The first of what I hope will be many in-flight product reviews on As The Croft Flies...
Garmin Pilot MyCast - The weather world in your hand...
Having access to a world of real-time weather and flight planning data on my cell phone, courtesy of Garmin's Pilot MyCast application, makes me feel as though I've been flying "blind" for the past 31 years.
I began primary flight training in the summer of 1978, and between then and now, I have launched on a thousand flights without -- I realize now - pretty much ever having a truly comprehensive, one-stop shop, big picture view of the environmental conditions into which I was departing.
The change agent was my introduction in August to Garmin's Pilot MyCast application. Though it's available on a variety of handheld devices, I started with a Blackberry Curve that Garmin graciously allowed me to try out for a few months.
The offer couldn't have come at a better time as late summers in Maryland, where I own a 1/3 share in a Piper Archer II (N43756), are all about thunderstorms and the effects of tropical storms that sometimes evolve into hurricanes.
Along with flight plan filing services and an access to an on-line AOPA airports directory, complete with airport diagrams, Pilot MyCast gives you access to a great deal of very valuable weather data, including NEXRAD, visible and infrared satellite views, prognostic charts, lightning strike data, Sigmets, Airmets, pilot reports and local airport conditions.
I realize all of these products have been available on-line in various forms as of the past few years, but the fact that the computer stayed home while I went to the airport meant that it just wasn't convenient, so I didn't bother.
Having Pilot MyCast on the BlackBerry loaned to me by Garmin, made the proverbial light bulb go off in my head in terms of a never-before-imagined form of situational awareness with respect to the weather.
Garmin acquired Digital Cyclone, developers of Pilot My-Cast, in April 2007. The company had launched its first software application in late 2002. Garmin quickly moved to upgrade the service, adding (in chronological order):
• Flight plan filing through DTC or CSC DUATs - April 2007
• Graphical winds aloft, PIREPS, and area forecasts - July 2007
• NOTAMS and support for Blackberry devices - July 2008
• AOPA's Airport Directory and Canadian weather - April 2009
• Airport diagrams, STARs, SIDs, and airways - July 2009
• Announced iPhone and iPod Touch capability by Q4 2009 - July 2009
An immediate benefit played out on an evening in early September when my partner Reid and I went out to do some pattern work at Annapolis Lee Airport (KANP), where our Archer is based.
A visual look west, the direction from which most of our summertime convective weather arrives, showed the normal hazy foreboding we see most afternoon and early evenings. However, bringing up Pilot MyCast, then selecting Wx Briefing, then Radar, brought up the animated NEXRAD sequences that showed that a nasty looking cell, painted in red, was approaching from the west.
Like the satellite images, NEXRAD can be zoomed in or zoomed out and put into animation mode, which was very helpful in revealing that some good clear weather was behind the large cell, which at this point was dropping torrents onto our hangar. I then called Flight Service to get a second opinion about the clear area behind the cell, which the briefer did.
Pilot-MyCast also has a flight planning mode that provides trip times with no wind and plots the course on geographical weather charts, which is very useful for viewing both real-time weather and prognostic charts. With the AOPA airports directory included, you can also get a look at the airports you'll be visiting in advance, both from a data and pictorial runway layout standpoint.
Here is a video Garmin has made to show how portions of MyCast works. You can also download a user's manual from the Garmin website.
As for cost, I paid $10 to download the program to my LG Shine phone through my cellular provider, AT&T. Beware that you'll pay a good bit for bits if you don't have a comprehensive data plan - I was paying $2 per megabyte and had racked up $20 in charges over a one-month billing cycle, in part due to a mysterious once-a-day data transfer that I've yet to figure out. Garmin says MyCast only updates its files real-time when the service is used.
Regardless, I have since switched to an unlimited data plan for $15 a month, which allows me to use Pilot MyCast as much as I like, which is very often.
Rating: On a scale from 1-10, I give Pilot MyCast a 10.