Pilots need to plan ahead. Plan for lots of situations. Plan. Plan. Plan.
Even with all the planning, sometimes, things happen. It could be the radio fails, or the weather is getting worse than predicted, or winds, or “the call of nature”. In most cases, the pilot is able to take care of the situation directly. However, there are times when an extra set of eyes would be helpful.
But what if those eyes are not in the plane?
Using ATC Flight Following is one way to get another set of eyes. It’s a great service and it’s still free (well, perhaps we should call it ‘pre-paid’ since it is tax dollars at work).
Another option is APRS – automated position reporting system. APRS is a combination of GPS data and amateur radio transmissions. In it’s most basic, a transmission includes the radio call sign and the GPS coordinates and typically will include altitude. It can include other data as well such as sensor data (temperature is a good example) a text string of information, or a user selected indication of the type of vehicle or usage.
Amateur Radio has come a long way. Traditionally, it was very much a roll up your sleeves and deep electronics knowledge “sport”. However, it has lots to offer, even to those who don’t own a soldering iron. APRS is a good example. The radio license needed for APRS is just the Technician Class and it is a pretty easy written test. The average person can study and pass the exam in just a few days of study. There is no longer a requirement to learn Morse code. The electronics are pretty easy too. There are affordable pre-built “all in one” APRS units available that are no bigger than the size of a two packs of cards.
In a recent flight, the clouds started to get thick so it was time to decent. The initial decent was from 9,500ft to 7,500ft but the clouds were too thick to continue so a quick circling decent brought the plane down to a safe altitude to maintain visual flight to a near by airport.
With APRS, friends and family could easily see the plans had changed. There were no worries and no surprises.