Panel-mount cockpit weather solutions for general aviation airplanes are here. While they're great to have (when they're working well), they aren't cheap; plan on spending anywhere from $10,000 and up to get datalinked weather in the cockpit. For pilots on a budget, there now are a couple of portable solutions that work well.
ControlVision, which makes the popular AnywhereMap PDA-based moving map product, has introduced Anywhere WX, a product that downloads useful Meteorlogix weather products onto the PDA with a couple of taps of the stylus.
Here's how it works. You start with a GPS-equipped Windows Pocket PC-we performed our test using a color Compaq iPaq. Then you hook up the PDA with the Globalstar satellite telephone, which you mount to a side window with an optional suction mount ($79). Both the PDA and the phone attach to the SatPack II, a GPS receiver/antenna/hub, which you place on the glareshield. When you want weather, simply use the AnywhereMap software to request it, wait a bit-typical download times are fairly short-and before you know it, you have the weather information you asked for. Cost of the Globalstar satellite phone subscription varies, depending on usage; ControlVision says that most users will get by nicely at the $35 a month level.
Weather products on Anywhere WX include Nexrad, satellite imagery, metars, TAFs and graphical metars. When you download Nexrad, you automatically get weather for the entire country; metars and TAFs are downloaded from all reporting stations within a 250-nm radius of your specified airport. The PDA image is similar in size to smaller panel-mount weather displays, and the Nexrad information is easily readable and very useful, especially when you zoom to a mid-scale value-say 100 miles-as it becomes clear in all but the worst-case scenarios where to divert.
The graphical metar function is also nice. At a larger scale (150 miles or more), the two-segment square that represents ceiling and visibility changes to a single color, the lower of the two values, making it easy to see weather trends across a wide region. AnywhereMap's scale goes from VFR to low IFR.
Although I had some trouble getting the system set up, a couple of calls to technical support, where the folks were friendly and helpful, helped me straighten things out. As soon as I had things fixed, the system fired right up and I had weather data within a minute. (You can also get weather over the internet when the PDA is hooked up to a home PC.) A downside of the system is that, with the need for the PDA, remote antenna/receiver and satellite phone, you do have a few cables snaked around the cockpit. And it can be hard to use the PDA to control the moving map software when you're in turbulence, though the yoke mount (not an option for me in the yoke-less Cirrus) should make it easier for most users.
Moreover, the less than ideal setup-true for any non-panel-mount system-is a minor inconvenience compared with the ability to get real, useful weather information in the cockpit when you need it most.
Cost of the Anywhere WX system we tested was less than $2,300, including promotions. Included in the package was a nicely equipped iPaq 5500 color Pocket PC PDA, the SatPack II, the preinstalled software, a yoke mount and a flight bag, plus the first six months of database updates and weather access.
For more information, visit www.anywheremap.com.