Modern ADS-B receivers like the Stratus 2S or Garmin GDL 39 3D have grown far beyond their initial role as just in-flight weather provider. With features like traffic, flight data recording and synthetic vision, they are more like all-in-one iPad sensor packages. With all that capability comes some confusion, though – what’s the right way to fly with one of these? How do you get the most out of your investment?
Here’s a look at how we might fly a typical flight with an ADS-B receiver to take advantage of all its safety features.
Just like your airplane and you, the pilot, it’s smart to do a quick pre-flight inspection on your ADS-B receiver. The obvious step is to make sure the battery is charged (if it has a battery), since that’s the most likely reason for it to quit. Beyond that, make sure you have a backup power plan, whether it’s a cigarette lighter charger or a battery pack. Also make sure you have the right mounting system with you, like a suction cup. Finally, it’s smart to (at least occasionally) check the firmware on your receiver. From time to time, updates are available that enhance performance or fix bugs – make sure you do those updates.
Once you’re in the airplane, there isn’t much to do besides turn your ADS-B receiver on. But there’s one important tip here: if your receiver has an AHRS in it, make sure you mount it first, then turn it on. As soon as you turn it on, the system will try to calibrate, and if you’re moving it around trying to mount it while it’s calibrating, you may not like the attitude picture you get. As far as mounting location, we like a suction cup mount on the side window best, but take the time to find the right answer for your particular airplane.
Once the ADS-B receiver is mounted, and turned on, verify it is connected to your iPad and visible in the app. Start up ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot and find the Devices page. Make sure the app recognizes the ADS-B receiver and all indications look normal. If it’s not there, check your iPad’s Settings app to verify Bluetooth/WiFi is on and make sure your iPad app is up to date.
Before takeoff, make sure your iPad app shows a GPS lock and your position is showing on the moving map. If it’s not, tap the button to center the map on your airplane (this is the little crosshair symbol in ForeFlight).
If you have synthetic vision enabled, it’s a good idea to turn on SV before takeoff – terrain and obstacles are a concern at low altitude so this is a time to use all the information you can get. Also be sure to turn on the traffic layer, since the airport environment is where most close calls happen. This layer isn’t on by default, and in ForeFlight it’s not even visible unless you’re connected to Stratus, so make sure it’s selected before you leave the chocks.
Some pilots go so far as to turn all weather layers off at this point. After all, you won’t get reception on the ground in most cases, and it may cut down on the clutter. Even if you don’t go this far, it may be wise to declutter a few things on the map.
Once you’re above approximately 2000 ft. AGL, the synthetic vision display may be less useful so it’s a good time to switch to the main moving map view. Also check that your desired weather layers are turn on, like radar, TFRs, PIREPs and text weather reports. In particular, we like the Flight Category option. Whereas the Ceiling layer only shows a number if there is a broken or overcast layer, Flight Category shows up for every airport. It’s a great way to get a good at-a-glance look at weather conditions – green is good.
En route, be sure to check the timestamp periodically. You should be receiving new weather every 5-10 minutes, so if you ever see 30 minutes or more pass, it’s time to investigate. The first place to look if you suspect a problem is the status page in your app. All apps have a page that shows your ADS-B receiver’s overall status, like the number of ADS-B towers being received, battery life and age of weather. Make sure you know how to find this information, and review that page occasionally.
If weather en route requires a deviation two features can make it much easier: the ruler and rubber band flight planning. The ruler allows you to measure the distance between any two points on the map, and calculates the time en route between those points. This is helpful for considering how long your deviation might be. Rubber band flight planning makes it easy to plan deviations well in advance – instead of asking for “20 degrees right,” just drag your route until it’s clear of the bad weather.
Approach and landing
When it’s time for approach and landing, the procedure is much like the takeoff sequence in reverse. Turn on SV to keep an eye on towers, especially if you’re in IFR conditions. We’ve found SV is also very useful for finding the airport, whether it’s VFR or IFR.
If the weather requires you to fly an instrument approach, make sure to display the approach chart on the moving map. This will allow you to view weather and traffic layers right on top of your instrument approach chart.
After landing, there’s not much to do other than turn off your ADS-B receiver and store it. But if you’re using a Stratus 2 or 2S, be sure to make use of the flight data recorder feature, where Stratus continually logs GPS position and attitude during flight. After you land, go to the Stratus Status menu and transfer the log from your Stratus to ForeFlight. From there, it’s easy to debrief your flight online or in a third party app like CloudAhoy or Google Earth. This also makes it easy to fill out your logbook.
There are certainly more ways pilots can use an ADS-B receiver, but this approach at least considers what information is most important at each point throughout a flight. Any tips you would add? Share a comment below.