Coming Soon: FlightBox EFIS

Byssokol

Coming Soon: FlightBox EFIS

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 info@openflightsolutions.com.

 

Overview


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.

Prototypes of ADC, EMS, display.

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.

 

Display Hardware (1)


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.

Functions:

  • 9.7″ Retina touch display
  • Active cooling
  • Field swappable

 

Display Software (1)


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.

Functions:

  • Primary Flight Display (PFD)
    • Altitude
    • Airspeed
    • Attitude
    • Heading (HSI)
    • Vertical Speed
    • Slip / Skid
  • Moving map
  • US aviation database
    • Airports
    • Nav-Aids
    • Fixes
  • VFR navigation
    • Nearest
    • Direct-To
    • Waypoint
    • Autopilot output (via FlightBox)
  • Weather
  • Traffic
  • Audio alerts
  • Engine monitor
  • COM radio control
  • Transponder control
  • Music player

 

Turbulence Tactile Interface (2)


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.

Functions:

  • Navigation (twist)
  • Selection (click)
  • Setting adjustment
  • Zoom

 

FlightBox (3)


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.)

Functions:

  • Dual-band ADS-B receiver (weather, traffic)
  • WAAS GPS receiver
  • Backup Altitude
  • Backup Attitude
  • Flight data recorder
  • Autopilot interface w/ GPSS
  • COM / NAV radio interface
  • Transponder interface
  • Wireless network access point and controller

 

ADAHRS (4)


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.

Functions:

  • Air Speed
  • Altitude
  • Attitude (pitch, roll, yaw)
  • Vertical Speed
  • Outside Air Temperature (OAT)
  • Slip / Skid
  • G-meter

 

EMS (5)


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.

Functions:

  • RPM
  • MAP
  • CHT (up to 6)
  • EGT (up to 6)
  • Oil temperature
  • Oil pressure
  • Fuel pressure
  • Fuel flow
  • Fuel level (2)
  • Volts
  • Amps
  • Auxiliary I/O (4)

 

Being Open

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.

About the Author

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14 Comments so far

Brian AdamsPosted on  1:11 am - Feb 13, 2018

How are you going to display TAS and True Altitude and not GPS GS and Altitude? Will the ADHARS have a Pitot and Static inputs as well?

Thanks

KevinPosted on  4:23 am - Feb 14, 2018

Sectional map would be nice for VFR.
Ability to set EMS to half screen. And display flap position, AOA.

    ssokolPosted on  12:43 pm - Feb 14, 2018

    Multiple layouts are in the works and will be part of the initial release. It can currently do the 50/50 that you see in the videos, and a full-screen MFD. I’m working on a portrait 50/50, an expanded EMS (50% PFD / 25% Map / 25% EMS). I can add a 50/50 PFD/EMS option to the list. Flap and trim positions are supported through the aux inputs on the EMS box. I still need to add the display items for them, but they’re part of my EMS data spec.

    AoA is also on the list. My goal is to come up with a derived AoA rather than having to include an additional differential pitot input, the associated plumbing, and another sensor.

    I’ve played with sectionals. Unfortunately, the FAA seems to feel compelled to update them every 28 days which makes for a huge amount of work and expense. The digital charts are available for free, but not in a format that works on the iPad. You have to download all of them, stitch them into a single gigantic image file, then chop that image down into tiles at multiple resolutions. Then you have to package them up into state or regional files. The last time I tried it, it took a computer nearly 24 hours to do the prep, and the files are large and take a lot of bandwidth to download. I might do it, but if so it will be a paid option.

DarinPosted on  7:01 pm - Feb 14, 2018

The EMS will be OK to be installed in a certified aircraft but as a backup, not for primary, correct?

    ssokolPosted on  7:09 pm - Feb 14, 2018

    That’s the plan. We will be applying for NORSEE approval once we have the final version fully tested. With NORSEE, you can’t replace any existing required equipment, so the original engine instruments will remain.

JimPosted on  12:00 am - Feb 15, 2018

I just watched the “FlightBox EFIS Demo” video. Near the end, when you discussed the FlightBox EFIS autopilot functionality, I think you mentioned it would work with an autopilot from TruTrak. Would this include the TruTrak autopilot that is STC’d for the Cessna 172?

BTW – this FlightBox EFIS and FlightBox Pro look great, and I am very interested in getting them for my 172 when they become available (will probably wait for when you have synthetic vision functionality)

    ssokolPosted on  1:45 pm - Feb 15, 2018

    Yes – the autopilot output is in a format that will work with the TruTrak. We will need to do some testing with TruTrak before they can add us to their list of supported devices. We hope to make that happen some time this spring.

BillPosted on  4:23 am - Feb 15, 2018

Have the ADAHRS performance limits been defined? Pitch, roll, and yaw angles and rates? Can the ADAHRS provide reasonably accurate data during aerobatics?

    ssokolPosted on  1:55 pm - Feb 15, 2018

    I’ve put the current prototype through limited aerobatic testing in my RV-6A and in a friend’s RV-4. It remained reasonably accurate through a series of aileron rolls. We don’t have hard numbers on max roll or pitch rate at this point but will as soon as the first production units arrive.

Bill MacIntoshPosted on  5:36 pm - Feb 15, 2018

HI Steve.
Your proposed system looks very interesting with it’s distributed versus ” all in one box” approach. I use The Flyqefb from Seattle Avionics on the ipad and they seem to have mastered the sectional charts together with their other digital and IFR chart items and georef approach proceedures. I am sure they are not the only one. I appreciate your comment on open source and suggest its a great way to avoid yet another database subscription. There are likely many of your customers who are already saturated with too many different data subscriptions one for each box and little appetite to invest in more ” duplicate “data .
Being able to use your product to integrate with some existing ones seems a key point given the market mass already vested in those other products.

Reggie RoordaPosted on  7:39 pm - Feb 16, 2018

What is the backup if the wireless signal from the flight box fails?
Do you lose all instrumentation?

    ssokolPosted on  7:53 pm - Feb 16, 2018

    We have several options. With dual FlightBox / ADAHRS system, the display(s) simply switch to the backup. With a single FlightBox system, the display goes into a reversionary mode and uses the iPad’s GPS and baro sensor. (So order the 4G version, even if you don’t plan to use the 4G service.) We may be able to configure it so that the ADAHRS switches into access point mode and gives you a subset of the air data and attitude as well. No promises on that, but it’s at least a possibility.

      ssokolPosted on  8:02 pm - Feb 16, 2018

      You can also back it up with a stand-alone instrument like a Dynon D10, GRT Mini, Garmin G5, or Sandia Quattro. All are available with a backup battery.

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