Blog Post

Byssokol

The Re-Learning Curve, Remote GPS

Re-Learning Curve

This isn’t my first entrepreneurial rodeo, but it’s been a while. I’ve spent the past several weeks re-learning several lessons. The first of these is that platform changes are never as easy as you expect. We recently switched from using the Raspberry Pi 2 to the new Raspberry Pi 3. In theory the change should have been quite simple and a small net positive for both users and Open Flight. I ordered two of them the day they were released and put more than 25 flight hours on them before we made the switch. But – as anyone in the IT field knows – just because something works perfectly on one system (or two) is no guarantee that it will do the same on all systems – even theoretically identical semi-embedded devices like the Raspberry Pi. I re-learned the hard way that a larger sample is mandatory.

At the end of April we sent out the first 75 kits based on the Pi 3. We had approximately 25 of them mysteriously fail – no wifi. After a weekend of research it turned out to be an incredibly subtle change in the shell script command interpreter on the new Linux operating system. A script that had been working fine for months on the Pi 2 failed to work correctly on some of the new Pi 3s. A somewhat longer power cable that we shipped with the Pi 3 kits exacerbated the problem significantly. I spent the next several days writing and testing a new script. We tested it on 10 different Pi 3s from two lots. We re-imaged 250 SD cards, built up over 50 “recovery packs”, and shipped them out to anyone who had problems Pi 3. A week later we had almost everyone up and running. (If you’re not, please contact me ASAP.)

The lesson is to never, ever take for granted that something works. If we make another platform change in the future, I will round up as many beta testers as I did for the original FlightBox launch early in the year. We had close to a dozen people test-flying the first build, and we had very little in the way of trouble with it. Lesson learned. Sincere apologies to anyone who was bit by this bug.

Remote GPS

remote_gpsFor everyone who’s been waiting for a remote GPS option, the wait is over. We have 100 remote GPS units in stock and more on order. You can order them here. The list price is $35, but I am offering a one-time $10 discount to all existing FlightBox owners (anyone who has completed an order prior to to today). Please email me for your personal discount code. Before you order, please note that we’re working on a complete “remote kit” that includes the GPS as well as cables and a suction cup window mount for the ADS-B antennas. If you want the full remote solution, wait another few weeks you can save yourself a bit on shipping. The $10 discount will apply to that as well.

The remote GPS will require a bit of minor surgery on your FlightBox case. You may have noticed the U-shaped partial cut at the end of the box near the USB risers. To use the remote GPS you will need to cut out the “U” to make room for the USB plug from the GPS. I hope to publish a video showing how this is done in the next few days. The plastic is thin and it is quite simple to make the cut with an Xacto knife.

Product Changes

We’ve made the decision to phase out the VK-172 GPS module that we’ve been shipping since we launched. When they work, the VK-172s are great little GPSs, but we’ve had enough marginal performers that it makes more sense to remove it and instead offer an optional product that has top-notch quality, stateside technical support, and an RMA program. (Sending products back to China is… problematic.) We’re dropping the price of the dual band kit from $250 to $240. The remote GPS will be available as a $35 add-on, which makes it a bit more expensive than it is today – but only if you want or need the GPS feature.

(Note that any outstanding orders placed prior to today will go out with the internal VK-172. Anyone with an outstanding order qualifies for the $10 discount on the remote GPS.)

At the same time we are adding an option for high gain antennas. These are 978 MHz and 1090 MHz tuned antennas that are 1/2 wave, rather than the 1/4 wave of the stock antennas. They significantly increase the receiving power (gain) of the system, which can be useful in areas with limited ADS-B coverage. They’re rather large (about twice the size of the stock antennas) but well worth it if you’re a long way from towers and need to boost the signal. They will add $10 to the cost of a kit.

The arrangement I’ve worked out with the manufacturer only allows us to sell them as part of a kit, but they are available on Amazon. (As of this moment they are out of stock. The seller assures me that more are on the way.)

