Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Weather In The Cockpit


XM Weather provides real-time information in the cockpit for pilots who are serious about their weather decisions


weather in the cockpitAsk most pilots what subject in aviation they wish they knew more about, and a majority will answer, “weather.” Indeed, while forecasters do occasionally still get it wrong, and even the best meteorologists acknowledge that we still have much to learn, the science of weather prognostication improves each year.
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weather in the cockpitAsk most pilots what subject in aviation they wish they knew more about, and a majority will answer, “weather.” Indeed, while forecasters do occasionally still get it wrong, and even the best meteorologists acknowledge that we still have much to learn, the science of weather prognostication improves each year.

The state of the weather art is often incidental at best or inconvenient at worst to most two-dimensional mortals, but those of us who operate in the third dimension rely on the vagaries of the atmosphere for our very existence.

Enter the age of satellites. Orbiting weather stations have changed the science of both collecting data and transmitting it to the world below. Satellites now can monitor the development of weather systems and provide information downlink service to aircraft equipped for reception. Pilots have discovered that flying with the benefit of near-real-time weather information can transform the way many of us travel.

While it’s still every pilot’s responsibility to obtain a thorough preflight briefing either in person or through a computer link, there are several products that allow aviators to update their information in flight and make more intelligent decisions about where to go if (when) things turn sour.

XM Weather is one of several downlink services on the market (others include Sirius and Iridium). For about $30 per month, you can subscribe to the Aviator LT (Lite) satellite product that provides basic aviation information in flight, i.e., NEXRAD, precipitation type, TAFs and METARs, TFRs, city forecasts and county warnings.

Pilots who are more serious about their weather information can opt for the more comprehensive Aviator package. The price increases to $50 per month, but the products become notably more sophisticated. In addition to all the items detailed above, XM’s Aviator subscription includes information on AIRMETs and SIGMETs, lightning, echo tops, freezing level, storm tracks, surface analysis WX maps, Satellite Mosaic, AIREPs and PIREPs and, perhaps most valuable of all to every pilot, winds aloft. Predictably, this is the most popular subscription.

Finally, the full Aviator Pro package sells for $100 per month, and that includes a number of new features, primarily but not exclusively for the professional pilot flying under IMC who needs maximum info. The additions are turbulence (in 3,000-foot increments), current icing product (in five levels of severity from 1,000 to 30,000 feet), supercooled water droplets (freezing drizzle or rain to 30,000 feet), SPC (Storm Prediction Center) convective outlook, mesoscale discussions, visibility (in one-mile increments less than 10 miles) and hurricane track. If you wish to add entertainment to the weather products, you can do so for under $10 per month and choose from 170 channels that will provide everything from jazz and classical music to rock and rap.





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