Fred Scott, Jr.
(434) 295-4188

1980 Beech Baron -- Model 95-B55, Serial TC-2307
Avidyne FlightMax EX500

APRIL 2005 - There is lots of good recent news!

As of April 2005 the Avidyne EX500 has been upgraded to include on-board JeppView approach charts (called CMax by Avidyne) and XM weather datalink from the high-powered XM radio satellites.  Over-the top language—“Superb!”  “Elegant!” “Beyond unbelievably great!”—seems appropriate as one describes his first reaction to flying this IFR-certified Multi-Function Display (MFD). This image of XM WX was taken inside my hangar, with engines off. In one glance, we can see the blue (good WX) METAR flags, the threatening NEXRAD and watch areas. The DC ADIZ is hard to miss, as well.

I have owned a Baron equipped with the Avidyne EX500 and OrbComm datalink for several years. Listening, recently, to other pilots complain about slowness of that OrbComm system, he thinks “How soon we forget!” Only two years ago, no such in-cockpit weather delivery technology existed at all for the general aviation market, yet we all—myself included—demand higher speed access to information. Whether it’s fair or not, that’s reality and Avidyne has responded. The XM WX feed is just extraordinary.

A word about the Avidyne folks: I have been flying for almost five decades. Never have I done business with a supplier that is as responsive as this team. From the sales team: quick responses. From my installing dealer: professionalism. From the support staff: fast, solid answers, including the occasional straight talk “We don’t know…but we’ll find out for you” and they almost always do. I could not be more pleased with a product or the team behind it. Some of the Avidyne software engineers are also instrument- rated pilots and it’s obvious that the people who wrote this computer code have flown a lot in the IFR system.

Indeed, while I have made a few minor suggestions to Avidyne, I did not think there was a whole lot of major improvement that the earlier EX500 needed. Wrong. This upgrade is major leap for Avidyne’s EX500 and is an exceedingly well-executed enhancement.


The upgrade (including CMax charts and XM WX datalink) requires both a thirty minute hardware upgrade—accomplished by our avionics shop—of a larger-capacity internal flash card and a software reset to support the new applications. The XM WX radio antenna must be installed on the top of the aircraft, and a HeadsUp XM receiver (FAA-certified) is installed to process the signals. That was easy enough to accomplish as the upgrade was accompanied by clear, well-documented instructions.

A pilot familiar with the EX500 will immediately see a few really big improvements; the NEAREST LISTS (airports, VORs, NDB’s, intersections, obstacles) has always offered a list of airports close to the PRESENT POSITION. The EX500 now offers a second list of airports NEAREST TO DESTINATION. That’s really good information to have in-cockpit when headed towards an area of questionable weather, where an alternate destination may be needed.

New on both of the NEAREST AIRPORT lists: each airport that has any published IFR approach is so indicated by a small chart symbol. Symbols with the letter “I” indicate that precision ILS approaches are available. Nice!  That saves a lot of searching. In addition, with OrbComm satellite delivery (called Narrowcast by Avidyne), any of these airports near a METAR reporting station will be shown with graphical METARS, a tiny flag with varying colors representing the IFR/VFR summary weather conditions.  That’s wonderfully helpful, but not new. However, with XM WX weather datalink installed, each of these stations will display a fully decoded METAR sequence.

Time of delivery? … about three minutes after engine start. Area covered? The plain-English METARS, NEXRAD, and boundaries of SIGMETS, AIRMETS, TFRs for the whole CONUS  are delivered within that same three minutes. That gets a “Wow!”

The TRIP Page shows a few new features: on very long legs, the EX500 will calculate an intermediate WX waypoint every hundred miles or so, and will report the weather for a METAR station near that point. We used to have to trick the system to get that data, so this is a better, more elegant way. Of course the TRIP page still reports fully decoded METARS for each station in the flight plan. The datalink status portion of the TRIP page has been expanded, making it easier to check service and status here instead of having to go to the AUX pages. There are two datalink status pages: one for each datalink system.

GMT and Local Times are now correctly handled as 24 hour numerals. Thanks, Avidyne. Their previous date/time presentation used a non-aviation convention that displayed a 12 hour AM/PM time, including GMT as AM/PM. I hated it. The upgrade with its more conventional aviation presentation is far better.

A brief note in the POH indicates that a pilot using Narrowcast data delivery can differentiate between “hot” and “cold” SUA status while Broadcast (XM) delivery will offer Lightning strike data.  This is all new stuff.


