use their synthetic vision feature.
Somewhat Sensitive – The ForeFlight display is somewhat more sensitive than other apps and can bounce a bit. This is in part an artifact of the way we integrate with it. The better the alignment of the FlightBox with the aircraft, and the more secure the mount, the better your results will be.
Apps – This may break the Android and iOS utility apps. To make the AHRS data visible to ForeFlight we had to make some changes to the network addressing structure we use (again, please see the Geeky Details section below if you’re geeky and care about the details). As a result of this, the utility apps will need some updates. If you can’t get the app to connect, please use the web interface.
Other New Stuff
v1.4r4 also adds another new feature: NMEA output. NMEA output lets FlightBox share GPS data with other device over an RS-232 link. The standard GPS mode outputs the current location, ground speed, ground track, and altitude data. (Those would be the $GPRMC and $GPGGA sentences.) All kinds of aviation gadgets can make use of GPS information. Autopilots use it to follow a ground track. ELTs use it to send your position. Fuel computers use it to determine your range.
GPS mode is a great enhancement on its own, but the really interesting feature is NAV mode. In NAV mode, the FlightBox outputs the active waypoint and course deviation information that autopilots use to steer a course. (The $GPRMB and $GPAPB sentences). The steering algorithm in FlightBox can even intercept course lines and anticipate turns – the “roll steering” or “GPSS” feature that is usually only found in high-end navigators.
The kicker with NAV mode is that there’s no standard method for EFB apps to send the flight plan data to FlightBox, so we’ve developed a very simple data exchange format that we’re hoping to get our EFB friends to implement. If you would like for your favorite EFB app vendor to support NAV integration with FlightBox, please send them an email asking them to check out our Integration Guide.
To use the NMEA output, you’ll need an NMEA serial adapter cable. To install it we recommend using a small unpowered USB hub, as this makes connecting it much easier. (The other option is to perform surgery on your FlightBox case to get at the open USB port.) Note that the serial adapter requires the remote GPS – it is not compatible with the internal GPS.
From the lawyers: Please be aware that connections to required, installed systems in a certified aircraft generally require either an STC or a field approval. In some rare cases approval may be available from the manufacturer of the aircraft or certified system. Do not connect FlightBox to a certified system in a certificated aircraft without appropriate approval. Doing so will invalidate the airworthiness of your aircraft.
Getting The Update
The new release is currently available through all of the regular update channels:
This is a larger update and takes a bit longer than most to install. Give your FlightBox at least two minutes to complete the update process.
AHRS Upgrade Kits
If you’ve been holding off on adding the AHRS hardware, you can order the upgrade kit here. It’s only $100 and includes everything you need to add AHRS capabilities to your FlightBox. Please note that your FlightBox must have a GPS for the AHRS features to work. If you don’t have a GPS, you can add either an internal or remote for $35.
WARNING! If you are not a computer / networking geek, please don’t read this. It contains more techno-babble than a StarTrek marathon. You have been warned.
The new release changes the range of IP addresses that the DHCP server on FlightBox uses. We previously served addresses in the 192.16.10.x range. In order for ForeFlight to recognize the data we are sending, we had to change the source to 10.26.36.1 so we’re serving addresses in that range.
To make the transition as seamless as possible, the FlightBox adds an alias address of 192.168.10.1 to the Wifi interface. If you connect to it from a device that only has Wifi enabled, or which makes the Wifi connection the primary connection, you should have no problem getting to the system on the alias address. However, if your device has multiple interfaces, including one which is prioritized above your Wifi interface, you may not be able to get to the FlightBox using the alias. In that case you’ll want to use the 10.26.36.1 address.
* As always, we need to be clear that Open Flight Solutions is not affiliated with nor endorsed by the makers of ForeFlight.
For the past two years Open Flight Solutions has been building and selling the FlightBox line of ADS-B receivers. From the beginning we envisioned FlightBox as the starting point for a much broader set of product intended to reduce costs while increasing safety. While we’re not quite “there” yet, we’re getting close, and I believe this is a good time to share the high-level vision with the aviation community.
In the next several months we will be releasing a set of components that allow homebuilders and LSA manufacturers to assemble a full-featured EFIS with high resolution touch display, precision air data and attitude sensors, comprehensive engine monitoring, WAAS GPS, and dual-band ASD-B for around $2000. Rather than taking the traditional monolithic approach, we’re creating a distributed, optionally redundant network of independent components that provide the full EFIS feature set at a lower price and with greater reliability.
We plan to seek NORSEE approval for these components, allowing them to be installed in certificated aircraft to facilitate better situational awareness and to serve as a backup to legacy instruments.
