The cover for a 1985 Airshow brochure. Image via Rich Salter

The cover for a 1985 Airshow brochure. Image via Rich Salter

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of APEX EXPO this year, APEX Media is looking back at “40 Success Stories” in the form of its members’ most significant achievements. Today, we examine the intricate work that went into the creation of the first moving map.

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Sometime in late 1980, a man named Dutch Arvor who worked for Wisconsin-based fixed-base operator K-C Aviation in Appleton chastised the three men behind Asinc – Steve Long, Al Muesse and Rich Salter – when they tried to sell him their product.

It was a package that included a small cathode-ray tube television set, Atari games console and Airshow Digital Interface Unit (Airshow DIU). The Airshow DIU interfaced with a business jet’s avionics and generated a video signal that displayed its groundspeed and altitude. The solution was made to be strapped to passengers’ seats.

Salter recounted, “He basically said, “You are all ex-Rockwell Collins engineers. You’ve got a general-purpose video display with all that capability – surely you can come up with something more interesting than text.” We asked, “Like what?” He responded, “Like a map or something.” And that’s how the moving map was born.”

Making it a reality was a laborious process. “In the early 80s, there were no computerized maps, only paper versions, so we had to digitize them manually,” explained Salter. “We took a colred map on paper (the colors represented various elevations), assigned a number to each color, then keyed in a file of numbers for each pixel on the page.”

“Swissair was immediately interested. At the time, they had a paper map tacked to the wall in the cabin.” – Rich Salter, The Salter Group.

“Then, we wrote software so that the Airshow computer could load this list of numbers into a video frame memory for displaying on the screen and, of course, read the position of the aircraft from the aircraft navigation system in order to overlay an aircraft symbol on the map,” Salter continued.

The Airshow DIU containing both the maps and the software to generate the video rapidly became Asinc’s leading product, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s, when the company attended a WAEA conference, that commercial airlines saw the moving map product. Salter said, “Swissair was immediately interested. At the time, they had a paper map tacked to the wall in the cabin. The chief purser would periodically move a pin to show the updated position of the aircraft!”

Once Airshow was flying, it encountered an interesting problem. “In the 80s, airlines used three-gun video projectors with a single overhead screen in each cabin zone to reflect the colored light. Our maps were two colors – yellow for land and blue for water. On long-haul flights, the maps were primarily blue because the aircraft were flying over the ocean, and so the blue gun in the three-gun projector was wearing out much faster than the other two guns,” said Salter. “Flight attendants wanted to leave the Airshow map on all the time, and this meant in-flight entertainment companies like Trans Com and Avicom weren’t happy with us prematurely wearing out their projectors.”

Needless to say, all parties were happy when personal video screens with multi-channel video were introduced, and Airshow could be switched on and off at will by each passenger!

See more posts from the 40 Success Stories campaign.