Does the idea of electronic circuit breakers (ECB) make you yawn and look around for something more interesting? I understand, but this is truly a cool product. ECB developer Vertical Power also offers a related and extremely compelling product. After visiting with Marc Ausman at Sun ‘n Fun, again at AirVenture 2012, and then with several LSA builders, I got over the yawn reflex and realized Vertical Power is a most progressive company, one that deserves additional attention.
Update Note — This article has been updated after Vertical Power was acquired by Astronics and placed with a division named Ballard Technology. Please see note in red text below and click here to learn more about Vertical Power.
First, the VP-X. This shiny red box is the third generation of ECBs. The first two depended on their own screen to show their benefits. The VP-X model now works with five major suppliers of EFIS avionics including Dynon, Garmin, MGL, GRT, and Advanced. That by itself should tell you something: these top EFIS builders see enough value to work with Ausman and his company so now, via your favorite avionics display, you can see electrical circuits by name, what device is connected, the trip point of the circuit breaker, current consumption, and various error alerts.
All that’s great, and worthy based on my investigation. Yet that is stuff the airframe manufacturer must determine in the world of LSA. (In the Amateur Built world, the kit builder gets to, and has to, make these decisions; Vertical Power said they cannot afford to enter the high-cost world of Part 23 certification, so this remains EAB and LSA for now.) Some airframers have embraced the VP-X box capabilities. You can find the red smartbox on the CSA’s SportCruiser, the new TAF Sling, World Aircraft‘s Spirit, Corbi‘s Alto 100, and surely more I haven’t discovered yet.
Among the cool things a builder or manufacturer can do with the VP-X is to place switches almost anywhere since they don’t need to connect current to the switches; instead, thin wires merely send a signal to the VP-X to handle the power. Thus, joystick and overhead switches are easy to install. Using software VP-X can change lighting, adjust the trim, and even regulate flap positions. These VP-X capabilities allow Vertical Power’s most impressive product.
Update 11/6/14 — Vertical Power was acquired by Astronics and installed in the Ballard Technology division. Since this change, the Electronic Circuit Breaker and other interesting products have received upgrades. However, the Runway Seeker described below is not part of the assets taken over by Astronics. Please click here to learn more about this high-technology company. —DJ
The older iteration of the Vertical Power company developed a new panel gizmo called VP-400 “Runway Seeker.” This thing is magical. Imagine being in an autopilot-equipped homebuilt or LSA and the pilot blacks out on you. What if you’re not a pilot? If you have Runway Seeker, you have one button to push. Even if the engine quits, Runway Seeker will automatically fly to the closest, and best, runway placing the aircraft on short final. It could even bring your plane all the way to the ground. This action includes full energy management such as raising and lowering flaps automatically to achieve best glide. It shows you where you’re going en route not simply to the closest runway but the one most likely to produce a good outcome (a longer runway at an airport with emergency services and maintenance). Thanks to Vertical Power’s extensive collaboration with Austin Meyer of Laminar Research, developer of the X-Plane flight simulator, Runway Seeker can use X-Plane’s global terrain database to negotiate obstacles in your flight path as it flies you to the runway.
I watched a demo of this entire scenario twice and came away terribly impressed. I’m a huge fan of airframe parachutes. Runway Seeker isn’t a substitute for that equipment but certainly would be valuable in addition to the parachute. In my ideal world, I’d have a BRS and a Runway Seeker with VP-X controller.
The product was sexy enough to draw new FAA administrator Michael Huerta to Vertical Power’s booth at AirVenture 2012. Marc said Huerta loved the Runway Seeker and asked why this is not available on Type Certified airplanes? Mark responded that for $3 million or so, it could be but that his company can’t justify the high cost. So, as is often the case, LSA and homebuilts get the more innovative equipment while TC’ed aircraft and airliners have yesteryear gear.