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Date with an Old Flame

Date with an Old Flame

While instructing an apprehensive student pilot, a Master CFI rediscovers the magic of the J-3.


It's been nearly 20 years since I sold my last Piper Cub. 

I loved that old plane. I would take her up just before sunset and fly low over the Everglades, marveling at the pristine landscape and watching the sunset before returning to the little grass strip I called home. 

Most of the time, I was alone. It was my personal time to fly simply for the sake of flying; not to go anywhere or for any other purpose except to fly. 

The Cub is noisy, drafty, and you need to be a contortionist just to get in and out. It has no electric system, which means no radio, transponder or starter. While easy to fly, she is difficult to fly well. Full of adverse yaw, she makes you work for every landing. 


With only 12 gallons of fuel and a cruise speed of 65 mph, every flight is a cross-country and fuel planning is a must.

Like it happens to most of us, life took over. Kids and work and commitments made my Cub a lower priority, and I sold her. 

Fast-forward to now. I got a phone call from an instructor buddy who had a client. The client was a retiring Army vet who got a job towing banners down at the beach for the summer and needed 35 hours of tailwheel time. The client preferred to fly in a Cub, because that is what the banner operator uses.

“No problem,” I said as I hung up the phone. Now all I needed was a Cub. 

I walked upstairs to yet another buddy’s office. I knew he had a J-3 he would lease to me for training. 

When I walked up to the airplane, I realized it was one tail number away from my old Cub. I took that as a good sign. 

My student showed up on time, all eager to fly, with a total of 260 hours in his logbook. After a ground briefing, I strapped him in the front seat, pulled the prop through four blades, switched on the ignition and cracked the throttle open. 

She started on the first blade. 

Hopping in the back seat, I closed the doors. As a concession to reality, I had incorporated a two-place battery-powered intercom and a handheld radio.

Off we went. My instruction would begin at Triple Tree, (SC00) a privately-owned 6,000-foot grass strip just a few miles south of the Spartanburg, South Carolina airport I now call home. 

All kinds of wonderful memories came flooding back to me as I demonstrated full-stall landings, wheel landings and crosswind landings.

By the fourth day, the wind had relaxed enough so that I could teach my student wheel landings on an asphalt runway. He went from apprehension-approaching-fear on Day One to loving every minute of it by the time we were done. 

On the last day, we headed back to Triple Tree for some more full-stall grass landings. 

On the way back I caught myself staring out the open door, marveling at the landscape and watching the sunset—just as I had a long time ago at an airport far, far away. 

I still love the Cub. I still love that kind of flying. It was a wonderful date with an old flame.


Michael Leighton is a 12,000-hour, three-time Master Flight Instructor and an A&P mechanic. He operates a flight school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Fort Pierce, Florida. You can find him on the web at flymkleighton.net. Send questions or comments to .

ADS-B vs. SiriusXM

ADS-B vs. SiriusXM

Michael Leighton compares two popular portable units that can receive in-flight weather and more. 

Perhaps the most significant safety improvement in aviation in the last 20 years is the availability of cost effective, quality, real-time weather and traffic in flight. Once found only on high-end corporate aircraft, real-time weather is now available to any pilot with an iPad using a portable receiver. The most popular portable options are the Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver from Appareo and the SXAR1 receiver from SiriusXM Aviation.

I did a side-by-side comparison of both systems with each receiver dedicated to one of two iPads. My test flights were conducted in a single-engine piston and a single-engine turboprop. 


Both receivers are small and lightweight. Both utilize rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with a life span that exceeds the average fuel leg in most General Aviation aircraft. The Stratus 2S has an eight-hour battery life, while the SXAR1’s battery life is up to six hours. In-flight recharging is easily accomplished with a USB cable, if necessary. 

The light weight of both devices makes a suction cup window mount or a piece of Velcro on the glareshield two practical solutions for mounting the receiver. Both units are simple to operate, featuring exactly one button to turn the unit on or off. 

