For several years my aircraft did not have an attitude indicator and I never felt entirely comfortable without one. Though I don't intend to fly into IMC, there’s always the thought that I could enter such conditions unintentionally. Without an attitude indicator, I’d have little hope of maintaining wings level or performing a 180 in thick cloud. There wasn’t a lot of room on my panel and I didn't want to cut holes into it, so I thought that a portable USB device would be a good idea. This has the added benefit of being able to take it into other aircraft if I wanted. I considered the Dynon D2 and D3 series for a while, but I thought they were expensive and I learned that the synthetic vision data is quite poor. Whilst waiting for a used Dynon to appear for sale, I learned about the Aircrew. At that time it was only in development but the price point of £395 seemed very good and I registered my email address on the waiting list. I can’t remember exactly when that was, but it was over a year before I was finally able to get my hands on it.
The attitude indicator also includes a slip ball, magnetic compass, ground speed and altimeter presented in a typical EFIS format. The internal barometer does not connect to a static line so it simply uses cockpit pressure, or if you prefer, you can use GPS altitude.
A short press on the rotary knob changes to the traffic display. This derives traffic information wirelessly or via USB from third party traffic devices such as PilotAware. Rotating the knob alters the radius of the radar-like display.
Another short press switches the instrument to the Heading Indicator screen. This can be set to use magnetic heading or GPS track if you prefer.
The Aircrew can be mounted in a standard 80mm instrument hole or there are various options for a temporary mount if you wish.
Weight: 200 grams
The Aircrew was neatly presented in a black box. When I first looked at the instrument it had a better finish than I expected. I am not sure exactly what I expected for such a low priced device, but the Aircrew looks as good as any of the competitors.
When I switched the device on, I noticed the slip ball was not centring. I scrolled through the menus and found a slip ball offset which enabled me to centre it, but despite selecting the save option it seemed to reset after the device was restarted.
I fitted the instrument in a temporary mount on my panel but due to poor weather I was unable to test it for a few days.
The instrument can be powered by a USB or a 12v DC cable. I connected a USB cable to the PilotAware to provide the Aircrew with power. You can also transfer traffic data via USB, but I found it easier to connect to the PilotAware via Wi-Fi.
I centred the slip ball once again whilst the aircraft was parked in the hangar and then took the aircraft flying. The altimeter was very close to my aircraft altimeter and the magnetic compass seemed to work well. During turns, the heading indicator at the top of the attitude screen seemed relatively smooth. I elected to switch the source to GPS track as this was more useful to me than magnetic heading which I already had in the cockpit.
The attitude indicator is the most impressive feature. My initial concerns were that the screen would be too small or the resolution too low to be of any use, but this was not the case. The artificial horizon was quick to respond to my control inputs, even when I handled them abruptly. Having used attitude indicators on my iPhone in the past, I knew that they could be easily toppled and confused during turbulence or steep turns. Perhaps the gyroscopes in phones are more designed for games and not aviation applications. However, the Aircrew did not drift at all and remained steady throughout manoeuvres.
I mounted the instrument directly above the aircraft’s slip ball which allowed me to compare the two. They broadly matched throughout manoeuvres.
At this point it is worth mentioning that I later flew with a student pilot in their syndicate aircraft which was also equipped with an Aircrew. Unfortunately the attitude indicator was easily confused in this aircraft and seemed to drift from the correct attitude a lot. Sometimes it would register a turn when we were straight and level and on other occasions it would become confused when rolling out of a turn. I suspect that this is actually a faulty gyroscope and it should be sent back to Aircrew for attention.
The traffic display is neat. I like the ability to change the radius and I like the simple traffic depiction which is easy to interpret at a glance. That being said, I depict traffic on my iPad so I won’t be using this feature a lot.
The direction indicator screen also works as expected.
I have flown enough hours with my own Aircrew to say with certainty that the indicated attitude is reliable and it could assist a pilot in performing a 180° turn if need be.
After starting the Aircrew on my second flight, I noticed that the slip ball had reset and I needed to adjust the offset again to centre it. I contacted Aircrew to ask for a fix, but strangely this problem went away after a few more flights and the slip ball remained in the centre position. The syndicate pilots also reported the same problem which also resolved itself.
Side-slipping on final approach with the Aircrew.
What I like
The quality finish of the device
The number of customisation options such as changing the colours of the attitude indicator and the ability to maintain mini horizon in the corner whilst scrolling through the other pages
Ability to update the device through my iPhone
The fact that it is portable and easy to set up
Flight logs which can be exported
Reliable attitude indicator
What I don’t like
Initially, I had to reset the slip ball before each flight, but this problem went away without an explanation
The second Aircrew seemed to have a faulty gyroscope
This instrument is everything I was looking for and the price makes it an easy winner if you are looking for a portable attitude indicator. The Aircrew is available from Aircrew.co.uk
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