Please take a few minutes to look over the preview below and let us know what you think. If you’re interested, please sign up for our FlightBox EFIS mailing list. Feel free to send your thoughts and questions directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The displays (1) are Apple iPads running an EFIS application that we’ve developed. The displays interface with other components (and with each other) via the wireless network created by the FlightBox (3). Expanding from a single display to a dual display is simply a matter of adding a second iPad.
The FlightBox (3) acts as a hub, relaying data between the displays and the other components in the network. It also serves as a bridge to third-party systems including autopilots, COM radios, and transponders. In a fully redundant configuration, the aircraft is outfitted with two FlightBox units, one serving as the primary flight computer, the second as the backup.
The ADAHRS (4) uses a set of solid-state (MEMS) sensors to generate attitude and air data. We support single or dual ADAHRS configurations. The EMS (5) connects with a full set of engine probes and relays engine data to the FlightBox and displays. Both the ADAHRS and EMS feature builder-friendly installation, with simple, rugged connections and no complicated wiring harnesses.
Other EFIS vendors put a good deal of effort into building custom display hardware. We’ve decided to take a different approach and leverage the significant engineering expertise of Apple. The current line of iPads is powerful, light weight, bright and has been road tested over the past decade by literally millions of users. It’s also much less expensive than a custom display, with a starting street price of only $279.
We’ve overcome the iPads’s one major limitation – heat – with a light weight panel mount that includes thermally controlled active cooling. Made from the same FAA-approved plastic as our FlightBox, the mount is strong but still weighs in at less than one pound. A set of six thumb screws hold the face place securely, but allow you to swap iPads in a matter of seconds. It includes secure, recessed spaces for a Lightning power connector (included) and for a low-profile audio connector (optional). It provides access to the sleep (power) button, the home button, and the front-facing camera.
We currently have a mount for the 9.7” iPad. We’re in the process of designing mounts for the 10.5” iPad Pro and the 7.9” iPad Mini. If there’s any demand, we will also build one for the 12.9” iPad Pro.
The FlightBox EFIS application currently provides all of the basics required for VFR flight: a complete set of flight instruments; a moving map with a database of US airspace, airports, and nav-aids; power plant instruments, and VFR navigation. The primary goals for the first release are usability and stability. We’ll add the bells and whistles in upcoming releases.
The app is currently in private beta (internal testing). The first version is scheduled to be released in the March / April timeframe. The app will be free with in-app purchases for maps, charts, and some advanced features.
One of the greatest advantages of the iPad is its multi-touch interface. Unfortunately, turbulence can make a touch-screen difficult to use. To overcome that limitation, we’ve designed a secondary “twist-and-click” user interface we’re calling the Turbulence Tactile Interface or TTI. This optional device adds two rotary encoders (aka “knobs”) which connect to the iPad using Bluetooth. In smooth air, use the touch screen. In the bumps, use the knobs.
We have a working prototype of the TTI and are in the process of revising that into a marketable product. We should have pricing and an estimated availability date by mid-March.
FlightBox continues to act as an ADS-B and GPS receiver, but it picks up some additional duties. We use it to relay data and commands between the ADAHRS, the EMS and the displays. It outputs NMEA data to an autopilot (if installed), control codes to Garmin SL-30/40 and compatible radios, and (soon) TMAP to transponders. The onboard AHRS becomes the backup attitude source if an ADAHRS (see below) is installed and active.
If you already have a FlightBox, you will be able to upgrade it to support the new features and functions. For those who don’t have a FlightBox, you can use the FlightBox Plus, FlightBox Pro or the upcoming FlightBox EXP. The Plus model is a portable, while the Pro and EXP are built for permanent installation and can be connected directly to ship’s power. (Note: permanent installation in certificated aircraft requires the Pro, which has FAA NORSEE approval.)
ADAHRS stands for “air data / attitude and heading reference system.” It includes a set of air pressure sensors that connect to the pitot and static lines, an inertial measurement unit (gyroscope / accelerometer) for determining attitude, and a magnetometer (digital compass) for magnetic heading. If installed, it becomes the primary source of altitude, attitude, and airspeed.
We worked very hard to make the ADAHRS small, accurate, and inexpensive. You can install either one or two ADAHRS units in an aircraft. In a dual ADAHRS configuration, the FlightBox continually cross-checks between the two and alerts the user in the event of a disparity. They’re cheap enough ($450 each) that most users will want to go with two. We will be be taking pre-orders starting in March.
