At last! I’m an Instrument-rated Pilot!

January 16, 2012 17 comments

Well, it has been some time since I had my last blog entry, but this time I have an excuse. I have been working hard at getting my instrument rating over the last several months. Every spare moment I have had has been dedicated to getting this done. As many of you know who have received an instrument rating, it is a very intense and challenging endeavor. I am happy – actually excited – to report that I received my rating this past Wednesday, January 11!

I did all of my flying in my 3-display Aspen DA40 and really got to put myself and the system through its paces. I also made heavy use of my iPad during my training. All of my instrument training was in the Southwest primarily in the Albuquerque area where, as you all know, is surrounded by mountains and high altitude terrain. The combination of the availability of Nav Map, synthetic vision,  geo-referenced approach charts, redundancy, ease of use and flexibility of how to display the information on a 3-display Aspen system really gives the safety and situational awareness to safely fly instrument procedures in the heaviest workload situations.

I believe the key to this is to have a plan laid out in how to configure the displays and use them in both normal and emergency situations. That way, when you are flying, you can transition to the different displays quickly when you need them.

Having the MFD1000 installed to provide full redundancy for the AHRS, and air data information as well as the battery backup, is critical when the need arises. I also think that having the AHRS and air data information in one of the small windows of the MFD when flying in normal configuration to crosscheck provides a continuous redundant check on what I am flying so I can detect any anomaly early is a real plus.

During my training, I used the iPad to brief my approaches, but used the geo-referenced charts on the Aspen while I flew the procedures. I believe strongly that the ability to have a geo-referenced chart and nav map in my primary view lessens my workload when flying instrument approaches. It also provides a backup to the iPad.

For example, during my instrument checkride, I had briefed the RNAV 22 at Double Eagle Airport on the iPad. As I was transitioning into the approach, I wanted to double check my minimums as we were doing a circle-to-land approach and I wanted to make sure I had entered the right minimum altitude into the PFD. Unfortunately the display on the iPad locked up and I could not see the minimums. I was able to quickly look up at the Aspen to get the data instead of having to reset or figure out what I had done to the iPad. The redundancy aspects within the Aspen and with other devices and sensors increase my safety and confidence in flying.

I would be very interested in hearing how others are using the Aspens in instrument conditions and flying scenarios. While I am not quite “ready” to go flying in the clouds right now, I will continue to gain confidence through practicing in simulated conditions until the time comes. Please share with us your experiences with using the Aspen in your instrument flying, so we can all become safer and more aware pilots.

Categories: Flying

Aspen Gets Connected

August 10, 2011 5 comments

When the history of general aviation is written, 2011 will be the year of the iPad. Rarely have we seen new technology adapted faster than the iPad has been. Pilots have always been early adopters of new technology, though, so it’s no surprise that the iPad and its accessories and applications were practically the theme of this year’s Oshkosh. When you saw a crowd in a booth or standing room only in a forum, chances are the iPad was the cause.

Of course, Oshkosh this year was as exciting as ever. For all of you who attended AirVenture, I am sure you will agree. For those of you who didn’t, you may have seen all of the exciting news coming out of Aspen. At our annual media breakfast, we announced our new Connected™ Panel line of products. Connected Panel provides connectivity between tablet (iPad, droid) applications and the compatible installed avionics through Aspen’s Connected™ Panel gateway and Aspen’s MFD.

Connected Panel video

Click here to view the Connected video

We are quite excited about this Connected™ product line. The use of these tablet devices on airplanes has grown as fast as anything I have seen in my career. The one thing missing on all of the current applications is the access to interact with the certified avionics.

The concept is very simple: Connected Panel creates an open standard for two-way data exchange between un-certified applications and the certified avionics utilizing Aspen’s Connected™ Panel gateway and the Aspen MFD. To address the certification considerations, we’ve implemented patent-pending data exchange methods which we’ve built into our software API and using the Aspen MFD to ensure pilots review and approve any inputs into the certified avionics systems on the airplane. These methods protect the certified avionics from any possible interference or disruption, keep the pilot in the loop, and provide security of the exchanged data. At no time can an application on an iPad be in direct control of the aircraft or its systems.

