Saturday, 20 June 2009

L3 and Cirrus talk to lawyers

A few years ago L3 started showing its SmartDeck system at trade shows. It sported big screens, an intuitive HSI and a comms centre/FMS panel that had some really neat features. It was certainly a step up from Avidyne's Entegra and looked like it would give Garmin's Perspective a run for its money. I flew a SmartDeck equipped SR22 out of San Jose, California during AOPA's annual Expo last year and was very impressed. Whoever fitted the system into L3's SR22 could have taught Cirrus a thing or two about putting interiors together too.

Cirrus put SmartDeck in their jet prototype, and there were rumours that the company wanted to offer Avidyne, Garmin and L3 avionics to customers. It appears that the economy and internal policies put an end to that plan and Cirrus became pretty much an exclusive Garmin customer, even taking out the SmartDeck from the jet test airframe and putting in Garmin instead.

You can imagine how well that cancellation news would have been received. L3 - has spent what must be a small fortune developing a pretty damn good integrated avionics suite, then another stack of cash getting it certificated only to find temselves without an OEM customer. Pre-cancellation it appears that someone at Cirrus ordered 75 SmartDeck systems that the company no longer needed. Dropping L3’s SmartDeck has lead to a lawsuit being filed by L3’s lawyers claiming $18.7 million for the 75 systems and another $3m that is owed for Stormscopes and other standalone products. If mature, grown up companies take that kind of action then you can be pretty sure that the commercial relationship is pretty well non-existent. The court papers are effectively setting the fire that will burn the bridges, which is interesting because new-build Cirrus aircraft come with an L3 Stormscope as an option (that most people take). I suppose that Cirrus could switch to Avidyne’s TWX670, but so far that doesn’t look like it's happening.

So where now for L3s SmartDeck? They could offer it as a retrofit and compete with Avidyne who are doing just that with their R9 software and Entegra 2 hardware (another impressive system by the way), or they could look for another OEM. In the piston world, any kind of volume really means doing a deal with either Cessna or Cirrus and with the Cirrus/L3 bridges close to burning and Cessna well and truly wedded to Garmin I suspect that we won’t be seeing very much of L3’s SmartDeck in the future.

Airstrip life

There are three us who share this strip. Nigel, the strip owner has a monowheel Europa, Tony has a Rotax powered ARV and I have the trusty C182.
It's a great strip and Nigel has put in huge amounts of work, not only to get it in great condition, but to be good neighbours with anyone living locally. Each summer there's a small fly-in and free BBQ and local residents are invited along and offered a flight. We all work very hard to reduce any aircraft noise, and always take the time to stop and chat. So far, fingers crossed, this seems to be making for a peaceful life for all involved and long may it continue.

One of the regular tasks is the mowing. In theory the three of us take turns, but I've popped over a few times only to find the runway freshly cut, so I was actually quite happy to find it uncut this morning so that I could take my turn. The tractor with mower attached lives on a local farm where Richard the farmer provides tractor and land wisdom. He loves flying, and as a consequence when taking off on 26 we rurn right over his house avoiding a static home park. It takes about an hour to cut the strip, and on a nice summer's evening it's much more a pleasure than a chore.

Friday, 19 June 2009


The Big O, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, is just over five weeks away. It's the biggest aviation show on earth with over 2,500 aircraft expected to fly in, 500 seminars and 800 exhibitors. The hundreds of thousands of visitors have booked most of the hotel rooms (it's bonanza time for local businesses). Flights and hotels are booked, and the press releases and invitations have started to flow. I'm really looking forward to seeing WhiteKnightTwo fly in during Monday's airshow, and to taking a closer look during the week.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Way too soon

I went to Graeme Kidd's funeral today. Graeme and I both worked at Future Publishing in Bath, but that was at least fifteen years ago and I haven't seen him since. Not surprisingly the funeral had some Kidd touches, the coffin was followed down the aisle by a pint of Hereford Pale (later drunk by his elder son I believe), and the congregation contained a mixture of black ties, bow ties, T-shirts, mohicans and mayoral regalia.
After the service a couple of hundred people gathered for a drink and a chat. It struck me that we should hold these wakes before we die, we rarely appreciate those around us enough, and how much better would it be to get together without the necessity for a funeral?

Striping delight

I had to go to Ludlow today and really didn't fancy spending at least five hours in the car, or even longer on the train. With great weather forecast it seemed logical to fly, but of course who's ever heard of Ludlow airport? A quick look at Navbox revealed a couple of options. Shobden offered the traditional GA airport experience, while Milson Airstrip offered the more rural, farm strip option. I called Chris Jones for PPR and booked a taxi to pick me up from the strip.

Milson Airtrip runs north-south (17/35 to be precise) and has a slight upslope that makes it a one-way-in, one-way-out strip unless the wind is really strong. There's 450m of nice grass, so while not very short, it does need some respect with regards to approach speeds. Come in 10 knots too fast here and touch down too late and you'll be needing all of the upslope and some heavy braking to avoid embarassment, particularly if you have a heavy aeroplane with a decent amount of inertia.

The landing fee at Milson is a measly £2, a bargain for such a great facility.