What’s Louder? My Helicopter or Car?

I finally take the decibel meter for two rides to find out.

Radio Shack Decibel MeterI don’t know why I own a decibel meter. I just do.

I might have bought it years ago when I tried to stop developers from putting the Hermosa Ranch subdivision at the end of Wickenburg Airport’s runway. (I won that battle even though I lost.) Or I could have gotten it before that. I’m sure it had something to do with aviation because I bought it as a piece of Flying M Air equipment.

In any case, I have one — a Radio Shack model — and recently found it among the electronic junk in my old office. I was very surprised to see that the battery still worked.

Penny w/Ear Plugs
Penny in the passenger seat of the helicopter. These cotton “earplugs” stayed in about 3-1/2 minutes on this flight.

I wanted to see how loud my helicopter was in cruise flight with the doors on. You see, Penny the Tiny Dog often flies with me as a passenger and I simply can’t get any kind of ear protection to stay in place over her ears. I’m worried about hearing damage over the long term. I figured it might be a good idea to see just how loud the helicopter was.

And the answer? The cabin of my 2005 Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter is right around 100 decibels at cruise flight — 110 knots — with all doors on.

That didn’t seem like very much to me.

That got me wondering…how loud was my 2003 Honda S2000 with the top down cruising at about 65 miles per hour? A recent ride with the meter and a friend gave me the answer. Would you believe it’s just about the same? We got readings of 95 to 100 decibels when we kept the meter out of the wind.

No wonder I’m starting to get symptoms of tinitus. Sheesh. Nothing I drive is quiet.

An(other) Apple Maps Fail

This example was so outrageous, I had to share it.

I spent last weekend in California with friends. (Blog post to come, eventually.) On Friday, they needed to take care of business in the Folsom area. We decided to have lunch while we were out.

My friends are not smartphone people, although one of them does have an iPod Touch that she uses with various apps on WiFi. In an effort to show how useful a smartphone could be, I used Apple Maps and my preferred navigation app, MapQuest, to navigate to their primary destination. It worked like a charm.

Google AppAfterwards, I used the Google Search app to perform a voice search (on my iPhone 4; no Siri) for “restaurants serving breakfast in Folsom California.” The app understood me perfectly and displayed a list of results. We decided on the Sutter Street Grill. The entry for the restaurant included its address as a link, as you can see in the screenshot. I tapped the link to view the location in Apple Maps.

Apple Maps ExampleAnd that’s where things got weird. It showed me the location on the map, but no matter how far I zoomed out, I could not see the dot representing our current location. And then I realized that the body of water on the map was a lot bigger than the lake we’d driven by.

Apple Maps ExampleI tapped the arrow beside the location on the map. And that’s when I discovered that the map was showing us a location in New Zealand.

Here’s where I see a problem. I’m in California. The phone knows I’m in California. Yet when I tapped the address, it displayed a location on the other side of the planet.

And no, the location wasn’t incorrect in the link — although the street name does not include the word “historic.” For some reason that I can’t understand, Apple Maps decided to display 811 Sutter Street in Canterbury Seaview, New Zealand, 7,111 miles away, instead of the 811 Sutter Street that was less than 5 miles away.

Come on, Apple. Firing people isn’t going to fix the problem. Let’s get down to business and make this app work right.

By the way…the restaurant was great!

R44 iPhone and iPad Power and Mount

What you need to get the job done — and how I did it.

One of the great things about the R44 is the DC power port located rather conveniently between the two front seats facing backwards. At first glance, it seems as if it would be the perfect accessory for charging any number of devices.

Well, it is — but not without jumping through a few hoops. The trouble is, on a Raven II, that port is connected to the 28v DC power system and puts out 24v to 28v of power. Plug the wrong kind of DC accessory into it and you can fry your device.

Seven Years of Struggle

Like most pilots, I can certainly use that power port to charge any number of devices: cameras, phones, and, most recently, an iPad. And since buying my helicopter more than seven years ago — has it really been that long? — I’ve tried numerous devices to make it work.

I should state right here that I’ve had passengers simply plug car chargers for their phones into that port. They did it without asking me — you know how passengers can be — and I never heard about any harm coming to those phones or the chargers. But not only does the label on the port assure me that it’s 28v, but a call to the Robinson factory confirmed it. I was not about to plug any 12v charger or power cable I owned into it without stepping down the power.

To that end, I purchased a little box that supposedly made any conversion I wanted. I dialed in 24v (which is apparently close enough to 28v to make everyone happy) to 12v, plugged in my devices, and it worked.

