The Stratus ADS-B receiver has become the most popular weather receiver for the iPad. For many pilots it’s an everyday tool, used on short flights and long ones alike. While the basics of operation are pretty simple, there are a few tips that can help you get the most out of your investment. Let’s review the top 12 most helpful things we’ve learned after a few hundred hours flying with Stratus:
1. Mount it properly. Once Stratus is turned on, there’s really nothing more to do with the hardware, but getting it mounted in the right spot can affect performance. The ideal location balances four things: a view of the sky to receive GPS signals, a view to the ground to receive ADS-B signals, a relatively stable spot for the AHRS (although not necessarily level), and an area out of direct sun or with some airflow to prevent overheating. The suction cup mount that is included with Stratus 1S and 2S is the best option, since a side window will keep it out of the way, cool and in sight of ADS-B ground stations. If that’s not an option, a dash mount can also work. Just make sure the three lights face the tail of the airplane.
2. Watch the time stamp. The only real time weather tool in the cockpit is the Mark I eyeball, so keeping an eye on the age of your ADS-B weather information is key. There’s always a time stamp in the top left corner of the Maps page, and you can tap on it for complete details. You’ll see the time you received your last report for each of the map layers you have turned on (radar, traffic, TFRs, etc.).
3. Check the status page. One of the best features of Stratus is the deep integration with ForeFlight, which means you don’t have to re-learn how to use the app. But hidden behind the settings button on the Maps page (the little gear symbol) is a wealth of information. Tapping this button, then Stratus at the bottom will bring up a page packed with information about your ADS-B receiver, including: battery level; age of weather; number of ground stations being received; GPS status and much more. This is a great way to keep tabs on performance, and it’s absolutely essential for troubleshooting. If you’re not using Stratus Status, you’re missing out on a lot of good information.
4. Use the measure tool. If you’re approaching a line of weather, it can be hard to predict how wide it is or how long it will take for you to reach it. Instead of guessing, use the measure tool to know for sure. When you tap two fingers on the map simultaneously, a ruler will appear on the screen showing distance and time en route at your current ground speed. This can be very helpful for determining how far you are from a strong cell, how long the band of rain showers will take to fly through or where the closest VFR weather is. You’ll find all kinds of uses for this tool.
5. Use rubber band flight planning. When it’s time to deviate around some weather, the most common approach is to ask ATC for a heading change: “we need 20 degrees right of course for weather.” But this can sometimes take a lot of radio work and some negotiating. Often, an easier solution is to simply change your flight plan so both pilot and controller know the whole plan. By tapping and holding your course line, you can drag it until your route will clear the nasty weather. Release to see a suggested list of waypoints and you can create a new flight plan in seconds. It makes it fast and easy to deviate.
6. Animate the radar image. NEXRAD radar is the most important weather product for pilots, and it’s certainly one you’ll watch in the summertime. But often the trend in the radar picture is every bit as important as the static image. This is where animating the radar image can be so valuable. ForeFlight will loop the previous 30 minutes of regional and national radar data by tapping the play button next to the time slider at the bottom of the screen. Is that cell building or dissipating; moving quickly or slowly? Now you know–just remember that you can only loop the radar images you’ve received, so it will take at least 30 minutes of flying to get the full animation.
7. Use track vector. Sometimes your heading and your track don’t match up, which can make it hard to visualize weather deviations. To help with this, we like to turn on the track vector (in ForeFlight’s settings page) when deviating. This draws a blue line in the direction you are actually traveling over the ground, and the length can be customized.
8. View ADS-B tower locations. Ever wonder where the nearest ADS-B ground station is, or whether you’ll be flying out of coverage soon? ForeFlight has a handy way to display the locations and quality of reception of each ADS-B tower. From the Maps page, tap the settings menu button, then select “Show ADS-B Towers” and you’ll see white tower symbols appear on the map. This is probably overkill for everyday flying, but it’s great for troubleshooting.
9. Use split-screen and plates on maps. For the ultimate situational awareness, we like to use split screen mode on the Maps page (tap the little attitude indicator icon at the top). Then turn on radar, METARs, TFRs, traffic and whatever else you want to track. Finally, for Pro subscribers, you can show your instrument approach plate on the map by tapping the arrow on the Plates tab and choosing “send to Maps.” The result is an incredible amount of situational awareness on one screen: attitude, weather, traffic, route, position and approach details.
10. Calibrate your AHRS. Stratus does a great job of automatically aligning the attitude heading reference system (AHRS) on every flight, so manual calibration usually isn’t required. However, if you fly a tailwheel airplane or you move Stratus between different cockpits, it’s fast and easy to make sure the attitude you see is accurate. First bring up the split screen attitude view on the Maps page, then tap the settings button at the bottom left of the attitude screen. You can then tap calibrate to either zero pitch and roll (a quick fix) or fine tune the pitch and roll in one-degree increments. Make sure to tap save when you’re done making adjustments.
11. Turn on traffic pop-ups. Beyond the weather and backup attitude, traffic is a very important feature for pilots. Besides just viewing traffic on the Maps page (it’s available as a map layer), you can also get pop-up alerts when traffic is nearby – a great feature for single pilot operations when you can’t keep your eyes glued to the screen at all times. Go to the More tab, then Settings, and finally the Alerts section. You can then turn on audio or visual alerts, but note that you must have ADS-B Out in your airplane for these to be active.
12. Share flight plans over WiFi. This one is great for two pilot cockpits, or just for showing off. Stratus allows multiple iPads to connect to it simultaneously, which makes it easy to share your flight plan between devices. If the co-pilot enters a complicated route and wants to save the pilot some time, just tap the arrow button on the route editor box, then select the iPad to send the route to. The pilot will get a pop-up asking whether to accept the new route.