Have we reached the end of the Steam Gauge era?

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Wanttaja

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Well, again not even e-ink, tho it's closer I guess. I'm talking make a traditional gauge but use some kind of servo, or microstepper motor to move your dial or indicators physically, in the real world. Like a CNC machine ya know? It's more work but the result is something that again should be indistinguishable from a real gauge. You should be able to outfit a P51 with these and someone would think "this looks original" and then you reveal the secret plot twist that they've been flying evil digital the whole time! Muwahahahahahaha *moustache twirl*
Digital to mechanical interfaces. Brrr. Not that easy in a small, cheap package. Also needs decent feedback to the electronics to ensure the mechanicals are indicating what the electronics tell them to do.

Certainly realize this sort of thing is done with stuff like CNC, but now we're talking lightweight, long-term vibration, life-critical stuff. Steam gauges are probably the better implementation.

As for as E-Ink, I love my Kindle, but the stuff isn't fast.

Ron Wanttaja
 

bmcj

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Well, again not even e-ink, tho it's closer I guess. I'm talking make a traditional gauge but use some kind of servo, or microstepper motor to move your dial or indicators physically, in the real world. Like a CNC machine ya know? It's more work but the result is something that again should be indistinguishable from a real gauge. You should be able to outfit a P51 with these and someone would think "this looks original" and then you reveal the secret plot twist that they've been flying evil digital the whole time! Muwahahahahahaha *moustache twirl*
digital failure rates might give advantage to mechanical and mechanical failure rates might give advantage to digital. Now we can have a system that can fail two ways. ;)

My buddy (since passed) made a very lucrative business retrofitting hot rods and muscle cars with custom round gauge panels that were fed by remote digital sensors. He could fabricate the dual face to replicate any vintage gauge.
 

Toobuilder

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IF you're responding to me, let me say that if there is such a thing as I am looking for out there, I'd love to hear of it. But so far I've found that while there are discrete digital gauges, there's two issues with them as far as I understand: they look digital in that they use LED displays or LCD screens or something else, which isn't as appealing (and for my specific warbird aesthetic especially) but is also not as intuitive as a dial for some. I've seen many that will espouse the benefits of a physical dial vs any sort of flat screen display. And the second issue is they are actual instruments with their own internal chipsets interpreting data. This makes them expensive and vital.

I'd want gauges that look and act exactly like analog steam gauges on the front side of the panel, such that you would not notice any difference between an aircraft with these and one that had actual steam gauges wired in the old way. But on the backside, you would only have short housings and a USB or SATA cable or something-else port, with the corresponding type of common data cables all tied to a central hub on an EFIS computer, so that each instrument is simply a dumb 'display'. It just outputs the dial positions it is told to by the computer that does all the actual work. The hope would be that by having zero logic in the instrument it could theoretically be fairly affordable and not as prone to obsolescence when better sensors or computing methods or whatever is available. Also if one craps out, you still have that data, you could use an iPad or other monitoring screen to reference the data the gauge is unable to render.

As far as I've found, there is no such system out there. Either the sexy EFIS which comes with a big glass display, digital gauges that individually replace individual steam gauges, or classic steam. If someone does make this, I havn't come across it yet!
There are a few points in this thread which bear a closer look - some are more esoteric than others.

First off is the need to maintain a certain aesthetic so that the instruments fit the theme of a particular aircraft. I get that just a little, but I'd say that market is very, very small. After all, new Waco biplanes come with glass these days. A more practical issue is the very real difficulty people have when transitioning from steam to glass. For a bunch of people the information presented is just too overwhelming to be useful. My -8 has both glass and steam and its funny how some pilots focus on the steam airspeed and altitude tucked down in the corner of the panel instead of the far more obvious (to me) versions in living color right in front of their face on the PFD. This can be easily overcome by most, so one should not fear change in that respect.

But the one thing I do agree with here wholehartedly is the need for a remote EFIS/EMS "black box" which feeds a standardized display. Display screens are cheap and getting better all the time, why not allow THAT to be the thing that gets replaced every 2 years instead of the whole system? This way you can fit the size screen you want connected with a simple cable and upgrade whenever you want At low cost. The person who brings this concept to market is going to change the homebuilt avionics industry.
 

rbrochey

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Glass and computer glitches grounded the United fleet yesterday... sat technology is not all it's cracked up to be... notice how much longer it takes to buy a pound of 6 penny nails where a computer is involved?... I think the sat technology is going to be even less reliable in the future... this morning the cloud cover made it impossible to use my flip phone but my land line worked... it always works. Give me steam gauges... ;)
 

TXFlyGuy

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Glass and computer glitches grounded the United fleet yesterday... sat technology is not all it's cracked up to be..;)
Not yesterday. About 2 months ago, maybe. But then it was actually an FAA issued ground stop. Another knee jerk reaction by the feds.
 

