Interview With Dan Schwinn Of Avidyne, Part I
By ANN Senior Correspondent Kevin R.G. "Hognose" O'Brien
In July, we sat down in a conference room at Avidyne's Bedford,
MA, headquarters with Avidyne President, Dan Schwinn. In a
wide-ranging interview we discussed Avidyne's products, some of its
future plans and possibilities, and a bit of the future of GA in
In Part I of the interview, Dan describes the range of Avidyne's
OEM customers He also tells us how a recent flight -- as a
passenger -- in an Avidyne-equipped plane taught him how Avidyne
users are taking advantage of the capabilities of the datalink
system in ways even he hadn't expected.
In Part II, you'll get
the inside scoop on how Avidyne turned to a savvy old airline
captain when it was first integrating radar with its systems, and
how Avidyne is working with Eclipse Aviation on the most integrated
aircraft in GA history -- maybe in the history of all aviation.
And in Part III, we talk about the future. That's where I ask
loopy questions about Avidyne's future making integrated avionics
for private spacecraft and light sport aircraft, and Dan dismisses
those ideas as loopy -- except, he doesn't, exactly. Will Avidyne
be in the heaviest bizjets, or in airliners? What are the
obstacles? And what about the future of GA in general -- does it
Avidyne's headquarters is in a typical suburban technology park,
a couple of minutes from Bedford's Hanscom Field, an airport
suffering a three-way identity crisis: it serves GA, a few airline
flights, and the Air Force's electronics wallahs.
We settled in to the interview.
Dan Schwinn: Now you've set up a trailer
out there [at Oshkosh]? And go real-time at the show?
Aero-News: Yes. (puts on radio face): The
Aero-News Mobile Office. You know, it's one of those trailers you
see at construction sites; we hire it for the duration of the
That's our big show. And we all come out of a general, or
ultralight, or experimental aviation background. At this time, we
don't have anyone who's a commercial [airline] aviation kind of
guy. We're all down in the lower end of it, where your products are
in the higher end of what we fly.
Dan Schwinn: Well, we have coverage -- if you
look at what we've announced, compared to what we've delivered, we
have coverage from the Symphony 160 which is a two seat training
plane, through PA-28s, a bunch of four-seats like Cirrus, then
you've got Saratoga, Meridian, Adam, Eclipse, other Adam.
We deliberately set out to get that sort of the range.
Particularly at the low end, it's not a high volume or high profit
area for us, but we thought it was very strategic. To get into a
2-seat trainer, to get on to the Piper trainers, we thought that --
especially in the professional training environment -- where
somebody's going to go and they want to become a commercial pilot.
Those guys are switching over to glass cockpits really quickly.
Aero-News: Like Embry-Riddle CAPT, which is on
Brand X, and ATP.
Dan Schwinn: Right. But also you've got UND,
it's gonna take delivery of their first glass Pipers, and
Dowling College is taking delivery of a couple of
glass-equipped Pipers. That phenomenon is happening -- some are
Cessnas and some are Pipers and some are Diamonds. That phenomenon
is happening and we want it to go all the way to the least
expensive certified airplane that we could find.
Aero-News: And then we go up a bit... this
spring you showed the three-panel display in --
Dan Schwinn: -- The Meridian.
Aero-News: -- and that was a beautiful thing to
Dan Schwinn: That is a fabulous application. We
worked with Piper on that for probably close to a year. We were in
the middle of that when we had that hurricane setback that
happened. We have an office in Melbourne, Florida that's working on
it, they were not impacted, but Piper was impacted.
Aero-News: Piper was hit hard.
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. But, in terms of a certified
application, that's our marquee installation right now. It has
absolutely everything that we do in there.
Aero-News: Because, of course, Eclipse and Adam
aren't certified yet.
Adam's partly certified on the 500.
Dan Schwinn: They're (Adam) certified, and they
have an STC for our equipment, but it's a two-screen. It's not as
integrated, and it's not a three-screen system. And they don't have
as many associated systems integrated on it as we did on the
One of the things with the Meridian is, you're working with a
previously certified airplane. There's a lot of systems that have
been added to it or installed additionally over time, that we just
kind of integrated with.
But it's really super! It's one of the first with the multilink
capability. It wasn't the first, but it was one of the first. It's
got the XM [radio and weather] and the Orbcom on it. Narrowcasting.
