Books & Gear

A first look at the Skye­cho II

Pilot - - CONTENTS - A full air-test of the Skye­cho II will ap­pear in the next is­sue-ed.

uavionix Skye­cho II low-cost elec­tronic con­spicu­ity de­vice test, part one

I have been fol­low­ing the se­ries of ar­ti­cles on Elec­tronic Con­spicu­ity in

Pi­lot mag­a­zine with great in­ter­est since be­com­ing a con­vert to the idea of ‘an ex­tra set of elec­tronic eyes’. Specif­i­cally since some friends were in­volved in a mid-air col­li­sion – two white glid­ers skirt­ing cloud base. For­tu­nately all three sur­vived, but both air­craft were writ­ten off and two of the pi­lots had an im­promtu self-taught parachut­ing les­son.

I did not ground-test the unit in Trans­mit/re­ceive mode, since my house is within the cir­cuit of an ac­tive ma­jor air­port, and did not want to cre­ate any false traf­fic in­di­ca­tions or alarms.

For a traf­fic dis­play you will need Sky­de­mon, easyvfr or some other com­pat­i­ble app. Hav­ing told Sky­de­mon how to con­nect, it took sec­onds to start the ‘con­ver­sa­tion’. EASYVFR took a lit­tle longer, since I had to seek ad­vice from the soft­ware maker, but once the set­tings were cor­rect, again it worked in­stantly. EASYVFR can also use the GPS source from the Skye­cho II, sav­ing the bat­tery of your phone or tablet. Skye­cho is ideal for those de­vices which don’t have in­ter­nal GPS – and it has a ‘SIL 1’ GPS, so the CAA are happy with its out­put be­ing used for ATC pur­poses (per CAP 1391) ie to feed GPS data to any ADS-B Out de­vice.

There are no vis­ual alerts from the Skye­cho it­self, so what you see de­pends on your mov­ing map. The in­ter­face can han­dle au­dio alerts but ei­ther it is not im­ple­mented in Skye­cho, or in my dis­plays – I heard noth­ing. (Sky­de­mon are think­ing about this.) Au­dio alerts would re­duce the need for heads-down fix­a­tion on dis­plays.

The big­gest chal­lenge in a flight test is know­ing where other ADS-B equipped air­craft may be. No air­craft at my home base have it fit­ted, al­though my char­iot is pre-wired, its GPS source is not Sil-any­thing so can­not be con­nected to the transpon­der. My home, how­ever, is on the base leg for In­stru­ment ap­proaches to R16 at ’ABZ, so I used Skye­cho to track ADS-B air­craft, com­par­ing both visu­ally and via Fligh­tradar 24 (FR24) or equiv­a­lent. As I write, I am reg­u­larly track­ing he­li­copters out to twenty miles, and air­lin­ers out to 158nm. The max­i­mum range is hope­fully ir­rel­e­vant to col­li­sion avoid­ance, but it demon­strates the sen­si­tiv­ity of the re­ceiver, which may par­tially com­pen­sate for

the non-op­ti­mum po­si­tion of the Skye­cho in the cock­pit, where the wings, en­gine and fuse­lage may block or at­ten­u­ate sig­nals.

I noted also that the odd air­craft whose data on FR24 im­plied they had ADS-B was not dis­played via Skye­cho when ap­par­ently in cover­age. Since I do not know how FR24 ac­tu­ally gets all its data, I leave this as a com­ment and not a crit­i­cism.

De­signed to be eas­ily trans­fer­able be­tween air­craft (in­deed it will fit any shirt pocket-al­though the man­ual warns against that when trans­mit­ting!) Skye­cho can have the ICAO code for the host air­craft and other con­fig­u­ra­tion data up­dated from your browser in a few sec­onds. For non-reg­is­tered air­craft, such as drones, para­chutes, etc, I am as­sured there are pro­ce­dures in place at CAA to pro­vide the re­quired ‘ICAO code’ free of charge.

There is one sim­ple rule: Skye­cho and the air­craft transpon­der (in Mode S) must not both trans­mit at the same time on any air­craft. This is also eas­ily set via wifi or by the air­craft’s transpon­der con­trol. The sam­ple model I re­ceived did not yet have the Mode C-only traf­fic dis­play ca­pa­bil­ity, which will show the traf­fic and its pres­sure height but not bear­ing.

Fit­ting the Skye­cho unit was dead easy, us­ing the sup­plied RAM mount vac­uum pad – all it needs is a smooth ver­ti­cal sur­face with a de­cent ex­ter­nal view. If you have to com­pro­mise the lo­ca­tion, mount it for­ward, since col­li­sions from be­hind are rare. If the slope of your win­dows causes a prob­lem, you can dis­con­nect the RAM mount (a 4mm Allen Key) and use a flex­i­ble Go Pro mount, so you can op­ti­mise both lo­ca­tion and ver­ti­cal ori­en­ta­tion of the de­vice.

