This Is The Last Blog On ADS-B

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An expert is a person who knows more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing. By that definition, I am an expert. As an expert, I am hereby declaring that this blog is absolutely the last thing I will ever write about ADS-B. As God is my witness, I will never put those letters together again unless I am describing an AD that morphed into an SB or I’m referring to the ads to be found in column B.

It’s not because I’m so sick of the subject that I’m contemplating drinking myself into a weeklong stupor, although I am. Nor is it because I think you probably already know all you will ever need to know about ADS-B, although you probably do. And it’s not because I think the whole idea has a pretty good shot of collapsing in scandal in 2019, although I think that it does. It’s because as an expert, I realize that any advice I could possibly convey to you on this subject has the equivalent value of Cactus Jack Garner’s opinion of the vice presidency.  

A mere month ago, I allowed as how people complaining about the ADS-B mandate should just suck it up and put the equipment in, enjoying both the benefits of ADS-B In and the pleasure of not worrying about it anymore. After I clapped eyes on uAvionix’s SkyBeacon at AirVenture, I instantly realized how … ummm …. hollow that advice was. I knew uAvionix had something in the works but (a) I didn’t think it would mature enough technically to make a difference and (b) I thought it would still require a couple of grand to install it. Wrong on both counts, at least if the company gains approvals to get this thing on the fast track. And with the FAA desperate to get ADS-B equipage going, can we all hope that someone in the bureaucracy will see a winner in this product and champion its slither through the regulatory maze?

The instant I saw the SkyBeacon, I couldn’t help but think two things: Some people who have just installed what they thought was the lowest-priced ADS-B are going to be a little pissed and now I think anyone shopping on price—and I realize that’s not everyone—might rationally wait to see where this product is going. Not to mention others in the pipeline that we don’t know about. I’ve been told that the $500 ADS-B transceiver is a pipe dream, but as an expert, I also thought $3000 installed was about the floor. Well, things change; stuff happens. I’m not so sure more stuff isn’t going to happen so if I was a skinflint owner, I think I’d be waiting around to see if it does.

It also occurs to me that the entire ADS-B fiasco was almost designed to irritate aircraft owners, especially early adopters. The initial hardware was expensive to buy and install and it wasn’t obvious that it would evolve to more common-man prices. Avionics companies saw a bonanza and planned accordingly, only to be struck by the reality that owners were unimpressed with a government edict requiring them to buy these products. The evolution toward less expensive equipment wasn’t visible, least of all by the FAA and perhaps not even within the avionics industry because no one was pulling us aside to say, off the record, that cheaper stuff is on the way, don’t buy yet. Why would they? Discouraging sales of high-margin products in anticipation of cheaper ones would be irrational for a seller.     

The above advice probably has the heft of a fart in a whirlwind, but I feel it my duty to reel in the dead fish I’ve personally hooked before they rot too badly. I’m sure at some point, I’ll be delivered to the NextGen Gulag and reeducated so I can resume a career of prattling on about ADS-B, as though this shattering realization never happened and I always had that glazed, empty look in my eyes.

But for a few glittery moments, I’m going clear.

Comments (23)

One thing I've never understood. ADS-B adds another thing for me to look at on the panel. My brain is already overloaded with visual input. What's the real benefit? The nice thing about talking with ATC is that I'm using another sensory capability while I'm using my eyes to fly the airplane. Master minds who plan such things cannot see the future and technology advancement always has a way of out smarting them. Besides, were I fly, most aircraft conflicts happen with crop dusters and I doubt they will get ADS-B.

Posted by: DANA NICKERSON | August 3, 2017 7:14 AM    Report this comment

"One thing I've never understood. ADS-B adds another thing for me to look at on the panel."

It's no different than those of us who have been using XM weather/stormscope/TCAS for years. And if you don't want to look at it, it can easily be turned off (though why you wouldn't want to see a relatively accurate position of other air traffic escapes me).

I can definitely attest to the added safety ADS-B traffic presentation has on training flights. In more cases than I can count now, it has helped me avoid potential close-calls (or worse) while providing instrument training, and many times I have decided to just go somewhere else because there were so many other targets in the area. Yes, I was listening to the radio too, but we all know when someone reports "10 miles to the West", they could be anywhere from 2 miles east to 20 miles west, or maybe not even in the area because they're on the wrong frequency and not saying who they're talking to. So I was also looking out the window to try and visually identify the traffic I was seeing, and being able to narrow down *where* to look within about 20 degrees greatly improves my changes of picking up that little white dot in the sky.

