After buying Aerovie last June, many pilots wondered what the next step would be for Appareo, maker of the popular Stratus line of ADS-B receivers. The app had a small but loyal following, and was known for some innovative features—particularly when it came to weather—but the second half of 2019 was a quiet one for Aerovie. This week Appareo showed what they’ve been working on, introducing Stratus Insight. This is a significantly upgraded app with a new name and a new look.
At heart, Stratus Insight is a full EFB app, competing with dominant companies like ForeFlight and Garmin. That means it’s a complete pre-flight and in-flight resource, with all the features pilots have come to expect. This includes:
- VFR and IFR charts
- Geo-referenced approach plates
- Pre-flight weather briefings
- Airport and FBO information
- Flight plan routing
- Synthetic vision
- Terrain warnings
- Pilot logbook
While this is a familiar list of tools, it’s still impressive. We’ve been testing the app for a few weeks and overall found it powerful and easy to use. There are some differences in design, as there are with all apps, but key features are intuitive and we didn’t experience any major bugs.
But it’s clear that Appareo wants to make Stratus Insight more than just a “me-too” aviation app. The company’s vision is to go “beyond glass,” meaning the next step in portable avionics that does more than just duplicate a glass cockpit. In particular, the goal is not merely to provide information but help pilots make smarter decisions by anticipating their needs. That leads to some unique features.
Most notably is the option for radio transcription and playback. This feature is based on Appareo’s Stratus Horizon Pro app, which has been testing speech-to-text features for months now. The idea is to listen to everything that comes over the radio and display it as text, sort of like visual voicemail on a smartphone. This seems simple, but it actually requires a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
Stratus Insight uses Appareo’s proprietary artificial intelligence tools (natural language processing) and thousands of hours of training to offer useful translations instead of just raw text output. For example, the app knows that “one zero, ten thousand” should display as 10,000, or that “November two two eight four quebec” should display as N2284Q. These little fixes make a big difference in usability, and pilots can tap on a transmission to listen to the recording if there is any question.
This is an innovative feature, with the potential to save pilots time and confusion. Being able to read an IFR clearance or ATIS broadcast gives general aviation pilots access to a sort of poor man’s datacomm link. But it’s worth mentioning some important caveats. First, these audio features require a cable to connect your iPad to the aircraft’s intercom. It seems like you should be able to do this via Bluetooth, but Apple severely limits this feature. Bluetooth is great for sending audio from your iPad to a headset, but what the app needs is audio to go the other way—from the intercom to the iPad. That means the only option is to plug into the headphone jack. This can be done with Appareo’s $50 cable, but remember that not all iPads have a headset jack so an adapter may be required.
We’ve flown with this feature for months and it has steadily improved. We’ve found the transcriptions to be helpful, but they are certainly not flawless. Radio quality, controller accent, and other variations can negatively impact performance. The good news is that, as the app listens to more and more transmissions, it learns and improves.
Beyond the audio features, Stratus Insight is also very strong in weather features. This was always true of Aerovie, and it continues here. The essential features are all here—radar, METARs, surface analysis charts—but there are plenty of other, more cutting edge weather products on offer. This includes all the icing forecasts (CIP and FIP), “forecast radar” up to three days out, forecast discussions, MOS forecasts, SkewT soundings, and additional satellite imagery. These are great tools, and we particularly like using the forecast radar and SkewT, but they do require some training and some caution. Looking at a radar image for 24 hours out is a computer model, not a guarantee.
There’s also a very helpful vertical weather profile view. Garmin Pilot has offered a somewhat similar tool for a while, but the Stratus Insight version is even better. It gives a great 3D view of your flight, from departure to destination, and also considers your aircraft speed. Notably, a lot of the forecast weather displayed here can be viewed up to eight days out, which helps for long-term planning.
Appareo is also promoting the app’s smart flight plan tool. In addition to the key features like routing and airspace, the app also looks at fuel stops and day/night currency when suggesting alternate airports. This feature is helpful, and we’d expect to see even more here in the future.
Another strong Aerovie feature that continues here is a full-featured Apple Watch app. While many aviation app developers have abandoned Watch apps due to the small screen size and limited performance, Stratus Insight offers a lot to look at on your wrist, including airport diagrams and weather. It’s certainly too small to be a primary display, but there are some useful applications for this, including checking a radar image or viewing the latest METAR as a complication on your main screen. This probably isn’t a reason to buy the app, but it is a nice bonus.
So what is this app missing? There is no weight and balance tool, and no scratch pad. In spite of what you might think, though, the app is not limited to Stratus ADS-B receivers. It also works with devices from Dual Electronics, Levil Aviation, Open Flight Solutions, and others (although not Sentry or Garmin GDL devices). It also integrates with Avidyne and Dynon panel avionics.
Stratus Insight is free to download from the App Store, and works with iOS 11.4 and later (there is no Android app at this time). A subscription is required to unlock most features, which costs $9.99/month or $99.99/year. For a limited time, buyers of the Stratus 3 ADS-B receiver will get a free one year subscription.