The Early Bird: Installing ADS-B In

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December 2015

It’s been nine months now since I started my ADS-B installation project. Along the way I’ve sold most of my old avionics, researched and purchased new avionics, and babysat the installation processes.

In addition, I’ve had a complex annual inspection that found corrosion needing repair and have installed auxiliary fuel tanks.

I’d like to repaint my airplane too, as the paint is original from 1977—but my checkbook is empty. Maybe my guardian angel will come and help me. (I’ve heard it said that when you hear a bell ring, an angel is painting an airplane... I can only hope!)

My plane is now out of the shop and I’ve done some flying, but I really can’t handle another task this year. I don’t want to write any more checks. I just want to fly.

Since I’ve had a lot of time to ponder this whole project while I watched the work move forward one inch at a time, I’ve come to some conclusions about ADS-B.

 

Multiple options
We aircraft owners have multiple ADS-B routes we can take. For ADS-B Out, the options are to install either: (a) a Mode S/ES transponder with WAAS GPS position source; or (b) a Universal Access Transceiver (UAT).

For ADS-B In, the options include: (a) doing nothing, as compliance is not required by the FAA; (b) permanently installing a UAT for ADS-B In capability, traffic and weather (this is the certified method); or (c) choosing the noncertified method by use of a portable ADS-B receiver or UAT. (Portable options usually come with Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth capability to broadcast to your iPad, iPhone, Android tablet or other portable device.)

Near as I can tell, the basic transponder or UAT installation costs in the thousands of dollars. If you have to install a new WAAS GPS, the bill could be between $10,000 and $25,000.

 

My philosophy
I chose to upgrade all of my avionics at the same time. While this could have been hugely expensive, I chose to do the upgrade now while trade-in and/or resale values on my old equipment were high.

In fact, my Garmin GNS 530 brought $9,000 and my GMA 340 audio panel brought over $1,000. My Narco AT-150 transponder brought $500.
I chose new equipment from Avidyne. Avidyne Corp. has been aggressive about the incentives that it’s offering on its avionics and by purchasing the IFD540 GPS along with an AMX240 audio panel and AXP340 Mode S transponder, I was able to get the transponder for free.

I feel that if I had waited two or three more years, the resale value on my older avionics likely would have tanked and discounts on the new equipment would have evaporated.

At this point I have a Garmin GMX 200 MFD with a Garmin GDL 69 datalink weather receiver. The weather receiver is compatible with both the MFD and my new Avidyne IFD540 GPS, so datalink weather displays on both. However, with ADS-B, you can get weather free along with traffic.

 

Weighing the alternatives
Since I wanted traffic, I decided to remove the GDL 69 and get ADS-B In on my Avidyne GPS and on my Garmin MFD.

Here’s the rub: currently Garmin has turned that MFD into an orphan. It doesn’t have an ADS-B In solution that supports the Garmin MFD that I’ve been able to find. Avidyne has three ADS-B solutions that support its IFD540 and MFD. Neither company has a solution that supports both.

I could have sold the GMX 200 and purchased and Avidyne EX600 MFD, but that’s a very expensive switch. I started researching alternatives.

With a little help my avionics shop, Burlington Air Center at my home airport in Burlington, Wis. (KBUU), I looked at an unknown-to-me company named NavWorx Inc. Having looked at them quite closely and after a bit of due diligence, I decided to purchase NavWorx’s certified aircraft transceiver, the ADS600-B.

This device allows my aircraft to have ADS-B Out and In at a $2,500 price point. It will display traffic and weather on both my GMX 200 MFD and my Avidyne IFD540. And it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to my portable device, too.

The device is extremely configurable with both its own onboard WAAS GPS, or you can use lat/long input from your own WAAS GPS with a software configuration menu change.

You can use the device as just an ADS-B receiver or as a full UAT with transmit capability. In my case, I’m using the lat/long input from my IFD540 GPS and the device in receive mode only.