AHRS Update

I probably get five emails a week asking about the state of the AHRS project, so here’s an update. We’re making good progress. We have the initial hardware design complete and hope to get our first round of prototypes later this month. We are still working towards Oshkosh as a launch target. I will have a blog post dedicated exclusively to AHRS next week, so please check back.

 

Byssokol

Back From Sun-N-Fun

Sun-N-Fun 2016

Last week was something of a blurr. On Sunday I loaded up the Tiger with everything I needed for an exhibit (table, banner, demo FlightBoxes, tablet stands, tablets, etc.) and flew from Liberty, Missouri to Thomasville, Georgia. I spent the night there with some old friends (thanks, Ryan and Gina!) then got up on Monday morning and flew on to Lakeland for Sun-N-Fun 2016.sun-n-fun

If you’ve never done an arrival into a busy show like SnF, I highly recommend it – it’s both challenging and a lot of fun. I was really glad to have ADS-B traffic on the way in, as the airspace became rather crowded as I approached the rendezvous point near Lake Parker. Everything went exactly as described in the NOTAM – everyone queued up and flew west to I-4, then followed it south-west until we crossed a golf course. We turned south and entered the pattern mid-field. The controllers called our entry into downwind, base, and final from that point using our aircraft type and color. Huge kudos to the controllers – that has to be a stressful job, and they all handled it with grace and humor.

I’ve been to Oshkosh several times, but this was my first time at Sun-N-Fun. It’s not as big, but that hardly tells you anything as Oshkosh is huge. I parked the Tiger in General Parking, picked up my rental car, and hauled my gear over to the exhibit area. I partnered with Avilution for SnF. They make Droid EFB, an excellent flight planning and navigation app build for Android tablets and phones (it works brilliantly with FlightBox). They also are in the process of rolling out XFS, or eXtensible Flight System – a new concept in avionics based on the idea that the hardware should be generic and the actual functionality should be entirely driven by software. Big thanks to Mark, Jacek, and the rest of the Avilution team for sharing space and helping cover the booth when I stepped out.

Most of the week was spent talking FlightBox with hundreds of pilots. We had a system up and running, receiving data from all the ADS-B out equipped aircraft around Lakeland and from the ground tower located across the field. That fed traffic and weather to two tablets: a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 running Droid EFB and Avare and an iPad Mini 4 running ForeFlight* and Aerovie Reports. I used a second FlightBox kit to show potential customers just how easy it is to assemble. I think I must have put that kit together 200 times, and every time somebody in the group gathered around the table said, “Wow, that really is easy.”

First Crack In The FAA Wall

One of the most interesting things to come out of Sun-N-Fun was the announcement that Dynon Avionics and EAA had collaborated to receive STC approval for Dynon’s D10A mini-EFIS. This is huge news because it’s the first time that a product built for the experimental market has been approved for use in certificated aircraft without going through the usual TSO process. The AML currently covers the Cessna 172 and 150 families as well as the Piper PA-28 and PA-38 lines. Additional aircraft will be added to the AML in the near future. I’m friends with several of the people at Dynon and immediately volunteered the Tiger as a test platform. (I suspect that many other people did the same.)

Dynon and EAA made use of a new ASTM Standard: 3153-15 Verification of Avionics Systems. I’m extremely proud to mention that I served on the task group that developed that standard. Where the TSO process makes use of a very complicated, expensive, and frankly rather hand-wavy approach to software safety called DO-178, the new ASTM standard follows best practices used by manufacturers serving the experimental and LSA markets. Where DO-178 is several hundred pages of process, ASTM-3153-15 is two pages long and uses a simple, practical procedure to identify critical functions, specify tests, execute those tests, and document the results. The cost to the manufacturer is a fraction of what it would take for TSO approval, with a level of safety which is appropriate for a light, personal aircraft.

I really can’t overstate how important this is. It’s a small step but it may be the first of many that will ultimately allow owners of legacy aircraft to update with safety-enhancing technology. The D10A is officially seen as an attitude indicator, not an EFIS – you can’t remove any of your other instruments. Only the attitude is “primary” with the many other features being advisory. Understood. I’ll take it.

