May 1, 2008
By Ian J. Twombly
This month’s edition of “Pilot Products” is dedicated to obtaining weather information through cellular telephones. Some of the various products made for mobile Web applications, while others rely solely on text messaging. With either option, most newer cell phones will be able to access the information, although service providers may levy additional fees.
Those who value graphic quality, a high degree of capability, and ease of use, should try Garmin’s Pilot My-Cast. Although the name Garmin is synonymous with GPS and other avionics, its mobile weather application is among the best of all weather products that can be used on the go.
Pilot My-Cast is a mobile, Web-based application that features multiple weather tools, a basic flight planner, and the ability to file a flight plan. Most of the capability comes in the form of weather information. Once data on a specific airplane is stored in the user profile, a basic route briefing can be accessed. For example, let’s say a flight was going from Van Nuys Airport in California to Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix. Once that route is stored, a variety of weather products specific to the flight can be brought up, each with the course imposed on the chart. Maps cover everything from surface observation to lightning strikes and pireps. METARs, TAFs, and other text—such as area forecasts—are also available.
Pilot My-Cast also allows users to file FAA flight plans via DUATs, a nice capability for such a program. But before filing, pilots can check to make sure the route is acceptable for the aircraft by using a basic route-planning tool that calculates time, fuel, and distance in a simple step.
Subscriptions are billed through the user’s wireless carrier, simplifying the process. In addition, using the program will count against monthly minute limits for many wireless plans. For solid capability and a good, easy-to-use graphical interface, Pilot My-Cast is one of the best mobile weather resources on the market. Price: $9.95/month Contact: www.digitalcyclone.com/products, or check with your wireless provider
Although commercial weather and flight planning tools have been available on Web-enabled cell phones for some time, the official DUATs providers haven’t kept up by providing their own versions—until now.
DTC DUAT recently introduced a free mobile Web version of its popular flight-planning service. Pilots can obtain official weather graphics, such as radar, surface observations, flight rules, and prog charts; get METARs and TAFs; check the status of a flight plan; and close VFR flight plans. It also allows users to file a flight plan through an official channel, and most important, access graphic TFRs.
Now there’s absolutely no excuse not to quickly check TFRs right before takeoff. All it takes to access the free service is an appropriate cell phone (the software was primarily designed for Smartphones), and a DUAT access code and password. Price: free Contact: www.duat.com/mobile
A new mobile weather product with a different approach is Weather Notice, or www.wxnotice.com. Instead of utilizing mobile Web programs, Weather Notice sends text and graphic weather products to a user’s cell phone via text messaging. So, instead of having to be mobile-Web capable, users only need a phone with the ability to send and receive text messages; in most cases it must be a camera phone (to receive graphics).
Although setting up the service can be somewhat cumbersome, the low cost and ability to access it without having to upgrade to a Web-enabled phone make it an attractive option. Once the service is established, users send a text message with specific codes to request the desired weather product. Each product has a different code, meaning a “cheat sheet” is probably necessary until they’re all memorized. Weather products include METARs, TAFs, surface observation and forecast charts, satellite, radar composites, and Nexrad.
The company’s Web site contains very detailed instructions for anyone who has questions about the compatibility of a particular cell phone or service plan. Customer support is also excellent for questions not otherwise covered on the site. Price: $4.95/month, 90-day free trial Contact: www.wxnotice.com
There’s nothing like going to the source for official information. The U.S. National Weather Service now offers free mobile weather products in a simple, quick-to-use format.
The Web site’s main landing page is text only, reducing load times. Once the site loads, the menus are shallow and don’t require multiple clicks to access the information. Users can get a variety of official text observations and aviation charts and forecasting maps. Watches and advisories come in text form, as do local observations (decoded METARs).
The site offers two METAR functions we couldn’t find elsewhere. First, observations for the past 12 hours can be accessed, a nice feature when trying to determine weather trends. Also, observations can be searched by state, meaning you don’t have to know the identifier.
The Web site also offers numerous graphics. All the country’s Nexrad depictions are available, including Alaska and Hawaii. Furthermore, the graphic can be shown in different resolutions, and it can be looped. Infrared satellite images and convective outlook charts are also available. Price: free Contact: mobile.weather.gov ( cell.weather.gov for WAP phones)
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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