The “Big Four” Manufacturers

By Bob Hart –

For me, the dream of flight started at a young age. I was probably about 8 years old when the seed was planted, and I never lost sight of it. At 21, I had the means to pursue that dream and, being the romantic that I am, I decided to take glider lessons. I didn’t have my private ticket yet nor had I taken a single lesson in a power-plane. Let’s face it; the image of Pierce Brosnan flying his high-performance sailplane in The Thomas Crown Affair is not to be ignored by any pilot. The appeal of silent flight, with only the sound of the wind over the wings, is a turn-on for anyone who loves to fly. Of course, for the pilot flying a powered aircraft, that sound is terrifying—it means that the engine has stopped!

Aviation engines, however, are very reliable. As long as we remember to check the oil, maintain enough fuel in the tanks, and do the occasional maintenance required, they seldom surprise us. Depending on how/where you fly, the need and the ability to know the condition of your engine is relative. The VFR pilot who seldom ventures beyond the edges of their own county has minimal exposure and may be comfortable with the simple analog gauges provided by the aircraft manufacturer. Their risk is minimal. On the other hand, the “hard” IFR pilot in tough weather over the Rockies is fully exposed.

In Engine Management Options for the Modern GA Pilot – Part 1: Instrument Identification & Application (June 2014 – page 22) we took a general look at the engine analyzers and engine management systems available, what they monitor, and what that information tells us about our engine. Here, we take a closer look at the four primary manufacturers of engine management systems for GA and how their products might fit your needs for engine information. To start, let’s identify the three categories of pilot and their respective needs. From there, you can decide which category best applies to you:

Category #1: Basic Needs – This applies to VFR pilots who fly in terrain or over water frequently. This group would also include “light” IFR pilots who use their instrument ticket to generally fly away from trouble, but who will likely spend some time in the clouds.

Category #2: Intermediate Needs – This group consists of “light” to “medium” IFR pilots who fly extended cross countries with lots of time in the clouds and do occasional IFR approaches to minimums.

Category #3: Advanced Needs – As the name implies, this refers to “medium” to “hard” IFR pilots who spend lots of time in the clouds, in tougher IFR conditions, and where terrain or waters below are frequently un-inviting.

The “Big Four” Manufacturers

There are four manufacturers whose primary focus is engine analyzers and engine management systems for certified, GA aircraft. There are others with a focus on experimental systems and, of course, the big manufacturers (like Garmin) who offer engine management as an option on their high-end EFIS systems, but we won’t address them here. Instead, we’ll focus on the first group. In alphabetical order, they are: Electronics International, Insight Avionics, JP Instruments and, finally, the AuRACLE from Ultra Electronics.

Electronics International

EI, as they are often called, has been providing quality engine instruments for over 30 years and was one of the first to offer a digital engine analyzer that scanned all cylinders for EGT and CHT. Since then, they have continued to introduce newer, more sophisticated models and now offer a full line of quality, affordable products to meet the engine management needs of any pilot—from basic to best. I spoke with Daniel Bennett, who provides sales and tech support at EI, and asked him what’s new and different about the EI products. He pointed to their newer models—specifically the MVP-50P and the newest CGR-30P engine management systems. In addition to monitoring virtually all of the engine parameters serious pilots want, EI works with pilots to create parameters specific to their needs. Let’s say a pilot wants to monitor something that is not on your common list of parameters—flaps, landing gear, or rear passenger door, for example. If that item can provide an electronic signal, EI will work with the pilot to add that capability to the MVP or CGR.

When asked what he thought EI did best, Daniel said, “Electronics International is perhaps most famous for designing and manufacturing an entire suite of powerful engine management solutions. Because the company has been owned and operated by the same family of pilots for over 35 years, all of EI’s products are designed, manufactured, and supported by pilots. This means that every EI system provides the power and options needed to be the best, while maintaining the consistent, intuitive interface every pilot demands.”

Finally, I asked Daniel for what he’d propose as EI’s solutions for the three pilot categories defined above. Here’s his response:

For the Basic (VFR / “Light” IFR) Pilot: While EI offers the most options, including some very affordable options for this pilot, Daniel suggests their US-8A for the budget-minded owner. The US-8A provides a digital readout of CHT and EGT for all cylinders standard (in separate windows), and, with 16 channels available, you can add OAT, Carb or Oil Temp, and TIT. Manual or automatic scan is available at the push of a button. The US-8A allows a pilot to set his own high and low temperature limits from the front panel so customization is easy.