There is a new main page—CHART—on which is displayed a single approach chart, as chosen by the pilot. To display this chart, the pilot must choose which one she wants. Typically, the software nominates an appropriate airport along with its associated procedure charts.

APPROACH CHARTS: From this list of charts, the aviator selects one approach procedure, then zooms in and/or slews it around so as to see the portion that is of interest. Each chart has four sub-pages. An Approach charts shows 1: the Briefing strip 2: the Plan view 3: the Profile view and 4: the Minima. Zoom in on and slew each sub-page and it will stay at the same zoomed-presentation she has chosen. Switch away from the Chart page and come back, and it still looks the same. That’s nice … as that means fewer knobs to twist when she’s busy.

In addition—in the background—the related Airport Runway and Taxi chart is held in reserve, being loaded automatically with an associated instrument approach chart. On landing, after groundspeed drops below 50 knots, the Airport diagram then appears automatically on the Chart page (which must be manually selected—I’m happy to see, but only one twist—instead of changing away from the MAP page on its own,) and the ownship symbol tracks right down the remaining runway, then down the taxiways to the FBO. Pretty slick, and very helpful when arriving at an unfamiliar airport.

ZOOMING and SLEWING: All charts may be zoomed in and out, slewed left, right and up and down, and… they stay where you left them!  That’s so nice.  So, it is possible – after getting the ATIS, and long before landing – to anticipate the taxi route and to then zoom in to the appropriate airport area. Then the pilot returns either to the Map, Radar, TAWS, or Traffic pages, as needed. After landing, he flips back to the properly-zoomed Airport Chart, so there is no more busy-work adjusting to be done as we exit the runway.

Departure Charts: As one begins a flight, the reverse is true. The EX500 has always remembered its last position on shutdown. On wakeup, that position is still used to send out its initial request for NEXRAD WX within a 100 mile radius and it is now also used to pop up the Airport Diagram chart for use while taxiing out. On a strange airport, this is a wonderful feature.

XM WX Datalink Weather

OrbCom was an idea that worked pretty well, and still does, but the design of the low earth orbit and low-power satellite system is such that wide bandwidth is not available.  To accommodate the massive datastream that a full CONUS dataset requires, Avidyne added XM WX delivery. That is accomplished with an account with XM which offers two levels of service: Aviator and Aviator Light.  We chose the full Aviator service that includes lightning information from the National Lightning Detection Network.

Within seconds after startup the Lightning strikes appear, followed immediately by nationwide NEXRAD. Three minutes or so after startup, the plain-English METARS, SIGMETS, AIRMETS, TFRs appear in-cockpit… for the entire CONUS. [NOTE: In August 2007, Avidyne upgraded its software. We now also have TAFs, Winds Aloft and Icing Levels, and Storm CellTops and cell path direction with likelihood of hail within a cell]. Thereafter, the weather information refreshes about every six minutes or so, quire reliably, with none of the datalink interruptions we used to experience on the OrbComm links. Quite extraordinary, and wonderfully comforting on a day with challenging weather systems like this one. It is entirely possible to make this trip without in-cockpit NEXRAD, but it was a no-sweat operation as we watched this powerful frontal system -- even before takeoff in Virginia, then during the next two hours southbound -- and slipped around it in smooth air; we were totally relaxed. Note the 2 minute old NEXRAD status and the lightning strike data overlaying the NEXRAD.

MultiLink, Narrowcast, and Broadcast: How does the aviator use these tools? Simply put, the best way to run this MFD in the CONUS is to let the high powered XM satellites blast data into it – as much as one wants to pay for. XM WX charges a flat fee and service is available at two levels. The user should probably leave the Multilink enabled, which really means that this “fee for data” service (paid to Avidyne) is sitting in the background doing not much (nor costing much), but if the XM datalink breaks down the Narrowcast link will pick up the slack. Narrowcast also offers text messaging and flight logging automatically, so if Narrocast is disabled, one loses that functionality.

Geographic Coverage. NEXRAD is limited to the CONUS and lower Canada, because of the locations of the NEXRAD ground radars. The EX500 will support a larger coverage area so if the NEXRAD Mosaic is ever expanded, the upgraded EX500 will display it without further upgrade.

A pilot flying into the Caribbean or Canada will want to have Multilink as all the non-CONUS data is delivered with that system. The vast majority of the Canadian populated area is covered by NEXRAD, but none is delivered by XM WX.  Flights into lower Canada will need Multilink or Narrowcast if they want either NEXRAD or METARS. Full Canadian, Mexican, and Caribbean METAR coverage is available on Narrowcast. This is a huge increase in coverage area for the upgraded EX500 and a wonderful feature for pilots operating in these areas.  I go both places often and have missed my on-board datalink service as soon as crossing either border. But don’t expect the two NEAREST airport lists to provide plain-English METARS outside of the CONUS; only the waypoints on the TRIP list will do that.