My flying club was an early adopter of ADS-B (in and out), and while there are much cheaper solutions available now, I'm still glad we equipped when we did. It's over and done with, and we don't have to worry about being excluded from certain airspace come 2020.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 3, 2017 7:54 AM    Report this comment

I've found the opposite -- when dealing with unseen traffic, *seeing* the traffic display is a lot more intuitive and less brainpower-absorbing than trying to build a traffic picture in my head based on verbal cues. Same thing goes for the weather presentation--pictures really are worth thousands of words.

I've said it before, but one of the major problems with ADS-B is that it's a half-baked alpha release that got mandated by law before the development work was complete. A few of the gaping holes include:

- Security is nonexistent; everything is broadcast in the clear so anyone can spoof the system or read the data at will (and thanks to aircraft registrations being public, everyone can see where I'm flying--gee, thanks FAA!).

- The FAA's intent of separating large aircraft from light aircraft with 1090ES vs. 978 UAT fell flat on its face; the limitations of 978 (primarily that of keeping a Mode C transponder, but also the altitude restrictions and inability to leave the US) were unworkable or stupid to most of the target audience, so nobody bothered.

- Thanks to UAT being unworkable for most, we'll have pretty much universal full-time GPS tracking of every airplane, by tail number (remember, there's no equivalent of "squawk 1200" for 1090ES--your tail number, altitude, airspeed, and position to within a ~10ft radius are continually broadcasted to anyone who cares to listen). And that makes it trivial for the FAA to run an analysis program on all received tracks and hand out violations by automated form letter. If the government proposed monitored phone-home GPS trackers in peoples' private cars, we'd have the ACLU rightly screaming bloody murder by close of business that day. Yet we're fed the old "why worry if you have nothing to hide?" line when we substitute "airplane" for "car".

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | August 3, 2017 8:02 AM    Report this comment

The free market at work. The idiots in government come up with a half a$$ed system and the big guns in the industry see $$. After the sticker shock sets in for a $12K installation in a $25K airplane, the smart kids start thinking hey I can do it cheaper and better.

Now that the Feds have figured out that many folks just said no to their idiot idea (even with a bribe to install) they should be happy to accept the lower cost alternatives from some of the not so well known avionics names. Then too we are talking about bureaucrats, so who knows.

Thanks to all the smart kids out there, for coming with affordable (at least in aviation terms) solutions to a government induced problem.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | August 3, 2017 8:28 AM    Report this comment

I'll wait for the FAA's ADS-B OUT giveaways.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 3, 2017 8:40 AM    Report this comment

I hope this isn't truly your last blog on ADS-B. It is all too entertaining.

A much better definition of "EXPERT" is:

In mathematics "X" denotes the unknown.
A "spurt" is a drip under pressure.
Hence, an "expert" is an "Unknown Drip Under Pressure".

Posted by: Roger Chudy | August 3, 2017 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Cactus Jack Garner - now there's a name I haven't heard in a while. But, an appropriate comparison.

Technology is doing the same thing to ADS-B as it has in pretty well everything else in our lives. Newer, better, faster stuff comes along every day, making the neat device you bought yesterday look old and obsolete. Think computers and smart phones. If you wait until the ultimate black box comes along, you will never buy in. At some point you have to pay your money and jump on the carousel or just walk away and buy a sailboat. Either way, you have made a decision.

I took the plunge early because it was part of a larger avionics upgrade. Otherwise, I would probably be dithering about what to do now. Even though it cost more money, at least I have one less thing to worry about and have been enjoying the benefits of traffic and weather - such that they are. Like most government programs, ADS-B is a good idea with terrible implementation. But, it is what it is. Like you, Paul, I am tired of all the teeth gnashing about it. Either buy in or wait for the better mousetrap. Just do it quietly.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 3, 2017 11:28 AM    Report this comment

Thanks a lot, dude! So, like a good and loyal acolyte, I followed the sage instructions of your previous blog, "sucked" it up and went to OSH to part with $4K and NOW you tell me there's a new, easier way to do it. You ain't goin' to the gulag ... you're going right to the bottom of that pool in your back yard wearing cement overshoes. :-)

Actually, I looked at that thing and it IS an interesting form factor and design. I COULD be a game changer for some but ... it still requires a Mode A/C transponder and it's a UAT v. 1090ES solution (I'm with Robert G-M). They told me that the R (that's green) nav light could have the corresponding "in" function, as well. uAvionix may well be the game changing company which will bring prices down to reality ... although I think that I did pretty darned well carefully shopping for a 1090ES solution since I needed a transponder anyways. A significant up front price reduction on an all-in-one 'out' box plus some additional show bucks and the ability for an A&P (self) install (finally!) plus the possibility that I could get some FAA bucks later IF I get it in THIS year sent me over the top.

