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Feature Article 2


Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

ADS-B and Flying to the Eclipse (But Not in Oregon)

I've got a buddy who lives in Bozeman, Montana.  Four years ago, my family and I flew out there in our Archer.  Since then, we've added a 182 and a second son to the fleet.  Way back in January, we planned another Great Western Flying Adventure to visit him.  The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District calendar dictated that the trip would be around August 12 through August 22.

Then, around March this year, I learned about the Great American Eclipse.  By pure happenstance, our trip to Bozeman coincided with this epic event.  We adjusted the trip to accommodate a stop in the path of totality on way back from Bozeman.

A few weeks before the trip, I started looking into which airport would be the best choice.  There were a few airports in the mountains of Idaho plus Rexburg and Idaho Falls.  I wanted to have options in case we got to the airport hours before the eclipse or were going to be stuck for hours afterward, so that eliminated the mountain airports.  I was able to find more information on the Idaho Falls FBO page than Rexburg, so chose Idaho Falls.  We planned to arrive about a half hour before the eclipse began and depart as soon as reasonable afterward.

The morning of August 21st had beautiful weather predicted for Bozeman and Idaho Falls, with some restricted visibility in Montana due to forest fires.  We took off about as planned, picked up Flight Following out of Bozeman and headed toward Idaho Falls.

Shortly after departure, we heard many other aircraft checking in for Flight Following to Idaho Falls.  We were told that as we got within about 100 miles, ATC would no longer be able to provide services due to the number of aircraft.  Sure enough, one hundred miles out Flight Following was terminated.

Last fall, I had an Garmin GTX 345 put into the 182.  This is an ADS-B transponder with ADS-B In capability.  If you connect an iPad running ForeFlight to the transponder via Bluetooth, ForeFlight will display traffic and weather information from ADS-B In.  The flight during the last hundred miles to Idaho Falls, and back to San Carlos after that, proved the value of ADS-B In.

Rexburg lies about 20 miles northeast of Idaho Falls and is non-towered.  The ADS-B traffic display showed airplanes descending on Rexburg from all directions.  I don't know what it was actually like to operate into the field that day, but I'm also not unhappy I didn't try (triple negative).  The ADS-B traffic also allowed me to avoid the aircraft heading into Rexburg from my general area.  While I kept my head outside the plane looking for traffic, having cues on where to concentrate was great.

The controllers at Idaho Falls were on top of their game.  There was relatively little traffic coming from the northeast, where we were coming from, so we were given instructions to make a straight-in approach from six miles out.  We changed runways about two miles out.  The ground crew had us parked, fueled, and on our way to the lawn to watch the eclipse in less than twenty minutes.

There are better articles than this to read about the eclipse itself.  I will say that observing the total eclipse was a life-changing experience.  I expect that I'll figure out how to see the next total eclipse in the continental United States in 2024.

After the end of totality, people started heading to their aircraft to depart.  Again, the FBO and the controllers did a fantastic job getting people on their way.  I have waited longer on the ground at San Carlos on a busy training day than I did waiting to depart Idaho Falls.

The usefulness of the ADS-B In displays helped a few more times on our way back from Idaho Falls to San Carlos.  First, the territory between Idaho Falls and Reno is sparsely populated.  There was nobody on the Center frequency and we saw almost no traffic.  However, the one airplane we did see intersected our track within a mile and at less than one thousand feet altitude separation.  We altered course to make the distance larger, but I'm not sure I would have spotted that traffic without the help of the ADS-B traffic display.  It is hard to remain constantly vigilant in such wide-open spaces.

The final bit of outstanding utility was observing the weather patterns over the Sierra Nevada as we prepared to cross.  I had planned to fly over South Lake Tahoe and follow US 50 to the Central Valley.  However, both visually and on the weather display it was clear that weather over South Lake was not something to tangle with.  The weather display showed purple splotches (heaviest precipitation) and the view out the window was cumulonimbus.  The question now was whether a path over Donner Pass and following I-80 would work for us.  There was a large buildup just north of 80, but from Reno and Truckee, it was hard to tell what it was doing.  The ADS-B weather display was able to help.  It showed the cell moving slowly northeast, with only very light echoes on the southern edge.  We decided to press forward.  The views were great as we passed well clear of all the weather and made it home in time for dinner.

In-cockpit weather and traffic has been possible for a while, via XM radio and various traffic systems.  As the ADS-B mandate goes into effect on January 1, 2020, almost all aircraft in the Bay Area will be equipped with ADS-B Out equipment.  I expect most will also equip with some version of ADS-B In, whether it's an in-panel display or a transponder with Bluetooth or WiFi connection to a tablet.  

Some aircraft are already equipped with this equipment.  Check out the WVFC Aircraft pages to discover which.  If you fly an airplane with ADS-B In available via a tablet, study the Manual to figure out how to connect and start to enjoy the benefits. 

If you're interested in more details about ADS-B, I'm presenting a WVFC Safety Seminar on Monday December 11 at 7pm at the WVFC San Carlos location.