Monday, June 7, 2010

Fun with electrons

As you probably know, I'm a big fan of the Vertical Power system going in my RV-7A. It's essentially a computer that runs my electrical system, giving me all sorts of flexibility and cool new features with every software upgrade.

And therein, I have to admit, lies one of the disadvantages of the VP-50. Screw up the software upgrade, and you no longer have an electrical system. This, of course, is not a long-term problem for me because I'm not going to flying for more than a year, but if I were flying and I had tried a software upgrade, as I did on Saturday, I'd be grounded right now.

After reading the VP-50 release notes for the latest upgrade (which included the lights wig-wag figure, I was a little skittish about the prospect. First, you have to download the java environment file and install it on the C drive, which is OK unless you're trying to do this with a work computer with restricted permissions. Then you have to download the software installer and put it in the C drive and then you download the software upgrade.

That's all well and good but the lack of flexibility with regard to drive locations screamed "be careful!" And so did the cable I had to make to communicate with the computer, because it had a serial connection.

Nobody's computer has a serial port anymore, so I had to buy a ridiculously expensive ($35) cable to make the connection. And because the kid at work who administers the computer system doesn't give me permissions (pssst! It's my son), I lugged the desktop PC over on Saturday.

Saturday is a really stupid time to do a software upgrade, because there's nobody at the other end of a phone to help you out if things don't go well.

And things did not go well.

First, it took me quite awhile to get the installation program to recognize which com port the cable was using, but when it finally did, it connected fine with the VP-50, which flashed its pretty red light and reported "software upgrading" .

Everything was going swimmingly until the upgrade program reported it couldn't access a flash boot, or something -- whatever that is, and there's nothing to tell you what that is. But the instructions are pretty clear: Don't turn off the power during an upgrade.

But, at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, I couldn't keep my master switch on all weekend, so eventually off it had to go. And when starting it back up, it reported "software fail." My electrical system was gone.

Sunday was another day and this time I figured a laptop might be more successful, so I went and bought one at Best Buy ($400, I really didn't need to buy a propeller this year, I guess) and tried getting that to work, but all of the error messages are the same.

My pals at VP are trying to work through this, and thank goodness I'm doing business with a company with terrific customer service. We're trying to determine first whether the cable is talking to the VP-50 unit. But it talked for at least a little while when it said, "Erase me."

In the meantime, I'm relieving the stress by inserting the close-tolerance bolts in the left wing. That's not working, either.


  1. Bob, I have a laptop with a serial port and no restrictions - let me know when you need to upgrade and I'll shoot down to SGS. -Pete

  2. Pete:
    My guess is VP is going to ask me to send the whole shootin' match back but it'd be great if we could try your laptop ASAP.

    You'll want to go here:

    And download the Java environment, then the software installer (be sure to put it in the C:\Vertical Power directory, I guess.

    And the two software updates to your desktop.

    I ordered a new cable at VP's suggestion, but ran into the same problem. I think the cable is working because it said "loading software" and wiped out the existing software, it just didn't complete the process.

    I've sunk about $500 into this so far. Kinda frustrating.