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Byssokol

New Name, Same Guy, Same Stuff

Back in January of 2016 I launched Open Flight Solutions with a Kickstarter to fund the development of FlightBox, a kit for building a Stratux-based ADS-B receiver. At that point I was living in the Kansas City area, and I incorporated in Missouri. Since that time I’ve moved twice – first to California and later to Texas. I’ve also expanded the focus from a single kit product to a growing line of full featured avionics components. Throughout that journey I kept the original Missouri LLC (which was actually Ex Astris, LLC – with Open Flight as a DBA).

When I moved to Texas this past spring, I found out that it is much easier and less expensive to have a Texas-registered company, rather than an out-of-state registration. In an effort to simplify my life and save on administrative costs, I registered “Falken Avionics, LLC” as a native Texas company. Over the past several months I’ve been working to wind down the Missouri LLC and to move everything over. Falken now has a Texas d.b.a. for Open Flight Solutions, and all business since July has been conducted by Falken.

Over the next year I plan to rebrand under the Falken name. It’s a bit more personal*. A bit shorter to type. A bit more descriptive of the company’s focus. This change will not have any impact on any existing customers. Falken has taken over support, repair, and warranty services for FlightBox and other Ex Astris / Open Flight Solutions products. Same guy. Same stuff. New name.

* The name Falken comes from my all-too-brief time as an intern with the KC Flight formation team. Everyone on the team is eventually given a call sign. Mine is a reference to the movie War Games. Stephen Falken is the name of the ostensibly dead computer scientist first seen flying a pterodactyl on the Oregon coast.
Byssokol

FlightView Update – 11/23/20

I’m pleased to announce the release of v0.4 release 11 of the app and v2.2r0 of the firmware – a significant milestone on the way to 1.0. This update includes a large number fixes and a number of new features. However, it is very important to note the following:

THIS VERSION OF THE APP WILL NOT WORK WITH ANY FLIGHT BOX PRO EXP WITH FIRMWARE PRIOR TO v2.2r0.

That means everyone who has a FlightView system out there – installed or not – will need to do the update. The process is pretty easy and I have detailed instructions. Jump down to the section cleverly entitled Updating To v2.2r0 for details.

Changes And Enhancements

Obstacles

The system now includes a database of 500,000 obstacles (antennas, towers, tall buildings, etc.) throughout the US. Obstacles that are within 1000 vertical feet of your altitude are displayed on the map when the aircraft is moving. To see them you’ll need to zoom in so that the distance ring on the map is at or below 3 miles.

Even when zoomed out, the obstacle system searches for conflicts in the airspace ahead. The search algorithm finds obstacles that are within 500 vertical feet of your altitude, 1000 lateral feet of your flight path, and within three nautical miles. These are displayed on the map in yellow or red depending on the threat they pose. Jeeves will also let you know with either, “Cautions, Obstacle.” or “Warning! Obstacle!”.

Obstacle alerts are on by default. You can disable them from the Alerts configuration page. (Go “More…”, “Menu”, “System Alerts”, then adjust the “Obstacles” switch as desired.)

Flight Logging

Multiple users have requested some means of logging flights. This version includes a basic flight log. The system records each flight starting with a takeoff event and ending with a landing event. These are stored in a database on the iPad. We’re also recording a 1 Hz (one update per second) flight track and a history of “events” associated with the flight – things like alerts, course changes, autopilot engage and disengage, etc.

For the moment, the only easily accessible data is the basic flight record, which can be found by going to “More…” then “Menu” then “Flight Log”.

A future release will allow you to drill down into the details of the flight by tapping on the top-level record. I hope to be able to draw previous flights on the map, export them in KML format (for CloudAhoy), and provide a timeline view of events.

If you’re geeky and impatient, you can copy the flight log database. Go to the Files app, then select “On My iPad”, then open the FlightView folder). The data is stored in the flightlog.db file, which is a SQLite3 database. The data you’re looking for can be found in the “flights”, “points”, and “events” tables.