Until the day I was warming up the engine with two photographers on board and began to smell burning electronics. (I have a very good sense of smell. I once woke up in the middle of the night smelling smoke. In the morning, I learned that a building about a mile away had burned down overnight. But I digress.) I reached back and felt for the box. It was melting. I pulled the plug, glad that I was still on the ground, and later threw it away.

When I got my Moitek Mount, which has three Kenyon KS-8 gyros, I bought Kenyon’s 28v dual inverter to power two of them. (The third is powered by a battery pack.) To date, that’s the only device-specific power supply I’ve found that accepts 28v input.

Bestek MR-C21ANext came “the turtle.” My friend Don recommended it to me and that’s what he called it. It’s actually a Bestek USB Charger, model C21A. It’s a DC to USB charger that has 4 USB ports. It accepts input of 10v to 30v and supposedly outputs up to 2.1 amps. By that time, that’s what I needed — I had an iPad 2 and was beginning to use it for Foreflight. As the manufacturer advised, however, you should only use one port when charging an iPad. What I discovered is that if I used the iPad in flight, even with just one USB device plugged in, I could not maintain a charge on the iPad. Although it said it was charging, the power was still trickling away. Yes, I was able to stretch the iPad’s use out to 12 hours on a very long cross-country flight, but that’s because I kept shutting it off when I didn’t need to consult it. And it irked me that I couldn’t charge my phone at the same time.

I should mention here that I tried a variety of other solutions for DC to USB. I must have more of these damn devices than anyone on the planet. The turtle worked best — but it didn’t work good enough to make me happy. The others mostly didn’t work at all.

When I bought a new iPad, the problem came to a head. The turtle couldn’t provide enough power to even indicate that the iPad was charging. On a recent day-long charter with several off-airport stops and long waits, my iPad went completely dead. Not acceptable.

Mediabridge to the Rescue!

With another very long cross-country flight ahead of me, I decided to stop screwing around and find a solution that worked flawlessly. So I began a search for a DC to USB charger that could charge both my iPad and my iPhone at the same time.

Mediabridge USB ChargerI found the solution on Amazon.com: the Mediabridge High Output Dual USB Car Charger for iPad and iPhone. This device takes input from 12v to 24v and outputs a total of 3.1 amps: 1 amp on one USB port and 2.1 amps on the other USB port.

Long iPhone/iPad CablesI coupled that with a pair of KHOMO Extra Long USB Sync Cables for iPhone/iPad. These cables are 6 feet long. I needed the length to safely run the cables from the middle of the aircraft to the place I’d mounted my devices. More on that in a moment.

This afternoon, I went out to the helicopter, plugged everything in, and flicked the Master Battery switch. Sure enough, my iPhone and iPad both indicated that they were charging.

Total cost of this power solution: $12.99 + $9.99 = $22.98.

Cockpit Management

Empty Mounts
Here are the two RAM mounts, empty, mounted on the Robinson GPS bar. You can see the tray behind the iPad mount.

Mount with iPad & iPhone
Here are the mounts with the iPhone and iPad installed and turned on. No, the glare isn’t much of an issue in flight. (Overheating in direct sunlight is another story, though.) As you can see, the bar does not interfere with my use of the pedals. Remember, the bar is a Robinson component; not something I whipped up and installed myself.

cable ties
Here are the wire tie pieces I use to keep the wires tidy.

Tidy Wires
I attached the wire ties to the side of the instrument panel with the adhesive pieces. I looped the ties wide enough to pass the end of a USB plug through.

more tidy wires
I did the same along the side of the pilot seat. This keeps the wires from getting tangled in the collective, which would be a serious problem.

Of course, my solution isn’t limited to just the power accessories discussed above. I’m a strong believer in having a tidy cockpit — especially when flying solo or flying long distances. I already have mounts for my iPhone and iPad that keep them within reach without blocking my view of any instrument or what’s outside the cockpit bubble.

My solution has multiple components:

  • A customized version of the GPS mounting bar Robinson offers. Mine was installed by the folks at Helicopters Northwest at Boeing Field in Seattle. It includes the bar and a semi-useful tray that I clip duty sheets onto when I fly. (Before I got the iPad and Foreflight, I used it to display charts or lists of airport frequencies.)
  • A RAM mount for iPad with glare shield clamp. I clamp it to the base of the tray on the bar.
  • A RAM mount for iPhone with U-Bolt Rail mount. A friend of mine customized the U-Bolt mount to remove the U-Bolt and add a plate he made in his shop. A pair of straight bolts attaches it to the bar.
  • A number of adhesive wire tie holders with wire ties. I found these gems in a great little hardware store in Chelan, WA and bought a ton of them.

