ADS-B, the social network of the sky

If you or your flying friends have been following the aviation magazines or newsletters over the past few years, you have probably heard of a new technology on the horizon called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B for short. But what does that mean? What does it do? Well today, we are going to take a look.

For decades, the FAA has upgraded to better and better radar and transponder technology to track aircraft in both the VFR and IFR systems. At the same time, aircraft operators have been equipping themselves with GPS receivers for navigation and better technology for safety and efficiency of flight. While many of us used to have two VOR’s and maybe an NDB, most IFR equipped aircraft have now gone to GPS for enroute navigation. The ADS-B system can really be thought of as the evolution of your navigation system and your reporting or tracking system working together with radar and ground transmitters to provide a clearer picture of what is going on around you. With ADS-B your position, speed, heading, and aircraft information is broadcast to both ground stations and other aircraft nearby equipped with the system. Think of ADS-B like a “social network” that broadcasts where you are and where you are going shared with other pilots and controllers. But don’t be fooled, this is not a virtual crop farming or bubble game network. ADS-B could save lives by showing pilots aircraft on an intersecting flight path around mountains or approaching intersecting runways in all weather conditions. ADS-B will add a layer of safety and much greater efficiency to flying especially in congested airspace by providing pilots and controllers a better picture of what’s going on around us.

What about aircraft that are not equipped with ADS-B, how would this system see them? Traffic Information Service-Broadcast (TIS-B) which is part of the ADS-B system is the answer to that question. TIS-B increases pilot’s situational awareness by providing traffic information on all transponder-based aircraft within the vicinity of the ADS-B equipped aircraft receiving the data by rebroadcasting radar information over the ADS-B network. Therefore, even if an aircraft flying near you is not ADS-B equipped but does have a transponder it will appear as part of the TIS-B service.

TIS-B also has a little something special about it that the FAA threw in a bit late in the game to encourage early adopters. TIS-B is only available to aircraft that transmit their information over ADS-B. This means you only get traffic if you give your info to the system. ADS-B is also described as ADS-B “in” and ADS-B “out”. TIS-B is where ADS-B “in” and ADS-B “out” come into the game. The “in” describes you taking in the available ADS-B information for display on a screen (EFB, MFD, or other system). Think of it as you getting a second by second report on the area around you, but without you. The “out” part of ADS-B indicates your participation in the system. TIS-B will only work correctly for you if you provide ADS-B “out” of your aircraft. If you are equipped with only an ADS-B “in” system like some portable units currently available, you will only have TIS-B info when another aircraft very nearby has turned on the TIS-B information for its area and if you're close by you can piggy back on it for a while. Once that other aircraft flies away from you, you will no longer have any TIS-B.

In addition to the ADS-B information about traffic there is also additional information broadcast from the ground based transmitters called Flight Information Service-Broadcast or FIS-B. FIS-B will allow receiving aircraft to see weather and flight service information including AIRMETs, Convective SIGMETs, SIGMETs, METARs, SPECI, National NEXRAD, Regional NEXRAD, D-NOTAMs, FDC-NOTAMs, PIREPs, Special Use Airspace Status, Terminal Area Forecasts, Amended TAFs, Winds and Temperature Aloft when in range of a ground based transmitter. So one may ask, is this FIS-B similar to XM weather some pilots receive now? Here is the FAA’s answer to that question:
"Yes. ADS-B’s Flight Information Services-Broadcast (FIS-B) provides all of the information you would get with an XM basic subscription, and more. In fact, at no subscription cost to the user, the ADS-B FIS-B product today is comparable to the mid-to-high-level XM subscription. The FAA currently is discussing with the vendor the possibility of adding even more "no-cost" products to the FIS-B service, such as: Lightning, Turbulence NOWcast, Icing NOWcast, Cloud Tops, 1 minute AWOS – uplinked every 10 minutes."
Unlike TIS-B, the FIS-B service is transmitted all the time with or without participation in the ADS-B system. FIS-B information is not usually available on the ground or at very low altitudes due to the range of the ground-based transmitters. Once at altitude (we have found and heard that at or above 3,000 is usually a good bet) you should receive data pretty well.

