ADS-B For General Aviation Pilots

by HPA · May 26, 2015

As news report after report discusses declines in the commercial aviation market, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the airspace over the United States is only forecasted to grow more congested. Economic conditions, long the bearer of the burden of the majority of the blame, will eventually improve and more of the public will return to the skies. This will mean more planes carrying more people to more destinations; a situation that will tax an already highly-burdened air traffic control system.

General aviation will also continue to grow. Current forecasts show the number of general aviation aircraft in the skies will increase by just under 1% per year.

While that may not seem like dramatic growth, one needs only to look up throughout most of the country to see just how many planes are in the sky at any given time. Live air traffic sites like also illustrate that the airways above your house and the highways outside of your town are starting to share more and more characteristics – including the occasional backup.

Since the day we figured out that we needed a way to know where planes were in the sky, we’ve used radar to bounce radio signals off of them, wait for those signals to return, and use that information to plot their positions relative to other aircraft.


It has suited us well. Since its first demonstrated use in the late 1930’s as a tool for British air defense, radar has taken responsibility for virtually every aspect of military and civilian airspace control.

However, radar has always had limitations. Factors such as distance from the station, weather, geographic formations, and other obstacles can have dramatic impacts on radar’s accuracy. It is limitations like these which necessitate very strict standards for aircraft separation; not to mention the various procedures that must be followed when flying in airspace where radar coverage is simply not possible.

The Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen, has been developed as the answer to these problems, and more. And ADS-B plays a critical role in that vision.


Changing “Where Are You?” to “Here I Am” – What is ADS-B?

ADS-B, or automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast, takes most of the responsibility for reporting an aircraft’s position away from radar and gives it to the aircraft itself. Using information obtained from the constellation of Global Navigation Satellite System satellites (most simply know this as GPS), the aircraft continuously broadcasts its location, as well as other selected parameters such as speed, heading, altitude, and flight number, to receivers located both on the ground and in the skies.

Once installed, the system requires no pilot interaction. It is always on, whether you’re on the ground or in the air, and it never stops sending vital information while the aircraft is powered on.

Impacts to General Aviation

The impact of the ADS-B rollout to general aviation is, as you can imagine, enormous. Much like the glass cockpit changed the pilot’s relationship with his or her instruments, ADS-B will change their relationship with situational awareness, safety, and the routes they may be accustomed to flying.

While ADS-B “Out” capabilities are mandated to be operational on all aircraft by 2020, optional ADS-B “In” systems will give pilots a view of the skies around them usually reserved for radar operators. These systems will receive ADS-B broadcasts from ADS-B “Out” equipped aircraft and display those aircraft, and all associated information, on screens in cockpits in everything from single-engine Cessnas to Gulfstream jets. For the first time in history, a general aviation pilot can, at the touch of a screen, obtain a complete picture of everything going on in his or her area and then act accordingly.

There are many other facets to this exciting new technology and we are going to take a much more in-depth look at them here on the blog. Be sure to check back for posts on topics like the impacts of ADS-B on ground operations, environmental and fuel impacts, safety and communication, and aircraft separation rules.

But, for now, you should at least start getting ready for ADS-B if you haven’t already. 2020 is just around the corner.

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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