We’ve also built a prototype engine monitoring system (EMS) that supports 4 and 6 cylinder engines, providing RPM, MAP, CHT, EGT, Oil Temp, Oil Pressure, Fuel Level (2), Fuel Pressure, Fuel Flow, Volts, and Amps. Each unit has a total of 16 thermocouple interfaces. Rather than wiring everything through a single DB-XX connector, it uses thermocouple quick-connects and screw terminals which makes it significantly easier to install and maintain.
We’re expecting the second round of prototypes in March. We should have them available for pre-order in April, with delivery slated for May or June. While the final price will depend on the package of senders and probes selected, the data acquisition unit (the interface box) will retail for between $400 and $450.
While we’re quite proud of our app, we’re committed to the idea of an open platform. We will be publishing an integration guide that allows 3rd party developers to add support for our hardware to their apps. This will include the real-time data feeds from the ADAHRS and EMS, autopilot integration, COM and (eventually) NAV radio integration, and transponder control.
If you have a preferred EFB app, we suggest that you contact the developer and ask them to sign up for the FlightBox EFIS mailing list. We expect to have the initial draft of the integration guide available in March.
Update – 10/25/17 – This morning ForeFlight released version 9.4.3 which appears to have fixed the disconnect issue. Many thanks to the users who helped out by submitting data to the ForeFlight support team, and to ForeFlight for getting this resolved quickly in a point release. -S
We have recently received a number of trouble tickets regarding an issue with the most recent updates to ForeFlight. ForeFlight will connect to FlightBox, but after a number of minutes will display a message indicating that ADS-B has disconnected. Thereafter ForeFlight will usually (though not always) reconnect. This pattern repeats on a frequent basis.
This is a ForeFlight issue, not a FlightBox issue. We have been in communication with the support group at ForeFlight and they have acknowledge that changes to their application, coupled with a number of additional factors (see below) appear to be causing this behavior. This issue also impacts users of the Scout ADS-B receiver and possibly other ADS-B receivers officially supported by ForeFlight, including the Stratus and FreeFlight receivers.
ForeFlight has informed us that they have a tentative solution to this problem will be releasing an update at some point in the near future. They did not provide a timeline for the update. If a release date is announced we will update this post.
We recommend that if you are experiencing this issue you do the following:
Enable ADS-B logging in ForeFlight. Start by connecting your tablet to your FlightBox. In ForeFlight go to “More”, then “Devices”. Select the “ADS-B” device, then scroll down to the “Settings” section and turn on the “Logging” switch. This will cause ForeFlight to upload the ADS-B log when your device is connected to the Internet.
The next time the issue occurs, take a screenshot showing the disconnect message. You can do this by pressing the Power and Home buttons at the same time. The screenshot image can be found in the Photos app.
Email the screen-shot to the ForeFlight support group (email@example.com), along with a brief note explaining that you are experiencing the ADS-B disconnect issue. Let them know that you have logging enabled.
Follow up with any responses from the support team. They may need some additional information regarding your configuration.
The issue seems to be most prevalent on older iOS devices running iOS 11.x and a 9.x release of ForeFlight Mobile. It appears to happen on both the iPad and iPhone versions of ForeFlight. In some cases rebooting the iOS device has helped restore operation. This is more often the case with newer devices than with older devices.
Here is a screen shot of the issue as it appears on an iPhone:
After rather a longer wait than we had hoped, we now have our AHRS / GPS / Baro sensor boards back in stock. For those who already have a FlightBox, we’re offering upgrade kits for $160. For those who have not yet purchased a FlightBox, you can add the AHRS components to any Dual Band or Single Band kit for $150. If you would prefer we do the installation, we offer upgrade services for $35.
FlightBox Pro – FAA Approved For Permanent Installation
I’m extremely pleased to announce that Open Flight Solutions has received FAA approval for FlightBox Pro, a new version of our FlightBox ADS-B / GPS / AHRS system which can be permanently installed in certified aircraft as a minor alteration. FlightBox Pro, priced at $675, provides weather, traffic, WAAS GPS, barometric altitude, G-force, and advisory attitude data to applications running on tablets, smartphones, and portable navigators. Coupled with a tablet and a mount, FlightBox Pro serves as the core of a powerful yet inexpensive MFD.
FAA approval means that FlightBox Pro can be installed permanently: mounted to the airframe; wired to the avionics buss; connected to external ADS-B and GPS antennas. A permanently installed system is more convenient, reduces clutter in the cockpit, improves ADS-B and GPS reception, and provides more accurate AHRS and G-meter functionality. Installation can be done by any licensed A&P mechanic or repair station. The process typically takes one to two hours – less if you have existing antennas. The FAA approval permits the installation of FlightBox Pro on any Part 23 / CAR3 airplane and any Part 27 or Part 29 rotorcraft. The installation is deemed to be a minor alteration under most circumstances, requiring only a logbook entry.