Remote GPS Option For FlightBox

We’ve had a number of users contact us looking for an easy way to remote-mount the GPS. The radio noise from the wifi transceiver, the brushless motor on the fan, and the Raspberry Pi all impact the sensitivity of the GPS. Add to that the radio noise from various aircraft systems and you can wind up with only modest performance. While we would never recommend using the FlightBox GPS as a primary navigation source (that requires FAA testing and certification) we are considering offering an option that would allow you to remote-mount a somewhat more sensitive GPS for greater accuracy.

IMG_0534

The FlightBox case is designed to allow you to cut out the U-shaped notch at the end and insert a USB extension cord. This can be used to remote the existing GPS, but you then need to build some kind of housing for it. We’ve done some research and it looks like we may be able to offer a somewhat more sensitive GPS that comes with a 4′ USB cable. This would give you the flexibility to locate the receiver “puck” away from the FlightBox. It would also make it much easier for anyone who wants to blind-mount their FlightBox by remoting the standard antennas or by using a belly-mounted transponder or DME antenna.

If you’re interested in a remote GPS or antenna option, please send me an email. If I get enough interest, I will place an order and write up some instructions.

Tech Tips

Low Power Blues: Over the past few weeks I’ve had a number of people call up with systems that appear to be working but which do not establish a “FlightBox-XXXXX” wifi network. In every case the cause has been weak power supplies: either a 1 amp wall charger or even the low-power USB port on a laptop. PLEASE don’t try to run FlightBox off of any power source – battery or adapter – that is not rated for at least 2 amps. It will not work!

Floppy Antenna: I’ve also received a number of calls regarding the 978 MHz antenna flopping over. This happens when you can’t screw it on tight enough for the SMA connectors to properly mate. You need to either tighten up the nut on the SMA bulkhead connector. If that doesn’t fix it (and don’t go crazy and strip the nut or the connector) you may need to remove the lock washer. That will give you enough thread on the SMA barrel to properly tighten up the antenna.

This Fan Sucks: When I wrote up the instruction guide, I failed to mention that the fan needs to blow out through the top. I covered it on the video, so if you watched that, all is probably well. If you didn’t, there’s some chance that your fan is sucking in air from on top of the box and blowing it out the vents in the side. That’s backwards. You want to mount the fan so that the sticker is facing the plastic top and not visible. You’ll find arrow marks molded into the plastic showing the direction of spin and air motion. Air should go out through the top!

New FAQ and Troubleshooting Guide: We’ve compiled some of the most common questions about FlightBox into an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) page. We’ve compiled many of the most common issues users experience into a Troubleshooting Guide page. If you have questions or troubles, take a look at either / both for answer. If you don’t find what you need there, give us a call or drop us an email.

Share FlightBox

If you like what FlightBox does for you and think other pilots at your airport might want give it a try, please download this flyer, print it, and post it on the bulletin board. We truly appreciate your help in making aviation safer and more affordable.

Byssokol

FlightBox Assembly Guide and Video

Since we’ve started shipping FlightBox kits, I figured it was time to put up some instructions. The goal has always been to keep the process as simple and quick as possible. I’ve timed myself, and I can assemble a Dual Band FlightBox in about 4 minutes. A friend who agreed to act as a guinea pig took about 15 minutes, and he was using only the printed Assembly Guide. Based on his feedback and input from a number of other helpful reviewers, I tweaked the guide to make a few steps even clearer.

We also now have an Assembly Tutorial video that should help those who prefer to learn visually:

It’s permanent home is here: https://www.openflightsolutions.com/flightbox/tutorial/

Byssokol

ADS-B 101 Presentation

Last Friday evening I had the honor and privilege of giving a presentation on ADS-B, Stratux, and FlightBox at VAA Chapter 16 in Gardner Kansas. The talk covered all the basics of ADS-B In and Out, as well as an introduction to Stratux and FlightBox. There were something like 30 – 40 people at the meeting, and they seemed to like the presentation, so I’ve decided to share a PDF of it for anyone who’s interested. They devoted over two hours of their weekend, asked a lot of good questions that I hope to wrap up into an FAQ, and in general were great hosts and a wonderful audience. (I ended up joining the chapter – $20 well spent.)