So when will ADS-B be available? Well according to the FAA it should be fully available in the US 48 by the end of 2014. When will ADS-B be required? Well that depends on where you fly. For some you may never have to install and for others it may be a good idea in the next few years. January 1, 2020 is the FAA's current date to require ADS-B according to the following:
"Under the rule, ADS-B Out performance will be required to operate in:
  1. Class A, B, and C.
  2. Class E airspace within the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia at and above 10,000 feet MSL, excluding the airspace at and below 2,500 feet above the surface.
  3. Class E airspace at and above 3,000 feet MSL over the Gulf of Mexico from the coastline of the United States out to 12 nautical miles.
  4. Around those airports identified in 14 CFR part 91, Appendix D."
The ADS-B Out rule does not apply in the airspace defined in items 1 and 2 above for any aircraft that was not originally certificated with an electrical system or that has not subsequently been certified with such a system installed, including balloons and gliders.

So when will FlightPrep have ADS-B capable applications? Soon, sometime in the next 12 months. Since the system is still being built there are currently dead spots in coverage throughout the country but 2014 will be here before you know it so we're getting ready. Stay tuned for more information on ADS-B in a future newsletter.

A look at traffic systems: PCAS and TIS

At Oshkosh we received quite a few questions regarding new technology in aircraft electronic systems and how they differ from one another. Over the next few blog entries we will try and cover some of the questions people threw our way in an effort to help sort through the systems, acronyms, and what it can provide for your airplane. As always if you have questions you would like us to answer please send them to

In this post we're going to take a look at a few different types of traffic avoidance systems. How they work, where they work, and what costs may be involved. While the best traffic systems out there are TCAS, TCAS 2 and the good 'ol mark 1 eyeball, the ones we'll look at today are more geared towards GA.

The first traffic system we'll take a look at is a portable system. PCAS, which stands for Portable Collision Avoidance System is a small box made by Zaon that sits on your glare shield and is able to "see" other aircraft transponders. Zaon's original PCAS technology was developed in 1999. Now, their current MRX/XRX line of collision avoidance systems incorporates the fourth generation of PCAS technology. Through this technology, transponder-equipped aircraft are detected and ranged, and the altitude is decoded. Above is an image depicting how the PCAS picks up traffic targets from an enroute radar and a TCAS interrogation signal.

Traffic can be spotted by the PCAS systems out to a range of 6 miles and +/- 2500 feet. The Zaon MRX, priced at around $550, is a small unit that looks like an auto radar detector and works on its own without the option to plug it into other systems like your EFB or some other handheld or panel mount. The slightly larger Zaon XRX (priced at $1299.99 from FlightPrep for just the XRX or $1499.99 from FlightPrep with Bluetooth capability) gives more information on traffic targets and also can be connected to a wide variety of other systems to display traffic. Unlike TIS, PCAS does not need a Mode S terminal radar to work. The PCAS basically gives you a 6 - 12 mile lateral by 5000 foot vertical bubble that should spot transponders from other aircraft almost anywhere you fly. Above is an image of what Zaon calls Average Interrogation "Coverage" Area: Military, Terminal, Enroute RADAR and TCAS Interrogation. See Zaon's website for a more in depth look at what areas are covered.

Unlike PCAS systems, Traffic Information Systems or TIS for short is not a portable system. TIS is a first generation traffic system that almost exclusively uses one of two certified and installed hardware boxes, the Garmin GTX 330 or the Honeywell Bendix KT73. One of these units would then send information to a display in the panel to show traffic info but only when in a Mode S terminal radar facility area. If you are equipped with TIS and flying in a Mode S radar coverage area you will have a very large range of traffic targets and very accurate information. Unfortunately the FAA has decided not to continue supporting Mode S terminal radars and the last Mode S radar site is scheduled to be replaced by late 2012. Here is an image of TIS information being displayed on a Garmin 430 unit. For more information on TIS, see AOPA's discussion page.

Next time we'll take a look at ADS-B. What it means, who can get it, and when it may be available. Until then we wish you frequent, happy, and safe flying!

Proposed FAA Advisory Circular could eliminate EFBs

The FAA has published a draft advisory circular entitled "Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness, and Operational Use of Electronic Flight Bags (EFB)", that could eliminate portable navigators and chart readers as we know them for aviation, including Part 91 operations.

Robert Goyer covers the issue in his recent article in Flying Magazine. In the article, Goyer points out that the draft AC "strongly suggests that own-ship position (showing the little airplane on the moving map or chart) is an illegal function" and that the "FAA seems to be calling for individual approval of every portable device that goes in the cockpit, something that would cost individual operators thousands of dollars apiece".

