June 17, 2011
By Ian J. Twombly
Wi-Flight is one of those products that you’ve never thought about buying before, but now that it’s available, it might be hard to pass up. Marketed exclusively to flight school owners, Wi-Flight combines a complete fleet tracking solution with an inexpensive and effective debrief tool for students and instructors.
The system comprises a small cell-phone-like device that mounts to the glareshield, an outdoor Wi-Fi access point, and a website. It works like this: The unit is placed in the airplane. When the master switch turns on, it begins logging data, and stops only when the airplane stops moving, not necessarily when the master turns off. As soon as it stops, the device sends data at a rate of 60 megabytes per second to a powerful outdoor Wi-Fi access point that then uploads it to Wi-Flight’s server for later viewing and analysis.
The data it logs is virtually endless. Think airspeed, altitude, location, heading, crosswind component, takeoffs, landings, voice communication through the intercom, ambient aircraft noise, rpm, and much more.
What to do with that data is up to the school. The concept for Wi-Flight originated from a double fatal accident in which the pilot was showboating. Alerts can be issued for altitude, airports, crosswinds, speed, flight conditions, airspace, and pretty much anything else related to the data it records. In that way, flight school managers will have complete control over their fleet, and know exactly what happened on each flight.
But, it also is a powerful briefing tool. Students and instructors can log on to the website, search for a flight, and view it in Google Earth while they listen to the audio. The level of detail makes it seem as though you’re watching a video.
Wi-Flight is based on a subscription model, so prices vary depending on the number of aircraft in the fleet. Each airplane needs a unit to be tracked, but only one access point is usually required. Upload boosters also are available for those with slower Internet connections. The entire system takes less than an hour to set up, and the individual recorders remain in the airplane pretty much indefinitely. A 90-day free trial is available for any interested flight school.
The cost of the product runs $350 to $500 per recorder, $149 for the outdoor Wi-Fi, and $29 to $59 per month for the service.
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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