Well, the intensely cold weather we had to endure for several weeks past now looks to be behind us, at least down here in South-East England. But in its place, we are on the receiving end of another kind of weather which is proving to be just as frustrating from a flying point of view.
For several days now we have had dull, depressing, misty, almost drizzle-like conditions with almost everything outside being dripping wet and with permanent puddles underfoot. Horrible. Apparently it’s because we have a warm front from the south-west coming up against a cold front from north-east and the collision point is not moving as neither will give-way to the other. And the collision point is a line that diagonally bisects the country, so it’s still cold up-north but mild and soggy down-south.
It’s totally unflyable in the South, of course, because of the low cloudbase and visibility problems, which are exacerbated because of the very light winds we have – practically zero actually. This is doubly frustrating for me because although I can’t do anything with MYRO, I desperately need to get up in the air, probably in MZEL. The reason for this is very exciting.
Since before Christmas I’ve had in my possession a complete, brand new comms kit. And not only is it brand new, it’s also brand new for the UK and isn’t on sale here – not yet, anyway. Heres a pic of what I’m talking about.
The kit is for a fixed-wing aircraft although the pic shows a flexwing type PTT button. If I fit it into MYRO I’ll probably chop it and modify it with another button I already have that will fit into the top of the joystick. I really want to fly the kit because its spec is superb and I very much want to try it out. I’ll tell you a bit more about it. First the headsets.
The kit designer and manufacturer is actually big in military equipment and they say that the level of noise reduction sets a new standard for this class of equipment. I can’t wait to find out. The headsets come with very well designed noise-reducing mics incorporating noise-cancelling elements, a noise chamber for even greater effectiveness and wind-resistant foam shields. The ear cups have very soft Nappa leather seals and there’s an individual sound level control on each headset. The left cup houses 4 x AAA Li-Ion batteries giving 120 hour life and to cap it all, each headset comes with a free fleece headset bag.
The headsets are fitted with RJ45 plugs to connect straight into the system’s interface, which I’ll tell more about in a moment, but with adaptors they are compatible with other systems, such as Lynx. So what about the interface?
It’s called VxBox, and although it’s quite small, measuring only 73x50x25mm and weighing only 65 grams, it’s packed full of very desirable features. For a start it’s a superb intercom system with a beautiful noise-reduced ambiance. However, the last thing a pilot wants is for his passenger to start chatting just when a RT message comes in or when he needs to make a transmission, so there’s auto-passenger muting to deal with those situations. It’s switchable actually, so in a training environment, for example, an instructor could retain the ability to transmit as and when necessary. VxBox also comes with audio-in and audio-out. Audio-in is via a 3.5mm jack so an i-Pod, for example can be directly connected and played during flight. But what if a RT message comes in, you ask? Simple – there’s auto-muting when receiving and transmitting radio messages, and for 6 seconds afterwards to cover exactly that eventuality. And audio-out? One of the latest things that every pilot wants to do is be able to create videos of their flights to share with friends and family and put on YouTube. Up to now it’s been quite a complex thing to set up, but now that’s all over, because VxBox has an amplified RCA output that can connect to any camcorder with a RCA input (ie most modern ones). When connected, it sends everything – intercom chat, RT messages and even audio-in if it’s playing. Amazing – so now you can forget all those questions about leads, compatibility, and goodness knows what. It’s simple plug-and-play!
VxBox connects one or two headsets to either a Vertex VXA-220 transceiver or an Icom 6/24, 5/23 or 3/22. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve gone for the Vertex which I think is the best transceiver of its type on the market and the plug shown is for that model. However, the kit can also be supplied already fitted with the correct plug(s) for the Icom models I’ve mentioned above (but not the now obsolete 2/20).
And last but not least, the power supply. This is called the PowerBox stabilised power supply.
Vertex transceivers have a very long battery life but the same cannot be said for the Icoms for which an external power supply is essential. Even with a Vertex, though, a separate power supply is advisable for peace of mind when touring or for anything much more than local hops. One of the problems, of course, is that different transceivers work at different voltages. The power supply I have is for the Vertex VXA-220 so it’s set to 9.6V and has a jack plug to match. The various Icom models all have different voltages and variations in plugs which I didn’t have to worry about. The PowerBox is of very advanced design and while again being small in size, only 73x50x25mm and 140 grams in weight, it incorporates a heavy-duty choke, voltage regulator and noise filter. It comes with a bare power lead to which you can fit a DIN plug, a car cigar lighter plug or another connector of choice. When I fit it into MYRO I’ll be fitting a DIN plug to use one of the new DIN sockets I put into the panel in the Summer.
The whole point of this kit is that like most of the other similar kits now being used in the UK, in order to conform to the rules (without going into more detail) it mustn’t be a permanent fit in the aircraft. This is why it comes ready for a plug to be connected to the power supply lead and some large strips of Velcro so it can be stuck onto the panel or wherever when in use and removed after the flight. A good thing for security and it’s certainly small enough to fit in even the smallest single-seat aircraft!
So that’s the latest news. I can’t wait to get into the air with this kit and hopefully I won’t have too much longer to wait. I’ll let you know how it performs when I do.