Checklist Editor

The checklist system has been unified. Previously, you had to use Chekov to edit lists. While that’s still supported (both apps use the same list format), this version includes its own editor which can be found by tapping “More…” then “Menu”.

Runway Alerts

When at or near an airport, FlightView now creates a two-layer “geo fence” around each runway. The outer fence informs you when you’re approaching a runway and the inner fence lets you know when you’ve entered it. This may sound like overkill (most of us know when we’re near or on a runway) but it can be real life saver at complicated airports with multiple runways.

File Access

As mentioned in the bit about the Flight Log, I’ve set up the app to grant access to its internal Documents directory through the iPad’s Files app. You can get to this by exiting FlightView and launching Files. You’ll find the FlightView information under the “On My iPad” location – look for the folder marked “FlightView”.

In this directory you’ll find the logs folder (low-level debugging info), any checklists you’ve created, copies of the configuration files for your aircraft, and the FlightLog, among other things.

This is also where you’ll go to install any “hot fix” files or custom databases. Hot fixes are firmware updates for the FlightView hardware that are not yet included in the latest automatic update. Custom databases are a feature that is still in development, but which will eventually allow you to load in your own waypoints, airports, airspaces, an other user data. Look for more on custom databases early next year.

Better, Faster Map

The new version of the mapping engine includes a somewhat more detailed base layer (major water features, highways, boundaries, place names). This is included with the app – no download required. It prevents you from “flying off the map” if you happen to go some place for which you’ve not yet installed the detailed base map.

The engine has also been optimized for faster rendering. You’ll notice this when you zoom in while flying: the map loads dozens or even hundreds of obstacles instantly.

Coherent, Unified Alert System

Alerts and notifications were something of a hodgepodge in previous versions. This version introduces a centralized system that can prioritize both visual and aural alerts. Up to three alerts are visible at any one time (with any additional available by scrolling). Notifications and low priority alerts can be dismissed. Higher priority alerts can be acknowledged, but will remain visible until the condition clears.

TY91 COM Native Support

FlightView has always supported remote control of the Trig TY91 with the TC90 control head since it uses the Garmin SL-30/40 command set. With this improvement we’re able to support the TY91 without the control head, which saves panel space and money.

Performance Improvements

The data transport system that feeds data from various aircraft systems to the app has been completely overhauled. The new system uses a much faster transport which does not require a handshake. This makes connecting to and synchronizing with the FlightBox much faster. It also makes the data stream more robust, helping to prevent data starvation.

Geeky side-note: we’ve also altered the threading model used in the app to optimize throughput. FlightView is continuously processing about 65 messages per second, updating flight instruments, maps, the terrain profile, the engine display, etc. The new version makes extensive use of Apple’s GCD (grand central dispatch) system to make sure that all of those updates happen as smoothly as possible.

Enhanced Diagnostics

Some of the improvements and enhancements mentioned above required some additional under-the-hood instrumentation. The improved diagnostics page includes a number of these. Users are highly encouraged NOT to make changes to the options on the diagnostics tab unless asked to do so. Switching on the alternate server button or running the debug level up to 11 will have undesirable effects on your system.

Updating To 2.2r0

The new version of the app (now in TestFlight) has the ability to update your FBP to the latest version. You can also do it old-school by downloading the update file and applying it using the web interface. Both are fairly easy for anyone computer savvy. (If you’re not, enlist the assistance any kid over the age of 6 – they’re all computer savvy.)

Option 1 – Install The Update Using The App

Step 1: Delete The App

Yes, delete the FlightView app. If you’ve already tapped that little “Install” button in TestFlight to update, you’ll still want to delete and install fresh.  There are some key things that changed in the way the app stores information, so we need to basically clear it off and start over. To do that, simply press and hold the app’s icon until a menu pops up. Select the “Delete App” option. The system will ask you to confirm. Do so by tapping the “Delete” button.

Step 2: Install From TestFlight

Launch TestFlight and install the latest version of the app.