ADS-B Presentation

ADS-B is confusing: two system (UAT / 1090) and two function (out / in). I hope this helps clear up some of the questions. Please let me know if you would like a live presentation – I really enjoy meeting people and geeking out on all-things aviation.

Byssokol

Talking ADS-B, Stratux and FlightBox at VAA

Tonight I’m going to be giving a talk on ADS-B, Stratux, and FlightBox at VAA (Vintage Aircraft Association) Chapter 16 in Gardner, Kansas. The talk is entitled “ADS-B For Everyone” and it includes a primer on ADS-B, a review of available options, an overview of the Stratux project, and a brief introduction to FlightBox. Gardner is within a few miles of the ADS-B ground tower at New Century airport (KIXD), so I hope to be able to do a live demo of weather and traffic.

I’ll update this post with a copy of the slides after the presentation.

Byssokol

FlightBox Status Update – March 8

Wow. It’s hard to believe that it’s already March 8. An amazing amount has happened in the past six weeks. The Kickstarter launched, reached its minimum goal, and concluded. We launched a new web store (huge thanks to Shopify for making that relatively painless). We endured the agonizing two week wait for the money from Kickstarter. We ordered another $20,000+ in parts using personal credit cards. Last Thursday the Kickstarter funds finally arrived. (Yay!) Today we got confirmation that the last of the major components – the wifi adapters and Raspberry Pis – have shipped.

Last week the VK-172 USB GPS modules arrived – in full retail packaging. My wife and daughter helped me remove them from the packaging, then “shell” them – removing the plastic housing. I now have a box containing 500 GPSs, all tested to make sure that they boot. A random sampling of roughly 10% have been tested to make sure that they achieve a 3D GPS lock. So far – kudos to the nameless Chinese company who makes the VK-172 – they’ve all passed.

This past weekend was all about the fans. The 40mm x 10mm cooling fans arrived (as expected) without a connector. I spent several hours trimming, stripping, crimping and shrouding. (It really is far less sexy than it sounds.) At this point I have about 100 of the 1000 fans prepped for use in FlightBox. If there’s anything that intimidates me about this process it’s the thought of another 900 fans, waiting to be trimmed, stripped, crimped and shrouded. This is going to take a while. Fortunately, it’s the kind of work you can do in front of the TV in the evening.

The next few weeks look to include much of the same. But… I went ahead and booked an AirBNB and a rental car for Fun-N-Sun. It’s about 9 hours flight time from KC to Lakeland in the Tiger, and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve arranged to exhibit as a partner in the Avilution / Droid EFB booth. Sun-N-Fun is good pre for the madness of Oshkosh, so it will give me some idea of what to expect. If you’re going to be at the show, please stop by and say hello. I’ll be demoing FlightBox, talking Stratux, and (if we have any units in stock), selling kits. It should be a good time.

For everyone who’s ordered through the Kickstarter or on the web store prior to now – we expect to ship your FlightBox kit in March. Keep an eye on this blog and / or the Kickstarter updates page for the latest. Thanks to everyone for their enthusiasm and their patience. We’re doing our best to get you an outstanding product as quickly as we can.

Best Regards,

Steve

Byssokol

Kickstarter Ends Thursday

The End Is Near

We’re coming to the end of the Kickstarter campaign. Hard to believe that 30 days have gone by so quickly. Even harder to believe that we’re at 302 backers. In a final push, we bought the leaderboard on the AOPA Aviation eBrief for today, which has added some 13 new backers in the past few hours. (Thanks, AOPA!) This puts us nearly 7 times our original goal.

If you don’t/didn’t get in on the Kickstarter, be sure to check out the web store. It will open shortly after the campaign ends.