For pilots who desire a little more information, a solid leaning tool for ROP (rich of peak) / LOP (lean of peak) operations and with engine trending in mind, the UBG-16 does this effectively and adds the popular bar graph. With the bar graph, you see EGT, CHT, and TIT – the whole picture – with just one glance. Since monitoring EGT and CHT is more about uniformity, it makes keeping an eye on your engine a bit easier. In the event that a cylinder goes hot or cold, both units will alarm you that things aren’t right. The UBG-16 also provides a wider choice of options, including built-in fuel flow and the ability to monitor pressure parameters like fuel pressure and gyro vacuum. The UBG-16 has been EI’s bestseller for many years and is still a good choice in a full-featured engine analyzer.

Note: Both the US-8A and the UBG-16 are advisory units. This means your OEM factory-installed gauges must remain in the aircraft.

For the Intermediate (“Medium” IFR) Pilot: More IFR means higher altitudes and a greater need to lean effectively and maximize fuel economy, without the fear of engine damage. The UBG-16, as mentioned above, can do this for the budget-minded pilot who is flying “medium” IFR. For the pilot with a panel space problem, a need to remove the old stuff, and the need to know more about their engine, the solution is the new CGR-30P Color Engine Monitor. We have been seeing the large engine management units like the EI MVP-50P on the market for a few years now. These larger units are okay for a pilot who is doing a significant avionics upgrade and building a new panel, but the new CGR-30P gives you significant capability in a form factor (3 1/8” round) that fits nicely into an existing panel. In fact, the first thing the CGR-30P does is replace your existing tachometer—but, it doesn’t stop there. The CGR-30P is capable of replacing up to six critical engine parameters as primary (you can remove the old analogs) and up to an additional five parameters as advisory. EI calls this an engine monitor, but I think that’s an understatement! The CGR-30P is really a glass panel “engine management system,” well thought out, TSO’d and STC’d, and capable of fitting into any aircraft panel. This instrument gives you so many options, so many solutions, and, as I mentioned, the ability to even create your own custom parameters. A twin-engine version of the CGR-30P should be available soon.

For the Advanced (“Medium” to “Hard” IFR) Pilot: It should be obvious that the pilot flying “hard” IFR and who already has the avionics suite they want, can easily add the CGR-30P (above) and have most of the engine information they would want without the need to re-cut a new panel. However, for those pilots in the throes of a major avionics upgrade and with a new panel design in mind, a popular choice is to go big, and the EI MVP-50P has already proven to be a great choice. No question that a bigger, color display is easier to read and interpret, and these are things that busy “hard” IFR pilots have been asking for. Daniel noted that pilots frequently comment on the look of the MVP-50P and often point to that as one of the reasons they chose it. The MVP-50P (or MVP-50T Turbine model) serves as a full-featured engine monitor covering dozens of desirable engine parameters and a systems monitor for fuel level management. It even has the ability to create interactive checklists and build flight plans. Pilots who frequently fly in these conditions not only want to know what’s going on right now, but they also want the ability to record and review engine trends from every flight. The MVP-50P/T gives them the tools to do that. The standard capability and options available in the MVP-50P and 50T are way too broad to try to list here.

It seems that all manufacturers like to boast about their customer service, and, from my own experience, EI has good reason to brag. In addition to the integrated engine monitors we discussed above, EI has a large offering of single parameter instruments for pilots that may have a need to add or emphasize a single parameter—whether normally-aspired or turbine. Of the four manufacturers providing engine management solutions mentioned in this article, EI offers the largest selection of engine “tools” and solutions—including custom solutions. They’re definitely worthy of your consideration!

Insight Instrument Corp

Insight was one of the first companies to enter the engine analyzer market with the introduction of their Gem series. First introduced at the American Bonanza Society Convention in 1981, the GEM 602 established a new standard in engine monitors. With years of experience, research, and a knack for innovation under their belts, Insight recently said goodbye to the old orange plasma display and the Gem series and introduced their new G series engine analyzers. Using modern LCD displays with long-life LED backlights, the new display is only one of the improvements you’ll find in the G series.

No one is more enthusiastic about the new products than Brian Wrightman, marketing manager for Insight. I asked Brian what is different about the G series as compared to the other units on the market. He was quick to point out a few things. First, all of the G series units – from the affordable G1 to the G4 twin – offer probe analysis. Probes (EGT and CHT) can deteriorate over time. The probe diagnostic page gives the pilot a simple way to check probe performance in-flight and therefore eliminate other concerns when a cylinder EGT or CHT deviation is experienced. And, starting with the G2 and up, there’s Data-Logging—simplified! Many manufacturers offer data-logging, but Insight puts the information on a standard SD card right on the face of the instrument making it far simpler to monitor the condition of your engine over time. As a result, Brian suggests that more G series pilots use this feature than with other brands.