FlightBox Pro is the first multifunction system to be approved under the FAA’s NORSEE policy. NORSEE stands for “Non-Required Safety-Enhancing Equipment”. The policy was created in 2015 as a simplified means of reviewing and authorizing products which have the potential to make flying safer. NORSEE is one of several efforts by the FAA to improve the safety of the legacy fleet. Other NORSEE-approved products include a line of iPad and iPhone mounts from Guardian Avionics – great for creating that MFD.
FlightBox Pro is available for pre-order today and is expected to ship in April. The $675 package includes the FlightBox Pro, a dash-mount GPS antenna, cabin-mount 1090 and 978 MHz ADS-B antennas, SMA extension cables and an antenna mount bracket. We are also offering a number of adapters for those who want to connect their FlightBox Pro to external antennas that use BNC, TNCF, and other connector styles. Avionics shops and many A&Ps should be able to fabricate appropriate connections.
Open Flight Solutions does not currently plan to sell external antennas. You can use inexpensive transponder / DME antennas (typically $25 – $35 each) for both ADS-B bands. Aviation GPS antennas are generally quite a bit more expensive, but you can often find used antennas left over from upgrades at a reasonable price. We tested FlightBox Pro using an AeroAntenna AT575-9 that had been connected to an Apollo GPS — it worked flawlessly.
For those who’s A&P or avionics shop demand proof, here’s a link to the approval letter from the FAA.
Pardon the poor video work, but it’s actually rather difficult to fly and film at the same time. This brief clip shows the new AHRS board in action. It’s a production board with beta software. The pitch is dead-on. Roll is off a bit, because the FlightBox was sitting in the seat beside me rather than mounted to a level surface. I’ll try to get a better video with a solid mounting next time the weather clear up here.
Since we launched FlightBox last January, the most frequent request – by far – has been to add AHRS capabilities. We started working on a design as soon as we dug out from under the avalanche of Kickstarter orders in March. After nine months of designing, re-designing, refactoring and prototyping I am happy to announce that now have a final design. We will begin taking pre-orders on Monday, November 28 (“Cyber Monday”) and expect to deliver in January.
The board includes a number of sensors:
The data provided by these sensors will allow FlightBox to create an accurate estimate of your aircraft’s attitude, position, and cabin altitude. The attitude data can be used to drive attitude and synthetic vision displays on compatible1 EFB applications. The barometric sensor provides accurate cabin altitude – typically within 25′ of barometric altitude in unpressurized aircraft. The GPS – our first internal GPS since we dropped the VK-172 in May – assists in the attitude solution and provides highly accurate position information.
The board also includes a set of status LEDs and a fan speed controller. The LEDs show power status, GPS lock status, and ADS-B reception status. The fan controller adjusts fan speed based on system temperature, saving battery power.
The new board is built as a “shield” for the Raspberry Pi computer. It attaches directly to the 40-pin option header on the Pi, making installation very easy. As we’ve done for our other accessories, we will publish a video that takes you through the installation process step-by-step.
We will be offering the new board in two configurations. For FlightBox owners we will have a complete upgrade kit that includes the board, a new top, and an new fan. Stratux DIY users (who are not using a FlightBox case) will be able to order just the board. The complete FlightBox upgrade kit will sell for $160. The board-only kit will sell for $140.
AHRS requires a combination of hardware and software. The hardware on the new board will require a FlightBox update which we will release when the boards start shipping in January. The update will also include the serial output feature and an automatic flight logging feature.
For those who would prefer to leave the installation and the update to the professionals, we will be offering an update / upgrade service for an additional $25. Send in your existing FlightBox and we will send it back with the AHRS board, new top and updated firmware.
1. The FlightBox attitude feature is not currently compatible with ForeFlight.
One of the top three requests I’ve received since launching FlightBox is a way to send the ADS-B data to an EFIS or MFD. FlightBox usually delivers ADS-B and (optionally) GPS data to a display system over Wifi. This works very well for tablets and newer portable navigators, but there are many in-panel displays that do not have a Wifi interface. Most of these use the RS-232 serial standard instead. To get the data from FlightBox to an RS-232 port on an EFIS we use a USB-to-serial converter. This posed a bit more of a challenge than you might imagine, as most GPS devices also use a USB-to-serial converter.
If a GPS and the RS-232 output adapter both use the same USB-to-serial chip, they show up in the Raspberry Pi as something like “usb_serial1” and “usb_serial2”. To make matters more challenging, they don’t always get the same assignment – whichever device initializes first becomes “1” and the next becomes “2”. This leads the system thinking the GPS is disconnected or broken while pumping ADS-B data at it, instead of the display system. Not good.