This announcement exploded on the Internet. I have been exceptionally interested in all of the reactions to the concept on different forums and blogs, both in and outside of aviation. The concept even got picked up by Macworld and the extended high tech community. In fact, if one makes a simple search of Aspen Connected Panel through Google, more than 700 results were posted in the days since the announcement! Comments range from “This is very cool” to people who think one will be able to fly the airplane with an iPad or even conspiracy theorists who believe someone will be able to hack into the airplane software.

Of course, none of the comments regarding controlling the airplane or being able to hack into the airplane are true. After all, many of us here at Aspen are pilots and aircraft owners too! The architecture does not even provide the opportunity for someone to take the pilot out of the loop, hack into the avionics system, or in any way affect the availability of flight critical functionality.

The real power of Connected™ is in the ability to facilitate innovative applications being created on tablet devices daily for aviation purposes. We announced our launch partners at Oshkosh and we have had a continuous stream of requests from other application developers and avionics manufacturers to become part of the Connected Panel program.

We have seen a lot of attention on flight planning, data logging, position replay, exceedence alerting, on-condition maintenance reports, and other interesting ideas. A typical scenario would be to plan and brief a flight plan in ForeFlight, enter the cockpit and upload your flight plan through the Connected™ Panel which will allow you to load it into your GPS navigator. During flight, route changes can be exchanged between the Connected™ Panel and your ForeFlight application on the iPad giving you quick access to the necessary chart data for your flight. After landing you could then download all applicable pilot log information, engine, parameters and GPS navigation information for use by iPad or desktop applications when you get back to your home or office. However, we believe that aviation enthusiasts will come up with new applications that will stretch the limits of our current imagination.

We at Aspen are proud to once again be the first to bring new, groundbreaking technology to the General Aviation community. We expect a lot of innovation to flourish from and through this product and are as anxious as you to see what comes next. As always, we would love to hear your comments and ideas!

Categories: Company, Connected Panel

Aspen is Oshkosh Bound—Are You?

July 20, 2011 5 comments

With Oshkosh just around the corner, it is hard not to get excited about flying to the show and being there with everyone to talk about airplanes, avionics and flying. Ever since the beginning of Aspen’s existence – in fact, we had our first media briefing, announcing the company to the aviation media during Oshkosh – we have tried to develop a community of owners and pilots to be part of changing the way avionics are developed, sold, and supported.

We created customer galleries that provided Aspen customers the ability to share their installations with others; we became involved with flying clubs of all types, hold customer events at both Sun ‘n Fun and AirVenture and tried to involve the end user in our product directions and strategies.

The one big thing that we did that has really taken this to the next level is our participation in the North 40 camping area at Oshkosh, by becoming the official sponsors to the North 40 camping/airplane parking area.

Our motivation was to be out with our customers and share in the Oshkosh experience with them first hand.

Aspen’s North 40 Welcome Tent is a nice venue to give some shade (or protection from the rain as it did last year!) and a cool area to hang out talk airplanes and avionics. Each year, our activities in the North 40 have gotten bigger and this year is no exception. We have the tent equipped with a massive air conditioner to stand in front of as well as weather services and a cold drink of water, demonstration units to look at and touch and knowledgeable people to discuss customer experiences and provide answers to questions prospective or existing customers might have.

Another addition to this year is a fun one. We will be awarding Aspen Avionics North 40 Camping Merit Badges. Since it’s a merit badge, it must be earned – but we’re leaving that up to each individual. To earn a North 40 Camping Merit Badge, you must provide a reason why you earned the badge – from camping through a thunderstorm to helping a neighbor with tie downs to sharing your ice. Badge earners will record their reasons for being awarded a badge in a book that will be a fun keepsake of this year’s show. We admire the community spirit in the North 40 and are pleased to be part of it.

We also have the normal booth in the halls like everyone else (Hangar B, #2145), but the Welcome Tent provides a more relaxed environment where we can spend more time interacting with our customers and at the same time take in the flying demonstrations that AirVenture is so famous for.

