Questions about how to duplicate Ken’s aviation setup with the Sony U-70 have been pouring in and Ken Sutton has graciously provided me with full details on how his Cessna-mounted Sony U-70 came into existence and where curious pilots can get more information about his setup:
I live outside of Chicago, and the airplane is based at Lake in the Hills Airport (IL). It’s IACO identifier is 3CK.
The airplane is a Cessna 310.
When I started work on this project, I had an idea of what I needed, but the project evolved as the technology became more and more capable.
When I purchased the airplane in April 2003, I fully understood that one of its shortcomings was a lack of weather avoidance equipment. My former airplane had an onboard weather radar system, which provided more of a false sense of security than it did useful weather information. But I knew back then, a short 19-months ago, that Nexrad radar composite displays from satellite transmissions would soon become a reality.
Earlier this year, I contacted a company in Kansas called Control Vision, (www.controlvision.com) that was selling Pocket PC software that could download these images from a satellite phone. The setup included a Pocket PC, which I chose to be the iPAQ 5555, a satellite phone, their software, the necessary wiring harnesses, and a GPS antenna. The PDA would mount on the control yoke, and they had a neat suction mount for the satellite phone, that allowed me to mount the phone on a side window behind the pilot’s seat. I had a great opportunity to try their setup on an 11-day trip throughout the Pacific Northwest with my family this past Summer.
The shortcomings of the system are obvious. First, there are a lot of wires laying across the cockpit. I worked to manage these wires best I could. However, in the end, I was not satisfied with the way the whole setup looked. Taking the Sat-Phone out of the holder every night was also a bit of a hassle. In addition to the inconvenience and unsightliness of the setup, the display on my control yoke was problematic. As you can see in the picture, I have a clipboard that I made to go on the pilot’s control yoke, and I’ve become addicted to that setup, ever since I first built one 20-years ago. Even when I flew at the airlines, I missed having this setup. It’s more than a simple clipboard. It has all of my checklists laminated and fastened to the face of the clipboard. This makes missing a checklist… something that’s been blamed in hundreds of accidents, highly unlikely in my airplane. On top of the checklists, I have fastened a transparent piece of Plexiglas. I then use a little piece of Velcro to fasten a grease pencil down to the clipboard. Any notes I need to take for the flight can be easily written on the Plexiglas, leaving the cockpit virtually paperless, but for charts. I found that putting the PDA where my clipboard went was simply not acceptable, after having flown some 4,000 nautical miles on our trip this past Summer. Control Vision’s software includes a program to put checklists on the PDA. However, I found swapping between programs in the Pocket PC format to be unreliable, and slow. Maybe you just can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I’m sure there’s some of that to it, too.
When I got back from our trip, I learned that Control Vision was now offering their system with a weather feed from XM Radio, instead of via sat-phone. I called the company and they graciously allowed me to swap out my nearly new sat-phone setup for the more preferred XM equipment. The XM system is infinitely better. First, the XM antenna is smaller than a matchbook and rests on my glareshild, virtually invisible to anyone but me. Second, the XM system is a constant datafeed. Rather than needing to call out on the sat-phone to download the weather information, on demand; the XM system is constantly updating the weather information on my display. In addition to being a better system for displaying the weather, this arrangement allowed me to get rid of multiple wires that were running all over the cockpit.
Yet, I still had the issue of getting the PDA off the control yoke. This could be easily solved by simply mounting it to the instrument panel with a mounting system similar to ones being commonly used for mounting handheld GPS units. However, I was concerned that the display of my 5555 would be too small. A fellow pilot suggested that the perfect display would be one the size of a portable DVD player. I started to search for such a display. What I found really filled all the boxes on my wish-list.
I contacted Control Vision about my concerns about the 5555. They recognize these concerns and are in the process of building an oversized PDA for themselves. I saw a prototype at the EAA convention in Osh Kosh this past Summer. I discounted the unit because I believe it is too big. It is a hybrid, much like the U70, bigger than a PDA, but smaller than a tablet PC. However, their unit is too thick and too heavy for my taste. I had tried to use a Fijitsu tablet PC, but found that to be simply too big and uncomfortable to use in the confines of my airplane. But a tech at Control Vision suggested that I look at an article in Maxim Magazine about a new UPC by Sony, the U70. After reading that article, I did a Google search for the U70 and came upon your website. Your research and real-life testimonial convinced me that this was likely the display I was looking for. One of the importers Dynamism, (www.dynamism.com) was located right in Chicago and this provided me with a chance to see one of these units before purchasing it. It was truly amazing to see Windows XP come up on this little display, just like my desktop computer in the office. But there was more to my liking that just the display.
