With an eye to Europe's developing "open-skies" approach to civil-aircraft routing, Racal Wells has launched a private-venture programme to develop a hand-held identification friend-or-foe (IFF) transponder for use aboard balloons, gliders, para and hang gliders, microlights and light aircraft.

Work on the design is based on a study which the company undertook for the UK's Civil Aviation Authority into a private pilot's IFF transponder which would weigh no more than 1kg and have a price ceiling of ú500 ($800).

Racal has taken the system, which offers Mode 3 and Mode C responses in the 1,030-1,090MHz-frequency range, to the prototype stage. The new transponder, which resembles a large hand-held cellular telephone, is powered by a rechargable, 8h-endurance battery and is designed for operation at up to 25,000ft (7,600m) and at temperatures as low as -55íC.

The equipment would allow air-traffic-control authorities to keep track of small aircraft and others in free flight.

For applications such as hang gliders, the transponder would be carried in the pilot's pocket. On fixed-wing aircraft, the unit could be clipped to the instrument console, with its integral antenna demounted to a suitable point on the aircraft's exterior.

The company says that engineering prototypes of the device have been ground tested, with flight trials starting in March.

If successful, and subject to CAA accreditation, Racal intends to begin marketing the transponder no later than mid-1997.

While no firm retail price has been established, the firm recognises that achieving the £500 goal will be difficult, with the final figure depending on the volume of production. To provide a value-added element, Racal is also looking at the possibility of offering the device with an integral global-positioning-system receiver.

Source: Flight International