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The WiFi aircraft and information ergonomics

Thinking about the acquisition of my own airplane I do a lot of research to form my opinion and get to know the market and what is available.

It appears that more and more devices create or connect to each other via WiFi. Having a background in TCP/IP networking and software development I find that a bit amusing. How far have we come :-) On the other hand I wonder how well all those components play together.

My latest research topic has been collision avoidance systems. In Germany we do have a lot of glider activity during the summer and with rental airplanes I’ve always tried to be above the clouds, whenever possible, instead of where “they” are. It makes for a smoother ride too. As our silent friends don’t carry a transponder but FLARM, I’ve been looking into ways to display those targets in a Cirrus.

Last year I’ve ventured out quite a bit across Eastern Europe using the SkyDemon software on an iPad attached to the panel as a third display. Even when flying IFR I think that running SkyDemon as a GPS logger (just for fun) and to know about the actual airspace I’m in might be good for situational awareness. SkyDemon can display FLARM targets via the Bufferfly Connect adaptor. The moving map then shows little green airplanes around one’s own position on the map.

Now I read that the PowerFLARM device can also receive ADS-B signals and get more and more confused about what to display where.

One thing that I like especially about the Cirrus is the cockpit layout. It is clean. I really don’t want a third display – iPad or whatsoever – or even more little displays to look at or glance over. I feel that the two screens with everything relevant on them is a big achievement. Unfortunately, sending data to these units requires devices that are themselves certified, which isn’t that easy and cost effective. Actually it is interesting – and sad – to see how a means (certification) that was created to improve safety is essentially slowing down positive developments that can contribute to safety.

That all said … How do you go about all those devices and the WiFi network on board of your aircraft? How frequently do you have to reboot something because it didn’t connect? How much of a distraction does all this create?

Frequent travels around Europe

As an additional thought:

I just came across the openAIP project and it makes me wonder. Might it be that we are looking at a future where we have the certified IFR world with vendor supplied data (Jeppesen and others) and the VFR world with open data and uncertified devices from a multitude of vendors with very fast innovation cycles?

Might it be that someone at Jeppesen thinks that way as well and thus far the company tries to keep in the VFR game by discontinuing their paper charts and being part of the new wave of electronic products for VFR flying?

That is just a thought that crossed my mind but probably worth thinking it through.

Frequent travels around Europe

Reading, I wonder if you are not skipping the main point. The main point should be to define your mission, hours flown per annum, and budget; then find a plane that fits these. Gimmicks come much later.

About situational awareness: the more you leave to machinery, the less your prime CPU aka brains will be able/used to sorting things out. Either have no machinery, or make very sure you can depend on it, iow no single points of failure iow all equipment doubled. If certified, this might be extremely expansive – in non-certified, too much weight and/or current draw.

As regards collision avoidance: I have a very negative gut feeling about flarm, mostly because (IF I understand allright) it bases on the same flimsy 433/866 MHz technology that is supposed to lock/unlock our cars. There’s a good many gliders carrying full-scale transponders and there must be a reason for that. Myself will perhaps invest in ADS-B one day, and then with the added capacity of receiving and displaying flarm, but won’t transmit flarm. But whatever budget comes available will first go to 8,33 comm’s and mode-S transponder.

My two eurocents,

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

There is one problem I see with all these gadgets: Each of them creates their own WiFi network, e.g. the Butterfly dongle, the Hero cam etc. But you can only connect to one WiFI at a time with your phone/ipad/tablet. We need another gadget that acts as a switch/bridge for all these WiFis!

Btw, the ADL120 is able to act as a WiFi-client. For the above reason (and on my request btw).


Ah! So what i feared is actually true. Interoperability isn’t that great.

Good that ADL120 can be a client instead of creating its own network.

That other gadget would then be a WiFi access point. If I fantasize a bit further, there might be a communication gateway as the interface to the data sat network. That device would then create the WiFi network and all other device would join it. Just the same way as at home with the DSL router. It needs probably some service classes to allow/disallow and prioritize access to the outside network. I can also envision an ADS-B in device to provide its information to the other devices on that network.

