Spidertracks Introduces New S3 Tracker

In debuting the Spidertracks S3, the New Zealand company has brought the price of its GPS-based tracking system down dramatically. The previous Spidertracks system cost $1995 for the unit plus monthly and per-message fees. With the S3, the buy-in is less than half: $995. Plus, there are several data plans that can bring the ongoing costs way down for infrequent flyers. They range from $15 to $50/month for tracking alone, variable by the number of hours per month. Notifications sent from or to the Spidertracks unit are extra. Continue reading "Spidertracks Introduces New S3 Tracker"

Garmin Announces Cheaper GPS Databases, Pilot My-Cast Expansion

Garmin announced today that it was bundling database update packages on the GPSMAP 496/496 and GPSMAP 695/696 that could save consumers 50% annually.

Three levels are available for customers in the U.S. and Europe. The full U.S. update package for the 695/696 includes the NavData, obstacles, terrain, AOPA data, FliteCharts and SafeTaxi diagrams for $699.99; the same package without the NavData, called U.S. Lite, is $499.99. Packages for the 495/496, which doesn't have the FliteCharts, range from Continue reading "Garmin Announces Cheaper GPS Databases, Pilot My-Cast Expansion"

New Product: Anywhere Travel Companion

Anywhere Map made quite a splash in the pond of low-cost GPS devices when the company introduced its PDA-based systems in 1999. Early users were attracted to the ability to upgrade the software through their computer, and even get the latest TFRs just before a flight. The separation of the hardware from the software also meant that as the hardware got better, the user could keep it up to date as well.
The Achilles heel had always been the need to interpose ActiveSync. It didn’t always work smoothly, and with a half dozen files to work with, it could be downright frustrating. Discussions with Alan Kirby, product manager at Anywhere Map, revealed that, “Most of our Tech Support requests centered on that one issue; it was too easy to set it up wrong.”

Anywhere Map has addressed this with the release of its Anywhere Travel Companion, cleverly named ATC. It does its downloading without going through ActiveSync by shifting from trying to be all things to all people to being a GPS only. The product's genesis was as a PDA with GPS added, which meant it needed to use the PDA interface. Now that many of the PDA functions are on your cell phone, PDAs are passé. However, the small screen size of the phone works against it being employed as a GPS.

AWM’s approach was to see that divergence and offer a much larger 4.3-inch screen without the problems of ActiveSync. Early users will also appreciate that this is a touchscreen device as before, but the larger screen means larger buttons and no more using a stylus. This new dessert is topped with a street database, so you still have a multifunction device.

We’ll be doing a review in KITPLANES, but for now visit Anywhere Map for further details.

WAAS Up?

Your hand-held GPS works great and gets you where you want to go. Why would you want to take up precious panel space with a version that costs three to five times as much? Those panel-mount versions are just bigger, heavier computers, so shouldn’t they be cheaper?

Understanding starts when you turn on your GPS and get a cute little map of GPS satellite positions; Is that important? Does it matter where the satellite is positioned? You need only three, right?

The answers are yes, yes, and sort of. For now…

We sat in on a “Wings” seminar recently where the subject was WAAS; what is it, why is it, why you should know, what does the future hold, and why should you, the day VFR, don’t-go-more-than-an-hour-or-two-from-home pilot care.

The speaker, Larry Oliver from FAA Flight Standards was very clear on a couple of things: one, VOR stations are expensive to build and maintain hence they’re not being repaired as they fail; two, GPS is here to stay but portable units will never be certified for IFR use.

It’s that last one that caused some mutterings of “Well, why aren’t they?” from the audience.

The answer lies in three factors: antenna position, satellite position, and clock accuracy.

First there’s the unpredictability of antenna position; On your lap, tied to the yoke, or mounted to the side of the window frame all look nice and work fine for day-VFR, but the antenna is the key; without it having a clear shot at the sky there’s no way to ensure that it’s receiving as many sat signals as possible.

When your vanilla GPS sees three satellites it can give you a position fix within about 100 meters. And that’s good enough to get you to that two-hundred dollar hamburger (that’s the price of AvGas for you). But to get the accuracy needed for night flight to a cloudy airport you need better than that.

Second, if the satellites are grouped together it’s not going to be a high resolution picture. And if they’re low on the horizon the signal degrades in the slant-distance through the atmosphere.

And third there’s the clock factor; Contrary to popular opinion, the clocks on the satellites are not those hyper-accurate atomic models that keep time to one second in a gazillion years. Your portable GPS takes the signal from several satellites and averages the answers to give you a position. But because it’s an answer with a relatively fuzzy key factor in the calculation, you get a relatively fuzzy position of somewhere in a 100 meter circle.

The WAAS system, however, uses those satellite signals and compares it to ground based super-clocks. Mind, this is so precise that even at the speed of light, the distance to the satellite is a factor. Indeed, without Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity factored in, the system wouldn’t work.

The WAAS system takes those satellite signals in on a net of ground stations, corrects them, and broadcasts to a pair of geo-synchronous satellites over North America, which then sends them to the WAAS-enabled receiver on the panel of your airplane.

The result is that where your vanilla GPS is accurate to 100 meters, a WAAS-capable GPS refines your position to within 7 meters.

Additionally, the more expensive WAAS certified GPS on your panel is heavier because it has the circuitry to receive that signal and check it for errors. If something is amiss it will then inform you within six seconds that all is not right and you can pull up for a go-around or whatever you need to do, but you know better than to continue thinking that you’ve got good information.

This will allow airliners to use parallel runways in poor weather; shorter transcontinental routes with closer spacing; and shorter approaches to landing. And all of this is done without airport-based hardware thereby enlarging the number of IFR-capable airports. With this in mind it makes sense to spend money on new WAAS stations instead of maintenance on VOR and Loran stations.

So, keep those VORs for a few more years, but it won’t be long until they’re sitting on the shelf with the sextant. But should you buy that big-bucks panel-mount GPS for your baby? Only if IFR is in your future.

If you’d like to know more, visit the FAA web site.