Not every airport has the means to offer full-time unicom, complete with current weather observations. But that's about to change.
By Dr. Lynn Remly
Automated weather observation systems like ASOS and AWOS are cost-prohibitive to many smaller airporis Purchase and installation can typically exceed $200,000, a figure that is soon augmented by a five-digit budget for maintenance.
But those days are over. Potomac Aviation Technology has introduced Super-Unicom, a 260-pound, self-contained weather system, unicom operator and unicom transceiver in one box. SuperUnicom is a computerized, command response system combining traffic advisories with enhanced ATIS, eliminating at least one frequency change while dramatically improving the timeliness and accuracy of both. Messages are adaptable based on overall demand to the frequency as well as pilot preference.
SuperUnicom begins with an automated greeting to inbound VFR pilots: "Good evening, this is 'Anytown' Airfield Automated Unicom. Click your mic three times for advisory, four times for radio check." SuperUnicom can greet pilots individually, on demand or continually insert greetings into radio dead time between pilot communications.
Any information that follows is computer-adjusted, based on the volume of unicom traffic, but at the very least includes automated weather alerts and airfield conditions. Pilots click to receive a basic weather advisory that begins with the airport name, then continues in order of relative importance; altimeter, wind speed and direction, temperature, dew-point and density altitude. Advisories are updated every second, while regular ATIS reports can be up to one hour old. SuperUnicom relies on sophisticated computer algorithms to continually modify reports on fog, crosswinds, wind-shear, high density altitude or other custom selected criteria. When traffic and wind are unambiguous, it will even call a favored runway.
When radio traffic is heavy, the device abbreviates outgoing messages to the bare bones without omitting essentials. Depending on airport operator preference, "additional" services and reports then kick in, such as the current location of men and equipment, special parking or operations messages, or notices of closed runways or inoperative lights.
SuperUnicom is being installed at airports ranging from unattended, low-activity, park-service fields to tower-controlled, high-volume airports. Initial investment is $38,600. Installation costs-under $100 - involve tightening two built-in clamps around any windsock pole, then aiming the wind sensor north. Its weather-proof housing is 18x24x24 inches. The system can be maintained for less than $200 a year, by nearly any qualified personnel.
And SuperUnicom doesn't end with the weather. The system also provides a 24-hour echo radio check. Activated by the pilot's four clicks, the system responds, "Transmit radio check." The pilot makes a call, and SuperUnicom echoes the transmission, allowing the pilot to judge his or her own radio's quality and reception.
If your airport would benefit from current weather information and a 24-hour unicom service, contact
Potomac Aviation Tech Corp., Potomac
Airfield, 10300 Glen Way, Fort Washington, MD 20744, (301) 248-5720, fax (301) 248-3997,