Tuesday, June 7, 2011
ADS-B, here and now
After a self test, three screens appear: setup, program and hardware settings. The setup screen enables users to set traffic alert and display parameters, from the distance and relative altitude ranges at which the unit issues traffic alerts, to the size of the fonts for METARs and text information. The geek-oriented hardware settings controls the operating system. The meat of the Xtreme Vision system resides in the program screens, which provide traffic and weather displays and text data.
The target-rich airspace around Lakeland offered a good test area for the system's traffic-spotting capability, while the Garmin 496 in Steel's Skylane would provide a comparison test for the Xtreme Vision's WSI-processed NexRad weather display.
Lockheed Martin won't finish building out the ground-based transceiver network that feeds data to equipped aircraft until late next year, but much of the country is already covered, and Steel says many locations can get weather and traffic services on the ground. Climbing out of LAL, Steel's installation indicated UAT connection established at about 800 feet MSL.
Choosing the weather display, a map of the southeast U.S. appeared, overlaid by the red-streaked splotches of a large, violent weather system. Touch-screen controls give quick access to zoomed-in and -out views. We brought up the equivalent XM Weather-fed display on Steel's Garmin 496, and the images were almost identical. (Two days later, the depicted weather system spawned the storm that destroyed dozens of aircraft at Sun 'n Fun.) TAF, METARs, Sigmets, Airmets, Pireps, Notams and winds aloft are among the text weather data available.
Traffic can be displayed in either a top-down, 360-degree view, or a "3-D" display that provides a through-the-windshield perspective spanning 160 degrees. The system has a 100-mile range; eight miles is the default distance within which traffic is shown. In 3-D view, the basic display is simply a horizon line bifurcating the display with a green circle in the middle of the screen, representing the operator's aircraft. The circle moves up and down relative to the horizon line reflecting climbs and descents, and the horizon line tilts to depict when the aircraft is banked.
In 3-D View, as the conflicts get closer, the relative size of depicted aircraft grow dramatically, adding a sense of urgency to conflict resolution. Weather and traffic screens also can be displayed as small insets, for example showing a reduced size depiction of traffic while displaying NexRad weather.
Our flight was punctuated by aural traffic alerts: "Warning: Traffic, seven o'clock; seven-point-seven miles, three- hundred fifty feet low." Flying the Lake Parker Arrival back into LAL, we followed a C-172 about 2.7 miles ahead, the Xtreme Vision making it easy to know and see exactly where it was.
Along with its Xtreme Vision display unit, SkyVision sells the other elements of the ADS-B system at the manufacturers' prices. The Xtreme Vision display and software is $999 (software alone is $799). The NavWorks UAT is $2,495 and the Bluetooth Dongle, $79. Steel estimates installation costs for a setup like his is about $800-$1,000.
"There's a lot of apprehension about equipping today because of uncertainty about the technology and the regulations," Sanders said. "We've been flying with it for a couple of years. We know the benefits are there, and it all works as advertised. The biggest message we want people to understand is that there's no downside to equipping today."
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