AOPA Aviation eBrief Ad

Now In Gray

The fabricator of the cases sent another round of production prototypes out today. They should be here on Thursday, and pictures will be posted on the Kickstarter as soon as we get them. This shipment includes another copy of the original light gray and a darker “medium” gray. When the campaign closes and we can do surveys of the backers we will most likely offer a choice between the light and the medium. The light is very light (it looks white to me). The medium is supposed to be significantly… grayer. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. The light reflects more heat, but produces more glare. The medium is the opposite. (Yep, everything really is a compromise.)

Software Update

The weather is supposed to be good this weekend, so we hope to get some flight testing done with the new boxes and the latest version of the software. It contains the first cut at the update process. We’ve made good progress on a number of other fronts. We now have a good means of making the data card read-only, which significantly reduces the possibility of corruption. We’ve also put together a script which assigns a unique ID to the Wifi SSID of each FlightBox. It’s rare that you would have several operating in close proximity, but not unheard of. This will make that much easier to manage.

That’s it for now. Please check back on Thursday (2/18/2016) to see how the campaign turned out.

Byssokol

Web Store Coming Soon

We have about a week left on the Kickstarter campaign, which is rather amazing – time flies. In preparation for “what comes next” we’ve started building out a web store that will take over when the Kickstarter ends. We will be offering both models of the FlightBox quick-build kit, plus the FlightBox case for those DIY-ers who want to build a system from scratch.

We’ve already placed an order for first run of cases and will be ordering the other components as soon as the Kickstarter funds arrive. If you’re interested in getting a FlightBox as soon as possible, please place an order on Kickstarter now – the kits will be shipped in “backer order” until all Kickstarter orders have been fulfilled. Only after those have been handled will we be able to process and ship web store orders.

Byssokol

FAA Reauthorization – What It Means For GA

FAA

A few days ago Congress published a bill generally referred to as the “FAA reauthorization” – a 279 page document that allocates funding for the FAA for the next several years and also sets policy mandates for the FAA and the Department of Transportation. Formally know as the “Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act of 2016”, the bill makes some major changes to ATC and includes a number of significant positives for general aviation, including the long sought 3rd class medical reform.

3rd Class Medical Reform

The reauth bill includes provisions that would effectively eliminate the current 3rd class medical requirement within 180 days of enactment. It would allow any pilot with a valid driver’s license to carry up to five passengers in aircraft weighing up to 6000 pounds, on flights below 14,000′ MSL and at speeds below 250 knots. To qualify, the pilot would be required to take a free online medical education course every two years.

This is a bit different from the changes covered in the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2 that was recently passed by the Senate. That bill required a 3rd class medical for new pilots, and for any pilot who had not held a valid medical certificate within the past ten years. It also limited operations to aircraft weighing less than 6000 pounds, but set the ceiling slightly higher at 18,000′ MSL. It also mandated a checkup by a primary care physician every four years. While it’s hard to predict the future, it’s quite likely that the reauth will eventually be rewritten to match the PBOR2 simply to reduce friction.

Much like the PBOR2, the language in the reauth gives the FAA 180 days to produce rules that meet the intent of the law. If they fail to meet that deadline, the law explicitly prohibits them from taking any action against pilots who operate within the specified limitations without a medical. This is one of the few places where the bill actually adds teeth. Other sections set deadlines for changes but do not include any penalty that automatically triggers if the Administrator fails to meet it.

(edit: added weight limit, removed John Travolta joke)

ATC Privatization

The biggest change outlined in the bill is a controversial plan to move air traffic services away from the FAA and into a stand-alone not-for-profit “ATC Corporation”. (Catchy name, eh?) The GA alphabet organizations (AOPA, EAA, NBAA) have long been opposed to this for fear that the change would result in user fees being levied for use of ATC services. Anticipating that objection, the bill prohibits user fees for piston and non-commercial turbine aircraft:

(c)(4) Charges and fees may not be imposed for air traffic services provided with respect to—

(A) aircraft operations of piston engine aircraft; or

(B) noncommercial aircraft operations of turbine engine aircraft.