TFF

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Glass is great, but nothing cooler than getting up in a B-17 or DC3 with all the gauges. My boss and I saw a friend ferrying a QueenAir somewhere, and we asked if we could climb in for a minute. My boss sat down and he just sat there; I could tell the angels were singing a big choral wall of sound. Except for duel 430s all round gauges. My boss has 30,000 hrs split even between helicopters and airplanes. He loves flying glass panels, but they will never get the response of love and respect those round gauges had that day. Even he would say he would rather have the glass, but in reality he misses the skill needed to fly VOR to VOR. Thomas Wolf "You cant go home again", but boy it would be great if you could.
 

TXFlyGuy

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Glass is great, but nothing cooler than getting up in a B-17 or DC3 with all the gauges. My boss and I saw a friend ferrying a QueenAir somewhere, and we asked if we could climb in for a minute. My boss sat down and he just sat there; I could tell the angels were singing a big choral wall of sound. Except for duel 430s all round gauges. My boss has 30,000 hrs split even between helicopters and airplanes. He loves flying glass panels, but they will never get the response of love and respect those round gauges had that day. Even he would say he would rather have the glass, but in reality he misses the skill needed to fly VOR to VOR. Thomas Wolf "You cant go home again", but boy it would be great if you could.
Sure, there is a certain nostalgia about antique things. We were even going to put period correct instruments in our Mustang. Until, that is, we looked at the cost, the weight, the reliability, and the real world of FAA IFR flying going forward. The modern glass panel gives you so much more information, and capability, and reliability.

If round dials were really cool, Garmin would make them.
 

103

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For the last 50 or 75 years at least, the fundamental mind-set in aviation has been maximum reliability AND the presence of one or more back-up systems everywhere it is possible to have them. That shouldn't go away IMHO. Anything pneumatic can have one kind of problem (vacuum pump, bugs in the pitot tube) and anything electronic can have another kind of problem (battery, bad circuit breaker).

Modern electronics have gotten a lot better in terms of reliability, but the truth is that your phone and iPad can still be hacked by some 15 year old kid 5000 miles away from wherever you are. Nowdays, there is a strong trend towards having aircraft electronics and data systems linked and networked and sharing data with ATC, etc. So there is a network connection and there is a data pathway that can eventually be cracked. So the very LAST thing that I want is for a network outage, innocent glitch, or intentional meddling to affect my navigation. "Honest, General, the little highway-in-the-sky icon told me I was on course a hundred miles away from here, and then all of a sudden it said ATTENTION Lottery Winner!!! and it wanted my credit card number!"

As much as I will always want to carry a paper chart, I absolutely love the little $75 computer tablet and the free AvAre moving map software that I fly with. They both have a place in my airplane.

For a homebuilt VFR minimalist airplane (our beloved VP-21 or Flying Motorcycle) I would say that a small tablet or large phone Velcro'ed to the panel, and perhaps one or two 2 inch pneumatic instruments, would be a good compromise.

Somebody should be thinking about making a (mechanical) combination airspeed and altimeter (concentric dials or split quadrants) in a 2 1/4 inch size instrument. Outer ring is non-sensitive altitude, inner ring is airspeed - or top half separate from bottom half. Sort of like a 2 in 1 combo EGT/CHT, but air operated for ALT/ASI.

Ramble/Rant switch off
For the last 50 or 75 years at least, the fundamental mind-set in aviation has been maximum reliability AND the presence of one or more back-up systems everywhere it is possible to have them. That shouldn't go away IMHO. Anything pneumatic can have one kind of problem (vacuum pump, bugs in the pitot tube) and anything electronic can have another kind of problem (battery, bad circuit breaker).

Modern electronics have gotten a lot better in terms of reliability, but the truth is that your phone and iPad can still be hacked by some 15 year old kid 5000 miles away from wherever you are. Nowdays, there is a strong trend towards having aircraft electronics and data systems linked and networked and sharing data with ATC, etc. So there is a network connection and there is a data pathway that can eventually be cracked. So the very LAST thing that I want is for a network outage, innocent glitch, or intentional meddling to affect my navigation. "Honest, General, the little highway-in-the-sky icon told me I was on course a hundred miles away from here, and then all of a sudden it said ATTENTION Lottery Winner!!! and it wanted my credit card number!"

