FLYING Reveals Innovation Award Series for 2023

A new award has also been established honoring Sean D. Tucker.

At FLYING, we’re constantly impressed by the amazing drive toward innovative solutions exemplified by the aerospace industry—and general aviation in particular. The light end of aviation often incubates in the rich humus of inspiration and efforts the seeds of development that lead to game-changing—and life-changing—new ways of experiencing the world. We celebrate those who propel us forward with our annual awards program.

In 2022, we introduced the Readers’ Choice Award to recognize a product or development in the GA space that resonates most with our audience—and we continue that honor this year. 

But there’s more. We also felt there was a gap—an emphasis on things—and a place we needed to make to salute a person who has contributed in a comprehensive way to the aviation community with years of commitment, expertise, and spirit. 

A New Award

That’s why for 2023 we’re inaugurating the Sean D. Tucker Award, to do just that. And for the initial award, we’re presenting it to the legend himself, Tucker.

Tucker’s resumĂ© as an aerobatic star and air show performer is well known, and perhaps, too, his propensity to give back to the industry that has nurtured him from his modest beginnings and early struggles to the success he is today. But Tucker is a person who measures himself not by the scores on a championship run, but by the lives he’s touched through the Experimental Aviation Association’s Young Eagles program, and most recently, the Bob Hoover Academy in his hometown of Salinas, California. At BHA, he and his fellow volunteers not only introduce disadvantaged area youth to the magic of flight but also help them achieve a pilot certificate and follow-on goals.

[Credit: Jeff Berlin]

For those contributions ongoing to improve the lives of those around him with his joy, FLYING is thrilled to launch this award in his honor.

Innovation Award: Swift Fuels UL94

While the spark of inspiration may transpire in a moment, transforming an innovative creation to a market-ready and delivered product takes time, money, and persistence. There are no shortcuts to enduring success. In the current environment where so much attention is focused on cleaner solutions for GA, the critical element of bringing a viable unleaded fuel to aviation consumers must be recognized—because it has taken more than a decade to accomplish and realize in full.

For accomplishing this with its UL94 aviation gasoline, we’re proud to bestow the 2023 FLYING Innovation Award upon the team at Swift Fuels. The company’s “mission every day for the last 10 years,” according to founder and CEO Chris D’Acosta, has been to develop “a solution to the 100LL problem” and drive that progress in a tiered approach. 

Swift debuted a lower octane unleaded fuel, UL94, in 2015. It serves as a drop-in solution for more than 130,000 aircraft on the FAA registry that can operate on a 94-octane or lower fuel. Swift accomplishes this through a supplemental type certificate that will be good for any unleaded avgas it produces in the future. 

And UL94 is not just avgas with the lead out—it’s a better fuel in many ways, according to D’Acosta. “There is a market draw to our fuel,” he says, because all Swift fuels burn cleaner, with lower toxicity overall. The need to clean lead from the engine every 50 hours no longer exists, for example.

But announcing the availability of a product, and getting it to the customer are two different things. Swift has done the legwork to ensure pilots can trust the fuel—that it meets the ASTM unleaded avgas specification—and that it reaches them in a geographically distributed way, direct to the airfield. With roughly 81 airports, universities, and private users on the U.S. map—and distribution at events like EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin—Swift continues to expand its reach.

And that’s important, because the company is far from finished. Its UL100 fuel is in the confirmation and approval process via ASTM and STC to serve the remainder of the piston market requiring a higher octane level. 

Readers’ Choice: Garmin’s Smart Glide

When we posed the question earlier this year to FLYING’s audience as to what innovation made the most impact on the community, the choice was clear among the contenders.

Garmin’s Smart Glide functionality was introduced in late 2021 and expanded through the STC process to dozens of additional single- and multiengine airplanes. Smart Glide builds upon other aftermarket GTN Xi navigator features, and the GFC 500 or 600 digital autopilot, in a wide range of airplanes. Smart Glide includes the GTN’s range ring optimized for an engine-out situation. It aviates, navigates, and communicates for the pilot—partially—and gives the option to squawk 7700, for example. If the autopilot is engaged, the sequence begins by pitching for best glide speed.

An airport glide indicator helps the pilot determine which airport to go to, setting up a direct-to course to the nearest, if one is in range, and putting the CTAF or tower frequency in the standby—or the emergency frequency of 121.5 if not within gliding distance of anything in the database. It will also tell pilots if the destination becomes unreachable according to the data. If the airplane is less than 2 nm from the airport, the autopilot will not couple, anticipating the pilot’s prompt action instead.