I was amazed at the Re­ceive mode track­ing, with close in­trud­ers be­ing tracked even be­hind me. This hap­pened fre­quently. It may be due to strong lo­cal re­flec­tions, so a small shift in the re­ceiver lo­ca­tion could spoil this, so I can­not guar­an­tee sim­i­lar or con­sis­tent per­for­mance.

With easyvfr

All traf­fic is shown by an air­craft sym­bol, and in some cases a sym­bol ap­pro­pri­ate to the air­craft type – this is out­side Skye­cho and uavionix’s area of re­spon­si­bil­ity. The air­craft track length is pro­por­tional to ground­speed, also with a dig­i­tal read­out. Rel­a­tive height be­tween you and the in­truder is shown, and an up/down ar­row for in­truder ver­ti­cal speed. The dis­play up­dates ev­ery sec­ond, which al­lows you to ob­serve in­trud­ers turn­ing to­wards or away from you, and their rate of turn. The in­truder colour is red within ap­prox 1,000 feet of ‘own ship’ height, within ten miles and be­comes green as it climbs or turns away.

With Sky­de­mon

Sky­de­mon was set to show my own air­craft in yel­low and by de­fault other traf­fic as white. The dis­play only shows in­truder ident, vec­tor (at times) climb/de­scend ar­row and rel­a­tive alti­tude. For the same event, ev­ery time easyvfr showed a red alert, Sky­de­mon did not. The Sky­de­mon man­ual in­di­cates the traf­fic sym­bols should turn red when in close prox­im­ity, but I did not see it. There needs to be stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of threat dis­plays.

Skye­cho has a nom­i­nal twelve­hour bat­tery life. In re­ceive-only mode it ran for the best part of two days, overnight and then for twelve hours of my time spent fly­ing and man­ag­ing the air­field.

There are real-time weather maps be­ing broad­cast in the south of Eng­land, which Skye­cho can re­ceive and pass for dis­play, but those trans­mis­sions do not stretch as far north as my base in Scot­land.

Some avi­a­tion ap­pli­ca­tions re­quire in­ter­net ac­cess be­fore use. You will there­fore need to delve into your tablet set­tings un­til NOTAM, WX, etc are down­loaded, only then dis­con­nect­ing the live in­ter­net feed and then con­nect to the Skye­cho wifi to get the traf­fic func­tion­al­ity. Sev­eral times I made the mis­take of chang­ing from one to the other be­fore NOTAM down­load­ing was com­plete on Sky­de­mon, so it was change back and start again or re­sume.

Con­clu­sion

Skye­cho 2 works as ad­ver­tised, giv­ing good vis­ual alert­ing to traf­fic which may be a threat. Show­ing in­trud­ers as threats when within 1,000 feet, even if ten miles away, on the easyvfr dis­play is great when fly­ing un­der IFR, but may be dis­tract­ing in busy en­vi­ron­ments. If all close traf­fic is red, which one is the real pri­or­ity? It may not be the clos­est.

By con­tast the alerts cre­ated by FLARM have sig­nif­i­cant in­truder mo­tion pro­cess­ing, and are op­ti­mised for glid­ers shar­ing ther­mals etc. False alarms are rare. I know from con­vert­ing PPLS to glid­ers that th­ese alert thresh­olds would be far to close for com­fort, but there needs to be a happy medium be­tween spu­ri­ous alerts, which dis­tract the pi­lot from look­ing out, and re­duce con­fi­dence in the sys­tem, and an alert de­liv­ered too late.

Skye­cho’s real-time weather and Mode C traf­fic dis­plays have been demon­strated in UK, and when im­ple­mented na­tion­wide, will only add to its value. Skye­cho de­vices are al­ready on the CAA ‘ap­proved’ list for elec­tronic con­spicu­ity de­vices (CAP 1391) and it could save you the cost of an ex­ter­nal GPS sen­sor.

Price of the de­vice is cur­rently just over £400. It can be bought alone, or with op­tional suc­tion mounts, and match­ing cases.

ABOVE: the com­plete kit, in­clud­ing suc­tion mount and USB ca­ble comes in a zip­per case

Screen shots show, from left, Skye­cho's im­pres­sive range and easyvfr dis­play of con­tacts (with ver­ti­cal sep­a­ra­tion and speed) and red-coded alerts

the cor­re­spond­ing Sykde­mon dis­play – note that this app does not iden­tify any of the con­tacts as pos­ing a col­li­sion risk LEFT:

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