Why they chose to make this distinction by propulsion technology is something of a mystery. If the goal is to carve out GA and only charge commercial carriers, it would seem logical to specify who pays based on the operating rules. “Only those flight operations conducted under Part 121 or Part 135 are subject to user fees.” or similar.

The bill also specifically prohibits the new ATC Corporation from giving preferential access to airspace based on who’s a paying customer. Specifically:

(d) Access To Airspace.—Neither the amount of charges and fees paid nor the applicability of subsection (c)(4) shall be determinant of access to airspace.

Those two provisions would seem to place GA in a pretty solid spot, but the devil is always in the details. AOPA appears to be taking a cautious wait-and-see approach, while EAA’s initial take on the bill notes concerns about the limited level of input available to GA and the potential for a “money talks” reality in a privatized world. The difference in the response may well be attributable to the way that the governance system for the proposed corporation is structured. The board would be made up of 11 individuals with 2 representing GA. The two would be selected thusly:

(4) 2 Directors nominated by the Nominating Member appointed by the principal organization representing noncommercial owners and recreational operators of general aviation aircraft.

The “Nominating Member” – the individual appointed to the nominating committee for the board – will be selected as follows:

(B) An individual appointed by the principal organization representing noncommercial owners and recreational operators of general aviation aircraft.

And here you see the potential for a turf battle. Which group is “the principal organization representing noncommercial owners and recreational operators“? Is that the AOPA or the EAA? Who gets to make the decision?

(b) Determination Of Principal Organizations.—

(1) BEFORE DATE OF TRANSFER.—Before the date of transfer, and not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of this subtitle, the Secretary shall determine the principal organizations referred to in subsection (a)(2).

(2) AFTER DATE OF TRANSFER.—On and after the date of transfer, the Board shall determine the principal organizations referred to in subsection (a)(2) in accordance with the bylaws of the Corporation.

So for the initial period, the decision gets made by the Secretary of the Department of Transportation. I’m a member of both AOPA and EAA and believe strongly in the good done by both organizations. That said I’m almost certain that the Secretary will select AOPA as the “Principal Organization” – it represents a broader swath of the private GA world than EAA. (I would personally love to see them work together on this, but power has an interesting effect on organizational dynamics.)

The bill specifically hands the nominating membership and the board seats to the “principal organization representing noncommercial owners and recreational operators of general aviation aircraft” so what about Business Aviation? As it stands now, they and a bunch of other groups get seats at the kids’ table. The bill provides for a board of advisors that includes BizAv, airport operators, the Department of Defense, aerospace manufacturers and other groups that may have an interest in air traffic.

To be honest, as long as I can fly when and where I want without being nickeled and dimed, I don’t personally care if ATC is a function of an agency or of a federally chartered private corporation. Perhaps I’m naive, but the governance structure is irrelevant to me. Anyone out there have a good counterargument? Am I missing something?

Homebuilding At Federally Funded Airports

For the past several years there has been some argument over whether a tenant at an airport that receives federal funds can use that space to build an airplane. At question is whether or not construction of a homebuilt aircraft qualifies as an “aeronautical activity”. While it should seem obvious to any reasonable person that building an aircraft is at least as “aeronautical” as storing one, some bonehead airport administrators have used it as an opportunity to push out homebuilders in favor – presumably – of tenants that buy more fuel.

The reauth bill put those dastardly plans asunder by defining building a recreational aircraft as a duly aeronautical activity:

“(t) Construction Of Recreational Aircraft.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—The construction of a covered aircraft shall be treated as an aeronautical activity for purposes of—

“(A) determining an airport’s compliance with a grant assurance made under this section or any other provision of law; and

“(B) the receipt of Federal financial assistance for airport development.

Note that “covered aircraft” in this case means “covered by this law” – it does not mean that it only applies to the Polyfiber crowd. Hopefully that will put an end to one of the more silly aeronautical kerfuffles of the recent era.


