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Making friends with ADS-BStratus ESG

Minimal, cost-effective compliance

Editor's note: The Stratus ESG’s TSO was issued June 27 and announced July 5.
In researching upgrade paths that will allow my airplane to keep flying legally in controlled airspace beyond 2020, my criteria were pretty basic.
Stratus ESG

• A minimally compliant Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) signal.

• A simple installation (with the least downtime and lowest total cost).

• The ability to cross international borders (Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean).

That meant a 1090ES, and there were several strong contenders in an increasingly competitive marketplace, but I ended up choosing the Stratus ESG: a panel-mount ADS-B Out-only unit with dimensions that match the old King KT 76A transponder it would replace.

The Stratus ESG ($2,995) is the first FAA-certified transponder from Appareo, a North Dakota firm best known for portable ADS-B receivers. The unit that arrived on my doorstep turned out to be one of the first produced on the assembly line and limited to installation in Experimental-category airplanes (the company hadn’t received final FAA approval at the time of this writing). But in every other way it’s identical to the certified units that will ship later.

On a dreary Saturday, I conscripted my friend and former hangarmate, Carlo Cilliers, an IA, to future-proof my airplane. I supplied the donuts and coffee and took things out of the panel while he did the skilled installation work.

The 51-page installation manual was clear and concise. The kit (which contained a WAAS GPS antenna that looks like a fried egg) was thorough and complete. The only hardware not supplied was a standard RG400 cable and fittings to connect the GPS antenna to the Stratus ESG itself. And that made sense since cable lengths vary from one installation to the next.

Installing the Stratus ESG required repositioning the existing altitude encoder, and wiring a new 37-pin connector. Attaching the GPS antenna was a simple matter of drilling four holes and fastening it with the supplied countersunk screws. Then we snaked the 10-foot RG400 cable through the fuselage and connected it to the back of the ESG unit—a task easier said than done in the tight confines of a tiny sport airplane.

The initial power-up was mercifully smoke free, and the Stratus ESG’s glowing blue lights indicated it was operating normally. It stepped through multiple configuration screens that specified the airplane’s ICAO address, registration number, airspeed category, aircraft length and width, altitude format, altitude source, backlighting preferences, GPS antenna position, and more.

At the conclusion of that process, the unit’s self-diagnostic tests showed that the altitude encoder was working properly, the GPS antenna was receiving plenty of satellite coverage, and turning on the rest of the avionics didn’t interfere with these happy circumstances.

On the first flight after the Stratus ESG installation, Potomac Approach confirmed radar contact, the appearance of my N number on their scopes, and accurate altitude reporting. I then flew the required functional check (required under 14 CFR Part 43, Appendix F) and the FAA confirmed the next day via email that the Stratus ESG works properly.

The Stratus ESG met or exceeded all my expectations.

The entire installation took less than one day, and it allowed me to keep costs down by reusing almost all my airplane’s wiring, altitude encoder, and transponder antenna.

I also like the fact that the Stratus ESG behaves like any other Mode S transponder if the GPS signal is ever lost. But a note of caution about Standby mode—you’re not invisible. The ADS-B portion still shows your location and ID, but not altitude. And even though it wasn’t on my original list, I feel good about the fact that the Stratus ESG was designed and built in the United States.

Like many pilots, I didn’t enter this brave new ADS-B world willingly. If not for the looming FAA mandate, my trusty KT 76A would still be providing faithful service.

But as much as I resisted ADS-B, I’ve got to confess that I’m already enjoying some of its benefits. Subscription-free, in-cockpit weather (via an ADS-B receiver and an iPad) is a blessing. And now that I’m providing an Out signal, I get a full traffic picture, and that’s a real comfort.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Avionics, ADSB, Technology

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