So now I'm sitting in my bedroom covered in manuals, blueprints and my brain is sizzlin' ... trying to figure out how to get the installation done in time. And I coulda just bought some new nav lights! (sic). I just can't win.

In reality, I went to the show with a list of questions because the new GDL82 "blind" UAT solution was supposed to have an 'anonymous' mode IF your Mode A/C box was squawking VFR. (It does have a pin dedicated to invoking that mode) I went round and round for 3 days with not only the manufacturer(s) but also the FAA and AEA. I got conflicting info everywhere I went. In fact, I wound up setting quite a few "expurts" right. But -- for me -- buying a new Mode A/C box and a GDL82 later would have cost more money than than the 1090ES solution I wound up with. Unfortunately, 1090ES doesn't have the ability to squit 'anonymous' although there is some way to set the Flight ID to a random code? Haven't gotten to the bottom of that one, yet.

Like Robert G-M, I worry about anonymity. But for most flying, other than straying from the 'plus 500' altitude, I ain't doing anything wrong. For cow chasing in the hinterlands, there's a little known mode known as O-F-F. An FAA type "assured" me that the FAA would not use ADS-B data for violating pilots but, then too, the Administrator told us some fibs, too. SO ... I dunno? IF that happens, the box will suddenly 'die' and get sold on eBay.

Personally, I do not agree that automated position reporting ++ is going to go away. I see no other way to keep airplanes and drones apart. And the boys want to reduce their ATC workload. The problem is anonymity, cost (including installation) and lack of sufficient repair facilities to service all the airplanes. The cutoff date will HAVE to be extended ... lots of airliners are not equipped and their installs are substantially more complex than GA.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 3, 2017 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Larry, if you'll send me a receipt for the payment on the advice I gave you, I'll get an immediate refund to you.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 3, 2017 11:52 AM    Report this comment

I'm going to hold off on doing that because I'm gonna double down on it. My install might be free? That's a mighty nice gesture, tho. OK ... you don't have to swim.

I'm predicting that the next thing you'll be writing about is that the 'boys' suddenly decide that "Electronic Conspicuity" rules -- like that in the UK -- will allow use of low power portable 1090ES 'out' solutions in the US outside of required airspace. Right now, in the UK, that's allowed in uncontrolled airspace. THEY feel that the ability of other airplanes to see you because you have some sort of device squitting position + is much better than nothing. Hmmm ... sounds like common sense to me. uAvionix is making a portable for sale ONLY in the UK called the SkyEcho. You guys should google it and then ... weep. This is similar to the small non-certified WAAS position box that another Scottish manufacturer says can be tied to their transponders outside of mandated airspace. Even with a slight error, it's better to see 'em than not.

Common sense ... it's a wonderful thing.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 3, 2017 12:59 PM    Report this comment

Larry, that would require the FAA to both (a) acquire some common sense, and (b) reverse a policy statement that they have already doubled down on. I'll be elected President before either of those ever happen.

Posted by: Robert Gatlin-Martin | August 3, 2017 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Dana, to your point - when will ADS-B be allowed as a substitute for the Mode C/S transponder? I'm fine with replacing equipment, just not 2 or more pieces that do the same thing! Mode A/C/S, ADS-B, ELT 121.5/406, etc. all do about the same thing: where is the airplane and who is it? At this point, ahy have multiple systems at all? This can be a single system that does everything - and simplifying something would be a nice change in GA!

Posted by: JEFFREY SMITH | August 3, 2017 2:28 PM    Report this comment

I never get tired of being right. I've been saying for the last several years that $5-$8K is ludicrous considering that the actual hardware is available on Amazon for less than $400. Heck, I built the Stratux with WAAS (the week before flying to KOSH-17) for $140.

