Staying Connected in Remote Alaska

Nicola Tims
January 16, 2020

The Alaskan terrain boasts majestic mountains, glaciers, active volcanoes, and forested land stretching across 570,380 square miles (1,477,300 km2). It also sees some of the planet's most varied extremes of cold, heat, rain, snow and windy weather conditions.

After a 38 year career with the Alaska State Geological Survey, Rod Combellick knows the landscape like the back of his hand. He’s also a private pilot who formally flew search missions with the Alaska Wing Civil Air Patrol for almost 15 years, so it’s fair to say he’s also pretty experienced in facing the Alaskan weather extremities head-on. 


During his time with the Civil Air Patrol, Rod spent many difficult hours searching for downed aircraft using radio direction finders for ELT signals, and would often return unsuccessful due to unpredictable weather conditions, mountainous landscapes, remote locations, a lack of service coverage, or failure of the downed aircraft's ELT. These experiences saw him equip his own 1973 Cessna Cardinal with a Spider unit, so that he could not only facilitate his own search and rescue mission if he was the unfortunate one needing help, but also provide frequent updates to his family members with information on his whereabouts. He knows how important and helpful accurate data can be, which is why he chose to go with Spidertracks.

“When I purchased my Spider (in 2013), it was the only available GPS tracking device that provided location fixes at one or two-minute intervals, compared to 10-minute intervals provided by others.”

Whether Rod is flying around active volcanoes, navigating through icy mountain peaks, over thickly forested coastal areas or tundra, he knows he is always connected. The Iridium® satellite network has 66 operational space vehicles and nine on-orbit spares in their constellation (constantly moving at 17,000mph!), providing comprehensive coverage around the world. Rod says the network is critical to its reliability in Alaska. 

“As far as I know, the Spider continues to be the only tracking device that includes a ‘Watch’ mode that will automatically activate an SOS alert if there’s no communication with the Iridium satellite network for 15 minutes.” 


Rod has utilised this to help expose areas in the region where there is limited service coverage for radio and ADS-B signals. He’s worked with the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) Alaska’s regional manager, Tom George, in determining geographic limits of VHF aviation radio services, and ADS-B ground-station coverage in Alaska, by recording the times of observations during flight, and determining locations and altitudes by identifying the corresponding Spidertracks fixes.

The result? 

They have been able to successfully advocate for additional remote radio stations and improved placement of antennas in Alaska, and demonstrate to the FAA the limited coverage of the ADS-B ground station network in the state.

Our mission is to continue making the aviation community a safer place to live and operate in. To see how Spidertracks keeps pilots like Rod safe, schedule a free demo with us today.

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