Skybeacon Installation Review

The unit is “brain-dead simple to install.”

uAvionix sky beacon
uAvionix's Skybeacon installed on James Wiebe's Chipper.James Wiebe

With the ADS-B Out compliance date drawing ever closer, many pilots are still waiting for the big holiday deal on the technology they'll need to meet the deadline. Not long after we ran a story on the Skybeacon wingtip ADS-B Out solutions, uAvionix asked if we knew anyone with an experimental airplane willing to serve as a test installer for the new equipment. Having just a month or so before flown James Wiebe's Chipper in Southern Illinois, I suggested Belite Aircraft. Within a few weeks, uAvionix had shipped Belite a Skybeacon kit.

Now, a few months later, I was curious to see if Wiebe thought the Skybeacon really might represent the leading edge of easy-to-install ADS-B Out technology. Although the Skybeacon is currently only approved for experimental aircraft, uAvionix’s chief operating officer Ryan Braun said the company is still on track with FAA to earn a spring 2018 approval to allow installation on certified aircraft.

Wiebe calls himself a parallel entrepreneur, someone who works in both new aircraft and avionics design at Belite Aircraft. He said installing Skybeacon “took less than an hour and required nothing more than a quick connection to the aircraft’s existing left nav-light electrics. Turn the nav-lights on and you’re squawking ADS-B Out.”

While some pilots reported configuration problems early on with other ADS-B Out units, especially while flight testing, Wiebe said downloading the Skybeacon installer iPhone (or Android) app needed to complete the behind the scenes registration to link his N-number to the new ADS-B unit went pretty smoothly, except for one minor hiccup.

During startup, the app calls for an ICAO identifier that pilots can find on their FAA registration. This ensures the ICAO code assigned to each Skybeacon points to just a single airplane. The Skybeacon app calls for entering the identifier in a hexadecimal format, a request that might leave a few pilots in the dark. Braun said, “We tried early on to add easy instructions to find the hexadecimal version of the identifier. In the end though, we realized it would be easier for customers to simply work with the FAA’s better-known N-registration format.” Braun said a new version of the installer due out soon will eliminate any confusion. The app also offers a visual verification of what the ADS-B is actually broadcasting once setup is complete.

Wiebe used Wichita Approach as his FAA test site once the Skybeacon on his Chipper was set up. “I took off, called Wichita and they confirmed I was N3748.” That means for under an hour’s work, “I can fly anywhere I want in 2020,” Wiebe said. Using his iPad mini, he said it makes him feel good to know that in addition to all the other ADS-B traffic he can now see, all of those airplanes also see him. He called the Skybeacon a “smart, clever thing that’s brain-dead easy to install.”

The Skybeacon's experimental version is available from a number of retailers including Aircraft Spruce, Sarasota Avionics, Gulf Coast Avionics and Dallas Avionics. Ryan Braun said Sporty's is already on board to become a reseller once the Skybeacon's approved for certified aircraft. Skybeacon retails for $1,495.