August 5, 2014
“Whatever goes wrong with tomorrow’s flight, it WON’T be access to data.”
These were among my last words to my wife that evening as I settled down to get a good nights sleep before the next days’ flight.
So, here is the deal:
The next day, I would fly N428X, a Columbia-400 with a G1000, from Columbia, SC, to Boston, MA.
This is a flight that would run all the way up almost the entire East Coast of the United States, cutting through the Washington ADIZ, the airspace of JFK airport, and the trailing clouds and precip left by a font moving through.
There would undoubtedly be IFR conditions, passage through carefully-controlled airspace, and cross country operations all the way up the Easter Seaboard.
Access to weather, airport, and airspace data in flight was going to be critical for this flight, and with my wife and three-year daughter on board, safety was really not optional.
With my certificate on the line (as it is with every flight, for all of us) legality was not optional either.
So, how would I be sure I had access to all the data I needed to manage this flight safely?
First, I started with Xavion.
Xavion is the App I wrote to act as a backup synthetic vision system, give backup guidance to the best airport to glide to in the event of engine failure, show weather at every airport, and (with the latest version) show VFR and IFR maps and Approach Plates as well. I wanted to test out a new version of Xavion on this flight. (I like to use Xavion constantly when I fly, so I always know exactly what experience the customers will have when they eventually get the version of Xavion that I am developing and testing). Since I wanted to test the latest Xavion version that I was currently in the middle of developing, I loaded up the latest (experimental, not-yet-released) version of Xavion onto ALL of my various iPads and iPhones… FIVE iThingies in all. I downloaded every single Low Enroute map for the Entire United States onto every one of the five iPhones and iPads. As well, I downloaded every single Airport Diagram, SID, STAR, and Approach Plate for the Entire United States onto every one of the five iPhones and iPads.
Then, after that, I downloaded the latest data from Jeppesen onto my data card that goes into the G1000 in the airplane. This would keep current data in the G1000 built into the airplane.
Then, after that (and it pains me to say this, having written Xavion) I downloaded every single low enroute map and approach plate for the United States into ForeFlight on one of my iPads. This way, if Xavion AND the Garmin 1000 in my airplane failed, I would still at least have mapping data from Foreflight.
Finally, I fully-charged TWO ADS-B weather receivers and TWO external GPSs’ to give the iPads and iPhones accurate GPS and weather in case their little internal GPSs and WIFI weather receivers could not keep them oriented and fed with weather.
So, going to bed that night with SIX devices (five iPads and iPhones and one G1000) all fully loaded with data for the entire USA, spread across THREE different coding technologies (my Xavion code, ForeFlights’ ForeFlight Mobile code, and Garmins’ G1000 code), and with about EIGHT different weather receivers (the Garmin-1000’s own satellite-weather receiver, the various built in receivers in the iPads and iPhones, and the Sagetech and iLevil external ADS-B weather receivers and GPS’s as well), I knew that whatever went wrong in this flight, it would NOT be a lack of in-flight airport data and weather!
So off we blasted into the clouds at 200 miles per hour, hard-IFR clear to Boston.
First I noticed that EVERY SINGLE COPY of Xavion was saying that it could not find it’s airport database. I was in the middle of coding a new feature that caused Xavion to DISREGARD obsolete airport data (to be sure that it never steered you to an airport that no longer existed) and this in-development version seemed to think that ALL airport data was expired, so Xavion refused to show me ANY airports.
Since all METAR weather is associated with an airport ID, that meant that Xavion would accept NO METAR weather data. Xavion had just been reduced to the synthetic vision system that would keep me right side up and clear of terrain, but little else. No airport or weather data would be available. Xavion was largely “bricked”, as we call a device or bit of software that is turned into something with the value of… a brick.
Gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes, I closed Xavion and launched ForeFlight. ForeFlight was designed to work ONLY with ONE ADS-B receiver on Earth, so could not get weather from either of my ADS-B receivers. As well, we were now hi enough that the iPad could not get any WIFI or cell-tower data. No weather or other dynamic airport data. I went to the AIRPORT section to at least see Bedfords’ layout, and was greeted with the message: “Airport details unavailable, please check network connection.” (As if I could get a network connection in flight!) ForeFlight was bricked. (Note: I later learned that this was from doing an iOS update AFTER getting my Foreflight data… the iOS update deleted some files!)
Shaking my head in annoyance, I switched my G1000 over to the weather page to get satellite weather instead.
I was greeted with 2 words on my Garmin-1000: “DETECTING ACTIVATION”.
XM-weather had all the data I could need, but was refusing to give it to me since my G-1000 was not sure if I had paid for it. (Even though I had, religiously).
For weather and dynamic airport info, the G-1000 was bricked, and remained that way for the entire four-hour flight.
Ten minutes into the flight, and every piece of weather and data update in the airplane, from three companies, across 6 devices, was rendered useless.
So, that happened.
What the hell am I supposed to learn from this? “Be prepared”?