SPOT vs PLB

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turkeycannon
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SPOT vs PLB

Post by turkeycannon »

So the thread on survival equipment got me wondering.

In an emergency situation, what is better... a SPOT or a "normal" PLB? Does anybody here who's technically informed know that one is better/more reliable than the other? I have a fear at the back of my mind that SPOT, being commercially driven, is going to send me a gigantic bill if I ever press the button and they send out the cavalry. I don't think the government/mil SAR brought about by a PLB activation would do that, but I'm guessing.

Maybe the PLB's lifetime battery is a lower risk than the "whoops, I don't have any spare AA's" situation you could get into with the SPOT.

Any thoughts?
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7ECA
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by 7ECA »

I'd also like to see a comparison of the many different options out there for PLBs, be it a Spot, Delorme Inreach, ACR, McMurdo, RescueMe, etc.
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ScottS
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by ScottS »

turkeycannon wrote:So the thread on survival equipment got me wondering.

In an emergency situation, what is better... a SPOT or a "normal" PLB? Does anybody here who's technically informed know that one is better/more reliable than the other? I have a fear at the back of my mind that SPOT, being commercially driven, is going to send me a gigantic bill if I ever press the button and they send out the cavalry. I don't think the government/mil SAR brought about by a PLB activation would do that, but I'm guessing.

Maybe the PLB's lifetime battery is a lower risk than the "whoops, I don't have any spare AA's" situation you could get into with the SPOT.

Any thoughts?
As far as I know, in Canada you are not any more likely to get a bill through SPOT than a PLB. All the commercial services at SPOT do when they receive an SOS signal is contact the authorities responsible (hopefully JRCC). They talk about big bills in the service agreements because in Europe and possibly the US, rescue services are recoverable.

I personally think a properly registered PLB with a built in GPS may bring help faster because the signal goes straight to JRCC rather than through a commercial dispatch. One less step for someone to bugger up.
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I_Drive_Planes
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by I_Drive_Planes »

I've been doing ground search and rescue for nearly 14 years and I did CASARA for 8 years and I carry a SPOT.

The largest and most important difference between SPOT and a PLB is that SPOT will track you. The URL for my SPOT tracking page is on my aircraft master with flight services so even if something happens that I am not able to activate the SPOT they will still have a relative location within 5 minutes before my accident (in an aircraft I think it's worthwhile to pay the extra 50 bucks a year to have it track every 5 minutes rather than every 10 minutes because of the distance covered). A PLB requires manual activation and therefore shares the great disadvantage of an ELT in that it could be destroyed in a crash. Another nice thing about SPOT is that you can change your profile depending on what you are doing. I have an aircraft profile with a description of my aircraft and survival gear and specific instructions to call JRCC rather than the RCMP. I also have an outdoors profile that has a description of my vehicle and other pertinent information for when I'm playing outside.
7ECA wrote:I'd also like to see a comparison of the many different options out there for PLBs, be it a Spot, Delorme Inreach, ACR, McMurdo, RescueMe, etc.
As far as comparison you can lump all of the PLBs together, there's not enough differences to be worth writing about. They all work the same, turn them on and help arrives. From a SAR specific perspective there is no difference between InReach and SPOT. The big difference with InReach is the ability to do 2 way text messages. I have a friend who uses an InReach for his work as a Park Ranger and really likes it (except the fact that the office can contact him anywhere). For me the SPOT is for rescue (and to a lesser extent sharing my adventures on social media) so the added cost of the InReach unit and service aren't worthwhile.
turkeycannon wrote: I have a fear at the back of my mind that SPOT, being commercially driven, is going to send me a gigantic bill if I ever press the button and they send out the cavalry. I don't think the government/mil SAR brought about by a PLB activation would do that, but I'm guessing.
Let me blow this out of the water right now (please plug your ears): YOU WILL NOT BE CHARGED FOR SAR SERVICES ANYWHERE IN CANADA!!!!!!!!!!!! A SPOT SOS call goes to the GEOS command centre in Texas (the same command centre handles DeLorme InReach SOS calls as well) who contacts the appropriate authorities (typically the RCMP, local policing agency, or JRCC) who arrange rescue either by military, police, or civilian SAR agencies depending where and how you are lost.
ScottS wrote: I personally think a properly registered PLB with a built in GPS may bring help faster because the signal goes straight to JRCC rather than through a commercial dispatch. One less step for someone to bugger up.
In my experience dealing with SPOT and PLB calls any difference in response time it is not meaningful. I do, however, think it's important on a SPOT to ensure that you have aircraft specific instructions on your profile (call JRCC not RCMP etc.)
turkeycannon wrote: Maybe the PLB's lifetime battery is a lower risk than the "whoops, I don't have any spare AA's" situation you could get into with the SPOT.
You do have to keep batteries in your SPOT, but the battery life on the latest generation is very good. I got mine for Christmas last year, it has over 100 hours of flying on it, plus a couple outdoor adventures and the batteries are still showing their status as "good". My understanding is that you do get a fair bit of warning when they start to go too. I do keep an extra set in my flight bag at all times though.
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turkeycannon
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by turkeycannon »

