3 August 2021
From £1,740 | www.flarm.com
I must confess to being a bit of a fan of systems which reduce the risk of a mid-air collision. Having spent much of my flying career trying to spot an adversary before they saw me, I know how fallible the ‘Mk I eyeball’ can be.
Even knowing precisely the position of an aircraft, it can be frustratingly difficult to spot sometimes, and a radio call from the controller of ‘plots merge’ certainly gets your eyes out of the cockpit and your heart racing. For some, ignorance can be bliss but for me, being told of an approaching aircraft and prompted into scanning those key threat areas is important.
So, when we started planning the avionics fit of our Van’s RV-8 some 10 years ago, providing a form of Electronic Conspicuity (EC) was a no-brainer. ADS-B was already gaining traction as the preferred method, but given the risk from gliders FLARM was seen as worthwhile addition. The RAF had suffered a couple of mid-airs (one with a glider) and were in the process of installing FLARM on their Grob Tutors. It was a useful aid and worked well alongside an Avidyne TAS system which covered the ADS-B in and out option.
For me, PowerFLARM Core seemed the obvious solution. Its GPS source could be coupled with a transponder such as the Trig TT21 to provide ADS-B in and out functionality as well as the FLARM in and out transmissions.
All this could be hard wired to most EFIS displays and, with a bit of trickery, connected to a mobile device running an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) app such as Sky Demon (SD) to provide an additional display. It all worked fine but it had its foibles. Sorting the WiFi connection to a mobile device was occasionally flakey and the FLARM update process was less than convincing. Considering it is required annually, the next update never seemed far away!
The arrival on the scene of PowerFLARM Fusion provided a great opportunity to see how the new unit performed and to discover the benefits first-hand. I was doing a bit of work behind the instrument panel anyway and it was therefore a good time to do some testing. Fortunately, the replacement box is an identical size, so swapping out the equipment was straightforward.
The bright orange colour of the new Fusion box marks its difference from the older Core box and gives it a rather ‘data recorder-ish’ look. Although to be honest, the advantage of PowerFLARM is that it can be installed out of sight, so the colour is pretty irrelevant – it just reminds you that there is something new behind the panel!
Fusion is supplied with the usual set of internal antennas and a GPS puck, but because the aircraft had been originally setup with these installed during the original build, we didn’t need to use them. What we did need was an adaptor pack,, which allows all the original wiring to be used, and it can therefore be installed with just a couple of small spanners. Whereas the old PowerFLARM Core came in different versions for the USA and the rest-of-the-world markets, the new Fusion can be used seamlessly worldwide.
Once all the redundant wiring from the old WiFi module and GPS had been cleared away – it absolutely does! A flick of the power switch and we were met with the customary flashing green LEDs, followed shortly by the WiFi broadcasting. A quick scan of the supplied QR code and a few seconds later we were connected via my iPhone to the FLARM Hub web interface using the phone’s browser. Programming could now begin!
This entire process was so much more straightforward than with the previous model. Not needing a WiFi bridging module made installation easier and simplified the wiring. The elimination of the requirement to buy all the various separate licences is a real boon too. This was always a bit of a ‘faff’ with the old system and you were never quite sure if there would be a change to the charging structure which could leave you paying a regular fee. Now it all comes pre-installed as standard.
Setting-up too, is a real joy. You were never quite sure what was going on with the old box. If you couldn’t see the flashing green LEDs (and in most installations you couldn’t!) you really were trusting the gods. Now, you simply log into the FLARM Hub’s internal server and programme ‘on the fly’ using an excellent interface. The menus are intuitive and updating the software and configuring for our AFS EFIS worked first time, instantly showing some tracks. The little green LEDs are mirrored on the app too, so confidence is high that all is working as it should.
More tools have just been added as well. The latest Hub software has a built-in ‘scenario simulator’ which allows verification of the visual and audio outputs on all connected devices for the key traffic types (ADS-B, Mode S and FLARM).
In truth, it performed just like it always has. Pairing the Fusion with an iPhone running SD was straightforward (SD already provide PowerFLARM Fusion as a drop-down menu option). This type of connection can only be made to a single device. Fusion uses a number of protocols but in connecting with SD it is able to exchange a full information suite and you will therefore see all traffic types. Most other EFBs operate on the GDL90 protocol which usually does not provide information on mode-S traffic. So if you want to run more than one device over WiFi it makes sense to connect the main one through the SD app and the others, running SD or otherwise, using the GDL90 generic protocol. All should be capable of providing audio and visual alerts without the need for a separate FLARM subscription.
So, in short, this upgrade brings major improvements in the areas where PowerFLARM Core frustrated in the past. Being able to connect multiple devices over WiFi is an essential new feature and the FLARM Hub interface makes setting up and validating the install a real pleasure. Not being caught out by having the incorrect licenses is a big help too and the straightforward install makes this purchase, whether as an upgrade or as a fresh install, an excellent choice. Steve Ayres