To solve this, we found a USB-to-serial adapter that allows us to program a custom “name” for each device. (We do something similar to the radio modules to keep the 1090 and 978 functions associated with the correct module.) We currently have a limited number (as in, 8) of these adapters in stock. More are on the way. I’ve not added them to the default catalog on the web store, but you can find them here.
Each kit comes with the 6′ adapter cable (ends in bare wires), a 6″ USB pigtail cable, and a wiring guide. The adapter has six wires, but only two – transmit and ground – are required for most ADS-B In applications. The output from the adapter uses the RS-232 protocol and should not be connected to “TTL serial” inputs which use a different voltage range. (Most if not all avionics use RS-232, but check before hooking something up.)
The system defaults to a baud rate of 38,400 bps, 8 data bits, one stop bit, and no parity. At this point the data bits, stop bit, and parity are fixed, but we have included a field in the Settings tab of the web application to adjust the baud rate. Some hardware, including the iFly GPS systems, requires the baud rate be adjusted up to 115,200 bps.
Thus far, the serial output has been successfully tested with systems from GRT (big thanks to Greg Toman), iFly GPS (big thanks to Shane Woodson), and a Chelton MFD. FlightBox uses the industry standard GDL-90 format, which means that it should work with many other EFIS and MFDs.
Installation – FlightBox Side
There is one potential issue with installing the serial output. It uses the top-center USB port on the Raspberry Pi – the same port we have been using for the GPS. In many cases that won’t be a problem – if you’re using the FlightBox in an aircraft with an EFIS or MFD, you probably don’t need a GPS. In some cases, however, users will want both. If you need to have both the serial output and the GPS connected, you have two options – you can use an external USB hub or you can make some modifications to your FlightBox case. (If you have an early FlightBox unit with a Raspberry Pi 2 and a USB Wifi module you will need to use the USB hub option.)
The USB hub option is the least invasive but costs a bit ($10 – $15) and adds another potential point of failure. You can use a simple non-powered hub as neither the GPS nor the RS-232 adapter draws any appreciable current. Amazon offers a number of basic two-port USB hubs that should work. I’ve ordered this one and will be trying it out.
The case modification procedure requires you remove one of the three cleats that hold the top on (the other two do a more than adequate job) and make a small incision in the end of the case (opposite the top-right USB port) to allow another USB cable to exit the box. Needless to say, you do this at your own risk.
Installation – Display Side
The RS-232 cable ends in six bare wires. The only two that matter for ADS-B are the black ground wire and the orange transmit line, both of which will need to be connected to pins on your display system. Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for serial avionics connections, so you will need to consult your avionics system’s manual to determine the type of connector you need. Many use the classic “DB-9” input, while others use DB-15, DB-25, and other, more arcane connectors. The display-side connection will require either crimping or soldering, depending on the connector style.
The iFly 700 uses – wait for it – USB, so you will need a USB to RS-232 adapter. Yes, that’s right, you’ll have two RS-232 adapters back-to-back. (No, you cannot just use a male-USB-to-male-USB cable. Won’t work.)
Installation – Beta Update / Image
If you are interested in trying out the serial output feature, you’ll need to order a cable and to download and install either the beta image or the beta update. The image is useful if you’re technically inclined and have an extra micro SD card available. Follow the imaging instructions here to image your card.
The update is simpler to install, as you simply use the update feature of the Web UI, but may cause issues including bricking your system. We’ve done SOME testing, installing the update on working 1.0r1 systems. We’ve not yet been through the process of testing it on every released build (0.8r2, 0.8r3, 0.8r3a) or every hardware configuration (Pi 2 with USB Wifi module) so your mileage may vary. If something goes wrong, simply re-image with either the beta image or 1.0r1.
The reason we’re releasing this beta is to gather feedback from users. If you install the new version and have questions or problems, please post something on our Community Support Forum.
One interesting side effect of adding serial output is that it comes with serial input. If your experimental avionics package has an output for something useful – engine data, air data, AHRS data, etc., it would be relatively simple to use the available RX line on the serial adapter to feed that information into the FlightBox and broadcast it over Wifi to tablets, etc. Anyone have any suggestions or ideas for what we might be able to do with the serial input?
NOTICE: FlightBox is not approved for permanent installation in type certificated aircraft. Integrating with an MFD or other certified panel mount display system may invalidate the airworthiness of your aircraft. Use caution. Talk with your avionics shop or technician. Do not break the law!