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Direct to the FAF

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A common practice when ATC is setting an aircraft up for a visual approach is giving a clearance direct to the Final Approach Fix (FAF) for the approach for that runway.  The theory is, the pilot will fly to the FAF, then he’ll pick up the airport and fly visually in.  It is a handy way of setting the pilot up for a 5 mile straight in visual approach.

For anyone who flies with a Garmin GPS, whether is be a 430, a G1000, or a GTN 750, you have probably discovered a little nuance with going direct to the FAF.  Once an approach is loaded into the flight plan, whether is is loaded via vectors or via an IAF, all the waypoints on the approach go into the flight plan.  If the FAF is selected in the flight plan and the direct to command is given, the plane turns to the FAF and flies direct to it.

The fun starts once the plane gets to the FAF.  The Garmin doesn’t sequence to the next waypoint.  It just keeps the FAF as the active waypoint and the airplane just continues on the course it had to get to the FAF. This has probably caused some stress and frustration as the pilot is expecting the airplane to turn inbound (if the autopilot is engaged), but then it keeps flying, usually away from the runway.

How to fix this?  If a Garmin GPS is closely inspected once the direct to the FAF command is selected, the pilot will notice that the GPS goes into Suspend mode.  The Garmin programers thought this was a good idea to do.  

How to get it to sequence properly?  Well, once the FAF is the active waypoint and the airplane is flying direct to it, simply unsuspend the GPS, then the airplane will turn inbound on the final approach course and track inbound and the glide slope will pop up.  On the 430 or 530, just press the OBS key.  On the G1000, press SUSP.  On the GTN 750, tap UNSUSP on the bottom of the unit.

Hopefully, this will lead to reduced frustration on what otherwise should be a simple approach to an airport.

An Innovative ADS-B Solution from uAvionix

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The closer we get to 2020, the more innovative companies are getting with ADS-B out solutions.  There are a myriad of transponders out there that have been released in to meet the ADS-B out requirement and to offer ADS-B in options.  L3 has the Lynx transponder line (and hardware to upgrade an already installed GTX 327 or GTX 330), Garmin has the GTX 345 and offers upgrades to the GTX 330, Appareo has it’s Stratus ESGi ADS-B out transponder, and Avidyne offers it’s AXP340 transponder, among others.

Most of the ADS-B solutions require some kind of panel work, whether it’s pulling out the Garmin GTX 330 to send off, or making panel modifications to fit the L3 Lynx in.  Very few are actual slide in replacements, so there is some labor involved in swapping transponders.

Want a simpler and more innovative solution?  uAvionix, a Montana based company that makes the recently released Scout portable ADS-B In solution, has a product for you.  Meet the SkyBeacon.

What is it?  The uAvionix SkyBeacon is simply a navigation light replacement that bolts on your wing with a fin that hangs down.  All the ADS-B out transmitting equipment is placed behind the nav light on the device.  It has an integrated WAAS GPS unit, can work with any Mode C or Mode S transponder wirelessly, and it mounts directly in to where the original nav light was, same screws and everything.  No additional hardware needed.  uAvionix claims installation should take 10 minutes.

Configuration is super easy too, as it is all done on a smart phone on the uAvionix app.

Right now, the uAvionix SkyBeacon is only approved for experimental aircraft, but, according to their website, uAvionix expects FAA certification in early spring.  With a price tag of only $1,500 and a strobe light to be added as well, this is your simplest and easiest ADS-B compliance solution.

Flight Service Station

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When is the last time you talked to the Flight Service Station?

Believe it or not, FSS is still in existence.  Over the past 10 years, they went from FAA run, the being bought by Lockheed Martin, to now being privately run by a company called Leidos. 1-800-WX Brief will get you connected with a weather briefer, but you’ll hear “Leidos Flight Service Station” now when the briefer picks up.

Since the advent of Foreflight, most pilots these days get their weather briefings digitally on the iPad. Foreflight has come a long way since it’s inception.  The briefing part of their Flights page is quite comprehensive, with lots of information, and counts as a legal weather briefing (which pilots are still required to get before a flight).

