Lockheed-Martin: User-Friendly Pilot Services

The free weather briefing services from Lockheed-Martin are constantly being updated. Its new NextGen Briefing simplifies a pilot's preflight tasks by presenting needed information in an easily-understandable fashion.


Sometimes I feel as if Lockheed-Martin Flight Services is the Rodney Dangerfield of aviation-no matter how sophisticated, cool and user-friendly its weather briefing and flight safety services become, pilots don’t seem to be paying attention. That being the case, I’ll say it up front: the free-that’s free-services Lockheed-Martin have for pilots are cutting edge, impressive and pilots who don’t know about them are missing out on a good deal.

Long gone are the days that Lockheed-Martin provided only telephone weather briefings-its specialists still do that-it has been aggressively moving toward providing electronic briefings in a format that provides the mass of information required by the FAA for an “official” briefing while presenting it in a fashion that can be understood rapidly.

Indeed, telephonic briefings are expensive, so the pressure has been on L-M from the FAA to keep costs down by moving from human-to-human preflight briefings to electronic briefings.

Search and Rescue

The results of Lockheed-Martin’s innovation are worth a long look. Among them are two-way communication with cockpit devices from such companies as Spidertracks, DeLorme, Honeywell and Garmin that not only provide a pilot with in-flight hazardous conditions alerting, but allow more sophisticated Search and Rescue alerting. Until now, SAR authorities were not alerted by Flight Service until some time after an IFR or VFR flight plan was due to be closed. If an accident occurs a half hour into a three-hour flight, the cruicial first few hours needed for a successful rescue are lost because no SAR is started until some time after the flight was scheduled to arrive. With L-M’s Surveillance-Enhanced SAR, the data link device in the aircraft keeps L-M updated on the progress of the flight. If the aircraft stops moving, the system alerts SAR-and the search starts at the last known position of the aircraft, not with a ramp check at the destination.

Currently SkyConnect, Spidertracks, Garmin and Honeywell are offering this service in conjunction with L-M (L-M does not charge for it services). More companies are coming aboard, with Globalstar expected this fall. L-M is working to incorporate this service into the ADS-B system, something I consider to be of great value to pilots-although I understand that some arcane politics are delaying the process.

What has struck me as of particular value to pilots is the continuing stream of products offered and refinements to Lockheed-Martin’s online briefings through its website www.1800wxbrief.com/Website/.


For more than two years, pilots have been able to register on the L-M website and create a profile for the aircraft they use most frequently. When a pilot calls for a telephone briefing, the briefer can pull up the profile, which speeds the briefing-and filing a flight plan consists of just telling the briefer the time and place of departure, altitude, route, time, fuel aboard and number of people aboard – everything else is already in the system. In addition, the pilot can get a text or email regarding changed conditions that occur between the briefing and her or his departure time.

Lockheed-Martin recognized that it had to update its electronic briefing system, but it faced a serious Catch-22: the FAA requires that it provide a huge amount of information-it was not unusual for a print out to be 50 pages long for a 150-mile trip-but pilots weren’t willing to sort through the mass of data (in an archaic format) to find what was truly important for a given flight. As Mike Glasgow, Lockheed-Martin Fellow and Chief Archetict for Flight Services put it, “In the name of safety, we tried to give a pilot everything he might possibly need, but we gave it in a format that almost guaranteed that he was not going to get all the way through it. The midset was compliance-the FAA guidelines say that we must provide all this information-it wasn’t the mindset of let’s make it easy to digest and get the things pilots actually need to know. Briefings were in the name of safety, but when you get something that’s not usable, it’s the counter, it doesn’t help safety.”

Glasgow has spoken to and with lots of groups of pilots over the years. He received consistent feedback from them saying that the official FAA briefings were not valuable-so he and his team set out to fix that problem with the NextGen Briefings. What they developed was done with the goal of making the briefing easy, effective, complete and safe.


Glasgow gave ME a demonstration of several portions of L-M’s new, NextGen Briefing, starting with METARs. No long is there just a long list of METARs-although the data is still there-now it is presented with a graphic of the route, depicted as a briefing corridor. Nearby is a summary box with meaningful information regarding the route so that the pilot does not have to dig through raw text.

Page one of the display is the “overview” page-and its shows the weather information in a color-coded fashion for VFR, MVFR, IFR and low IFR.

