The inReach SE from DeLorme is a portable tracking device that communicates with the Iridium satellite network.
The DeLorme inReach SE isn't designed to be used in an airplane, but it can provide text messaging and tracking. This can be exceedingly useful—as I discovered while testing it on a long cross-country flight from Portland, Ore., (PDX) to Modesto, Calif., (MOD).
That flight was the last leg of a longer trip into Canada, (see the article on page 42 of our November 2013 issue), which involved a significant deviation due to weather—and associated delay. The inReach made it possible for us to message a contact on the ground and let them know our updated arrival time. As a result, when we landed, we were met by ground personnel ready to deal with us, our passengers and cargo.
Physically, the inReach SE looks like an oversized cell phone. It measures 5.7x2.4x1.3 inches, including the built-in antenna and belt clip, and weighs 6.7 ounces. DeLorme publishes a battery life of 100 hours in the 10-minute tracking mode, with a clear view to the sky. I charged my loaner unit just once, and that was sufficient for more than a week of intermittent use, including over an hour of continuous operation in the air.
Internally, the inReach SE combines a GPS receiver and a transmitter/receiver that communicates with the Iridium network, which comprises some 66 satellites orbiting some 484 miles above the Earth. On the one hand, that's good—the satellites are in a polar orbit, so at any one time, you'll probably be in line of sight of at least one (and usually more than one) regardless of where you're flying. The downside is that it's all but impossible to predict what direction you'd need to point in order to see those satellites, which unlike GPS, aren't fixed in the sky. On average, each Iridium satellite orbits the Earth every 100 minutes.
As a result, it can sometimes be frustrating to use the inReach SE in an airplane. To operate successfully, it must have a clear line of sight to an Iridium satellite, as well as one or more GPS satellites. I had poor results while traveling on a northbound leg in a Pilatus PC-12, but much better results on later west- and southbound legs, particularly after placing the unit on the glare shield (DeLorme's manual recommends attaching the unit to a "backpack strap or your upper body" and notes that just putting it on a belt "could prevent proper transmission of messages and tracking points.")
Setting up the inReach SE involves a number of steps, and I highly recommend paying close attention to the included quick start guide for details. Text messages of up to 160 characters—that can be sent to short message service-compatible (SMS) cell phones or email accounts—are composed using an on-screen keyboard and a wide range of predefined messages covers most common situations. Messaging can also be used to update your Twitter account or Facebook page if you're into social media. The built-in tracking feature automatically updates a web page with your position (every 10 minutes by default—this can be adjusted from one minute to four hours) assuming that the device can communicate with a satellite. The unit also offers a potentially lifesaving SOS feature that could function as a backup to your ELT.
In addition to stand-alone use, the inReach SE can be paired using Bluetooth to a compatible cell phone or other device. That's a handy way to collect contacts, so you don't have to laboriously enter them one character at a time, and it can simplify entering text messages— but I can't recommend using this device as an external GPS with an iPad. When I attempted to do so, it reported my position as latitude 0.0, longitude 0.0, probably because it didn't have a clear view of the sky at the time. Disabling Bluetooth and returning to my iPad's internal GPS receiver produced much better results.
On the whole, I think the inReach SE will be of most interest to pilots who use their airplanes to get to remote locations and then engage in adventure travel—backpacking, hunting, boating, etc. In those situations, having a portable device that can provide text messaging and tracking could be a real lifesaver!
The InReach SR sells for $299.95, and subscription plans start at $9.95. There are aviation plans available that provide more frequent tracking intervals, but they aren't necessary to use the device in an airplane. For details, visit www.inreachdelorme.com.