Sure, I was concerned about how well I could see the display in sunlight, and how clear the picture would be in a relatively demanding cockpit setting. But what really sold me on this unit was the fact that it was a full Windows based computer. One of the shortcomings of the PDA system is the Pocket PC software. Not only is memory an issue, especially when downloading large amounts of graphical weather information, but the programs themselves worked slow and the system was unreliable at times. Working in the Windows environment would solve some of these issues if the computer had adequate memory. I opted for the U70 for this very reason. But the biggest advantage to this system would be the opportunity to load Jeppesen’s database of enroute, and instrument approach charts. Working within Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (private aircraft, non-commercial flights), I print out the charts and approach plates I think I need before a trip from my desktop computer. However, if I should divert to an alternate airport, or change my destination (something we did often during our trip this Summer), I now have Jeppesen’s entire navigation database at my fingers in the cockpit, with a display that can clearly depict them.
After the short demo of the system, I agreed to purchase a U70. I made this decision the same week it became known that Sony was discontinuing them. The good news was that even though I couldn’t purchase one on the spot, within a couple of days one became available. When I received it, I was concerned about the Japanese translation issues. No worries. Dynamism had converted all of the software, and even had performed the SP2 upgrade to XP. I must admit, I was worried about purchasing this unit from an importer, etc. This concern was unfounded. Dynamism did everything they said they would, and when I had questions, they were there to provide support.
The next step was to find a way to physically mount this unit in the cockpit. I already had been using a portable GPS unit, which I had fastened to the instrument panel with a Ram Mount (www.rammount.com). Their suggestion was to use industrial-type Velcro and a flat panel mount to fasten the back of the U70 battery to their system. I was concerned that the unit would be unstable, even with the interlocking Velcro. I did another Google search for a better mounting system for the U70. I came across a company called NavAir (www.airgator.com).
These guys really have it figured out. A lengthy discussion with the owner yielded all the pieces I would need to make my U70 sing. They sold me the solid aluminum billet mount for the U70 that you see in the picture. This thing was pricey, but truly a work of art. Not only did they have the definitive mount for the U70, but they also sold me a unique wiring harness. This thing was setup to either use from a cigarette lighter adaptor, or it can be hardwired into the airplane. I had it mounted behind the instrument panel and it provides power to the XM receiver, as well as ship’s power to the U70! No more battery issues! The airplane would keep the U70’s battery fully powered. The company sold me a Socket Bluetooth card which talks perfectly to Control Vision’s portable GPS antenna. No more wires there, either! And, although I haven’t done it yet, NavAir will convert my XM receiver to also send a BT signal to the Socket card. This will eliminate the USB cord I am using between the two units, now.
I felt bad getting all the hardware from NavAir, because like Control Vision, they are in the business to sell the software. They graciously sent me a demo copy of their software, which I installed and tried. While their hardware is absolutely perfect for my application, I prefer Control Vision’s moving map software. Maybe this is a case of an old dog and new tricks, too. But I simply like the Control Vision system, better.
Regardless, I put together the pieces as described, and the pictures you see are the result.
For the airplane, this computer is the perfect solution. For owners of multiple airplanes, this system can easily be moved from one to another. It is the definitive system and a tremendous value, when compared to panel mounted systems that are just starting to come into their own. When UPC’s like the U70 hit US shores in prime-time, I am certain the aviation community will embrace this technology. The tablet pc was supposed to be the solution we were all looking for to create the ultimate paperless cockpit. Their size, connectivity, etc, all made them a flop. The UPC with BT technology solves many of these issues.
The only shortcoming I have with the U70 is the lack of a PC slot. Or, perhaps I should say, that the only shortcoming is with the wireless providers that aren’t offering a CF modem that works. I tried Sprint’s CF modem and it was an exercise in total frustration. Finally, the Sprint tech concluded it wasn’t going to work with a U70. So while I wait for Verizion to offer the Treo 650 which has BT, my U70 remains without a cellular wireless data connection.
What shouldn’t be lost on this discussion is the safety this system provides to the General Aviation pilot. Certainly weather avoidance systems have been available in airplanes for years. But this system makes real-time weather information both available, as well as affordable to nearly any pilot.