As the pilot moves through the METAR pages, he or she gets a summary of the weather along the route in plain English-emphasizing the worst conditions present in the particular portion of the route.


The historic challenge pilots face with TAFs is to figure out what forecast period is going to be in effect as the pilot passes any given location on a flight. L-M’s NextGen Briefing takes into account the departure time, winds and performance of the pilot’s airplane to present the expected weather at each station along the route. The weather is color-coded on the graphic and in the text-although L-M’s presentation is targeted on the graphics. The system also provides the forecast conditions for each location should the flight be early or late at the particular location. One glance is all it takes to tell if the weather is going to be better or worse if the pilot departs early or late.


Trying to figure out the boundaries of AIRMETS-or any other poligonal weather warning product such as SIGMETs and center weather advisories-from a list of lat/longs or references to three-letter identifiers is a pain in the whatsis. The NextGen Briefing graphically presents the where, when and what the condition is to show how it affects the route. The “smart plain text” in the summary box translates what is important to the pilot for the flight. Color coding shows whether the warning is active during or near the period of time of the flight.

As with the other portions of the NextGen Briefing, the idea is to present the relevant information to the pilot so she or he can pull out what is important quickly and accurately, without wading through masses of minutae, yet still allow the pilot to probe deeply into the underlying data if she or he desires.

Area Forecasts

It’s not unusual for a short flight to cross between two “areas” for area forecasts-which means a pilot gets forecasts for over a dozen states, despite only crossing two. The NextGen Brief gets rid of the “noise,” and only shows the states crossed by the briefing corridor. There is also a “plain test” box to translate the forecasts. There is not a summary box for Area Forecasts due to the density of the underlying material.

In addition, L-M went to the National Weather Service to get a definition for what it meant by “coastal waters” in forecasts. L-M then created polygons for those areas so that it could present relevant information on “coastal waters” for flights that will be affected.


Often 50 percent or more of a briefing printout consists of NOTAMs, many of which are just not important for a flight, such as 300-foot obstructions in the middle of a flight that will be at 10,000 feet AGL. NextGen Briefings allow the pilot to filter NOTAMs to present what is important to a particular flight. It’s also possible to search within the section for NOTAMs of interest, such as for an alternate airport.

Delta Briefing

In talking with Mike Glasgow about the Lockheed-Martin briefing capabilities, he also discussed a pretty common scenario-a pilot is departing at noon and gets a briefing (electronic or over the phone) at 8:45 am. About 11:30 am, the pilot wants to get an update and signs into the website. The system remembers that the pilot has had a briefing and presents a “delta” tab that provides everything that is new or has changed since the briefing.

A pilot can also schedule email briefing(s) from the flight planning page and have a desired briefing sent via email at a desired time-an ideal way to get a delta briefing just before departure.

Online Pilot History

Lockheed-Martin briefings are “legal” for FAA purposes and are recorded. Should a plot need to prove he or she got a briefing-and what it included-it can be done through the pilot history. The record includes whether the briefing was via the website, over the phone or through a vendor, such as ForeFlight (if the pilot as a customer of the vendor allows the vendor to disclose the information to L-M).

Easy Activate-Easy Close

L-M recognizes that a lot of pilots do not file VFR flight plans-and thinks that they are passing up a safety product. Their research indicated that pilots don’t do it, in part, because it’s either not easy to activate them or they’re afraid they’ll forget to close them. To cope with that, L-M has created a mechanism that allows activating and closing flightplans on the website. For activation, the pilot can use an “assumed departure” to have the flight plan activated at some fixed period of time in the future. L-M also works with ForeFlight to allow activation and closing via the app. Finally, there is a mechanism to activate and close via email-just by clinking a link before takeoff or after landing.

For satellite link users, L-M is putting together a method to open and close flight plans via those services.

My experience is that Lockheed-Martin is doing a good job of coming up with user-friendly ways for pilots to get complete, accurate and legal briefings. I like the color-coded graphics, particularly for the TAFs, and how being early or late en route will mean better or worse weather. I understand that one of the next products we’ll be seeing is a graphic that helps a pilot decide when to depart on a flight in order to have the best weather at all points along it. I’m looking forward to what comes next from the fertile minds at Lockheed-Martin to help pilots-and, it’s all free.

Rick Durden is the Feature/News editor of AVweb. He holds an ATP with tpye ratings for the Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citaiton 500 series and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vol. I.