With Wings As Eagles: Tech/Computer/Electronics Entries

A new capability in flying

2013 July 21 09:20

My Mooney (airplane) is pretty well-equipped. I have reasonably sophisticated GPS guidance (although no autopilot) and I can fly all the same approaches that all but the very must well-equipped airliners can. I'm quite happy with the equipment list at the moment. Until yesterday, though, I didn't have any capability to receive weather while flying, which is a great tool for situational awareness and is becoming more commonplace.

I use a software product called ForeFlight on an iPad for all my charts and approaches. Their company has teamed up with Sporty's Pilot shop and a hardware manufacturer to make gadget called a "Stratus". It's a GPS receiver and it receives signals called ADS-B, which is a relatively new digital network that the FAA is rolling out that will eventually replace air traffice control radar. ADS-B signals are broadcast from the ground and contain information like weather radar.

The stratus module also creates a wireness internet hotspot that an iPad can connect to and access the GPS position data and the data stream that's coming in through ADS-B. What thsi means is that the ForeFlight app now knows where it is and also can overlay any information it gets from the ADS-B data stream, such as weather radar, right on the Foreflight chart displya. I believe it can also query things like current weather and forecasts from airports with weather reporting.

I flew up to the Sporty's store in Ohio yesterday to pick up a second-generation Stratus, which just came out recently. I managed to use it flying home, and I was very happy with its performance and how easy it was to get going and set up.

How nice of Mooney to put such a nice holder for the Stratus when they put together the airplane in 1967!

This is the pull handle on the passenger door on the right side. I was flying home around noon, and the sun was from above and slightly to the left, so by putting it there it kept it out of direct sunlight.

I think the interesting pattern that the camera digitization makes with the lights is cool. The middle light doesn't look like that; I guess it's flashing two different colors rapidly and the camera picks then up as it scans down the image.

And once I had the proper thing turned on in the iPad, I got position information and I could see that I wasn't going to run into any rain in the last leg home. Nice.

I have to say, the corporate philosophy of this does bother me somewhat. I think generally it's a bad idea to buy a piece of hardware that's so closely tied to a single piece of software. However, ForeFlight is my electronic flight bag app of choice and it will likely be around for at least a few years. The Stratus is cheap enough (on the scale of aviation devices; it's less than a good Bose noise-cancelling heatset) that I'm willing to take the risk that it might only be good for a few years. The upgraded capability is worth it.

So my initial impression is that it's easy to use with Foreflight, does everything it's supposed to, and is absolutely worth it as a capability upgrade if you don't have on-board weather. I'll report back after I've used it in my flights to Oshkosh and back.