In my aircraft (a twin), the device will sit right behind the luggage bulkhead behind the back seats. In Picture 01, you can see my new 406 MHz ELT and in front of it is the old GDL 69 datalink receiver. That receiver will get removed and shipped to its new owner, and the new NavWorx ADS600-B UAT will be installed right in its place.

My avionics tech, Erich is hoping that the wiring from the GDL 69 can be used for the UAT so he doesn’t have to run any new wires to the panel. This would save big bucks in billable labor time.

Picture 02 shows the older Garmin GDL 69 receiver (in silver/aluminum) standing up and the new NavWorx ADS600-B UAT (in gold) lying in front. For reference, I placed some spark plugs in the photo. The new UAT weighs in at about 1.5 pounds. Clearly NavWorx packs a lot in a small, lightweight box.

Picture 03 shows the ELT location with the GDL 69 removed, and Picture 04 shows the new ADS600-B installed with a necessary altitude encoder right above it. (The UAT needs both a GPS position input and an altitude input.)

We could have run wires from the front of the plane to relay the encoder information, but it turned out to be less expensive—and easier—to simply install a second encoder with the unit. (I saved money, but I still had to spend some.) 

 

Software configuration:
While not quite as exciting as flying with the UAT turned on, the test phase of the project was certainly more enjoyable than opening the envelope with the installation invoice.

It passed the smoke test, and the PC configuration software supplied by NavWorx found the ADS600-B perfectly. Configuration via Erich’s personal computer plugged into a serial port on the UAT was very easy.

Pictures 05, 06 and 07 show a few of the configuration screens. It was so easy that I really didn’t need a manual or instructions, at least for this first test.
You’ll see in these pictures (05, 06, 07) that we needed to input the following: N-number, ICAO hex code, display type(s) and source of altitude and GPS position (lat/long). At this point I was eager to take the plane up, so we rolled it out of the hangar and off I went.

User instructions
It had occurred to me the night before that NavWorx didn’t have a user manual or documentation that I could find online or in the box that came with the unit. No CD/DVD either. Perhaps it is so easy to use that it’s totally intuitive, I thought. After all, I’d used Garmin GDL 69 datalink weather, and never read a manual for that device, either.

Then it occurred to me that I was doing the displaying on the Garmin GMX 200 MFD. Garmin wouldn’t have any user directions for a NavWorx unit, would it?
I dusted off the GMX 200 manual that I had printed out five years ago. It was dated with a version from 2007. It really wasn’t possible that the Garmin had published ADS-B/NavWorx user directions in 2007, was it?

As it turns out, ADS-B traffic and weather were indeed published in the Garmin manual in 2007. Additionally, the software in the GMX 200 was also configured according to the ADS-B standard back in 2007.

ADS-B In is so easy to use, totally intuitive, that you really don’t need a manual to achieve basic functionality. I did read the Garmin manual, however—and learned a lot more than I would have by just playing with the unit. I would recommend that you read your display manual, too.

Erich told me that the wiring diagrams with the NavWorx unit were excellent—but suggested they could be made even better if each diagram, corresponding to each kind of display to be hooked up to the unit, had a software configuration matrix to go with it. In my case, if the documentation had contained the information to configure the Garmin GMX 200 MFD menus as well as the ADS600-B menus, it would have saved Erich time and research. (It also would have saved me even more money.)

 

First flight
Getting back to the first test flight. After starting the engines and doing my runup, I set my MFD to traffic. A traffic screen did show up and it did show that the ADS-B box was working. I didn’t see any traffic, but figured I would after takeoff.

I switched to weather and didn’t see anything there, either—but I hadn’t expected to, as my GDL 69 satellite receiver was gone. With the GDL 69 I could get weather immediately after power up because the airplane was outside and able to receive satellite transmissions; the ADS-B unit receives from ground-based transmitters, so I’d have to be in the air before I could receive them.

Erich suggested that I would start receiving weather about 1,800 feet AGL. After takeoff and safely aloft away from the airport, I put a map of Wisconsin on my MFD. The map came up perfectly, but didn’t display any weather data.