Holy crap I_Drive_Planes, this is exactly what I was looking for! And from somebody that clearly knows what they are talking about, as well.
YOU WILL NOT BE CHARGED FOR SAR SERVICES ANYWHERE IN CANADA!!!!!!!!!!!!
That's really, really useful to know and have spelled out in big fat caps :D I feel like it should be made that obvious on the SPOT website, but I suppose they probably make a bit of dough from people buying the rescue insurance anyway.
In my experience dealing with SPOT and PLB calls any difference in response time it is not meaningful.
This is the other bit I found crucially interesting, and was the crux of what my question was about.

I have a SPOT and had been wondering whether to get a PLB as well. Now I know it's not really necessary; in conjunction with the aircraft ELT I have good coverage. Thanks again!
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by AirFrame »

I_Drive_Planes wrote:You do have to keep batteries in your SPOT, but the battery life on the latest generation is very good. I got mine for Christmas last year, it has over 100 hours of flying on it, plus a couple outdoor adventures and the batteries are still showing their status as "good". My understanding is that you do get a fair bit of warning when they start to go too. I do keep an extra set in my flight bag at all times though.
FYI - My Gen3 SPOT is plugged into ship's power with a micro-USB cable. It powers up and down with the aircraft, and goes into tracking mode automatically. I don't have to think about it, and it doesn't use the internal batteries as long as USB power is available (but you do need to have a set of batteries in the unit... Probably to power the power-up circuit).
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by Canoehead »

I have SPOT for my other life, canoe tripping.

Its a tool we use every night to send a pre-programmed message to those on our list (the "responsible persons") that we are "ok, and living the dream here in paradise" and it gives our coordinates that pinpoints us on Google Maps (we don't have the live tracking model). We can also send "we're gonna be delayed by a day due to Wx" and "we are ok, but need help... a bear ate the canoe" messages... along with the separate "SOS" button.

It's a great tool that might have multiple applications for you compared to a PLB.
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7ECA
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by 7ECA »

It would seem then, that there are really two different ways to go for PLBs.

You either get a Spot or Delorme (which do the whole meal deal of tracking, sending messages, etc), or one of the other PLBs which only fire off a signal when you activate them in an emergency, like an ELT.

Looking then at the Spot vs. Delorme, which is a better value, which has better plans? Seeing as how I don't own any sort of PLB, nor have I really done a lot of research, it would be interesting to hear some opinions (I have used a Spot in a flight school aircraft, and while fairly simple to operate, it can be easy to forget to use them entirely, which is the downfall of all of these devices).
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I_Drive_Planes
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by I_Drive_Planes »

7ECA wrote:It would seem then, that there are really two different ways to go for PLBs.

You either get a Spot or Delorme (which do the whole meal deal of tracking, sending messages, etc), or one of the other PLBs which only fire off a signal when you activate them in an emergency, like an ELT.

Looking then at the Spot vs. Delorme, which is a better value, which has better plans? Seeing as how I don't own any sort of PLB, nor have I really done a lot of research, it would be interesting to hear some opinions (I have used a Spot in a flight school aircraft, and while fairly simple to operate, it can be easy to forget to use them entirely, which is the downfall of all of these devices).
It really depends what you want to use the device for. The real advantage of the DeLorme is that you can do two way text messaging and create custom messages on the fly. The penalty for that is significantly higher hardware and monthly cost. For me the added functionality of the DeLorme isn't something that I think I'd get a whole lot of use out of so I opted for the SPOT, but I know people who have the DeLorme and like it very much.