Both units use indicator LEDs to identify which functions are operating and the status of the battery power. In flight, both receivers display weather in real time on an iPad. 

I use ForeFlight in my cockpit, and both receivers are compatible with ForeFlight. Though some tech-savvy users claim to have made these receivers work with other apps, only ForeFlight is officially supported.


Though both units provide weather information, they do so in very different ways. 

Stratus 2S and ADS-B

The Stratus 2S utilizes the government-developed Automated Dependent Surveillance Broadcast, commonly referred to as ADS-B. 

ADS-B weather is ground-based and subject to line-of-sight limitations; that’s why it’s typically not available when the aircraft is on the ground. Additionally, there are “holes” where ADS-B reception is intermittent. Since ADS-B is the cornerstone of the Next Generation (NextGen) air traffic control, the FAA says that when the system is fully operational in 2020, any in-flight reception issues should be resolved. 

Geographic coverage for ADS-B extends about 20 miles beyond the United States’ borders. On our trips to the Bahamas, we receive ADS-B coverage to about 30 miles offshore at 10,000 feet—our altitude and the lack of terrain obstructions allow the signal to reach farther. 

The weather products available with ADS-B are adequate for the average General Aviation mission. When in flight, composite NEXRAD is available. Base reflectivity and cloud coverage are available on the ground using an internet connection, but not in the air. 

Airborne ADS-B also provides METARs, TAFs, SIGMETs, AIRMETs, TFRs, visibilities, ceilings and flight conditions for graphic display and in text format; notams and Special Use Airspace alerts are also available.

ADS-B with the Stratus 2 includes features you cannot get from SiriusXM Aviation weather. Traffic and a backup PFD are phenomenal features provided by Stratus. I love the backup PFD. I teach my students how to shoot an approach with it in the event of a total equipment failure. 

If your aircraft does not have a traffic avoidance system, ADS-B traffic is useful, but until 2020—when all aircraft are supposed to be equipped with ADS-B—it does not depict all traffic. 

The best part of ADS-B is that the service is free, while SiriusXM uses a paid subscription. However, the receiver to get free ADS-B data can cost more up front: a Stratus 2S lists at $899, not counting any antennas. In contrast, an SXAR1 is priced at $699, and may qualify for a $200 rebate, but subscription fees will be extra.

SXAR1 with SiriusXM Aviation weather

The Sirius product, SXAR1, gets its data not from the ADS-B source, but from SiriusXM satellites. It also has a GPS/WAAS embedded receiver. 

The SiriusXM aviation weather subscription includes the same weather products provided by ADS-B, as well as icing icing, winds aloft, lightning, in-flight base reflectivity radar, radar echo tops, cloud tops, turbulence and surface analysis. The range of coverage includes most of Canada, parts of the Caribbean, and extends much farther offshore. 

A subscription for the SiriusXM Pilot For ForeFlight package is around $40 per month. More comprehensive weather information is available with Pilot Preferred ($59.99/month) and Pilot Pro ($99.99/month) packages. For all SiriusXM aviation weather packages, the ability to listen to your favorite music and news channels in flight, if you so choose, can be added to your weather subscription at a discounted rate. 

One unexpected issue arose with the SXAR1 receiver during my testing. The electrically-heated windows in turboprop airplanes interfere with data reception. Moving the unit to an unheated side window improved my reception. Depending on which side of the plane the receiver was placed also affected the unit’s ability to receive data from the satellite. (We contacted SiriusXM and about this and received this reply: “Heated windscreens on some aircraft may block or interfere with the SXAR1 Receiver data reception. If you experience a weak signal condition, place the SXAR1 close to either side window or you may choose to purchase an optional External Antenna at shop.siriusxm.com or at sportys.com. The antenna can then be placed in the cockpit for best signal and the SXAR1 receiver can be placed out of the way.” —Ed.)

Another difference to address is the display resolution. The resolution is the same for the SiriusXM Aviation via SXAR1 and for ADS-B through the Stratus 2 when viewing weather within 200 nm of the aircraft. Beyond 200 nm, the resolution of the SXAR1 really shines; beyond that range ADS-B reduces the radar resolution, making the radar appear more coarse and pixelated. SiriusXM is consistent with its resolution at longer range. 

