Pilot report: flying the new SiriusXM weather receiver
At Oshkosh this summer, SiriusXM introduced a new portable weather receiver for the iPad, the SXAR1. The product is now shipping, and we’ve had a chance to fly with it on a few longer trips. Here are some of our reactions.
The unit itself is well made – it is fairly compact and very light weight. It features four status lights: power, GPS, Bluetooth and SiriusXM connection status. Like most wireless accessories, though, you can view status information on your iPad as well. The SXAR1 pairs with your iPad via Bluetooth, and this proved to be a solid connection for both weather and audio. We do wish you could connect to two iPads simultaneously, but for now this is not an option.
On our flights, we simply put the SXAR1 on the dash, turned it on and forgot about it. After engine start, we were receiving full weather products – even on the ground and even in Canada. If you’re in North America, you’ll get a signal; it’s very simple. We also had no problems with overheating, even when operating in direct sunlight for over an hour. Battery life was not a concern for us – we flew for two hours and still had over 70% battery life left.
A receiver is only as good as the app that it connects to, and at this time, the SXAR1 only works with the WSI Pilotbrief app. This is not a full-featured app like ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot, but it does include full VFR and IFR charts with moving map and multiple weather overlays. Its real strength, as you would expect from WSI, is weather. It will display the full suite of SiriusXM Weather products, including animated NEXRAD radar, satellite, METARs, TAFs, lightning, echo tops, storm cells and more. The app also offers status information, including signal strength and age of weather.
To view weather, tap the stack symbol at the bottom right of the screen. This will display the Map Settings menu on the left side of the screen, where you can choose multiple options:
One of the main advantages of SiriusXM Weather over ADS-B weather is the high resolution radar. This looks great in the app, and WSI even goes so far as to offer both composite and base reflectivity for the radar. This is a complicated subject (most pilots prefer composite because it’s a worst case look at storms), but a trained eye can use both images to get the best view of a storm.
Here is the composite radar image, with cloud-to-ground lightning overlaid on top:
The base image, which is more representative of what precipitation is hitting the ground, looks slightly different:
In addition to radar, pilots can view the familiar METAR map in the WSI app, with color-coded airport symbols for a quick-glance look at the weather. Tap on an airport for more detail:
Likewise, PIREPs can be viewed as an overlay option. Simply tap to read more details:
There is also a full XM Radio controller built into the app. This allows you to pair a Bluetooth headset or audio panel to the SXAR1, then control the radio station and volume from the WSI app. This is a nice addition on a long flight, especially for passengers:
Overall, we found the SXAR1 to be a reliable way to get in-flight weather. There are no altitude limitations, and the high resolution radar is just like watching the local TV weather report. Coverage in Canada was an added bonus on one trip, something that’s not possible with ADS-B. We do wish the device worked with more apps (we ended up running WSI side-by-side with another EFB app), but SiriusXM says they are considering that.
The SXAR1 is available for $699, but a $300 rebate is being offered through the end of October. At just$399 after the rebate, that’s a great price. The SXAR1 does require a monthly subscription through SiriusXM.
Between the cost of the unit, the monthly fees, the fact that it’s only available on an obscure app, and one device only, it sounds to me like a great advertisement for ADS-B
Why is it there are no articles about using AirNav Pro on this website? Is sporty’s being paid by Fore Flight to tout their products?
Bernie, we are planning an article on AirNav Pro next month. In general, the feedback we hear from readers (75% ForeFlight users in our polling) is that they want more ForeFlight news and tips because that’s what they use. But we do like to feature new apps so pilots know what’s available.
WSI provides the best most accurate weather products that until now, have had a limited market share in the GA market. This receiver is a good first step but am going to wait to purchase until it integrates with Foreflight.
High resolution radar! I would purchase if it worked with ForeFlight.
I confess I’m not hearing a compelling reason to buy this, given that XM weather costs around 50 bucks a month and ADS-B is free (and the Stratus interfaces with foreflight). I have a Garmin Aera with XM and it’s just a question of time before I junk it for ADS-B. I’ll sure miss the XM music, though.
XM weather can be $30/mo although I admit I get the $50 version my self.
I have a stratus a stratus & a Garmin 496. I lent the 496 to someone then flew a plane from Florida to Minnesota last week with only the Stratus. I will continue to pay for XM, but like many of you I want this to work on ForeFlight.
I am based in Florida on the East Coast, and fly to the Bahamas. After leaving the USA, the Nexrad radar usually disappears from Sirius XM about 50-75 miles offshore. I use http://www.weathertap.com on the ground, and this gives infrared enhanced satellite images in the Bahamas and the Caribbean, which are very similar to Nexrad, but Sirius does not have this function. Does anyone have any suggestions ?!