Insight is also the first to introduce vibration analysis and g-force logging. They’ve added a vibration sensor and a 3-axis accelerometer to their G3 and G4 models that allow you to establish a vibration baseline for your aircraft and monitor changes. This is especially helpful after maintenance or modifications. In fact, a customer who’d just undergone a prop replacement recently used the data to “convince” the manufacturer that things were not right and vibration was present in the new prop. G-force logging shows when the aircraft has been subjected to excessive G-forces from weather, aerobatics, or even hard landings. Naturally, the aircraft rental industry is very interested in this!

Based on the three pilot categories established above, I asked Brian for his recommendations from the Insight product line:

For the Basic (VFR / “Light” IFR) Pilot: Since this pilot is less likely to get too creative with ROP or LOP leaning techniques, Insight’s G1 can meet his/her needs. The G1 is the most affordable model in the Insight line and monitors CHT/EGT and TIT as primary.

Note: You can remove the old analog gauges. The G1 model does not provide data logging.

That said, the leaning tool in the G1 is best described as basic, so Brian recommends the G2, which adds data logging and fuel flow. Or, if you’re in this category, fly higher and longer, and prefer to operate at ROP or LOP, he suggests the G3. Brian advocates buying the best instrument you can afford. After all, an engine analyzer is one of the few instruments that can pay for itself in many ways. He’s right!

For the Intermediate (“Medium” IFR) Pilot: The more time in the clouds, the greater the need to know. The budget-conscious pilot may go for the G2, but can certainly benefit from the enhanced features and information available in the G3. The G3 adds a host of additional information including RPM, manifold pressure, oil pressure and temperature, vibration and G-force analysis, and GPS interface. Though they’re not primary replacements, they provide solid backup to what can be less-than-accurate analog gauges.

For the Advanced (“Medium” to “Hard” IFR) Pilot: Pilots in “hard” IFR with long periods of time in the clouds have the strongest need to know. In the Insight product line, their solutions are the G3, the larger G4 single (3 1/8”), or the G4 twin. The G3 and G4s allow you to monitor all the relevant engine parameters you need to monitor and offer the unique ability to monitor vibration and G-force. The G4 twin, while displaying all pertinent information on both engines on a single screen, also allows you to focus on a single engine with the turn of a knob. It’s like having a G4 for each engine, but in a single 3 1/8” unit.

Insight has also just introduced their new GX-MFT primary electronic tachometer. The new 3 1/8” instrument provides primary replacement for your RPM and manifold pressure instrument and primary fuel flow. The GX-MFT also offers new, innovative ways to monitor, diagnose, and troubleshoot your electrical system—all in a single instrument. Insight will be at Airventure 2014 to demonstrate all their products and to introduce the GX-MFT. A show special on the G4 and GX-MFT combination is expected.

I asked Brian what he thought Insight does best. His response was simple: “Functionality and the best tech support available.” I know Brian would be more than happy to show you!

JP Instruments

JPI, as they’re best-known, officially opened their doors in 1986, but CEO, Joe Polizzotto, and VP of Engineering, Larry Ebert, were already designing engine instruments and leaning tools long before that.

I spoke with Larry, who quickly pointed out what he felt was a significant advantage for JPI customers—experience. Both he and Joe, as engineers and pilots, have been working on this technology since 1975 and bring a lot of knowledge to the design table. The early result was the Scanner, originally created for Joe’s Cessna 172 in 1979. This unit eliminated the need to rotate a knob in order to see EGT and CHT for every cylinder. Once friends saw the Scanner, they wanted one and the concept grew from there to the EDM-500, then the 600, and, finally, to the very popular EDM-700, which, in my opinion (and confirmed by others), is likely the best-selling advisory engine analyzer of that generation. Today, the technology has exploded again with a new generation of primary engine management systems, and JPI is right there with their EDM-900, 930, and EDM-960 twin. Color displays make an engine analyzer easier to see and interpret, and JPI was one of the first to go that way. They now offer a wide selection of color instruments—and not just at the top end. The budget-minded pilot will find color instruments available throughout the JPI line. Sticking with the same approach, I asked Larry for his suggested JPI solutions using the three categories we established above:

For the Basic (VFR / “Light” IFR) Pilot: The Scanner, JPI’s most economical solution, is still viable and can meet the needs of the budget-minded pilot in this category. However, as Larry pointed out, most pilots will spend a little more and go for the basic version of the EDM-700 with its bright, easy-to-see gas plasma display. Both can monitor EGT and CHT for all cylinders, but the data-logging capability and additional options available on the EDM-700 are very desirable. Pilots in this category who want a color display can opt for the EDM-730. It has the same capability as the 700, but with a larger, color display.