It's got charts.
It's the first with the radar. Of course, we've been doing radar
forever, but it was the first one where we put it on the large
And that is -- it's really, really, really slick.
Aero-News: What's the capability to overlay
things like radar, traffic, and I suppose you can put sferics in if
you have those... Strikefinders and whatnot?
Yeah. You can overlay on your main map, you can overlay all this
different kind of stuff. You can overlay one kind of radar, so,
either the XM or the narrowcast or the onboard. You can't overlay
multiple radars at once.
You can overlay one sort of radar, one sort of lightning,
Aero-News: But you can actually toggle back
between the onboard and the XM --
Dan Schwinn: Yeah, you can toggle back.
Aero-News: So you can see the historic and the
instantaneous from YOUR point of view --
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. You can click right back and
forth very quickly.
It's really nice!
Aero-News: It really lets you form a mental,
situational awareness, picture of the weather.
Dan Schwinn: Right. And by the way, the reason
we didn't try to composite those [different sources of wx radar]
is, first of all, there was no obvious way to do it. Second,
there's the color thing. You know, those colors are sort of based
on regulation. And so, we considered using, let's say, a completely
different color set for datalink. But we thought that people are
used to what those colors mean, it's a specific number of dBs of
rain that gives you that specific color. And we decided that given
the rapid ability to switch back and forth, that we'd [stick with
the original colors]
Aero-News: And of course, you couldn't really
integrate that because you have the two different [radar] points of
view, and --
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. The timing, altitude...
Aero-News: so nothing's gonna look the same...
'cause you're looking at it from two slices of a three-dimensional
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. That's right.
You know, one of the things you can do with the radar that
people normally don't think of, with onboard radar, is, if you put
up the terrain, the terrain shows water, hills, and you can sort of
tell where the cities are. That stuff all shows up on onboard
Aero-News: Yeah, that's true, you can crank
your radar down a little...
Dan Schwinn: Right. You can aim your radar and
you can pick out the city or body of water, or a mountain. And they
overlay perfectly on top of the terrain [maps in the Avidyne
display]. Totally cool!
Now, it doesn't have a very specific practical use. It's
practical use is as a check, and it's also to let you know, that
radar return is a hill. It's not a little storm over there.
That's something that, I don't know how many people actually do
But that was one of the first things that I noticed when I was
doing it. A long time ago on the X750.
Aero-News: There was a fellow who used to write
a column on using radar.
Dan Schwinn: Archie Trammell.
Aero-News: And he wrote about using radar just
like that. But he was using it with the old, little, monochrome
Dan Schwinn: Pre-overlay-anything!
Aero-News: And the capability -- the
integration of it [with the PFD/MFD] really starts to...
Dan Schwinn: Yeah. Another thing that's nice
is, you can show sferics from the onboard or the ground-based
system. [Ed. Note: Sferics are displays of electrical activity in
storms, as used by the Stormscope or Strikefinder. Radar conversely
shows the moisture in clouds and falling as precipitation. A modern
multifunction display like those sold by Avidyne lets you see both
of these clues to bad weather on a large display, in a plan view
moving map centered on your aircraft]. XM ships up, like, lightning
strikes [data] from the ground network.
Aero-News: Oh, I wasn't aware of that.
Dan Schwinn: And again, you can toggle one,
then the other. Of course, the onboard has cell and strike mode.
[the datalink sferics do not].
And the thing that's really slick about this, when combined with
radar -- whether it's onboard radar or datalink radar -- is that it
allows you to identify red areas that actually have convective
activity inside of 'em.
I was taking a flight last week -- I was actually in the back --
I was watching two reasonably experienced pilots fly with our EX
500. I've never done that before. And I was laughing my head off
the whole time just because... you work on these products, you feel
like they're really great products, and they are. And you THINK you
know exactly how they work, and how people ought to use them. And
that's not exactly how they always use them.
And sometimes, they're doing things in ways that are relatively
difficult, compared to what the product'll let you do. In other
cases, they're using it in ways you never thought of. And in other
cases, they're using data in ways that make you go, "Wow, that's
not necessarily what that was intended for." And it's really,
really really entertaining to do that.
To Be Continued...