Forgetting to turn the thing on is definitely an issue. I've made it a checklist item, but I really like AirFrame's idea of plugging it in to the ship's power. I'm going to look in to how I can work that out on my airplane.
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ScottS
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by ScottS »

I_Drive_Planes wrote:
In my experience dealing with SPOT and PLB calls any difference in response time it is not meaningful. I do, however, think it's important on a SPOT to ensure that you have aircraft specific instructions on your profile (call JRCC not RCMP etc.)
This I would very much agree with. From my experience with marine rescue, calls that go through the RCMP can go south very quickly as the members don't necessarily know to call JRCC and if they do, the info is now third hand and details get lost by the time it gets to the rescuers dispatched.

There was one serious boating accident in an Atlantic yacht race (last year?) where the effectiveness of the GEOS centre seemed to be questionable but I don't think it would have helped the outcome. I can't recall the exact details, but upon receiving the SOS signal only for a few moments, the centre spent a bunch of time calling contacts to ensure it wasn't a false alarm before calling authorities as the signal was only received a couple of times. The boat had sank quickly so the signal was lost. I am trying to find the reference to the accident but I know it was discussed at length over on sailing anarchy.

Oh and another tip when using the SPOT tracking device, leave it on for a bit after landing if you have someone watching your progress. Because such long distances are covered in 5 minutes, if it doesn't get another check-in after you landed, it can look like you never made it resulting in some desperate phone calls.
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turkeycannon
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by turkeycannon »

Oh and another tip when using the SPOT tracking device, leave it on for a bit after landing if you have someone watching your progress. Because such long distances are covered in 5 minutes, if it doesn't get another check-in after you landed, it can look like you never made it resulting in some desperate phone calls.
I have my "custom action" button programmed to say "turkeycannon has started or ended his journey", so they know explicitly that I have departed or arrived, and where. I press the button when I'm running up and when I'm shutting down.

I press the "OK" button at any intermediate stops, and let the tracking take care of the rest. Looking at the plot of my last long XC, it was a very good representation of my actual track, even on the cheapo per-10-minute tariff.
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CpnCrunch
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by CpnCrunch »

The other thing to consider if whether you actually need it. I used to own a SPOT, but in the last couple of years I've just used a free GPS tracking app on my android phone (https://play.google.com/store/apps/deta ... cker&hl=en). Apart from being completely free, the other advantage is that you can set the tracking interval to anything you want. I use 60 seconds, but you can set it lower if you want. It will work as long as you're in cellphone range and have mobile data. Pretty much all of southern Alberta west of the Rockies, all of the lower mainland and eastern/southern Vancouver island have cell coverage. It's only really if you're flying in the mountains or in remote areas that you need something like SPOT.

Another alternative is to just use a flight plan. If you're flying within radar coverage, just creating a VFR flight plan is enough for your track to show up on flightradar24 (at least in the Vancouver area).
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NunavutPA-12
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by NunavutPA-12 »

Did anyone mention that SPOT uses Globalstar satellites, which have proven to be far less reliable than polar-orbiting Iridium satellite devices like InReach? PLB's have no subscription costs and utilize polar orbiting satellites so, again, more reliable than SPOT.

Nobody north of 65 North would carry a SPOT or Globalstar phone. Iridium phone/InReach/PLB is the way to go in northern Canada, IMHO.
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SPOT vs PLB and LiveTrack24

Post by RatherBeFlying »

I've had a PLB for some years since a glider pilot crashed into trees ridge running in Pennsylvania. His cell phone battery packed it in and he spent a cold night with snow showers with serious injuries in the cockpit until a search could start in daylight.

With a GPS enabled PLB (pretty much all of them now) they will know exactly where you are. The disadvantage is that you have to be able to reach the device and hit the button. The newer PLBs are a bunch more compact;a so easier to carry where you can reach it.

Do Not mount PLB or SPOT on the aircraft. You will not be happy if you suddenly need to use your chute.

I'm on my second PLB battery which had been on the shelf for some time; so, not good for another 5 years.

Next time around I'm buying one of the smaller new units.

LiveTrack24 offers a bunch of free and paid tracking solutions, but you need cell coverage which works pretty good at altitude. My glider computer Bluetooths my GPS position to my phone which uses http to send to LT24.

GPS units with Bluetooth capability can be programmed to do the same thing.

For me LT24 tracking is a freebie that lets my glider club know where I am if things go seriously wrong and I can't activate my PLB.