Note, the standard EDM-700 is 2 ¼” but an optional 3 1/8” version is available.

For the Intermediate (“Medium” IFR) Pilot: On the budget side of this category, pilots can stick with the original EDM-700, but they can add additional parameters including fuel flow and, when interfaced to a GPS, fuel computing.

Note, that JPI also offers the FS-450 separate fuel flow instrument. My advice has always been to install a separate fuel flow instrument—if you have panel space. You’ll have more information available without having to switch the EDM into fuel mode. Larry agrees and points out that the price is about the same.

Options on the EDM-700 include OAT, Oil temp and pressure, carb temp, induction air temp, TIT, and, as mentioned, internal fuel flow. The EDM-730, as mentioned above, does the same—in color. For the pilot in the intermediate need category who wants more information, the EDM-800, with its gas plasma display, adds RPM and manifold pressure and includes most of the EDM-700’s options, including fuel flow as standard. Plus, it computes percentage of horsepower. CHT, Oil Temp, and TIT are FAA-approved as primary in the EDM-800. For those wanting color and willing to pay a little more, the EDM-830 emulates the EDM-800, but with the larger, color display. All these units feature JPI’s Leanfind software, which is perfect for the pilot with ROP or even LOP fuel management in mind. Very important with today’s fuel prices!

For the Advanced (“Medium” to “Hard” IFR) Pilot: It’s no coincidence that pilots in this category are flying sophisticated aircraft and frequently equip their aircraft with the best avionics and instruments. In the JPI line, the pilot flying in this category could use the EDM-830, but would more likely opt for the new EDM-900 or the well-established EDM-930. JPI recognizes that there are two markets here. For the pilot/owner who already has the avionics suite they need and is just adding engine management, the EDM-900 fits nicely into an existing panel and gives this pilot all of the information they want. The EDM-900 mounts in a standard 3 1/8” hole and, because all functions are certified as primary, it actually creates room in your panel by allowing you to remove your old analog gauges. As I mentioned, we’re no longer just talking about an analyzer, rather an engine management system or, as JPI likes to call it, “your personal on-board flight engineer!” The EDM-900 does it in a compact unit with features and benefits too long to list here and designed for the pilot who already has the avionics panel he/she wants.

The EDM-930, on the other hand, is frequently the choice for pilots who are engaged in a complete avionics panel upgrade and who are designing/building a new panel. Pilots in “hard” IFR conditions want and need a lot of information in front of them. The EDM-930’s larger form factor delivers this information in a format that’s easier to read and interpret quickly. All parameters are certified primary so all the old stuff comes out and is replaced by the EDM-930. As with the 900, there’s just too much in the 930 to list here. For twin flyers, the answer is the EDM-960 twin-engine management system. This system puts a DAU (Data Acquisition Unit) in each cowling and a simple two-wire harness back to the single display unit, greatly simplifying installation and reliability.

For pilots seeking a simple solution to a single engine parameter, JPI also offers their Slim-line product line, which offers a compact and affordable digital solution for most engine parameters, many of which are certified as primary.

Finally, I asked Larry what he thought JPI does best. He replied, “JPI designs instruments that are simpler and easier to use with less pages and more information right up front.” Sounds like a formula for success to me!

Ultra Electronics

Ultra Electronics is, by far, the biggest of the four companies. Their Flightline Systems division has been building instrumentation for aviation, both GA and Defense, for over 40 years—primarily as OEM products. In 2009, they purchased the AuRACLE line of engine management systems from Xerion Avionix, repackaged and improved it, and now offer top-end primary engine management systems for the GA aftermarket for both single and twin-engine pilots. I spoke with Vinny Regan, marketing manager for the AuRACLE product line.

