When you’re flying over rough terrain or desolate areas, you tend to have certain thoughts. Around the time that you start to wonder if you calculated fuel requirements properly, and if your engine really is running as smoothly as it usually does, the tag line from Spidertracks makes a whole lot of sense: “Because in the rescue game, time equals life.” If you have a problem with your airplane and are able to make a survivable off-field landing, what you want, more than anything, is to get your location information immediately to the people you count on to get a rescue effort started.
Spidertracks system is a combination GPS receiver and Iridium satellite system transmitter that provides almost exact 3D location information to your people in near-real time. At regular intervals, the unit will transmit your location, altitude, speed and direction to the company’s server. The timing of messages is one of the items that you configure, and can be as frequently as once a minute. At the server, your track is assembled and presented as a web page that’s available to any set of people to whom you allow access—from a small list of colleagues to a public page that’s open to everybody. Graphical maps of your tracks are displayed over Google maps with traditional map, satellite or terrain views.
The monitoring system, Spiderwatch, is a genuinely unique approach to aviation safety. With the service enabled, your flights automatically are monitored by the Spiderwatch system. As you speed up through 40 knots, Spiderwatch will activate. If the Spiderwatch website unexpectedly stops receiving points from your unit, alert e-mail and text messages will be sent to your contacts. If your contacts don’t respond, alerts will be sent to emergency services. Spiderwatch is a significant enhancement to your ELT because these alerts automatically are sent from the website instead of onboard equipment that has to survive the accident, and because alerts are sent within minutes of an accident instead of when the aircraft is overdue. Rescue efforts are aided because you can be located based on the aircraft’s last-reported GPS position and direction information.
Although the Spidertracks systems are very easy to use, it’s worthwhile to take some time and really learn to operate it so that you don’t inadvertently become “the boy who cried wolf.” The units have a keypad that’s used to start/end trip monitoring, send a preconfigured message or manually send out an emergency alert that indicates you need help. One innovation is that emergency alerts will be triggered automatically if the unit’s power is turned off while it’s in monitoring mode (it will assume that you have an emergency and that’s why the power to the unit has failed). This can save your life when the automatic alert that’s triggered gets help moving toward your location during the “golden hour” for a rescue mission. It also means that you have to be careful to turn off trip monitoring when you safely complete a trip before cutting power to the unit if you don’t want to be sending unnecessary alert messages to your support team.
Your track watchers have many different ways to keep tabs on you. The Spidertracks website is a perfect way to see how your journey is progressing. You also can set up the system to send out text or e-mail messages for specific actions, such as speeding up to takeoff speed or slowing down at landing. There’s an iPhone app that displays your current track, and apps for Blackberrys and other phones are currently under development. The tracking system also has the ability to pair with cell phones and become an Iridium sat-phone modem, allowing you to send text messages from locations without cell service.
There are two versions of Spidertracks available. The newest version, Aviator, works much the same as its predecessor FleetPro, but is half the size for improved portability and convenience. The other difference is that the keypad on the Aviator is integrated into the unit, whereas it’s external on the FleetPro. Both versions require an external power source, usually a cigarette lighter adapter. If you need true portability, a rechargeable battery pack is available from Spidertracks that gives you approximately two days of track monitoring.
Aviator is targeted specifically for GA pilots, and it’s especially applicable if you move between different airplanes that you fly, or maybe even use it on the occasional motorcycle trip. The current FleetPro product might be desirable for a semipermanent installation where you want a strategic placement of the antenna and the keypad with clean routing of the wiring. The FleetPro would be excellent for flight schools or when running an operation where you’re tracking specific airplanes that operate frequently and have many different pilots.
Spidertracks was first released in 2007, and the New Zealand-based company sees general aviation as one of their most important market segments. “We are in the safety business, but we can also make flying a little more fun, too,” says Rachel Donald, Spidertracks General Manager. Their new Aviator website will allow tracks to be viewed in Visual Navigation Charts mode that overlays the track on a sectional chart, features descriptive notes to any track location and incorporates a virtual log book. Spidertracks also will interface with Facebook and Twitter.
The new Spidertracks Aviator is expected to retail for under $1,000. The Spidertracks FleetPro with keypad retails for just under $2,500. A monthly subscription for the Iridium network is $19.95 and a 10-cent-per-position message fee applies. For more information visit www.spidertracks.com.
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