Step 3: Walk Through The Setup Assistant

You’ll want to have your FlightView credentials (email address and password) handy. They have not changed. If you need credentials:

  1. You’re running a pretty old version of the app
  2. Email me and I’ll set you up.

Launch the app and complete the onboarding process – it has not changed appreciably since the last release. While you’re getting things set up, don’t be surprised if you hear Jeeves telling you that a new firmware file has been downloaded and is ready to install on your FlightBox Pro. That’s normal.

When you get to the main user interface (MFD / PFD) you will see an alert saying “FIRMWARE UPDATE”. That’s one of the new features in this build: a unified and consistent alert system. Tap the blue “OK” button to acknowledge the alert.

Step 4: Connect To Your FlightBox Pro

Power on your FlightBox. Since we’re going to be doing a firmware update, make sure you have a solid, stable power supply. (Unexpected disconnects in the middle of an update can cause problems.)

Connect your iPad to your FlightBox Wifi network and launch (or switch to) the FlightView app. When it connects, it will recognize that the firmware on the FlightBox is too old to work. Jeeves will let you know and an alert with “UPDATE FIRMWARE” will appear on the screen.

To update the firmware, tap the “More…” button, then the “Menu” button (note another small change – that used to be the “Settings” button). Scroll down and tap “System Hardware”, then scroll down to the “Core System” section. You should see that the core systems are “Disconnected” and you should have a button that will allow you to install the new firmware.

Tap the install button, then confirm when asked.

Step 5: Wait And Reconnect

The new firmware will be pushed to the FlightBox, which will then reboot and install the update. Make sure the power says on throughout the update process. It should take about four minutes at most.

When the FlightBox reboots, your iPad will disconnect and may reconnect to another Wifi network. After the five minute wait (don’t rush it), go back to settings and re-connect to your FlightBox network. 

When you switch back to FlightView the application should “go live” – the red FBX error indicator in the upper left-hand corner will disappear, and the GPS and ADS-B indicators will display the actual status of the system.

Congratulations, you’re now updated to firmware 2.2 and ready to use some of the cool new features. 

Option 2 – Install Using The Web Interface

Step 1: Download The Update

Download the update file here.

Step 2: Power On The FlightBox

Be sure to use a stable power source as things can go badly wrong if power drops in the middle of an update. (Not “we’re all going to die!” badly wrong, but your FBP might have to take a trip to Texas.)

Step 3: Connect The Computer To The FlightBox

Actually, to the FlightBox’s Wifi network.

Step 4: Web Browser

Launch your web browser and point it to: 192.168.10.1 – that’s the IP address of the FlightBox.

This should open the Status page. Use the Menu to navigate to the Settings page.

Click on the “Click To Select System Update File” button. Select the file you downloaded in Step 1.

Click the button again to start the upload process. It should upload in a few seconds and respond with a box that says, “Success”.

Step 5: Wait, Then Check

The update takes up to five minutes to apply. Your FlightBox will reboot a couple of times while it updates.

Your computer will disconnect from the FlightBox when it reboots. You may have to manually re-connect to the FlightBox Wifi when it comes back up.

To verify that the process completed successfully, repeat steps 2 and 3 and check the version information on the Status page. If it shows 2.2r0, you’re ready to launch the app!

Byssokol

Firmware Hot-Fix 2.1r1 for FlightView

** NOTE: THIS HOT-FIX IS ONLY FOR INSTALLATION ON FLIGHTVIEW SYSTEMS. **
** IT WILL NOT INSTALL ON OTHER FlightBox HARDWARE **

I’ve put together a “hot-fix” update that includes a number of fixes and a few small features. As a hot-fix, this update will need to be installed manually (rather than from the FlightView app). As none of the fixes are critical, feel free to skip this unless you need one of the two new features. These include:

  • Trig transponder configuration – required only if you have a Trig TT21 or TT22 transponder connected to your FlightView system.
  • Gear deploy reminder – posts an audio and display alert reminding the pilot to verify gear deployment.