LT24 is becoming more popular for glider and hanggliding contests.
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Last edited by RatherBeFlying on Fri Nov 21, 2014 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by looproll »

NunavutPA-12 wrote:Did anyone mention that SPOT uses Globalstar satellites, which have proven to be far less reliable than polar-orbiting Iridium satellite devices like InReach? PLB's have no subscription costs and utilize polar orbiting satellites so, again, more reliable than SPOT.

Nobody north of 65 North would carry a SPOT or Globalstar phone. Iridium phone/InReach/PLB is the way to go in northern Canada, IMHO.
After using a SPOT for a few years I have now switched to a PLB (http://www.aircraftspruce.ca/catalog/fb ... ckkey=4066)

The idea of spot is great, but I gave my wife frequent heart attacks because of the poor coverage up north. It was also very finicky with regards to interference from other devices such as my main portable GPS. When you have a very small cockpit there are few mounting options that will keep the spot facing up and far enough away from the other GPS antennae to work properly. The chief complaint I had with spot was the terrible customer service and the auto renew rip off they have going on. See amazon.com reviews for many other reports of this. (http://www.amazon.com/SPOT-Satellite-Me ... ewpoints=1)

Hint: there are online coupons for spot tracking but if you want to use them next year, you have to cancel the service at the end of the contract, then renew using the coupon code. Customer lack-of-service will NOT honour them on the phone and they jerked me around good so I'm never doing business with them again.
DON'T BUY THIS PRODUCT! YOU'LL BE SORRY! It works marginally at best and not at all in typical mountaineering areas. (Long review, but make sure to read the last paragraph)

BUT THE WORST PART IS THE AUTO-BILLING POLICY! Spot forces you to have an auto-renewal subscription of $160 every year. And if you want to cancel it, you better be ready a year later to remember the exact date to do it. They renew on your renewal date, but they charge your credit card on the last day of the 1st week of the NEXT MONTH. Then you get your credit card statement, and then you call to cancel, and forget it you are outside the 45 day window from the renewal date not the credit card billing date.

For Example:
Your renewal date is 7/1/10
Credit Card billed 8/6/10
You only have 45 days since the 7/1/10 date, i.e. 8/15/10, to cancel NOT 45 days since the credit card billing date. Once you notice the charge on your credit card, you are way too late to cancel.

THIS IS UNETHICAL. Spot figured out that if they delay the billing to the next month instead of billing you at the same time as your renewal date (which all other auto renewal services do in order to get their money ASAP), you will not enough time within their 45 day window to get your credit card statement and call to cancel.

AND when you call to cancel, they will not refund the amount if you are outside the 45 day window, but they will allow you to deactivate immediately in which case you pay the $160 but you can't use the service, AND you can't tell them to schedule the deactivation for a year later. So you have to remember next year at the exact right date when to call and deactivate, OR ELSE you will be caught off guard again with the auto-renew. THIS IS A RIP OFF SCAM!

ALSO, Customer service won't help you at all! If you decide to contest the charge with your credit card company, Spot's customer service will promptly tell you that they will forward you to their collections department. They got all angles covered to RIP YOU OFF!

ONE LAST THING: I asked why they don't send out an email letting you know about your auto-renewal (They already send you lots of other emails). WELL, they do send out emails in states that require it by law, but in states that don't require it forget it.

THESE GUYS KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO SCAM PEOPLE OUT OF MONEY EVERY YEAR ON A PRODUCT THAT DOES NOT WORK THAT WELL TO BEGIN WITH! BUT YOU WILL FIND THIS OUT TOO LATE, AND THEN YOU WILL HAVE ALREADY BEEN BILLED AGAIN! I WON'T EVER DO BUSINESS AGAIN WITH SUCH AN UNETHICAL GROUP
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AirFrame
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by AirFrame »

Wow, those reviews are really harsh.

I've owned a Spot 1, Spot Connect, and now a Spot 3. I had teething pains with the Spot 1... Until I figured out how to use it, it would regularly sit there through an entire flight and not send any messages or waypoints back to the website. Once I figured out that you need to start it up and let it sit untouched in a clear sky for at least 10 minutes before flying, it wasn't an issue and it worked 100% perfectly on every flight. I just learned to turn it on and set it in front of the hangar while I did my preflight.

The connect had great potential, and the ability to send custom messages at any time is really what sold me on it. I liked that feature, but only used it twice in the two years I owned it. Getting the Spot Connect to just turn on and start tracking took more steps (and required my cell phone) so I traded it for a Spot 3.