It’s all in the service of assisting pilots—not flying the airplane for them. With the host of “helping hands” that Smart Glide provides adding significantly to safety of flight, pilots who read FLYING confirmed Garmin’s latest tech made the best choice for innovation of the year.

Editors’ Choice Awards

Aircraft: Daher Kodiak 900

Merging two “aviation families” into one cohesive aircraft manufacturer—as Daher and Kodiak have accomplished over the past four years—deserves a round of applause. To bring forth as its first consolidated effort a backcountry beauty like the Daher Kodiak 900 within that time frame is impressive indeed—and we won’t even mention the pandemic. 

The 900 began as a Kodiak 2.0 vision years ago within the original Quest team. Daher’s horsepower in advanced aircraft design and manufacturing propelled the project into FAA type certification in July 2022. The new model took the high-performing, short-field wing of the 100 series, stretched the fuselage, incorporated the cargo pod cohesively into the belly, powered it with a new Pratt & Whitney PT6A-140A turboprop, and streamlined it all behind a cowl that performs wonders in reducing drag.

The answer to the question, “What’s next in town-and-country flying?” has been firmly answered with the Kodiak 900, which is why we gave it our Editors’ Choice Award this year. With the 900, Daher has opened up a new market segment—and kept the good habits of the series from which it has been born.

Avionics and Apps: ForeFlight Terrain Awareness

It’s common to chase “feature fever” in app development, adding gee-whiz elements to already robust programs that do little more than clog up the works. Not so with the folks at ForeFlight, who continue to evolve their flight planning and navigation app in ways that truly add safety and efficiency benefits.

In our estimation, one feature added last year to ForeFlight’s palette is the Hazard Advisor suite, which takes terrain and obstacle data it first launched 10 years ago and repackages it in a way that truly adds to the pilot’s situational awareness. For those using ForeFlight Pro Plus, Hazard Advisor altitude preview allows them to manually control Hazard Advisor’s altitude before flight, and Auto Hazard Advisor, which transitions HA into auto mode after takeoff, following the current altitude for a view of the surrounding terrain. 

Combined with per leg altitude planning—giving pilots the ability to select multiple attitudes within a flight plan—ForeFlight starts situational awareness early during the flight planning process. The upshot? We feel it makes a bold move toward combating a perennial cause of GA accidents, controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). 

Gear: Lightspeed Delta Zulu

Our editors do a lot of their own flying, both in aircraft they own as well as rent or use for instruction, and the investment in a headset is a real debate amongst the team. But for the last year one option has stood head and shoulders—intended—above the rest, and that’s the latest from Lightspeed Aviation, the Delta Zulu.

The active noise reduction (ANR) Bluetooth-enabled headset gives the pilot the ability to customize its auditory acuity with the help of an app, and it also has a built-in carbon monoxide detector that provides an auditory warning if there is CO present in the cockpit. The free Lightspeed app allows the pilot to check the CO sensor data visually during flight and review it later. The app also makes it possible for the user of the headset to fine-tune the device to meet the wearer’s hearing needs. 

And how does it wear? According to our testers, it’s one of the lightest-feeling ANR headsets out there, with ear seals comfortable enough that one tester noted she “forgot it was there.” That’s awesome praise for a vital pilot tool.

Training: Redbird Flight Simulations for Redbird Pro 

Known for its low-cost, full-motion flight training devices, Redbird Flight Simulations expanded its remit in the training arena last year with the launch of a pilot proficiency app called Redbird Pro. The app is designed to assess pilot knowledge and tailor training options through artificial intelligence to help them improve their weak points. The app utilizes articles, simulator scenarios, and quizzes as training tools. 

Many of the training scenarios are drawn from I.L.A.F.F.T. and Chart Wise content from FLYING, as well as content from the AOPA Air Safety Institute. Yes, Redbird Pro is aimed directly at those GA pilots who don’t typically spend the hours logged between flight reviews practicing toward proficiency. The gist? We’re really not as good at retaining that proficiency as we could be. Just as an app such as Duolingo encourages you to daily practice a language, Redbird Pro gamifies the proficiency quest and rewards you for frequent engagement. 

For giving shape and life to that practice—and making it fun—Redbird deserves a nod for making real strides toward improving pilot competence and confidence.

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