You can download the hot-fix here. You will need to install it manually. The process is fairly simple:

  1. Power on your FlightView system (or at least your FlightBox Pro EXP).
  2. Connect to your FlightBox’s Wifi network (starts with “FlightBox-“) from your computer*.
  3. Open your web browser and direct it to 192.168.10.1 – the IP address for the FlightBox. This will take you to the Status page.
  4. Use the Menu to select the Settings page.
  5. On the Settings page, click the “Click to select System Update file” button.
  6. Select the hot-fix file (update-fbp-FlightBox-stratux-v2.1r1-4c112c5a43.sh).
  7. Click the button that now reads, “Install update-fbp-FlightBox-stratux-v2.1r1-4c112c5a43.sh”

After a brief period the system should respond with a pop-up letting you know that the update was successfully uploaded. It will take between three and five minutes for the update to complete. During that time the FlightBox Pro EXP will reboot twice. After the second reboot the system will come up with the new firmware installed.

*DO NOT UNPLUG OR POWER OFF THE FLIGHTBOX WHILE THE UPDATE IS INSTALLING*

Your computer’s Wifi interface may connect to a different access point when the FlightBox reboots, so you may need to re-connect to the FlightBox Wifi after the update is done. To verify that the update finsihed successfully, repeat steps 1 – 3 again and check the Status page. It should show the new version (2.1r1, build 4c112c5a43-PRO) as the installed version.

* Yes, computer. Last time I checked, you can’t upload files from Safari on the iPad. That might have changed with the move to ‘iPad OS’ but I’ve not tested it. This process works fine from any desktop browser: Chrome, FireFox, Edge, or Mac Safari.

Byssokol

FlightView FAQ Now Available

I’ve been compiling frequently asked questions about FlightView and now have a pretty good start on a “living” document. I will be adding to this on a regular basis. If you have a question that’s not on the list, please email it to questions@openflightsolutions.com and I’ll do my best answer it.

Byssokol

FlightDock / FlightBar Install Manual Available

I’ve published a copy of the installation guide and diagram on the FlightDock product page. If you run into any questions or issues with the installation, please let me know. Here are direct links: FlightDock Mounting Diagram and FlightDock / FlightBar Installation Guide

Byssokol

Alive And Well In Austin

Just a quick note to let everyone know that the move is complete and we are now located at Breakaway Airpark in Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin Texas. Our new address is:

Open Flight Solutions
2901 Kenai Drive
Cedar Park, TX 78613

Production has resumed on the FlightBox and FlightView lines. We’re currently running about 10 days on a FlightView Core Kit or FlightBox Pro. FlightBox portables are expected to be back in stock the week of June 15. Apologies for the delay. It seems that there has been a bit of a run on Raspberry Pi computers as a result of the pandemic.

Byssokol

Open Flight Solutions Moving To Austin, Texas

So if you’ve been following this blog for the past several years you might recall that we moved from Liberty, Missouri (a suburb of Kansas City) to Cupertino, California in 2018. That move was the result of a fantastic career opportunity for my wife Amy. Well, two years later she has been offered a promotion with a relocation to Austin. There are few things worse than moving, but in this case I’m looking forward to it. The Bay Area is beautiful, and the weather is fantastic, and it’s so absurdly expensive that growing a small “bootstrap” (i.e. self-funded) business is a significant challenge. The move to Texas will reduce costs (like my $630 / month T-hangar) and make it much easier to grow.

The down-side to the move is that it will disrupt things for a couple of weeks while everything is in transit. Orders for FlightView systems, FlightBox Pro systems and most accessories that come in after May 15 will be shipped as soon as things get unpacked – probably somewhere close to June 1. Orders for FlightBox Plus systems (the portables) should ship next-business-day in most cases. I will be providing tech support by email / trouble ticket throughout the move, but there may be slightly longer delays in response time.

The new address for the company will be:

Open Flight Solutions
2901 Kenai Dr.
Cedar Park, Texas 78613

Thanks in advance to everyone for their patience. I look forward to working with you from the new digs in Austin.

