This Way, That Way

by David E. Carroll

This article appeared in the March 2001 Falco Builders Letter

My two favorite times of every year are attending Oshkosh and Christmas. Oshkosh because of the exposure I receive to the world of Sport Aviation, and Christmas because everything I ordered at Oshkosh has arrived by then. When attending either Sun-n-Fun or Oshkosh there is a period of adjustment that must follow which usually lasts several weeks. I always prepare my trips by carefully taking note of the materials and specific items required ensuring the Falco project moves forward to greet the next great Fly-In. As it always happens, I am flooded with new information, products, specifications, features and "nothing performs like this!" It is not until the last day that I can recover my senses and make a meager attempt to drive home with at least one of my 101 questions answered.

Oshkosh 2000 was no different than any in the past, one of the many questions I carried with me was "What autopilot shall I install?" I was not attracted to the Century line of products. In my opinion, today's cost for the Century autopilot systems exceed the functionality when compared to other systems.

Prior to Oshkosh, my first idea towards considering another system was one offered by S-TEC, the System-30. I quickly called Alfred and fired my idea at him, it ricocheted and came right back at me! For the one or two simple reasons I offered for even considering another system, my ideas were out-numbered 10-1 with reasons not to consider another system. Alfred was right, I lowered my head and kept on building, right up to the point of Oshkosh 2000, and I still had this crazy idea about considering another autopilot system.

Many of my friends, well all of them actually, are building RV aircraft, everything from the RV-3 up to the RV-9. A couple of them have built two in the time I have taken to complete 55% of my Falco! That's okay though, I'll have the last laugh. All they will see is this dot in front of them getting smaller, and smaller, and soon after I am out-of-sight!

The point of mentioning the RV's is that many builders are installing the new Navaid Device's autopilot system. This is a simple, cost-effective means towards claiming your aircraft has an autopilot system. It probably works just fine most of the time in several different planes. I intensely studied the design and characteristics of the Navaid's layout and responses to varying conditions. I spent several hours talking to the owner/designer (and he is very intelligent) but I walked away with a sense that it just didn't belong in a Falco.

I gave up on the idea of an alternate (affordable) autopilot system until I rounded the corner in one of the exhibition hangers. Here I saw a young man sitting on a bar stool (looking like a damm fool ed. Charlie Daniel's fan), holding what looked like various parts to an autopilot system. He was banking and yawing the heck out of this little black box (like one of my boys with a 3-inch 10-pound metal plane doing everything possible to get it flying). He was speaking to a crowd three or four deep. I looked up above the spokesperson to read the company name. I do not remember what I saw, but it sure had nothing to do with autopilots. I listened further to learn a new company was formed, to bring to market new technology advances in digital control systems. The servos, as he demonstrated, were impressively smooth and quick and beamed with quality. The torque is adjusted digitally, in only a matter of seconds from the control screen on the panel-mounted programmer; a clutch does not exist inside the servo. All control movements are precisely digitally controlled through a digital-stepping motor.

After a few minutes of listening, another gentleman walked up to continue discussions with the crowd. His appearance seemed recognizable and his voice was familiar, but I could not associate a name. One person from the crowd ask this older gentleman what planes he has flown with the new TruTrak Flight Systems autopilot installed. The response was "A Piper Colt and Mr. Mulligan". "Did he say Mr. Mulligan" I said to myself. "This was my absolute most favorite plane in the world" from my younger days. Okay, so now I am biased, any chances for good judgement on my part are now out the window.

Jim Younkin, owner/pilot of Mr. Mulligan, is also the co-designer of the TruTrak autopilot systems. Chuck Bilbe is the other co-designer. Jim Younkin is also the designer of many (if not most) of the Century line of autopilots and devoted his career to creating reliable and effective auto-control systems for several different companies. Jim's work is installed in many different production aircraft. Jim has emerged from retirement to pursue yet another major breakthrough, bringing TruTrak's innovative design features and use of new technology to sport aviation.

Chuck is a software genius and knows how to integrate computer logic with a pilot's hand. In my opinion, the functionality of their systems is unmatched; not even the high-priced competitors come close. For roughly $3,000 we receive a 100% complete single-axis digital autopilot which is completely programmable to exactly match your specific aircraft's flying characteristics. Double this cost, and we have a two-axis digitally controlled autopilot system that will out-live my airplane and me. One programmer/servo combination can be quickly programmed for system activity and torque to match just about any airplane, I find this truly amazing.

If you are considering an autopilot system for your Falco and wish to survey what the market has brought to sport aviation (and what may be potentially the most advanced system for your dollar), then I encourage you to visit TruTrak's website at and contact either Jim Younkin or Chuck Bilbe. Your time will be well worth the education.


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