Bye Bye, Oshkosh

My trip home from Oshkosh last week offered an enlightening contrast between "old" and "new" aviation technologies, and a lesson in how best to integrate the two in the same cockpit. While my colleagues at Flying scored rides home in Citation and Falcon bizjets that I'm sure were outfitted with some fairly sophisticated gear, I made the 670 nm trip from Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) to my home base in Morristown, New Jersey (KMMU) at the controls of a bare-bones Cessna 172N – one of my flying club's airplanes, a 1978-vintage Skyhawk that lacks an autopilot and also flies a little crooked, making it necessary to apply a small amount of right rudder in cruise to keep the ball centered.

The most modern piece of equipment in this airplane is a Garmin GNS 430 navigator, which I realized as I headed east toward New Jersey has slipped from the “new” avionics category into the “old” – or at least "older." Garmin doesn’t even make the GNS 430 anymore since it replaced this excellent unit with the even better GTN 650 touchscreen navigator.

But this doesn't mean that I and my seatmate on the trip, Mike Bennett, founder of the enthusiasts' site, were without some cutting-edge technology on the flight. Quite the opposite, we had more technologically sophisticated gear at our fingertips than even some professional pilots routinely fly with.

First, of course, we each had an iPad loaded with the latest version of ForeFlight Mobile and up-to-date charts. We also had a Stratus ADS-B weather receiver from Sporty's and Appereo systems, which is designed to interface seemlessly with ForeFlight. Other technologies on board included a Zaon portable traffic alerter, Dynon's D1 portable EFIS, and even an iPad app that allowed my LightSpeed Zulu.2 headset to play back ATC transmissions, similar to the replay capability built into G1000. For an old six-pack 172, we were doing pretty good.

In fact, armed with so much flight relevant information, our trip home was a breeze.

The weather departing Oshkosh was good, but the forecast called for building thunderstorms along our route of flight, particularly as we approached the East Coast later in the day. The flight involved three legs: from KOSH to Michigan’s Muskegon Airport (KMKG), then to Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport (KBKL) and finally on to KMMU. Mike and I were skeptical about relying on ADS-B playing through the Stratus box since neither of us had flown with the technology. As the flight progressed, our doubt turned to delight as we realized Stratus works as advertised – maybe a little better than advertised, even.

Initializing the unit was as simple as powering it on, throwing it up on the glareshield and then linking our iPads (and smartphones) to the Stratus WiFi signal. Instantly, weather information for the entire country appeared on our iPad screens, with storms overlayed on the ForeFlight moving map, and Metars, TAFs, winds, Pireps and lots of other information readily accessible. The information was every bit as good as what I could have gotten using my computer or phone on the ground. The fact that we had it in the airplane and could keep tabs on the weather on the way set our minds at ease and made for a more relaxed and enjoyable flight.

You can check out the video Mike took of the trip here. He flew the first leg VFR (because of our inability to secure an IFR slot out of KOSH) and I flew the next two legs IFR, easily navigating between slow-moving storm cells more than 40 nm apart as we neared home. The flight culminated with a LOC approach to Runway 23 back at KMMU against the backdrop of a gorgeous setting sun.

I'm looking forward to doing it all again next year – hopefully with even more great new stuff to go along with all the great old stuff.


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