Byssokol

FlightView Simulator Now Available

We’re getting close to a 1.0 release of the FlightView app. I just pushed the latest beta version to Apple’s TestFlight. It should be approved and available to all beta testers in the next 24 – 48 hours. I’ve had several users ask for a way to see FlightView in action without actually having to install all the hardware. Understandable. Fortunately, using off-the-shelf gear makes that pretty easy.

You can now download an image file that works with any Raspberry Pi 3B or 3B+. Unzip the file and write it to a micro SD card, pop it into the Pi and power it up.

The demo flies a continuous circuit around California through heavy air traffic (300 random simulated targets), through a rain storm, and over some challenging terrain. The emulator sends a constant stream of data for all the key subsystems including the engine monitor, radios, and transponder. To get the full effect you’ll want to install the base map for California and the “US North-West” and “US South-West” terrain images in FlightView. (NOTE: Because of a change in the way we’re handling file access, you will need to install Beta version 0.3 before you can install the terrain files. Apologies for any inconvenience that may cause.)

Here’s the instructions in somewhat greater detail:

  1. Download the emulator image file.
  2. Unzip the image.
  3. Write the image file (flightbox_demo_2.0r4.img, NOT the zip file) to an 8GB or larger micro-SD card.
  4. Insert the card in a Raspberry Pi 3B or 3B+.
  5. Power up the Raspberry Pi.
  6. Connect to the “FlightBox-xxxxx” wifi network it creates.
  7. Launch the FlightView app.

If you don’t have a copy of FlightView yet, you can install it from TestFlight. To do so:

  1. Install the TestFlight app on your iPad from the Apple App Store.
  2. Click this link to join the FlightView beta and install the app.
Byssokol

How Not To Install ADS-B Out

Ironically, you might think, I waited until the very last minute to get ADS-B Out installed (well, re-installed) in my RV-6A. The RV arrived back in 2017 with a Dynon system which included Dynon’s (which is actually Trig’s) Mode S transponder. Within a few weeks I swapped out the standard GPS for the 2020-complaint version (SV-GPS-2020) and was fully legal. That worked great until this past summer when I went and ripped everything out to install FlightView. Transponder integration was a long way down the FlightView feature list, so I punted and installed an old but reliable Garmin GTX-327.

Late this fall I finally got around to working on the transponder. It turns that it uses a rather complex low-level protocol called TMAP which both configures and remote controls the transponder. Fortunately, I have friends who are much smarter than I am. With a huge amount of help from Eugene (thanks, Eugene!) I managed to put together a working TMAP implementation. It allows FlightView to do all the transponderish stuff you would expect: squawk, ident, switch from standby to altitude mode. Exciting stuff. So that took care of the transponder requirement. Unfortunately, getting the ADS-B Out feature working was not so straightforward.

The Dynon GPS meets the performance requirements of the 2020 mandate. So does the Trig TT22 transponder. And they work together beautifully in an all-Dynon system. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a challenge to get them to work together without the Dynon EFIS. The GPS operates at 8 volts (weird) and communicates at 115,200 bit per second (sounds fast, but it’s not). The Transponder operates off of standard ship’s power (12v – 28v) and communicates with the position source at a maximum 38,400 bits per second. The transponder is built to communicate directly with a 2020 position source, and does in many installations. Unfortunately, not in Dynon installations. In a Dynon install, the EFIS acts as a bridge between the GPS and the transponder. It digests the data from the GPS and pushes it to the transponder using the aforementioned TMAP protocol.

Ok, so under ordinary circumstances that would be fairly easy to replicate, but unfortunately the GPS includes one special message that tells the receiving gear (transponder or EFIS) the current accuracy and integrity of the position fix. That message is, unfortunately, proprietary. You need the documentation from the GPS chipset manufacturer to know how to decode the accuracy and integrity information in order to pass it along to the transponder. Without the details on that message you can’t know the accuracy / integrity. Ouch.

