With Flight Tech Engineering, the Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver takes flight and keeps airways safe

With Flight Tech Engineering, the Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver takes flight and keeps airways safe.

Aircraft departing Hailey, ID - Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
Aircraft departing Hailey, ID – Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

Alec Seybold, of Flight Tech Engineering, looks for the obstacles in life. Well, at least the ones around airports and where planes fly. The crew at Flight Tech Engineering have built a business around producing FAA-approved flight procedures. Often the development of these procedures starts on the ground. By locating and mapping hazardous obstacles surrounding airports, Flight Tech is able to produce a safe approach and departure routes for aircraft. One of the teams most used tools? The Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver by Juniper Systems.

The art of flying

Founded in 2014, Flight Tech Engineering helps airports develop FAA approved instrument flight procedures. This means that when Flight Tech is hired, they are asked to produce flight procedures that will keep airplanes, passengers, and the surrounding area safe while taking off and landing. These procedures are developed with GPS, mapping software, and are then validated in the air. The firm’s complete offerings include feasibility and impact studies, obstacle assessments, flight procedures, and general consulting.

“Our main business is the development of flight procedures that aircraft fly, similar to roadways in the sky if you will,” Seybold said. “We are focused on transitioning the airplane from its enroute environment down to the runway and departure as well. As a part of that, we have to avoid obstacles.”

Clients of Flight Tech include public airports looking to improve access, private airports establishing new procedures, engineering firms, airlines, and aircraft operators.

Boots on the ground

One of the jobs that Seybold is responsible for is performing obstacle assessments while the team is developing flight procedures. The question that the team must ask is, what obstacles are on the ground that will affect approach and departure from this airport?

“Oftentimes we are going into airports that have never had an obstacle assessment performed,” Seybold said. “Or they are just outdated and areas around the airports have developed since it was last performed.”

Seybold turns to the Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver by Juniper Systems for precise location tracking and mapping of these obstacles. Equipped with the Geode, an Archer 2 field computer (also by Juniper Systems), and an LTI TP 360R laser rangefinder, Seybold begins mapping and surveying obstacle locations and heights around the airport. Seybold has his gear rigged up on a survey tripod. When gathering height information of obstacles, the Geode acts as the base station and the Archer 2 records the data gathered by the laser and the Geode.

Alec Seybold with his Geode, Archer 2, and Laser rangefinder
- Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
Alec Seybold with his Geode, Archer 2, and Laser rangefinder
– Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

Obstacles that are being mapped include radio and cell towers, trees, buildings, powerlines, roads (possible traffic), and temporary structures such as cranes, ships, and vehicles.

“I preload maps onto my Archer 2 when I am headed out,” Seybold said. “I’m using Esri ArcPad in the field to collect data and navigate the area. I then take our collected data back to the office and use additional software such as Global Mapper and QGIS. I then apply GPS corrections to make sure our measurements are precise. This additional software allows me to accurately map heights of obstacles and locations.”

When Seybold began looking for a GPS receiver he turned to Brian Mickel of Loggerhead Navigation, a partner of Juniper Systems, and laid out some of the capabilities that he was looking for. Mickel pointed him in the direction of the Geode.

Surveying trees near the runway in Telluride, CO - Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
Surveying trees near the runway in Telluride, CO – Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

“It was important that we found a full GNSS GPS receiver,” Seybold said. “Though we primarily work here in the US, it was important to have as much satellite connectivity as possible. I also needed a receiver that would integrate well with the laser in gathering not only obstacle location but height as well. The Geode does that for us. It’s feature set was exactly what we were looking for.”

The accuracy of the procedures Flight Tech is developing affects take-off and landing weight limits for aircraft, passenger totals, and plane sizes. With accurate obstacle data and procedure in place, an aircraft at any airport can maximize its payload by knowing it can safely clear obstacles in its direct flight path. This all starts with a high-quality survey of what’s near the airport.   

Taking to the skies

Once a flight procedure is created and loaded into the aircraft’s onboard GPS, Flight Tech must then validate it, per the FAA. Seybold and the Flight Tech team take to the skies to make sure that the recommended flight path and procedure they have designed works the way that it was meant to.

“The FAA requires us to perform a flight validation,” Seybold said. “This is to make sure we didn’t miss anything in our ground assessment and to verify the accuracy of the GPS coding. The Geode also plays a role in this phase of the process. We use the Geode sitting in the cockpit window to track our flight path. We leave the flight crew alone and let them fly our new procedure. This allows us to monitor the procedure in real-time and then post-process the data for verification by the FAA.”

The Flight Tech team takes to the skies for flight validation - 
Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
The Flight Tech team takes to the skies for flight validation –
Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

For the flight validation, Flight Tech identifies a lead carrier to perform the test. This carrier provides the aircraft for testing. Two pilots and two Flight Tech employees go up to validate. Seybold remains in the cabin of the aircraft and monitors the airborne obstacle assessment. The other Flight Tech employee is an FAA certified flight evaluator, they are in the cockpit and make sure that the procedure is being flown correctly. Seybold is also monitoring a laptop running software called TARGETS that overlays the GPS position sent from the Geode on top of the developed flight path to make sure they line up.

Flight validation aircraft on the ramp in Telluride, CO  
- Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
Flight validation aircraft on the ramp in Telluride, CO
– Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

The first location that Flight Tech used the Geode was in Telluride, Colorado. It is the highest elevation commercial airport in the USA at over 9,000 feet and is surrounded by peaks that are 13,000 feet or taller. During inclement weather, the airport’s old procedures wouldn’t allow aircraft to get low enough to the ground to make visual contact with the runway and land. As part of the procedure development and validation process utilizing the Geode, the Flight Tech team was able to implement new procedures that allow more planes to access a clear path to land in Telluride during all weather conditions.

Safe and sound

Once a new flight procedure is validated it is sent to the FAA to be integrated into the larger database of flight paths and airspace that connect airports both big and small. Both the end-user and the FAA are the recipients of the data produced during the procedure development. The airport is given peace of mind that they have an up-to-date flight procedure that allows the airport to function at its highest capacity and meet all safety requirements.

Flight procedure validation at Telluride airport - Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering
Flight procedure validation at Telluride airport – Courtesy of Flight Tech Engineering

Learn more about Flight Tech Engineering on their website: www.flight-tech.aero

Learn more about Loggerhead Navigation: https://lhnav.net/

Additional Reading:

  • You can learn more about the Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver here
  • Read more about how easy the Geode Sub-meter GPS Receiver is to use with Android with Juniper Systems complete solution
  • 13 GIS data collection apps you should try
  • Archer 2 and 3 Rugged Field Computers

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