FlightBox Banner - Kickstarter


Retrofit Of Avionics For GA Aircraft

If you’ve read any of the articles that I’ve written (other than the one about how my ailerons froze on takeoff once), you probably know that I have a personal passion for hacking through the red tape that makes it impossible (or at least economically unfeasible) to upgrade legacy aircraft with safety-enhancing modern technology. It seems that Congress feels the same way. The reauth bill includes a small but vital section that attempts to force the FAA to finally get over its fear of computers and allow us to retrofit our aircraft in ways that make sense.

SEC. 315. SAFETY ENHANCING EQUIPMENT AND SYSTEMS FOR SMALL GENERAL AVIATION AIRPLANES.

(a) Policy.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator of the FAA shall establish and begin implementation of a risk-based policy that streamlines the installation of safety enhancing equipment and systems for small general aviation airplanes in a manner that reduces regulatory delays and significantly improves safety.

(b) Inclusion Of Certain Equipment And Systems.—The safety enhancing equipment and systems for small general aviation airplanes referred to in subsection (a) shall include, at a minimum, the replacement or retrofit of primary flight displays, auto pilots (sic), engine monitors, and navigation equipment. [emphasis added]

(c) Collaboration.—In carrying out this section, the Administrator shall collaborate with general aviation operators, general aviation manufacturers, and appropriate FAA labor groups, including representatives of FAA aviation safety inspectors and aviation safety engineers certified under section 7111 of title 5, United States Code.

(d) Small General Aviation Airplane Defined.—In this section, the term “small general aviation airplane” means an airplane—

(1) that is certified to the standards of part 23 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations;

(2) has a seating capacity of fewer than 9 passengers; and

(3) is not used in scheduled passenger-carrying operations under part 121 or 135 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations.

This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Unfortunately, I don’t think the policy wonks who wrote this have a very solid understanding of the actual requirements and processes – things like TSO authorization, STCs, etc. – that stand in the way of this. This is rather an expansion of the language from the General Aviation Revitalization Act from 2013 which demanded that the FAA have had the complete Part 23 rewrite complete by December 15, 2015. That day came and went and so far as I can tell, nobody was fired, demoted, or even publicly humiliated for the failure.

What this needs is some teeth – a bit like the medical provision included. It should say that if the Administrator fails to act by the deadline set in the statute then owners of applicable aircraft may begin operating them under the regulations that currently govern Experimental Amateur Built aircraft without threat of enforcement for violation of current airworthiness regulations. (Statutes always trump regs. Yay statutes!) I’m not holding my breath, but I have to guess that this would get things rolling.

Aircraft Certification Reform

The bill attempts to get some motion on a wholesale improvement in the torturously slow and complicated process of certifying new aircraft. It creates a new advisory committee at the DoT (rather than FAA) level that is tasked with reviewing the FAA’s current certification process and providing suggestions for improvement. This is essentially what the Part 23 ARC did for Part 23 certification back in 2012, but apparently congress wants this to be an ongoing effort.

Specific efforts outlined in this section include a comprehensive review of the FAA’s current engineering designee program with an eye towards expanding it and giving DERs greater autonomy. The bill also calls for an emphasis on risk-based (as in “risk continuum”) regulation rather than the current “one size fits all” approach. With any luck this will all flow in with the Part 23 rewrite to result in a much smarter process for certifying GA aircraft.

Unleaded Avgas

There’s a hand-wavy section that calls for the Administrator to approve the use of unleaded avgas as soon as the Administrator decides that there’s a suitable replacement. It does include a specific demand that once a suitable drop-in replacement is found the FAA:

(3) adopts a process (other than the traditional means of certification) to allow eligible aircraft and engines to operate using qualified replacement unleaded gasoline in a manner that ensures safety.

I interpret that as a demand to skip the per-model STC process for certification and simply offer a blanket approval for any aircraft that currently burns 100LL. This seems kind of obvious. Hopefully the deadline (again, imposed without any teeth) will help make unleaded gas a reality sooner rather than later.