Let me take a moment to talk about RAM mounts. I love RAM mounts. It’s a component system, so you can mix and match parts. What works for you today might not work for you tomorrow in a different aircraft or with a different device. But RAM has you covered. You just get the pieces you need and use them with other pieces you already have. For example, I already had the custom U-bolt thing for another purpose; I just repurposed it with the iPhone mount. Ditto for the iPad mount; it came with a kneeboard. Mix and match. Well made stuff, too.

So if you think you need to enlighten me on how RAM mounts suck and how what you’re using is so much better, save it. I have a sizable investment in RAM equipment and will not switch now or anytime in the foreseeable future.

At the same time, I’m not saying that my solution, as outlined here, is “the best.” It’s the best (so far) for me. But it all hinges on the availability of that Robinson GPS bar. It’s not easy to get; for a long time, Robinson wouldn’t sell them. I’m not sure if they’re selling them now. But it’s a great add-on for any Robinson. Rock solid, bolts onto the frame, great platform for any equipment you need handy but out of the way.

I do, however recommend mounting your devices with sturdy but easily removable mounting components affixed to something that won’t vibrate like crazy, is within arm’s reach, and doesn’t block your view of anything.

I ran the wires — including an audio cable so I could listen to music in flight — through the loops I made in the wire ties and made sure they were tight. (I’m thinking of braiding them to keep them all together but haven’t decided if that’s a good idea yet.) I wrapped any excess around the bar over my feet. I can then plug in the devices on both ends.

It’s a temporary solution that is extremely effective in keeping everything neat without any modification to the aircraft.

Works for me.

Retina Display Updates for Computers that Don’t Support Retina Displays?

Really, Apple?

Fellow author Jeff Carlson recently commented on Twitter:

The Retina Display is a new feature of certain Macintosh computers announced the other day at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). While it’s nice to know that my next Macs will have a better display, there’s really nothing wrong with the displays on my current Macs: a 27″ iMac, a 11″ MacBook Air, and a 13″ MacBook Pro. The oldest of these computers (the MacBook Pro) is only about two years old and I have no plans to buy a new Mac for at least a year. Indeed, my desktop Mac, which is less than a year old, probably won’t be replaced for at least 2 years.

Unfortunately, in order for the folks who buy these new Macs to take advantage of their hot new displays, Mac OS applications have to be rewritten to support them. Apple, of course, is leading the pack by updating its apps. Jeff, who writes about iMovie, was pointing out the size difference between the old and new versions of that app.

Wow is a pretty good way to sum up the 179% increase in the app’s size.

Software Update Woes
Great! Now I can use iMovie in Thai!

I wondered whether the update would be pushed through to all Macs, regardless of whether they supported the new Retina Display. My answer came this morning, when I ran Software Update. If I wanted to update the Mac OS apps on my iMac with the software announced at WWDC, I’d need to download almost 2 GB of updates — most of which would not benefit me in the least.

Really, Apple?

This is the best way you can come up with to roll out updates for new hardware features? You can’t create an “HD” version of your apps and let the folks with new machines upgrade to that version? You can’t have Software Update distinguish between computer models and roll out the updates specific to that model?


I’m on the road this summer. I get all my Internet access for my desktop Mac through a hotspot connection to my New iPad. It’s 3G here and I pay roughly $10 per gigabyte of data. That means these “free” updates — which will not benefit me at all — will cost me $20.


And if I don’t update, I won’t be able to take advantage of new features in those apps as they’re rolled out.

I’m fortunate that I can take my two laptops to a nearby coffee shop for updates. At least the $20 I’ll spend there will buy me lunch. Still, a portion of the limited disk space on my MacBook Air will be gobbled up with assets I don’t need.

Thanks, Apple. You might not have as many updates as Microsoft does for Windows, but yours certainly hurt more.

Mind Boggling

One definition.

Today, while sitting at my desk in an RV parked in the middle of Central Washington State farmland, I watched a live, full-color feed from outer space on my phone of the historic docking of a privately developed commercial spacecraft to the multi-government built International Space Station. Here’s a screen capture from my phone:

Dragon Docks with ISS

I am old enough to remember when the Apollo astronauts landed on the moon. It was 1969 and I was almost 8 years old. (Aw, come on, don’t do the math.) My mother made us stay up to watch it on the family TV — a big TV console that stood on the floor and required you to get up to change the channels because there was no remote control. The picture we saw of that historic moment looked like this:

Apollo 11 First Step

Do I even need to point out that my phone has more computing power than NASA had when it launched Apollo 11?

We’ve come a long, long way.

I call that mind-boggling.