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Electronics Corner - Zaon PCAS/TCAS

Airliners have had traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) for many years. TCAS works by receiving the broadcasts of the transponders of other traffic in the area and displaying their information in terms of their relative position to where you are and in what direction you are traveling.

TCAS was out of the price range of most GA pilots, but Zaon Flight Systems began producing a personal collision avoidance system (PCAS) product line that makes collision avoidance systems much more affordable. Perhaps they might even become mandatory in another 10 or 20 years.

The Zaon MRX is the most affordable, compact device with some very interesting capabilities at the basic level. Using just two AA batteries, the MRX is capable of displaying range and altitude difference between you and the target. It can create an audio alert for an approaching threat. It's available from Sporty's and priced at $449 U.S. dollars, as well as other places.

Zaon MRX

The XRX, with its LCD and direction information, at around twice the price of the MRX, provides significantly more information. In particular, its display is capable of indicating up to three threats. With its built-in altimeter, turn-bank sensor, thermal sensing, antenna, and internal compass, it is capable of enhanced accuracy and it can be connected to your headset; so you can hear voice and alarm signals above the ambient cabin noise.

The XRX not only tells you the position of the threat but also its direction, so it can figure out the real likelihood of a conflicting flight path. It can also be connected to GPS moving map systems so that the threat can be overlaid on the GPS display. With its self-contained antenna, the XRX was designed to work in composite, wood, and metal aircraft. The advertising for this device quotes the voice alert "traffic, front-right, 0.9 miles, 500 feet below and descending" - just what you'd want the perfect "spotter" to be able to tell you. You can find the XRX at Aircraft Spruce and Specialty, and it's presently priced at $979 plus the inevitable taxes.

XRX with LCD

Watch this video for a nice comparison of the two products.

The latest addition to the Zaon family also integrates an ADS-B-based device so that part of its functionality won't be relevant to Canadian air traffic for a while. But it is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible without a display of its own. It is intended to be integrated with your GPS display and can track up to 50 aircraft reporting via their transponders directly or through ADS-B or TIS-B (traffic being actively monitored by air traffic control). It can be connected to Garmin GPS maps or multiple GPS displays and can start as low as $399. The MX1090 can also track aircraft up to 200 nautical miles away if it is being monitored by the local radar facility. When connected to the XRX, it significantly extends the detection range of any targets in the area, using the XRX display.

MX1090 traffic detection system

No single device can act as a suitable replacement for the eyes and ears of the pilot for traffic detection, but these devices will certainly enhance safety in the air. They only detect aircraft with a functioning transponder, so many light aircraft will not be seen, especially at low altitudes and below controlled airspace, but they should be especially useful for cross-country trips at higher altitudes.

With Christmas not too far off, maybe this is the time to start dropping hints!


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