ATC Privacy

There’s a provision in the bill that would require the FAA and the ATC Corporation provide a means to hide the registration number of private aircraft at the owner’s request. This is probably well intentioned, but a combination of direct ADS-B and the public record registration database (which includes ICAO codes) makes this pointless.

Part 91 Review and Streamlining

The bill calls for the creation of a GA-lead task force to review the FAA’s current rules for Part 91 operation. In general the task force is charged with looking for ways to improve processes related to the bureaucratic minutia handled by the FAA: letters of authorization, delegation to appropriate designees, methods for training FAA personnel. In general this sounds like yet another attempt to reform the culture of CYA that’s endemic a the agency. The Part 23 ARC report blamed the majority of the issues with certification on the internal culture. This expands that to encompass more than just the ACO.

10 Year Registration

A final bone tossed to us: they want to expand the registration period for aircraft to 10 years. Sounds good to me.

What’s Missing

Tort Reform –  The price of new aircraft will not come down until we get blanket tort reform. The bill should make all lawsuits involving aircraft federal. It should also define private aviation as an inherently risky activity. Better still – cap the recovery from any GA accident at $1m (the amount covered by most GA insurance policies). THAT would help revive GA.

Teeth – Every provision in that bill that has a deadline should have a section outlining the repercussions that will automatically occur should the agency fail to meet it. That’s the only thing that will make it move at anything more than its traditional, glacial pace.

Here’s a link to the full text for anyone who’s interested: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4441/text

Byssokol

FlightBox Production Prototype Is In

The production prototype case arrived last week while I was out of town for a conference. It was actually a bit frustrating knowing that it was sitting on my desk at home – I’ve been looking forward to seeing it ever since we finalized the design. When I got home late last Thursday but took a few minutes to unpack, take a look at the build quality, and do a quick fitting. The result: almost perfect on the first try. Here it is assembled:

Production Prototype

The Pi fits perfectly, with the power connector and audio jack exposed. It screws to the “bosses” – the standoffs with integrated nuts – perfectly using ordinary 1/4 #4 screws. I might add a lock washer and go up to 3/8″ to avoid the screws backing out due to vibration. The SDRs and GPS fit just fine, with the GPS being locked in place by the far-end wall of the case. The SMA pigtails hold the SDRs in place and exit the case on the opposite end. The fan, which bolts to the top, also fits very cleanly.

The one adjustment that’s required is a small notch in one mounting cleat on the top. It’s just a bit too thick to slide in beside the Edimax wifi module, so it needs to be trimmed. This actually works out perfectly as it then prevents the module from backing out. The fabricator will be able to make the adjustment at no additional charge (yay!) and without it impacting the delivery date. Here are a few shots of the inside of the case:

Interior

I’m duly impressed with the quality of both the build and the material. The case looks great and the Boltaron is very strong. It fits together very tightly – to the point where it feels like a solid block, rather than a plastic box with parts inside. Perhaps that’s a cliche, but it’s also true. The one minor disappointment I have is with the color. I picked “light gray” and this is it… very light. The next option is “medium gray” which is much darker. I may offer buyers the option of light or medium. I need to order a medium gray and make sure it doesn’t have any heat issues.

A final note: several people have asked about future upgrades. Here’s a shot of the FlightBox with a development shield installed:

FlightBox With DevShield

The shield (or is it a HAT?) fits perfectly inside the case, but it will require a new top as the fan will need to be moved up to make room for the board and any components mounted on it. We will probably offer two options for the upgrade: one is just the card and it will require you to move the fan to the outside of the case; the other is a new top that makes room for the board and the fan inside.

One other detail to point out: note the holes at the end of the case right by the SDRs. Those are lined up perfectly with the MCX connectors so that you can connect an MCX cable directly with the module should you wish. Most people will prefer to use the SMA jacks – they provide a much more solid connection – in which case the holes offer a direct source of airflow over the SDRs.

Question: do you the fabricator to add holes in the bottom for permanent mounting? Let me know what you think.