If you are going to be at Oshkosh I invite both our current and prospective customers to come out and visit us at the North 40 Welcome Center. I will be there a good portion of the time during the show and would love to get a chance to meet you. We will also have some very impressive Aspen-equipped aircraft on display. See you all at Osh!

Categories: Company

Aspen evolves

Over the last four years, Aspen Avionics has brought to the GA industry affordable glass cockpit solutions to aircraft that previously had no path to take advantage of the technology revolution that we saw in our day-to-day life. We did this through the focus on our Evolution Display products and working to deliver products on time and meet customer expectations.

We developed product serially; in other words, we worked on one product or feature, completed it and then moved on to the next one. With the popularity of the Evolution System, we received more and more demand for additional features, new products and new technologies. In order to cope with the increased demand and opportunity, like most companies we have had to transition to developing and bringing to market products in parallel.

We have had to ramp up our engineering resources, introduce new processes in development and in the certification process, work closer with the already strained FAA resources, and become more sophisticated in our marketing and sales organizations. That transition has come with some learning curve as we mature as an organization. Some of that has meant that we have not always met all of our dates in bringing products to market, something that we pride ourselves in doing and something that we want to be the best in the industry in achieving. There will be bumps in the road during this process and transition but rest assured that we are committed to delivering quality products on time and at affordable prices.

With Oshkosh coming up this month, expectations are high for new functions from Aspen, including Synthetic Vision, a new software version for the existing PFD and MFD that will incorporate many new features and changes requested from our customers, improvements in our AHRS algorithms to eliminate the dependency on Pitot inputs to finally allow for the removal of the back-up attitude system and many others.

We have received many requests for dates of availability for customer planning purposes. We are working hard to make all of this happen as quickly as possible. Most all of these functions are in the final stages of certification. The certification process has many variables that impact specific availability dates especially in the final stages of certification. Our activities have put a lot of strain on the our FAA resources and they have responded well, trying to support all of our new developments. Therefore it has been difficult to provide exact dates of availability.

We recognize the need to communicate more clearly about these dates.  In the next few days, we will be re-energizing our Evolution Tracking information on our website to give up-to-the-minute data on availability, and information on upcoming announced products.  This process received great praise from our customers during the development of the PFD and MFD products and we hope will do the same for the introduction of our new products. We invite all of our customers to monitor the site for the latest information on upcoming products.

We are looking forward to a great Oshkosh and hope to see many of you either at our booth or at our North 40 Welcome center. Please stop by and say hello and we can show you the latest innovations coming from Aspen.

Categories: Company

Synthetic Vision: How I became a true believer

June 2, 2011 6 comments

I have to confess that, having never flown synthetic vision and only having seen it in videos and ads, I was definitely a skeptic. I really didn’t get it. I didn’t get the overall usefulness of synthetic vision other than for specific instances around takeoff and landings.

The potential clutter on the PFD bothered me since I like my simple attitude representation with speed and altitude tapes. That’s what I had gotten used to, and I wasn’t sure how I would handle the additional information on the PFD. But there’s more. I was also concerned about the application specifically on the Aspen PFD because of the portrait form factor.

And then I flew it.

I got to fly our synthetic vision (Evolution Synthetic Vision or ESV for short) for the first time on an Aspen system and was very pleased to see just how useful it is. My concerns about the form factor were unfounded. Our high resolution displays were very crisp and easy to read, and information was presented in a logical and clear fashion.

I discovered that the Aspen system provides multiple ways to display ESV, making it easy for anyone to use. You can have it solely on the Attitude Indicator of the PFD, leaving the HSI in standard mode. Or you can have it on the entire PFD with the HSI info overlaid on top of it. Or you can have it on the Attitude Indicator of the PFD while the HSI part is two-dimensional terrain. You can display ESV in any of the windows of the MFD (although the small thumbnail mode is not practical) and leave the PFD in standard mode that we all fly in.

Here’s a tip: You can put the MFD in Rev mode so you have two PFDs—one in ESV and one in standard mode.

