This article appeared in the July/August 1982 issue of Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers. Also included below is a sidebar about weather reports on CIS, plus an ad for the Panasonic Link, one of the earliest hand-held computers.
Some people said that “If God wanted man to fly, he would have given him wings.” The Wright Brothers proved that wrong. But the aviation pioneers probably never imagined what would happen to flying as they knew it. If they came back to life today, they would find that planning their trip would take quite a different form.
Gone are the days when a pilot planning a trip has to call the nearest FAA Flight Service Station for a weather report. Gone too is the need to plot his route, often on more than one map. Now CompuServe has made his life simpler by offering EMI Flight Planning.
EMI Flight Planning is the brainchild of EMI's vice president, Steven Fuller. Fuller used to work for Environment Measurements, Inc., a Missouri company that specializes in remote sensing of air quality parameters. While at EMI Inc., Fuller and others began to look for additional areas to apply their corporate expertise in computers and aviation.
“We had a desktop computer and I started playing around with developing a computerized flight plan. l then discovered, by exhibiting it at a trade show, that people are interested in having access to a service like this,” Fuller said. He and Dr. William Vaughan, a biophysicist, then formed a sister company with the same initials — Engineering Management Information.
EMI approached CompuServe last January to see if the company could run the program on its equipment and make it available to the broad spectrum of pilots from the light single to corporate jets. It was felt that the combination of flight planning and CompuServe's existing aviation weather data base would make an attractive package for the general aviation pilot. The product also further broadens CompuServe's extensive product line.
EMI Flight Planning is based on common forms of aircraft navigation, Fuller explained. An aircraft is flown by using a radio to pick up signals from a VORTAC station. Pilots normally fly a route that would cross over these VORTAC stations. The shortest distance between any two points on earth lie on a Great Circle. And since the pilot may not be able to find the station situated on this Great Circle, he must plan a route that allows him to cross over these stations while not creating an excessively long trip and staying in reception range of the stations.
Some pilots have gotten around this by purchasing “RNAV” (area navigation) equipment for their planes. Such equipment allows the pilot to create a synthetic VORTAC station by apparently moving an existing station to a point on the Great Circle with its internal computer. This method has the additional advantage of avoiding more heavily-traveled air routes.
CompuServe's EMI Flight Planning is designed to serve pilots regardless of whether or not they have RNAV equipment, Fuller explained. Pilots with RNAV equipment use the EMINAV flight plan.
By keying in a three- or four-character identifier (such as KLAX for L.A.) for departure and destination airports, estimated air speed and cruising altitude, the computer selects stations along the Great Circle, or shortest route. It tells which VORTAC stations to use, the distance between each station, distance remaining to the destination, estimated time between stations and total time the trip should take, based on still air.
Pilots who do not have RNAV equipment use EMIVOR flight planning. By entering much the same information into the cornputer, the route created will be an incremental approximation to the Great Circle route based on the availability of suitable VORTAC stations. It also gives the pilot the same information about distances between VORTAC stations, distance remaining to the destination, estimated time between stations and total trip time. Both programs print the magnetic courses to be flown for each segment of the trip.
The programs also provide the two most recent weather reports for the origin and destination, and the most recent forecast for the origin and destination. This information would include the winds at selected altitudes and information on severe weather as well as information on navigation facilities or equipment which may be out of service.
Since the wind information is available in the system, plans call for incorporating that information into the flight plan so that the pilot will have his ground speed and heading calculated on the basis of the wind forecast. This will allow him to select the most efficient altitude for his flight.
EMI expects in the near future to have the system accept from the pilot the radius from the destination that he would like to have searched for a weather forecast. If his forecast is marginal, he will know what areas have acceptable weather should he not be able to land at his chosen destination.
Additionally, EMI plans to have a program that allows the pilot to select the specific VORTAC stations he would like to have on his route.
Using either program constitutes a tremendous time saver for the pilot, Fuller explained. Without access to the programs, the pilot must plot out his course on a map. Often, the origin and destination may be on different maps, and map scales may be different. After plotting the route, the pilot transfers the information to a printed form much like what actually appears on the home terminal screen. He then has to call a Flight Service Station to get weather reports and find out wind velocity and direction. Finally, he has to file his flight plan with the Flight Service Station and make a reservation to fly the route at the time of day and on the day he wishes to fly.
Not only does accomplishing all this take time, but sometimes even getting through by phone to the Flight Service Station is extremely difficult due to the high volume of calls.
Although EMI Flight Planning users still have to file their flight plans and make reservations with the Flight Service Station, said Fuller, it will eventually be possible to file flight plans directly into the FAA computer.
Man still may not have wings, but flying the wings of man is getting simpler, thanks to CompuServe.
by Carol Rubin
Suppose it's summer, and you're planning to test the new sailboat on the waters of Lake Michigan. Or the new cabin cruiser in the Gulf of Mexico. Suppose it's winter, and you're waxing those new skis in preparation for a run down the slopes of Holiday Valley, New York. Suppose it's autumn and you're rooting for your favorite World Series team to win it in four straight.
One variable will dictate the outcomes of all these supposed situations. The weather. While it may still be true that “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” CIS has done something about it.
Public and Marine Weather (accessed under Home Services) lists a multitude of weather conditions of interest to travelers and sports enthusiasts and the otherwise curious. Its categories include state forecasts, extended forecasts, forecast explanation (a highly abbreviated report intended for meteorologists), probability of precipitation, and marine and sports forecasts.
By using a three-letter identifier (e.g., BOS for Boston, CMH for Columbus, O.), CIS users can learn everything they always wanted to know about weather, but didn't know who to ask.
For pilots, CIS offers Aviation Weather, a highly abbreviated guide that includes such detailed information as radar weather reports, terminal forecasts, and winds aloft forecasts. NOTAMS, or Notice to Airmen Reports, are time-critical bulletins that contain information about airways, airports, etc. that may affect flight safety and could affect a pilot's decision to make a flight.
by Patricia H. Carro
This ad for the Panasonic Link ran on the back cover of the July/August 1982 Today magazine.