Point being is that dirt cheap ADS-B out had to happen because of it's simplistic code, simplistic hardware, the number of drones, gilders, trucks, balloons, LSA's that need cheap systems, AND the fact that the individual components are commodity priced under $15 each.

The people that dropped 6 to 8 large (to Gamin,etc) are happy with their decision and I don't begrudge them at all. Some days I wish that I had money to burn too! Since I don't, I will have to just be satisfied with being prudent and wise and informed.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 3, 2017 5:47 PM    Report this comment

And you're modest, too, Fraser.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 4, 2017 9:28 AM    Report this comment

"Some days I wish that I had money to burn too! Since I don't, I will have to just be satisfied with being prudent and wise and informed."

The new low-cost solutions that are available don't offer the same integrated capabilities that our ~$8000 ADS-B In/Out installation offers. Also, having everyone carry a portable ADS-B In receiver is not a workable solution for a flying club of any significant size. And we installed a "diversity" solution, so we have ADS-B transceivers on the top and bottom of the aircraft for additional coverage. Shortly after we installed this equipment, a simpler and slightly cheaper installation became available, but we do have some redundancy in the equipment we have that the newer solution doesn't offer.

Sometimes, waiting for the "better solution" is not the best solution and one just has to bite the bullet. And that is occasionally the disadvantage to a club.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 4, 2017 9:47 AM    Report this comment


"Dana, to your point - when will ADS-B be allowed as a substitute for the Mode C/S transponder?"
If I may, Jeffrey, your question focuses on the FAA's insistence that - despite full compliance with their ADS-B equippage requirement - we're STILL required to have and to maintain Mode A/C/S 4096 equipment. Even in A BRAND NEW AIRPLANE. That's a GREAT question.

Consider this: there's a fundamental difference between detection and disclosure. To wit...

My own worthless opinion is that this is a consequence of the nature of the "S" in ADS-B - Surveillance. A quick survey of half-a-dozen Internet dictionaries reveals that all agree that the principal element of surveillance is "observation." Primary radar observation of airborne objects does not require their cooperation. A/C/S is cooperative enhancement of radar observation. ADS-B, on the other hand, is 100% cooperative. You can call that surveillance if you want to. But only if you re-define surveillance, to drop the requirement of "observation."

Discounting demonstrated paranoia over the existence of "off" switches in both ADS-B and 4096 devices, primary radar still is what it always has been - a means of observation that does not require the cooperation of the observed.

(Continued in Part 2)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 4, 2017 10:19 AM    Report this comment


ADS-B relies upon a method of cooperation that is dependent (forgive the pun) upon five additional serial elements:
1. The satellite constellation
2. An on-board GPS receiver
3. An on-board GPS-signal position-resolution device
4. An on-board device to transmit the resolved position
5. Functioning devices (airborne or terrestrial) to receive those transmissions of the transmitters' positions

Lose ANY link in that chain, and your "observation" goes poof. I leave it to the reader to contemplate the universe of causes of link failure.

My again-worthless opinion is that the FAA (and a few other security-related alphabet agencies) are keenly aware of all of this. And that they quite simply don't TRUST this cooperation-reliant method of "observation" enough to discard their no-cooperation-required radar capability. And its enhancment - 4096 A/C/S.

Thus, their ongoing (perpetual?) requirement for 4096-based equipment.

If anything, the coming proliferation of UAVs will cause those agencies to UPGRADE their radar capabilities. We're already seeing evidence of this, in stand-alone anti-UAV hardware being hawked globally.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | August 4, 2017 10:20 AM    Report this comment


Though a bit more wordy than I would have done, that's a great summary of the ADS-B vs Transponder vs RADAR debate. The one thing I'll add is that the transponder requirement is also there for the airlines and their TCAS equipment (which, for them, is required equipment).

I can't see primary radar ever going away, especially not after 9/11, so transponders will also never go away. And ADS-B is just one GPS-jamming event away from being useless (however localized in space and time it may be).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | August 4, 2017 10:33 AM    Report this comment

From a security/observation vulnerability point of view, the 1030/1090 MHz transponder system (also called "secondary radar") and ADS-B are no different; they both depend on active responses from the aircraft in flight and subject to going stealth mode by simply turning them off. In the war years, it was referred to as IFF (identification friend or foe) and if you didn't respond to the interrogation signal you were assumed hostile and subject to shoot-down. This of course gave an important rationale for regular transponder checks!