Text messaging: E-mail in the cockpit? Yes. Avidyne uses its two-way datalink to offer selected persons (the pilot chooses them) access to an Avidyne password protected website. Not limited to a single person, whoever has the key may send a (200 character maximum) e-mail which is delivered to the cockpit by the Orbcom satellites. The cockpit can reply back, with up to 30 characters. Messages like “We r late ETA KIAD 9 PM LCL” will become common. When a message arrives, The EX500 quietly prompts the pilot who can later read and reply to the text at his leisure, so as not to intrude on his flight operations. Authorized persons can also use the website to locate the airborne aircraft on Avidyne’s flight tracker.

Minor suggestions for further improvement:

This software is so elegantly done that there are darned few substantive suggestions one can make. 


I do wish that two buttons on the Trip page -- the AIRPORT INFO and DISPLAY CHART buttons -- would nominate airports that meet the Airport selection criteria (runway length and surface) used, so sensibly, elsewhere. As the EX500 works now, the AIRPORT INFO button suggests the destination – or, in the case of a user-defined destination waypoint, the nearest airport to that waypoint - and DISPLAY CHART pops up charts for the airport with the nearest METAR reporting. Neither of these selections is constrained by the pilot-configured airport selection criteria, as they should be. Why? Because the nearest airport and nearest METAR source are not necessarily the same places, not do they necessarily match the aircraft’s runway requirements. When one gets in a plane with a 4000 foot runway requirement and notices a 2000 foot runway suggested by the EX500, this becomes a obvious area for improvement.

DONE! January 2010.
See the New EX600 here. It is SWEET!
On a long trip, with heavy weather at the destination, that weather is visually compressed into a difficult-to-decipher blob by the natural scaling of the map page. On the long range maps (750 mile, 1000 mile) it is quite possible to see that weather is present, but not so easy to be certain precisely where—a front, for example—is located.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to slew the map to the area of weather and zoom in on the detail of the NEXRAD so that details of that weather might be more easily discerned?

NEXRAD data, when overlaid on the map page, is very bright and will overwhelm the data that lays underneath it.. I suggest that Avidyne provide for dimming of the NEXRAD (only) with respect to the rest of the map, so as to make the NEXRAD more transparent and let the waypoints and navigation features come through the exceeding bright weather overlay.

Recently, flying from Knoxville along and through a convective frontal system, over 80% of my map was unreadable due to the very bright green, yellow and red NEXRAD, but our on-board radar was saying, correctly, that there was no problem ahead.

The NEXRAD presentation is quite "conservative" meaning that it gives false "you will die here" alarms when the weather is actually quite flyable, so the pilot really needs to be able to dim it when the NEXRAD pattern is valuable but not really as important as the underlying navigational information.

(UPDATE as of January 2010: I'm not quite sure what Avidyne did, but this is not as objectionable as before. It may be that I have learned to use the declutter toggle in a different way.)

RADAR STATUS BOX: I'd like to see a radar mode (Wx, WxA, GndMap) box to the Map page whenever the radar data is overlaid on the map, but would NOT let it time-out with the buttons.

I could not be happier with Avidyne's exceptional achievement.. From an operator's standpoint, the new (as of Sept 2003) OrbCom datalink update reliability and accuracy is making me rethink my earlier comments about tactical use of the NEXRAD images.
I still believe that on-board radar is superior for most "up close and personal" encounters with cells, but with rapidly refreshing NEXRAD (with really fast XM WX updates now in June 2005), I'd now be more comfortable using only the EX500 NEXRAD for manuvering around scattered cells than I was several months ago. Reliability and currency is important to me in this situation.

Avidyne has sent all users a number of "This is what's happening at Avidyne" reports and has requested feedback from real customers. This effort to communicate and listen seems to be paying off for them. I have personally sent in a number of suggestions (see above!) and have been told that a few will make their way into the next iteration of the software.

I am one very happy customer...and have no hesitation in recommending this product for use in a non-radar-equipped Baron or Bonanza using datalink alone.. For radar-equipped ships like mine, it just a jewel.. the best of both worlds. It's a terrific product.

UPDATE, Jan 2010:
The New EX600 may be seen here. It is really nice

Curious about the Baron specs? click here.

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