Well, duh, it’s September! I realized. The United States isn’t usually covered in clouds during September. I zoomed my map out to 1,000 miles and rain showed up at various locations around the country. The weather worked!

Alas, on this first flight, traffic didn’t work. Ultimately I found an error message on my transponder that said “Warning: ADS-B Position Missing.” There was no lat/long displayed on the screen.

Since this feature worked before I took the plane in to have the ADS-B In unit installed, I assumed something ran amok during the install process. Hopefully it will be a quick fix.

 

No reason to delay
In addition to lengthy ADS-B information provided on vendors’ websites, I’ve read innumerable magazine articles on ADS-B—and continue to do so. And yet, somewhere along the way, I’d missed the most important feature that, to me, justifies immediate ADS-B implementation.

So what is that feature? I hear you ask.
The understanding that I’ve been under is that for ADS-B In traffic to work and display another airplane, the other airplane must have ADS-B Out installed and turned on. While it is true that any aircraft with a Mode S extended squitter transponder or UAT will show up on my traffic display, there are two other categories that show up on my traffic display as well.

If I’m at a larger airport with ground vehicles, those vehicles will show up on my display in the color tan. Airplanes—those taxiing and otherwise ground-bound, but powered up—will display as well. This means that ADS-B implementation will show you the aircraft on the ground even when visibility or visual obstruction doesn’t allow you to see them.

But the real kicker is that aircraft with an old Mode C or Mode S but non-extended squitter transponders show up, too. Granted, these Mode C and Mode S aircraft display as a light blue box which indicates that the location isn’t as precise—but there they are, anyway. In other words, every transponder-squawking aircraft shows up on your traffic display even though they are using old equipment.

What this means is that we can all see Mode C and Mode S aircraft now and not have to wait until 2020. We can get traffic avoidance now! This alone, in my opinion, is the single most important reason to install ADS-B today.

One caveat: ADS-B In will pick up and display ADS-B Out traffic being transmitted airplane-to-airplane as well as from ground-to-airplane. An old Mode C or Mode S (non-ES) transponder will display in your airplane only from a ground datalink. This means that you must be within range of a ground transmitter to get this traffic.

Check the ADS-B coverage map to see how your state is covered by these ground transmitters. As I understand it, there are over 400 stations in the continental United States at this time. (See Resources for a link. —Ed.)

 

Second flight
I’m off to the airport for my second test flight. Erich thinks he has fixed the “Warning: GPS Position Missing” error message.

Upon taking off, it became apparent that the GPS position problem has been fixed—that is, the error message went away and the lat/long displays correctly on the transponder again.

Unfortunately, after two hours of flight, the traffic display didn’t display any traffic. (See Picture 08).

Two steps forward and one back.

 

Third flight
A few days later, I’m again back at the airport. (I guess I shouldn’t say “again back at the airport” like it’s unpleasant. I’d like to be at the airport every day!) Hopefully today is the day we can get all the squawks out.

New software with different configuration information was downloaded via internet into the ADS-600B per the manufacturer’s request. Additionally, one wire in a connector was in the wrong pin location. Erich then ran the simulation software from NavWorx and it showed that the box was working correctly. Time for a third test flight.

Ah, sweet success! Traffic and weather free from the FAA delivered to my panel by NavWorx, displayed by Garmin and driven by Avidyne. Life is good. Plus, getting comfortable with the new functionality is a no-brainer. It’s easy and intuitive. (See Picture 09).

I recommend ADS-B In completely. This is an outstanding service that the FAA is supplying us, and long after I’ve written the check and forgotten how much this costs and how frustrating it may have been to make work, I’ll be enjoying the benefits.

 

Scott Sherer is a multi-engine and instrument rated private pilot. He flies a light twin based at Burlington Municipal (KBUU) in Burlington, Wis., and has logged over 2,600 hours. Send questions or comments to .