I’ve been to quite a few seminars on the FAA’s mandate to add ADS-B to cockpits by the start of 2020. Some of them have even been worth going to.

I’ve also been in what is now probably hundreds of conversations with pilots and aircraft owners. There is much grumbling about this requirement that’s been coming down the pike for years.

But let’s talk about some practical applications for planes in flight.

My son Caleb and I flew a 6 hour round trip for business last week to the Washington DC area. It’s quite a bit more busy airspace than our home airport in Asheville NC.

Good pilots use all of the available tools applicable to any situation. Our club aircraft all have ADS-B in and out to the panel, and I fly with an iPad and home built Stratux as my secondary system.

Since Foreflight makes it so easy, I even filed and opened a flight plan which makes picking up flight following even easier because they already have most of what they need.

On the way North there isn’t much in the way of air traffic for the first 90 minutes or so. Even radar coverage is spotty in a couple places. And after some time of no action and smooth air, I’ll admit that my visual scans were not exactly studious.

“TRAFFIC, 12 o’clock 6 miles, same altitude” jolted me over my headset. The Garmin in the 172’s panel and my yoke mounted Foreflight both warned me within a second of each other. We zoomed in on the ADS-B target screen and started scanning in that direction.

10 seconds later, the controller warned the other aircraft and then warned us. By now we were now 4 miles apart.

Both aircraft had ADS-B in and out and we both responded with “I see him on the TIS-B, but don’t have visual.” We both checked our altimeters and confirmed that we were actually 500 feet vertically separated (he was IFR).

He was a Cessna 310 and we had a 25-knot tailwind in our 172. Our rate of closure was more than 300 knots.

I saw him about a mile out and below us and called it out over the radio.

If either one of us had drifted off altitude we would have collided.  At that rate of closure, we had a hard time seeing each other even when we knew exactly where to look.

That’ll wake you up.

A 3 hour flight through sparse country and there was a very good chance of occupying the same couple hundred cubic feet of airspace at high speed.

“Wow, it’s good we had that traffic screen,” Caleb and I said to each other. The rest of the flight was uneventful.

Two days later we preflighted to go home. We departed 90 seconds behind another 172 from an untowered field. Our on course heading and time of day meant that we were going to spend the entire afternoon flight looking directly at the sun.

I hadn’t taken into account that our 172 has a new 180 HP engine and we were on almost the same heading as the other 172 we followed. In the busy airspace, I was waiting for a break in the radio traffic to pick up flight following. We didn’t have a controller watching us for separation yet.

In 5 minutes we were catching them, but without ADS-B I would not have known it.  The glare of the sun made any scanning for traffic in front of us impossible.

This one was easy to fix, I leveled off while he continued to climb and we passed him with a couple miles between us.

Again we were within a mile of another aircraft we couldn’t see.

While I share some of the grumblings about the cost, delays, and complexity of upgrading a couple hundred thousand GA aircraft to the new technology, it’s hard to argue against its value in increasing safety and situational awareness.

I’m always happy for more tools, even if it means I’ve got to buy a bigger and more expensive toolbox.