Both Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) responded to the FAA saying, "AOPA/GAMA believes that electronic flight bag technology will be a critical tool to enable many expected NextGen capabilities at an affordable cost however, this proposed guidance material will limit much of that potential because of short-sited perspective."

FlightPrep agrees with AOPA, GAMA and Flying Magazine, and hopes that the FAA will revise the advisory circular and re-post it for public comment again. We'll keep following the issue and post any updates as they develop.

iPad KABOOM! A Success!

From our friends at Paperless Cockpit:’s iPad KABOOM! Community Project concluded successfully on July 15, 2011, when an iPad 2 passed a DO-160F Rapid Decompression test conducted by CascadeTek of Hillsboro, OR. The test was witnessed by representatives from, one of iPad KABOOM!’s premiere sponsors. Throughout the test, the iPad 2 ran FlightPrep’s iChart 2.0 App.

During the first stage of the test, iPad 2 running iChart 2.0 was placed in the altitude chamber and stabilized at an altitude of 8,000 ft for two hours. FlightPrep’s iChart 2.0 is designed to keep the iPad “awake”, and it remained operational.

During the next stage, the chamber simulated a rapid decompression event, causing the altitude to transition from 8,000 ft to 51,000 ft in under fifteen seconds. The iPad 2 continued to operate and exhibited no physical defects (i.e. flying shards of plastic and glass, or chemical fires resulting from catastrophic battery failure) for ten minutes. The chamber altitude was returned to ambient altitude, and the test concluded.

The iPad 2 survived the rapid decompression eve and continued to operate after the conclusion of the test.

While failed to blow up an iPad, the iPad 2 Community Project is a success.

iPad KABOOM! Community Project Sponsors would like to thank all of the contributors to the iPad KABOOM! Community Project, particularly our project sponsors: and

iPad KABOOM! – A Community Project

Our good friends over at Paperless Cockpit, want to run an experiment. They want to have an iPad2 sent through rapid decompression testing and then share the test results, but they need your help to do it.
"There’s been a great deal of buzz lately about the iPad and iPad2 being “approved” by the FAA. While the FAA has granted EJM (and perhaps a few others) operational approval, this is only after the operators jump through several hurdles. One of the biggest hurdles EJM had to pass was proving the iPad (and subsequently the iPad2) could survive a rapid decompression event.
"Unfortunately, Jeppesen only shared the data with EJM, and’s request for copies of that data have gone unanswered. Other operators have met with similar results when trying to get the documentation out of Jeppesen. Current EFB policy requires all certificated and operators of large and turbine powered aircraft (Part 91F) to test EFBs to DO-160 Rapid Decompression test standards before eliminating paper charts."
Paperless Cockpit wants to raise $2,500 to pay for an iPad2 and perform the DO-160 Rapid Decompression Testing. If you're interested in helping, head over to their site and make a donation via PayPal. Everyone who donates to the project will receive an electronic copy of the testing certification.

If you have question about the testing procedure or would like to volunteer your services, send an email to

iPad KABOOM! – A Community Project
via Paperless Cockpit

How to use Golden Eagle or ChartCase on a Mac

We often get asked if there is a Mac version of Golden Eagle or ChartCase. The answer right now is no, sadly. But you can still run either program on a Mac using a virtual machine. Below is a quick guide on how to setup a virtual machine on your Mac to run Golden Eagle or ChartCase.

First, what you'll need:
Follow these basic steps to install Golden Eagle or ChartCase on a Windows virtual machine:
  1. Download and install VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop on your Mac.
  2. Create a virtual machine for Windows using VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop and install Microsoft Windows XP or Windows Vista to your new virtual machine.
  3. Install Golden Eagle or ChartCase inside your Windows virtual machine.
  4. Configure your GPS and/or XM/WX weather receiver to work with your Windows virtual machine.
  5. Configure Golden Eagle or ChartCase to use your GPS and/or XM/WX weather receiver.
That's it! Most of the functions in Golden Eagle and ChartCase are supported when running it in a virtual machine. If you have any questions just send an email to

UPDATE: You can also use VirtualBox to create a Windows virtual machine. VirtualBox is a free open-source virtualization program. -- Thanks for the tip Ruhil!