However, the ATC legacy primary radars (ASR-9 and ASR-11) operate at 2.8 GHz and are totally passive systems. These are what most people know as radars with their rotating dish-shaped antennas. They only need a metallic reflective surface on the aircraft to get a response. Yes, there are many limitations, but for national security reasons I can't see these ever going away (unless supplanted by military equivalents).

The term "secondary radar" is a bit of a misnomer as there is no radio reflection required as in a classic radar system; it is simply a polling system (query and response) operating over a radio link; 1030 MHz for the outgoing query and 1090 MHz for the incoming response. I believe it acquired the name "secondary" when they attached the 1030/1090 antenna on top of the rotating ASR primary antenna and overlaid the results on the primary display as an augmentation or backup to the primary system.

Posted by: A Richie | August 4, 2017 1:19 PM    Report this comment

A large part of North American airspace has never had primary or secondary surveillance radar coverage - Hudson Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic/Pacific oceanic. These areas were the first to offer real benefits to ADS-B equipped operators in terms of reduced separation, direct routing and rescue response. Our aging radars can and will be replaced by ADS-B ground stations (and, ultimately by ADS-B capable satellites).

When that replacement occurs has little to do with the reliability (or lack of) of the technology. It has everything to do with the airlines' refusal to equip their fleets with ADS-B and WAAS avionics. The airline lobby has secured a 5 year extension for them from the ADS-B mandate. During that 5 years the airlines will spare no effort to separate the air traffic management system from the FAA. Once the system is privatized, the ATC Corporation's first act will likely be to eliminate the ADS-B mandate entirely.

This is great news for those who can't abide ADS-B, or the expense and the intrusion on personal liberty it represents. I urge them to write to their Senators and tell them to support the ATC privatization provisions in the upcoming FAA re-authorization Bill.

For my part, I have spent the money to upgrade and I am happy with the benefits.

Posted by: kim hunter | August 4, 2017 3:58 PM    Report this comment

Holy sh...! Batman!

I've been holding out, hoping that costs would come down to what I can afford on my retirement income, planning to stay out of class ABC..., of worrying that I'd loose my medical before I needed to spend that much on my older, but much loved, 182.

Its interesting that Google claimed that they could build fully compliant ADS-B out for something under a couple bucks when the drone delivery thing was heating up. Even allowing for economy of scale, etc., it seemed to me that the price ($5K+) of flying into DIA once every 2-3 years was a little excessive.

Now I have a reason to keep struggling with the opthalmologist to get my 2nd class back.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | August 5, 2017 2:42 PM    Report this comment

Wait for it ...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | August 5, 2017 5:33 PM    Report this comment

Well, boys ... I just spent 4+ days wading through all the data electronically provided to me after I took the "plunge" and popped big $$ for an ADS-B solution at Airventure and registered the thing. Not only is the sheer volume of data I received mind boggling and confusing along with a flood of related FAA instructions related to formal certification of the box, I'm finding out the simple task of mounting the GPS antenna on my C172 is going to require a major disassembly of the interior to gain access. In fact, mounting that antenna may well be the most labor intensive part of the process. I knew that I'd would ultimately have to take the newly installed system to a repair station but ... I didn't bargain for THIS !! What is -- ostensibly -- power, ground and antennas -- is going to take a PhD and an army of rocket scientists, legal minds and a trailer full of computers and test boxes to complete. I feel like Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist?' If I am frustrated; most anyone else with less experience will commit seppuku. No wonder the installations are so costly!

Since I needed a new transponder anyways, I went for the 'out' solution thinking the extra $$ would be justified. Prima facie, it was. NOW, I'm no longer so sure. I thought sure I'd be able to get the thing finished, certified and signed off in a couple of weeks. That's not the case. I now regret buying the box; I shoulda just bought a new Mode A/C box and skipped all this nonsense. THIS must be why they're having such a problem giving away their $500 bills? I may have finally met my match ... and IT is ADS-B! I like to fly recreationally ... not finish my MS in EE !

IF what Kim H says is true about a five year extension for the airlines but NOT for GA ... then I'm convinced an airspace conspiracy or -- worse -- driving the final nail into the coffin of GA may be the ultimate goal? If privatization ever does come to pass, I think we're all gonna find out.

If I could reverse the hands of the clock to 10 days back, I would not have done this to myself. Ya'll ... caveat emptor. What Merl said IS a question everyone should be asking themselves.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | August 6, 2017 12:56 PM    Report this comment

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