Learn how CFI, mentor pilot, and G58 Baron owner-operator Tom Rau utilizes SiriusXM Aviation wind data to improve fuel economy and range.
Earlier this year, I met with SiriusXM Aviation to discuss my flying career and my experience using their service. One of the comments I made during our discussion was that I use SiriusXM Aviation wind data to ‘make’ avgas by optimizing my route and cruise altitude selection. SiriusXM then asked me to share my strategies using their service.
My background is military, airline, and general aviation, flying for the U.S. Navy, the FAA, and then Delta. Currently, I am an active flight instructor and mentor for pilots who have upgraded to more advanced aircraft. I also operate a G58 Baron out of 28J Palatka Municipal in Northeast Florida.
Generally, I start my IFR flight planning the day before departure, reviewing the bigger weather picture and looking for trends. On my way to the airport, I make a call to Leidos Flight Service for updates on special-use airspace and current weather to determine if things have changed significantly from my original plan.
If there is a significant change, I intentionally stop and think about what I may do once airborne to make adjustments to my planned cruise flight level and filed route to improve my ground speed or shorten my segment time; consequently decreasing my planned fuel burn, adding the additional fuel saved to my reserve. With SiriusXM, I have the ability to evaluate the winds above and below my current cruise level in 3,000-foot increments on ForeFlight with my Garmin GDL 52 or G1000. This is a significant aid in developing an optimized track and also allows me to eliminate the search for the optimal cruise altitude by making unnecessary climbs or descents. SiriusXM allows me to efficiently select the optimum cruise altitude.
I fly the Baron lean of peak (LOP) the majority of the time, which allows some additional fuel savings. The tradeoff for a LOP operator is roughly a 3-percent reduction in true airspeed (TAS) in exchange for a 15- to 20-percent improvement in fuel burn, among other advantages. In the Baron I can anticipate a few more minutes airborne for any given trip flown LOP. However, on longer segments of 300 nautical miles to 500 nm that has not always been the case; SiriusXM data allows me to determine if I should climb for a better TAS or descend if the winds are more favorable below my current level.
One of the more important goals when I have friends and family on board is to provide the safest and smoothest flight possible. The benefits of SiriusXM’s NEXRAD as well as wind and temperature information aid in selecting the best route and most efficient cruise altitude to ensure my passengers are as comfortable as possible.
I receive a complimentary subscription in support of my mentor flying program. However, I have determined that on typical flights of 350 nm to 400 nm, I can sometimes save two to three gallons of fuel with the SiriusXM service. The combination of the fuel saved over the course of the year and the situational awareness SiriusXM provides result in true operational cost savings that add up and could be enough for it to pay for itself.