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John Wharington is testing one of the prototypes in Australia

Since December 2005 I have been fortunate to be involved in Altair flight testing.

Installation was quite straightforward once I had a mount made; all that was required was to fasten the Altair unit to the mount using the supplied screws and plugging in the supplied power/data cable to Vega.

A few days later I went on a gliding safari and logged about 25 hours of cross-country flying in unfamiliar areas.

The display is very clear and bright even in direct sunlight and the brightness could be reduced to about 50% when flying under clouds; reflections were not a problem as the screen has an anti-glare coating.

The glide computer software is well laid-out and all text is readable. Personally I would prefer the vario gauge to be less cluttered than the default configuration and it is possible to do this by turning off unwanted display elements in the configuration options.

I really enjoyed having the large map display so prominent on the instrument panel as it made navigation simple and I didn't have to search the instrument panel to find information I sought.

Thermal centring was assisted with the display of the glider's trail coloured and scaled according to lift/sink. Having the wind vector displayed near the glider was also very useful as we were flying on several days in strong winds (20 knots). When flying into unfamiliar airfields, a way-point details page could be displayed showing airfield information such as available runways, area frequencies etc. Special use airspace is also displayed on the map and at one stage in the flight I was warned that I had climbed briefly into controlled airspace. On one flight when getting low I used the 'abort task' button to locate the nearest airfields to divert to --- a very useful feature.

It was quite intuitive to interact with the glide computer using the buttons on the side of the Altair unit; these buttons and their functions are well organised and have a nice click feel.

When used with Vega, Altair displays FLARM traffic on the screen. My setup also had digital inputs from switches on the control stick to control zoom, drop markers and toggle display modes and this was very convenient while flying.

With no training, my glider partner was able to pick up the basics of using Altair: after one flight he worked out the display of thermal profile, wind vector, final glide bar, trail, and display of landable fields.

Because this was my initial testing of Altair, I carried a backup GPS unit but did not use it at all. During the safari we were flying on very hot days (40 degrees celsius), up to 13500 feet; and operating on poor runway surfaces (experiencing lots of vibration). Altair was robust and suffered no faults, software lockups or damage from these conditions.

Overall I can say the initial testing was a tremendous success and I am very happy with Altair.