Spidertracks in the Outback: Using Real-time Tracking to Navigate the Outback Air Race
One of the most compelling aspects of general aviation is being able to explore areas of our world that most people never get to see and to do that in a unique way and with an aerial point-of-view. Combine that with an adventure race designed to raise money for a worthy cause, and you’ve got an event we can get behind — which is why Spidertracks decided to sponsor Stephen Limkin and Shannon Samarasekera, otherwise known as the Outback Aviators, as they participated in Australia’s Outback Air Race earlier this year.
Held every three years (with 2018’s event having run from August 19 to 31) with the goal of fundraising for the Royal Flying Doctors, the Outback Air Race is a GPS time-trial across Australia. Pilots designate the amount of time they believe it will take them to get from Archerfield to Broome, and upon completion, they earn points for accuracy.
Stephen and Shannon’s participation in the race arose from the duo’s desire to, as they put it, ‘do something significant.’ After earning both his sport pilot and GA recreational licences to overcome his fear of turbulence, documentary filmmaker Stephen created a series focused on learning to fly called ‘Taking Flight,’ which has since led him to aviation opportunities including flying around the United States and, most recently, connecting with the Outback Air Race’s organisers and entering the event with Shannon, a charter pilot and flight instructor.
‘What really drew me to the race was how much of an adventure I knew it’d be,’ Stephen says. ‘That, and of course supporting a great cause in the Royal Flying Doctors.’
Once Stephen and Shannon decided to take to the skies in support of the cause, they set about securing an aircraft (ending up with a Sling2) and seeking sponsors for their journey. Spidertracks was the first to climb aboard, and seven others followed after that.
After sponsorship came planning.
‘We sat in my office and worked out a rough plan using AVPlan, taking into account fuel and rest stops,’ Stephen notes. ‘But this is where Spidertracks really came in. EFBs are great as map replacements, but you need reliable communications technology when you don’t have internet access.’
For Stephen and Shannon, the reliability of Spidertracks played a pivotal role in keeping them safe and connected throughout their trip. Our patented Global Cross-Channel Communication (GC3) technology (which provides operators and pilots with constant, comprehensive communication capabilities no matter where they are on the planet) turned potentially serious problems — that aforementioned lack of GSM coverage and flying through Australia’s remote terrain without any communication infrastructure — into non-issues, allowing the Outback Aviators to maintain a link between themselves and their ground support team for the entire duration of the race.
‘Having Spidertracks meant that via our website, our ground support team in Brisbane could see exactly where we were at all times and reach out to us when we altered track to make sure everything was okay,’ Stephen says.
This came in particularly handy when the pilots needed to make on-the-fly adjustments for weather and other factors. Using Spidertracks’s real-time tracking software, their team knew exactly where they were at all times — and Stephen and Shannon were able to easily relay any changes by taking advantage of Spidertracks’s SMS communication feature.
‘You don’t realise how important communication is until a situation arises where you urgently need it,’ Stephen tells us. ‘Being able to send an SMS to our team via Spidertracks was so valuable when we didn’t have access to telecommunications due to the remoteness of the terrain.’
As an example, Stephen cites an incident during the race in which he and Shannon nearly punctured a tyre on a spike sitting on the bush strip. ‘Fortunately we caught it in time,’ he says. ‘But if we hadn’t, it would’ve meant walking a long distance for help. Being able to send a Spidertxt to our team in that case would’ve meant receiving the help we needed in a much shorter time.’
In addition to allowing their ground support team, followers, and fans to pinpoint their location at any given time and offering the pilots the capability to easily text their crew for any reason, Spidertracks also provided Stephen and Shannon with the priceless service of peace of mind — meaning they could buckle down and focus on doing their absolute best in the race rather than worrying about tracking and communication logistics.
As for how the race actually turned out: Stephen and Shannon completed their journey in 12 days and the trip home in five days, and Stephen says the biggest takeaway for him was realising that he has what it takes. ‘That was the question I asked myself before the race. Completing the trip has made me realise that we’re capable of incredible feats when we put our minds to it, and that it’s only our fear and apathy that holds us back.’
As for his final thoughts on Spidertracks?
‘The Spider is one of the most amazing pieces of tech available for pilots. I recommend it to everyone.’
If you want to understand more about how flight tracking can help with your aviation endeavours, download our eBook.