Why does a pilot even need to call Flight Service?  Well, when’s the last time you tried to interpret everything the Briefing on Foreflight told you?  As I said before, it’s a lot of information and a lot of it can be confusing.  Pilots are not fully trained on interpreting Prog Charts and getting an overall weather picture for a flight.  A weather briefer is.

I have over 5,000 hours and I still call a weather briefer before almost every flight.  On the way to the airport is a great opportunity to get a weather briefing.  I get a great picture of what’s going on in my area or over my route, frontal movement, bad weather areas, and whether or not it’s a good idea to even take off. Calling in the car alleviates the main complaint I hear about calling the Flight Service Station, which is it’s inconvenient and causes a delay since you have to call them on the phone.

I don’t do much private pilot training anymore, but when I do, I always teach my students how to get a weather briefing from the Flight Service Station.  I’ll show them how to get the briefing on Foreflight too, but usually their eyes bug out of their heads when they start trying to read everything.  A breathe of relief is released when I tell them there is a trained professional just a phone call away who can clear everything up.

The other thing that the Flight Service Station provides that is important to a lot of folks are PIREPs.  It’s vital in sketchy weather areas for the FSS to get a report of what’s actually going on in the air.  This helps other pilots out greatly as they are getting information about icing, cloud bases and tops, turbulence and a myriad of other things from airplanes who are actually in the conditions.

Finally, the most used portion of the Flight Service Station is the Clearance Delivery line (888-766-8267). At airports without a tower or a clearance delivery frequency, with IFR conditions present, the only way to get your IFR clearance is to call Clearance Delivery.  Yes, it can take a little time sometimes, but you will get a clearance every time, unlike taking off and trying to dodge the clouds without hitting anything, while trying to call Center on the radio (which isn’t safe or legal).

Been a while since you’ve talked to the Flight Service Station?  Give them a call, either on the phone or on the radio.  Odds are, they are bored and just wanting someone to talk to, just like you are on that long cross country flight!

Checkout 1800WXBrief.com to see all the cool stuff the Flight Service Station does.

PopSocket iPad Yoke Mount

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I was recently clued in to a really cool (and very cost efficient) iPad yoke mount.

It’s called a PopSocket and you won’t find it on any aviation website (I have to credit Joe Casey of Casey Aviation with this nifty find).

It’s very simple.  You take the mount (see right) and stick it to your yoke.  Then you pick one of a ton of designs from PopSocket and stick it to the back of your iPad (you can even create your own design!  B2 Bomber anyone?).

It’s low profile, doesn’t get in the way of anything, and is easily removable.  The PopSocket mounts are $10 apiece (depending on the size of your iPad, you may want to get 2).  The PopSocket is $10, so at the most, you’ll be in $40 plus tax and shipping.  Most mounts on Sporty’s are upwards of $50 and require a lot of installation, are big and bulky, and usually require lots of juggling to get the iPad in and out of the mount.

Give the PopSocket a try.

Pilatus Jet Nears Certification

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The Pilatus Jet, the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet, is nearing certification.  Pilatus expects the Pilatus Jet to receive European and US certification by December.  The first delivery may even take place before the end of the year.

In developing the PC-24 Pilatus Jet, Pilatus, based in Switzerland, has taken the same approach as they did with the PC-12, their insanely successful single engine turboprop.  Versatility is the key, with their mindset being to make the PC-24 Pilatus Jet the first flying Suburban jet.  Pilatus emphasized STOL  and unimproved strip operation in their design.

The huge cargo door so familiar on the PC-12 has been crafted into the PC-24 Pilatus Jet giving access to a massive cargo area.  According to Pilatus’ website, the jet has a takeoff distance of only 2,690 feet, which is unheard of for a a business jet.  There is seating for 11 + a pilot (yep, it’s a single pilot airplane!), so the whole family can come along.  With a max cruise of 425 knots and a range of almost 2,000 miles, it’s a get somewhere airplane.

The price tag for a new PC-24 Pilatus Jet will be $8.9 million, which is just under what a new Phenom 300 costs.  There is a 90 order wait list, so if you get on it now, you can get one faster than a Cirrus Vision Jet!