As much as I will always want to carry a paper chart, I absolutely love the little $75 computer tablet and the free AvAre moving map software that I fly with. They both have a place in my airplane.

For a homebuilt VFR minimalist airplane (our beloved VP-21 or Flying Motorcycle) I would say that a small tablet or large phone Velcro'ed to the panel, and perhaps one or two 2 inch pneumatic instruments, would be a good compromise.

Somebody should be thinking about making a (mechanical) combination airspeed and altimeter (concentric dials or split quadrants) in a 2 1/4 inch size instrument. Outer ring is non-sensitive altitude, inner ring is airspeed - or top half separate from bottom half. Sort of like a 2 in 1 combo EGT/CHT, but air operated for ALT/ASI.

Ramble/Rant switch off
 

103

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For the last 50 or 75 years at least, the fundamental mind-set in aviation has been maximum reliability AND the presence of one or more back-up systems everywhere it is possible to have them. That shouldn't go away IMHO. Anything pneumatic can have one kind of problem (vacuum pump, bugs in the pitot tube) and anything electronic can have another kind of problem (battery, bad circuit breaker).

Modern electronics have gotten a lot better in terms of reliability, but the truth is that your phone and iPad can still be hacked by some 15 year old kid 5000 miles away from wherever you are. Nowdays, there is a strong trend towards having aircraft electronics and data systems linked and networked and sharing data with ATC, etc. So there is a network connection and there is a data pathway that can eventually be cracked. So the very LAST thing that I want is for a network outage, innocent glitch, or intentional meddling to affect my navigation. "Honest, General, the little highway-in-the-sky icon told me I was on course a hundred miles away from here, and then all of a sudden it said ATTENTION Lottery Winner!!! and it wanted my credit card number!"

As much as I will always want to carry a paper chart, I absolutely love the little $75 computer tablet and the free AvAre moving map software that I fly with. They both have a place in my airplane.

For a homebuilt VFR minimalist airplane (our beloved VP-21 or Flying Motorcycle) I would say that a small tablet or large phone Velcro'ed to the panel, and perhaps one or two 2 inch pneumatic instruments, would be a good compromise.

Somebody should be thinking about making a (mechanical) combination airspeed and altimeter (concentric dials or split quadrants) in a 2 1/4 inch size instrument. Outer ring is non-sensitive altitude, inner ring is airspeed - or top half separate from bottom half. Sort of like a 2 in 1 combo EGT/CHT, but air operated for ALT/ASI.

Ramble/Rant switch off
 

cluttonfred

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I believe that there is specific FAA regulation prohibiting glass panels in anything designed before 1970. ;-) Seriously, I'll be interested to see if someone comes up with a standardized analog gauge face driven my a central electronic unit to replicate the look of analog gauges but with the convenience and lower cost of electronics.
 

mcrae0104

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I'll be interested to see if someone comes up with a standardized analog gauge face driven my a central electronic unit to replicate the look of analog gauges but with the convenience and lower cost of electronics.
It's sort of been done. This is an old MGL unit (10 or 15 years old maybe). I think they allow you to customize the layout of the screen on their newer units so I suppose it may be possible to replicate a standard six pack.

 

BJC

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I believe that there is specific FAA regulation prohibiting glass panels in anything designed before 1970. ;-) Seriously, I'll be interested to see if someone comes up with a standardized analog gauge face driven my a central electronic unit to replicate the look of analog gauges but with the convenience and lower cost of electronics.
There were some of those a dozen or more years ago. Haven’t seen any in recent years.

Today, one can select an EFIS display format that replicated the standard six. Since I had only a few minutes time flying with glass, I selected the standard six for the first flight of my Sportsman. After takeoff on the second flight, I selected the standard digital display and have never gone back.

I still prefer an analog airspeed display for aerobatics, because I normally am glancing at it to see where the needle is pointing rather than to read a number.


BJC
 

Hot Wings

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I still prefer an analog airspeed display for aerobatics, because I normally am glancing at it to see where the needle is pointing rather than to read a number
BJC
And this is why I don't like glass. If I want data I want it NOW. I want to be able to spot a trend without having to mental math.

I don't generally need data to 1% accuracy. If I do then I'll look at the digital.
 