The 3rd Gen is smaller, lighter, and can be powered by ship's power. It turns on when I start up, and shuts down after I shut down (not instantly, but it times out after half an hour or something like that). I'm still on the 10 minute tracking plan, but if I go on any long trips i'll up it to the 5 minute plan just so I get better tracking.

I'm on the Auto-Renewal plan, and I get an email every year at least a month in advance of it happening. I guess Canada is one of the "states" that requires that they send emails. :P
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westcoastwonder
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by westcoastwonder »

The SAR notification is something that I have decided is outside of my budgeting. It is a nessisary expence and therefore I have both a PLB and a SPOT.
The SPOT notification says that all is well and all times and plans are still current. I push it every time I take off and land. ( there have been failures and very long satellite contact times)
The other notification says I am delayed but no action is required.

The SOS says clearly to contact SAR AND GIVES THE PHONE NUMBER. It also says to contact 2 people that I know will not rest until I am retrieved and goes on to say I am SAR trained and survival equipt and since I have pushed the help button, I am in serious trouble.
I also carry a sat phone.

All that said, the last trip from Vancouver to Dawson City, Yukon, by helicopter, it was 9:30 pm and my wife had not heard from me in 5 hours. She is blond and did the first thing that occured to her. She went on line and checked the credit card and found I had purchased fuel in Deas Lake 2 hours previous then phoned the tower in Whitehorse and they confirmed I was in their airspace with the intention to land. The tower folks were great with her and once I had landed they advised me to call home.

My 2 cents, your milage may vary
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Re: SPOT vs PLB

Post by HHI »

I started with a SPOT1 and am now using a SPOT2. Works well for my purposes. SPOT 3 will fill my needs even more and at some point I will upgrade to a SPOT3.

What I have learned...

SPOT1 would send an "OK" or other manually sent message up to 3 times if the first did not "handshake" with a satellite but would send a "tracking" message only once and if no "handshake" then nothing until 10 minutes later.
I have had cases where because of aircraft attitude and satellite geometry 2 or 3 tracking messages were not received by the satellite system. 30 minutes at 120 kts covers a lot of ground.

SPOT2 sends all messages (including tracking) up to 3 times. Pretty much fixes the missed tracking messages, but reduces the battery life. With SPOT1 I would fly somewhere, spend hours on the ground having pie or hangar flying and fly home, leaving SPOT running the whole time. Batteries lasted 8+ months. Using SPOT2 I now turn SPOT off 10 minutes after landing, have coffee & pie, turn SPOT back on and fly home. Battery life is usually 6-8 months.

With SPOT3 I can revert to my former habits and leave it running. It will stop sending signals if not moving for a set period of time.

SPOT is only a "layer" of safety. If it's not turned on or no responsible person has access to the "share" page URL it provides nothing.

I use it in tracking mode all the time and hardly ever send an "OK" or "Custom" message. The text in my "emergency" message includes my aircraft IDENT and the local number for Victoria JRCC (250-413-8935). not the 1-800 number (which does not work in Texas - where the SPOT messages are monitored). Also included in the message is my family emergency contact info.

My NavCanada flight plan template includes my SPOT share page URL in the comments section.

The aircraft mounted ELT is supposed to send a distress signal even if I am unable to do that. It must survive the harsh arrival in order to do that. Sometimes they do not - and that layer of safety has failed.

A PLB must be manually activated to send a distress signal. If not activated that layer of safety has failed.

A SPOT emergency message must be manually activated. If not, that layer has failed.

A SPOT tracking message only need's to be started and will provide a breadcrumb trail to within 10 (or 5) minutes of the location of the crash (or where the battery ran down). If the right people do not have access to the SPOT "share" page this layer has also failed.

When in radar coverage areas, I contact ATC and get a squawk code. If I go missing - SAR will know where I was at some point, and reduce the size of the primary search area.

If I go flying and no one knows when I am due back and I am incapacitated after the "harsh arrival" then the only layer above remaining is the aircraft ELT.

Tell someone when you are due back.
Even better tell them where you are going.
Even better file a flight plan (and stay within 10-15 miles of your filed route because that is where SAR will
come looking for you.
If you divert from your filed route let someone know.

I am also a CASARA volunteer. If you are missing, military SAR resources and CASARA volunteers will come looking for you.

Just give us some good leads on where to find you and we will get there much sooner.

HHI

PS If I am late for dinner my wife can check my SPOT track and can tell if I am still airborne or am still "debriefing" with my hangar mates. :wink:
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