The multiple ways to display ESV provides for unprecedented flexibility. This is especially helpful for a pilot to configure their airplane the best way for the way they fly. Note that this ability is exclusive to Aspen—it’s something that no other manufacturer can claim. That’s one of the many benefits of the Aspen system over other systems.

Back to that first flight with ESV: I had it on the MFD and left the PFD in standard mode. While this was nice, especially when flying close to mountainous terrain, I quickly transitioned to displaying it on the PFD. The main reason for this was to use the flight path marker. Anyone who has flown synthetic vision will tell you the flight path marker is an incredible tool. When coming in on approach, I maneuver the airplane to put the marker on the runway and hold it there and fly it all the way down! Let me tell you: It makes it very easy stay on path in crosswinds.

As for the portrait display, I found ESV easy and intuitive to use. 3-D traffic was very useful, especially in cruise. When the traffic showed up on my ESV, I found it was very easy to look out the window and focus my scan on a smaller area and find the traffic much quicker than a 2-dimensional system because I had a perspective on relative height to the horizon. This was something I didn’t expect but found very cool.

By the way, terrain awareness was very clear and concise and provided a great level of situational awareness that everyone will want, especially when flying in mountainous areas like we do around Albuquerque.

Another unique tool that we have on the Aspen system is that you can adjust the field of view. When in the vicinity of the airport, I keep the field of view narrowed and the terrain, obstacles and traffic provided on the display allows me to focus on what is important rather than being distracted by information that is not in play.

When I am cruising, I open up the field of view and have a broader ESV view to get a better sense of potential directions of flight should I need to deviate from my current flight path for any reason. I think that many of our customers will use this feature extensively and will find it very useful.

After having flown synthetic vision on the Aspen, I am a true believer. The flexible representation of ESV coupled with the flexibility of the Aspen MFDs and PFDs gives a pilot situational awareness that can’t be found anywhere. I expect that this will be a big hit amongst our customers.

So what’s the status? When will it be available? We are in final testing with the FAA and expect certification and availability before Oshkosh. We invite all of our customers and prospective customers to visit us at Oshkosh and get a good look at it.

For existing customers, Evolution Synthetic Vision will be a software upgrade that can be completed at any Aspen authorized dealer. For new customers it can be purchased as an option when you place your order. In either case, right now, the price is set at $2995. I challenge anyone to find a value like this in the certified market!

Categories: Flying, Synthetic Vision

Aspen Partners with Honeywell

May 11, 2011 3 comments

Before I go into the details of our partnership with Honeywell, I have to offer readers of my blog an apology. I have not been a faithful blogger, but I know at least some of you can sympathize with a task that always gets moved to the bottom of the priority list. It’s not that I didn’t think about my blog; it’s not that my staff didn’t give me gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) reminders about the blog – I just didn’t do it. I have loads of stuff to write about – including working on my instrument rating and my second annual flight from Albuquerque to Sun ‘n Fun – more on that trip later. Suffice it to say I hope to improve my frequency of blog posts and I’ll start out with filling you in on what’s we’re doing with Honeywell.

You might have already heard the news that we’ll be working with Honeywell in the months ahead. For those who haven’t heard the news, Honeywell and Aspen announced at AEA – that’s the Aircraft Electronics Association, which holds an annual convention for avionics dealers and manufacturers – and Sun ‘n Fun that Aspen will be working with Honeywell to complete the development and certification of the KSN770 GPS Navigator. Concurrent with that announcement is that the KSN770 will include a touch screen interface.

Let me tell you about the KSN770: It has full touch screen capabilities with a large 5.7” screen. The button and knob interface will allow the user to do everything via touch screen or traditional knob and buttons. The unit has a full functional WAAS GPS with integrated radios and localizer performance with LPV guidance with integrated data link weather. Options include: interface to onboard weather radar, interface to EGPWS, charts and maps.

We think the price is affordable at $12,995. Just like the Aspen Evolution, there is an ease of installation – the form factor fits well in all aircraft. So when is it available? We’re counting on the end of 2011 for certification, and we’ll be announcing more at Oshkosh.