Ok, so the transponder also supports a direct RS-232 connection to a position source. The FlightBox can bring the data from the GPS in at 115,200 bps and spit it back out at 38,400 bps. All it takes is a pair of RS-232 adapters and two available USB ports – not a problem, right? Well, it turns out that it’s not at all hard to do but there’s still one small snag: the transponder firmware apparently doesn’t speak the GPS dialect used by the Dynon GPS. At least not with the firmware it has now. It almost works. It sends out ADS-B squits* with the correct position data, but without the all important integrity value. Without acceptable integrity data the towers ignore your squits and you’re not compliant.

By the time I figured all of this out it was late December. Time for Plan B, which in this case was to install an EchoUAT transceiver. The Trig would stay, but would be relegated to doing only basic transponderish stuff. The ADS-B function would be handled by a tiny black box from uAvionix. The Echo, fortunately, speaks a wider variety of GPS than the Trig, including the dialect pumped out by the Dynon. It’s also very simple to install – just power it up, configure it using a mobile app, and away it goes. It reads the squawk code and altitude inductively via the power connection, so all it needs is the feed from the GPS. The one down side: it can’t share an antenna with the transponder. Fortunately, I had a second transponder antenna that I was using for ADS-B In.

I finished the installation and the ground tests just after noon on December 30th. A half hour flight around the Santa Clara valley was enough to generate a passing PAPR report. I would estimate I spent at least 100 hours coding and burned at least 20 gallons of av gas trying to get this right. Not the most efficient path to ADS-B compliance.

Eventually I intend to revisit the Trig, as I would like to be able to use the second antenna for ADS-B In functions again. I think (and please speak up if you know) that the trick might be getting the transponder firmware updated, something which requires the assistance of an authorized Trig dealer. A more recent update added support for the Trig TN72 which is rumored to use same chipset as the Dynon SV-GPS-2020. If anyone knows the detail, please post a comment.

Transponder control isn’t one of the sexiest FlightView features, but it is nice. Getting the TMAP driver working is a good first step. At some point I hope to add support for other transponders including the Sandia STX line and possibly the Garmin GTX models if I can figure out their protocol.

* No, squits are not some unfortunate digestive condition. ADS-B is “automatic” – meaning the transmitters don’t require an interrogation but instead send out an update known as a “squit” once per second. The ES in 1090-ES actually stands for “Extended Squitter”.

Byssokol

Introducing Chekov: Voice Checklists for Pilots

For the past few weeks I’ve been working on an interactive checklist feature for FlightView, our iPad-based EFIS. This checklist feature lets you create lists containing items which FlightView can display and also play as an audio prompt. (Think: “Flaps to 20 degrees.”) You acknowledge the list item by either tapping a button or by saying an acknowledgement word. (Think: “Check” or “Twenty”.) I wasn’t sure how well this would work out, since in most cases speech recognition requires an Internet connection, which can be hard to come by at 10,000 feet.

Fortunately, Apple managed to surprise and delight by introducing a new feature in iOS 13. Offline speech recognition is now a standard feature available on all iOS devices equipped with an A9 or newer processor. This is a game changer: the same technology will ultimately allow us to build a comprehensive voice assistant into FlightView. (Think: “Artoo, plot a course to KRHV” or “Hal, open the pod bay doors.”) Cool stuff!

In the long term this will make FlightView an even better EFIS, which is great. However, the number of people who can use FlightView is fairly limited (for now) so I decided to build a stand-alone app that anyone can use. The Chekov app runs on all recent iPhones and iPads running iOS 13. iPad Multitasking lets you to use it concurrently with your favorite EFB app.

You can install Chekov now from the App store:

Chekov on the App Store

As with all of our products, we appreciate your feedback. If you try Chekov and have suggestions or questions please drop us note or open a trouble ticket.

And finally, a tip of the hat to our namesakes:

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
– Anton Chekhov (author)

“Excuse me. I am looking for the nuclear wessels?”
– Pavel Chekov (space ensign)