Frequent travels around Europe

Have a look at the Connected Panel initiative:

EDLE, Netherlands

Well, on a general note about electronics in planes: I feel not necessarily negative about them (we do should embrace progress!), but I do feel very very wary.

On the one hand there is the danger of interconnecting too many devices, so that if one goes berserk all the others might be affected too. I would have to see a strong demonstration of continued reliability of interconnected components before installing any. It must be said to the advantage of the electronics that they cost and weigh less than steam gauges, making a double installation less impossible.

Worse is the fact I already mentioned: all these electronic gimmicks make our brain lazy. There is, for one example, a strong increase of people driving a car without being able to read a paper map – an obvious result of dependency on GPS-fed route finders. How much worse the 3-D environment that a pilot deals with. But I must admit I enjoy an intellectual challenge, which might not be the case for all recreational pilots.

A third point against complex electronics is that we are more bound to use one make only – as I understand it, there are some standards, like ARINC429, for interconnecting devices, but only at the lowest level. Could one connect a Garmin GPS to a King mode S transponder? (just for one example, of course)

Last Edited by at 06 Jan 09:07
EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

Have a look at the Connected Panel initiative

I am writing this in a bit of a haste but isn’t the CP limited – as far as the Owner of the Entire Known Universe (Garmin) goes – to their no longer manufactured GNS units?

It works by a reverse engineer (hack) of the crossfill protocol, and Garmin put some crypto protection on the GTN units to stop competitors and other 3rd parties interfacing to them.

Incidentally, for crossfill to work to load a flight plan, the “crossfilling” unit (in the CP case, it would be an Ipad) needs to pretend it has the same version of the Jepp database as the destination unit.

Voiceflight (a US firm offering very slick voice loading of waypoints) solve this for Europe at a fairly hefty cost of $25/month for buying a copy of the Jepp database (I did put them in touch with some individual(s) who can hopefully help them do it more economically but last time I spoke to them they thought the US market was enough for them) and I would be a little suprised if any other company offering flight plan loading had found a way to sidestep this IMHO utterly stupid artefact of the Garmin crossfill protocol. If you had a GPS which had an RS232 (etc) interface via which it could accept textual input like EGKA SAM ORTAC EGJJ, life would be easy…

I would also be less than happy to have WIFI running 100% of the time in the cockpit. Compared to Bluetooth, WIFI uses quite a lot of RF power. This is not going via shielded cables but is radiated freely all over the place. I realise nobody has yet openly reported a problem, but I make a point of not using the Thuraya satphone for data (I don’t use it for voice, and as mentioned above, text messages mostly don’t work to cellular networks in the infidel world) while going down an ILS

Could one connect a Garmin GPS to a King mode S transponder?

Yes, though any incompatibilities are worse between competing products than between same-vendor products

However one doesn’t need to connect a GPS to a transponder except for either auto AIR/GND switching based on GPS GS (which definitely does not work from a KLN94 to a GTX330, despite the wiring being documented by Garmin, who like Honeywell stonewall all enquiries on the topic) or ADS-B (which is nonexistent in Europe for GA, but has, ahem, a great future )

The GTX330 ARINC429 pressure altitude also doesn’t work with the Avidyne TAS60x TCAS boxes (a connection which would save running 10 wires down the length of the plane) and both Garmin and Avidyne stonewall all enquiries on that one too… ARINC429 is supposed to be a standard but somehow the programmers (probably C++ programmers ) still manage to make it not work.

Last Edited by Peter at 06 Jan 09:21
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

put some crypto protection

Seems to confirm my third point.

However one doesn’t need to connect a GPS to a transponder

? Doesn’t a mode-S transponder transmit position information, and likely more data (ground speed? heading?) that only a GPS receiver can supply?

Last Edited by at 06 Jan 09:22
EBZH Kiewit, Belgium


or ADS-B (which is nonexistent in Europe for GA, but has, ahem, a great future )

Works fine with my plane using a Trig Transponder and a GNS430

LSZH(work) LSZF (GA base), Switzerland
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