Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

The GPS Of The Future

Hamburg, Germany

The weather didn't look too bad this morning in Gromitz, even though the forecast from yesterday called for unflyable conditions. So we kept our options open, planning to drive back south to Lubeck and check on our planes, and if the weather still looked good we would take to the air.

Today was my turn to drive our rental Beemer Z-3, and I had the opportunity to get it up to speed on the Autobahn. A fine piece of machinery it is, but underpowered, and way too much wind noise with the top up. Other than that it's hard to find fault with it. It's red, the top goes down, it's reliable and kinda good looking in a Teutonic sort of way. What's not to like!

The weather in Hamburg was as forecast. The kind of really low ceiling that turns the day dark. It rained on and off the entire day, and we really didn't get a chance to do much walking around except for a short tour of the high-rent district stores. It was a perfect afternoon for a nap.

We found our way around yesterday and today with the help of Mattias' brand new handheld Garmin 195 GPS, the same one he uses in his plane. It's an incredible piece of equipment. The most amazing thing about it is that its moving map shows, in amazing detail, all of the land features such as rivers and lakes and cities as well as main highways and railroads. It cost about one fifth of what I paid 4 years ago for my then state-of-the-art panel mounted GPS/Moving Map system which shows no topographical features at all.

Technology is really moving fast in this area. While dozing off for my nap, I fantasized about what the GPS of the future would do for aviators. Of course it will have voice output capabilities, just like the GPS in our rental Mercedes from a couple of weeks ago, so it will be able to give you hints as you are flying along allowing you to keep your eyes outside the cockpit where they belong. Here's a sample conversation with the GPS of the future:

"Hello, (pilot name), sorry to interrupt your concentration on the scenery, but we are (user-selectable) miles out from (the destination you have chosen), and you should throttle back now to achieve a decent rate of XXX feet per minute to arrive at pattern altitude before turning downwind. I can load your radios with ATIS and Tower frequencies if you like. (Click the joystick button once for Yes, twice for No)."

"According to my information the wind speed is XX knots from XXX degrees (calculated from the airspeed and heading of the plane) so the runway in use should be XX, please click once to OK this selection.

"Thank you, (pilot name). Please notice the displaced threshold on this runway.

On final approach, the GPS could take the pilot through his own checklist for gear down (in a biplane?), mixture setting, etc. Even this:

"I'm picking up some gusting crosswind conditions, (pilot name), so you might want to add XX knots airspeed to compensate."

"Stick back, ooops too much, lower the nose a bit, nice job, now some more stick back, you're a bit slow here, give it some throttle, trim, ok fine, just let it settle down, keep that wing down into the wind and keep it straight with (left/right) rudder. Touchdown! I rate that landing X (on a scale of 0 to 10), and your average is X, so you are doing a bit (better/worse) than usual. Shall I add this rating to your log when I update your logbook?"

"You have never been to this airport before, so I would suggest that you refuel at (FBO name) which has the brand of fuel you prefer and takes your credit cards. The X-star (user selectable) hotel closest to the airport is (hotel name), shall I make a reservation? I arranged for your rental car while you were busy on downwind, and it is waiting for you.

"Very nice job, (pilot name). It has been a real pleasure flying with you today. Be sure to unplug me and take me with you so I can guide you to your hotel."

Later, in the rental car:

"Hello again, (pilot name), good to be with you again. Thanks for plugging me in to this 2001 Ferrari F50, it's one of my favorite cars. This one has a tendency to pull left under heavy braking (information taken from the on-board computer in the car) but otherwise everything else is working fine. Turn right out of the parking lot and then left at the stop sign. Would you like to stop and pick up some flowers for (girlfriend name, depending upon current city)?

.... and then I woke up!

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