Of course, we’re delighted as a small, relatively new company to be selected by an industry giant such as Honeywell for our expertise. Actually, we’re a good match when you combine Aspen’s focus on General Aviation and Honeywell’s focus on technology. Together, we provide the General Aviation consumer a focus on their requirements and the flexibility to integrate into many different aircraft.

Integration of the KSN770 with Aspen’s Evolution system will provide both existing customers and new customers unprecedented capabilities at a price that will allow the entire market to capitalize on the safety and value that this brings to the industry. We expect that this combination will provide the consumer with choices and competition in the market that will benefit all.

I hope that you want to know more, including being able to actually see the KSN770. You’ll be able to do that this summer at Oshkosh. The KSN770 will be on display at both the Honeywell and Aspen Avionics booths as well as at Aspen’s popular North 40 tent. (As an aside, Aspen is the sponsor of the North 40 Aircraft Parking and we have a hospitality tent set up with air conditioning, water and other amenities. We also arrange for our customers to park their aircraft by our tent so show-goers can see Aspen installations in different makes and models.) In any event, come to the Aspen booth at AirVenture (Hangar B-2145) to touch and see the power and flexibility of the KSN770 and its interface with the Aspen Evolution System. I sincerely believe you’ll be impressed with its operation, screen size and the sheer capability of the system.

Categories: Company, Honeywell

The importance of customer feedback

August 30, 2010 11 comments

One thing that is very important to us as a company and to our product development process is the feedback we receive from customers. It tells us if we are doing the right things and moving in the right direction with our products and it tells us where we need to make improvements. We provide several avenues for you to do this such as calling in, sending an email through our feedback form on the Aspen website, visiting with us at trade shows and demo events at your local airport. I’ve also received some feedback through this blog, which you can see in the comments. The Customer Gallery is yet another avenue for you as a customer to provide your insight on being an Aspen customer.

I can tell you that we do listen. Here’s what happens to your feedback: When you call or send an email with a comment or suggestion, that information goes directly to our product marketing and product development team. Each and every request is evaluated against all the others and in relation to overall product development schedules. Based on resources and overall development plans, the requests are ranked and grouped and then placed into release schedules as appropriate. I’m certain you can understand it is not always possible to fit every request into the scheduled releases, but we try!

Receiving feedback from customers also presents the opportunity to communicate back to all customers with helpful information. Responding to feedback from one customer can be a great way to educate many others. This blog entry is inspired by this very thing. We received some comments from a customer who recently submitted his aircraft to our Customer Gallery (http://www.aspenavionics.com/index.php/customergallery/n326dp/). I’d like to take the opportunity to share my response to him so that you may learn from it as well.

Here’s what David had to say:

“Selecting charts is not intuitive, at least to me. I’m sure there will be improvements but the pilot-ASPEN interface needs some improvement. My biggest gripe is the color selection when inputting a new airport identifier to call up its charts. The color (cyan or whatever) is nearly impossible to see and when rotating the left knob to change the letter it is strictly a gamble if you get the correct letter. Also, when can’t you back step to the previous letter position if you make an error? And why isn’t some automation involved, automatically display the departure airport until airborne, then switch to the destination airport, or the next flight plan waypoint if it’s an airport?”

One of the things we did when we designed the Evolution System was to try to give the pilot more than one way to access information, including a couple of different ways to directly access information from the map.  When it comes to charts, I personally find it easiest to access charts using the map interface, rather than entering the text airport identifier. On the ground at my departure airport I’ll use the map INFO function to highlight the departure airport, and then select the charts Hotkey to take me directly to the charts for that airport. Once on the chart page, rotating the right knob lets me quickly get to the chart I want.

In the air, I’ll do the same thing to look at charts for nearby airports, or I’ll pan ahead to my destination and select the destination airport charts.  I don’t find myself using the text entry unless I’m looking for information for an airport that is well away from where I am, or my current route.

I hope that you find this information helpful. Please keep the feedback coming—It is invaluable!

-John

Categories: Company
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