The AuRACLE is available in two versions for single engine aircraft (the CRM 2100 and CRM2101) and one twin-engine version (the CRM2120). Unlike some of the other manufacturers that offer more affordable advisory analyzers, all the AuRACLE systems are STC’d as primary engine management systems and serve as replacements for your original factory-installed engine instruments. As a result, they’re not really designed to meet the more basic needs of the VFR or “light” IFR pilot. Here’s an overview of the AuRACLE product line:

CRM2101 – The 2101 single-engine system is designed to offer pilots a simple way to upgrade the display and operating system for their previously installed JPI units. It utilizes the existing JPI harness with no modification and re-uses all existing sensors—with the exception of any pressure sensors you may have. Pilots do this because they’re seeking a larger, easier-to-read display and the intuitive operating system offered by AuRACLE. At the same time, the CRM2101 becomes a primary instrument for most engine parameters allowing removal of the original factory gauges that were required to stay with the JPI advisory units. The CRM2101 monitors virtually all the engine parameters we discussed in Part One.

Note that fuel level is not a part of the CRM2101, but the systems fuel computer provides an accurate reference to fuel flow, fuel used, and, with pilot input, provides an accurate report of fuel on-board as an excellent backup to often questionable factory fuel gauges.

The CRM2101 is a single, integrated unit—same as those offered by the other manufacturers. But, the other two AuRACLE systems take a different approach! Anyone interested in having your own “Network?” When I asked Vinny Regan, what is different about these AuRACLE systems, he pointed to the remote Engine Interface Unit (EIU).

The heart of the CRM2100 single and CRM2120 twin system is the EIU, which unlike all other systems, is mounted on the hot side of the firewall. All engine sensors connect to the EIU, and the EIU is connected to the AuRACLE display via a true aerospace network using a single, military-quality bulkhead connector. This “networked” system reduces wire runs, minimizes interference, simplifies installation, lowers install cost, and is very advantageous when the AuRACLE is installed in a pressurized aircraft. This makes the CRM2100 and CRM2120 a popular choice for pilots flying high-end pressurized singles and twins.

CRM2100 – If you don’t already have a JPI, the CRM2100 is the choice in the AuRACLE line for pilots adding advanced engine management capability to their single-engine aircraft. Like the 2101, it covers virtually all the standard engine parameters that you’ll want to monitor if you’re flying “medium” to “hard” IFR or if you’re just on an extended cross-country CAVU over rough terrain or water where the risk of an engine problem may be an issue. It does it using the AuRACLE’s exclusive EIU Network. Leaning is always a major consideration when discussing engine management and efficiency and, frankly, it’s the way that a system like this can pay for itself. The AuRACLE’s Smartlean™ presentation, available on all three models, is unique and offers a very intuitive approach to leaning your engine correctly. The emphasis is on fuel economy while minimizing any risk of engine damage. Speaking of fuel, the CRM2120 does provide fuel level monitoring for up to four tanks in addition to the functions of the fuel computer.

CRM2120 TWIN: When the goal is to effectively manage two engines, the AuRACLE CRM2120 is a very good choice. The 2120 uses two displays in a single bezel, and the factory offers three form factors – both vertical and horizontal – to fit in most aircraft. Remember, they are primary systems, so the old analog stuff can go. Since one pilot behind two engines requires a lot of information, the system is designed to provide adjustable parameters – like RPM, MAP, Fuel Flow, CHT, and EGT – on one side of the display, while fixed parameters – like oil pressure, temp, amps, etc. – are on the other display. The redundant screens are reversionary (the screens swap data) and will provide all your engine information—even in the event of a failure of one of the screens.

Finally, I asked Vinny what’s best about the AuRACLE systems. Without hesitation, he said, “They’re very intuitive…and easy to use!” Obviously, that’s a big plus for most pilots! If you’re a “medium” to “hard” IFR pilot with a strong need to know about the condition of your engine or engines, the AuRACLE from Ultra Electronics deserves your consideration.

In my selling days at Eastern Avionics, I used to tell customers, “We carry every avionics manufacturers’ products that are worth carrying.” Sure, there were some manufacturers who ignored their customers’ phone calls or whose products just weren’t holding up to their claims. We, in turn, dropped them. After all, when a customer has problems with a piece of equipment I sold them, guess who hears about it first? Somehow, I become a co-conspirator in their problem. That’s why I simply run from companies that cause my customers (and me) problems. Fortunately, that’s not at all the case with any of these manufacturers! All of them, Electronics International, Insight, JP Instruments, and Ultra Electronics have a proven track record of innovation, quality, and solid customer service.

If you’re in the market for an engine analyzer or full-blown engine management system, your challenge is to find the right product and manufacturer to fit you and your needs. I hope this article has helped!