Mark Schoening

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My new project, a cruzer, will have airspeed, altimeter, compass, and engine gauges. Pure VFR - lookin' out and sight-seenin' is more enjoyable than info overload....Cheaper, too.
Mission driven, going to breakfast and lookin' down...It's all I need.
 

Toobuilder

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Cars switched to stepper motor driven instruments decades ago, and even that technology has been surpassed by pure digital displays. The individual capillary tube or resistance bridge instruments are becoming an increasingly niche product. It would be pretty easy to build a "universal" stepper motor display that looks and acts like an instrument panel from the 1960's, but nobody could really agree on "universal" anyway.
 

TFF

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Acclimation and aesthetics. Just like the first digital clocks and watches. A lot has to do with where you enter and where you have to go with the technology. I like gauges. Clockwork guts. Mechanical movement. That is an aesthetic love of machines for me. I entered the a&p world with glass. You can put a lot of useful information in a small easy to read space. Once you know where to look, you don’t have to look so far and idiot lights can be put anywhere the programmer wants. If you fly an airbus/ eurocopter helicopter, the engine gauge just shows a “good” meter unless a parameter goes to yellow or red. Only then can you read what is wrong. How many can see the oil pressure in a Cessna or Mooney? They are not in obvious places and it takes practice to know where to look. Most pilots don’t ever look. Maybe at startup. They see altimeter and they see airspeed and maybe once an hour they think about checking the oil or cht, then they go back to their daydream. So what is better mechanical gauges no one looks at or computer that decides for you. Seems to be inaction on the pilots part either way.
 

gtae07

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I trained on steam without GPS, flying cross-countries with a watch, sectional, and E6-B. I've flown basic VFR steam and Skyview in the same airplane; most of the hours on steam. And I've found that other than a slight edge to a round airspeed or altitude gauge, glass wins hands-down everywhere else once you depart from day VFR around the patch. The biggest difficulty I had in adjusting to the Skyview was relearning my speeds (the steam was marked in MPH and the Skyview was in knots).

With glass I spend less time heads-down dicking with calculations and trying to read a map and juggling paperwork and looking up to make big corrections. I spend more time looking out the canopy, with a better sense of where I am (and where everyone else is), what's ahead of me, and what the airplane is doing. I can see information (e.g. weather) instead of having to hear it from FSS and try to picture it in my head and cross-correlate it with a small map. I don't have to spend as much brainpower on low-level computational and administrative tasks, freeing me to focus on higher-level tasks. Especially with even a basic autopilot, I'm not nearly as fatigued at the end of a long flight.

To be fair, a large chunk of this capability can be had with an iPad, Foreflight, and ADS-B In, and most of it I don't really use when I'm making that day VFR local fun flight--just I keep the map pulled up so I can keep clear of the Class B and glance at it for traffic. But it really earns its keep on the longer flights.

Relevant story: So one day (2012 ish) my parents were flying up the east coast to go visit some friends from my dad's Navy days. They ran into some weather about the time they got to Virginia. At the time, Dad's airplane was in the basic VFR steam configuration mentioned earlier, plus a Garmin 195 (monochrome handheld GPS). Mom (not a pilot) wound up doing the flying while Dad tried to navigate them out of the weather and get them to somewhere they could land. Once they did, Mom turned to him and said "I don't care what it costs, you upgrade that panel or I'm not flying anywhere with you ever again". She'd seen what was available in other guys' airplanes, and even though she wasn't a pilot she could immediately appreciate the usefulness it could bring even to her.


Acclimation and aesthetics. Just like the first digital clocks and watches. A lot has to do with where you enter and where you have to go with the technology.
As I said, I trained in the all-steam no-GPS world. But my first professional job had me testing (what was at the time) the most advanced cockpit in the civilian world, in the engineering sim. I'd seen representations of early glass cockpits (1980s era, think MD-88 and 757 level) in my computer flight sims and my visit to the sim at Dad's employer, but I was utterly blown away the first time I sat in our engineering sim as a new co-op. Full-color moving map with a cursor and weather overlay?! And then they showed me the early alpha version of what would come to be called "synthetic vision". What was this magic?!

Now Dad's little homebuilt has that (and more!) on a strikingly-similar-looking display.


We're very near the point now where a basic EFIS and engine monitor package is cost-competitive to good VFR steam (I think we've passed it for IFR already). I think we're at (or even past) the point where it's lighter and easier to install. Now that STCs are out there to put experimental EFIS into certified airplanes, I expect that the market for round gauges, especially gyros and vacuum equipment, will dry up.
 
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