Final thoughts

Do you have to choose one over the other? When flying with both units, you do not need to choose only one to use because SXAR1 connects because SXAR1 connects to your iPad with Bluetooth, while Stratus utilizes Wi-Fi. This means you can have both at the same time—on the same iPad. Playing with the displays of Stratus on the backup PFD and the SXAR1 shows the advantages of each; the advanced weather features and better range of the Sirius product and traffic on the Stratus. 

Is SiriusXM worth $39.99 a month? It is to me. From my observations, I can say that I love SiriusXM Aviation weather. Since I regularly fly in real weather, the echo tops, icing and selectable winds aloft features make a difference for me. I love that the weather data is usually loaded and displayed before I take off. I do a fair bit of flying in the Bahamas and XM’s radar coverage, particularly when trying to cross the Gulf Stream, is very useful. 

I have had SiriusXM weather in my plane for 12 years, but it is displayed on a Garmin 530. The limitations of the older Garmin devices preclude receiving all the benefits of the service. The portable SXAR1 unit coupled with an iPad allows a pilot to receive every benefit of the SiriusXM service. The value of in-flight real-time weather cannot be emphasized enough. 

For the owner-pilot who must comply with the ADS-B mandate by Jan. 1, 2020, it is typically far less expensive to install an ADS-B Out-only transponder and buy a portable ADS-B In receiver than to purchase a combined ADS-B Out+In device. A portable receiver allows these operators to enjoy the benefits of ADS-B In—without the installed-in-the-aircraft cost. 

In addition, the portability of the Stratus 2S and the SXAR1 are perfect for a pilot like me who flies several different aircraft. 

The SXAR1 receiver delivers the most complete and comprehensive in-flight weather data available on a portable device. The safety features in the Stratus 2—especially after the ADS-B Out mandate takes effect—are phenomenal. I plan to carry both. 

Michael Leighton is a 11,000-hour, three-time Master Flight Instructor and an A&P mechanic. He operates a Part 141 flight school in South Carolina and South Florida. You can find him on the web at flymkleighton.net. Send questions or comments to editor.




SiriusXM SXAR1
Stratus 2S


SiriusXM Aviation 
The Real Bahamas

The Real Bahamas

Experience the local culture of the Bahamas at a smaller, family-owned resort on Long Island. 

My particular aversion to cold weather sends me south when the weather gets cold. My favorite place on earth—at any time of year—is Cape Santa Maria resort in Stella Maris, a city on Long Island in the Bahamas. 


Very accessible

I have written before about how wonderful the Islands of the Bahamas are, and how accessible traveling there can be, especially for private pilots flying General Aviation airplanes. 

It’s a short 370 nm flight from the mainland United States to Long Island. The longest overwater leg is just 55 nm between Palm Beach, Fla. and West End on Grand Bahama Island. (See map, page 52.)

Sure, you could get there on the airlines—but not easily. And with just a little effort, you can fly your single engine airplane to the “real” Bahamas in less time than a commercial flight. 

While Nassau and Freeport are easy destinations, they are lined with big resorts. The “real” Bahamas, found on the Out Islands, feature small (as small as three rooms!) personal resorts; many are family owned and operated, on deserted beaches. The Out Islands allow you to experience the true culture of the Bahamas that you won’t easily find at a big resort. 

The Cape Santa Maria resort is located on the northern tip of Long Island and from my base in Palm Beach, Fla. it takes me less than two and a half flight hours to get there. The airport of entry is Stella Maris (MYLS) and it has a fully-equipped FBO, with customs and immigration right there. (Be sure to check the hours of operation, though, as they are not always “as published.”)

Experiencing Long Island

This island features some of the most amazing and beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Cape Santa Maria Resort is state-of-the-art. The food in the resort restaurant is to die for, especially if you love seafood. Internet and satellite television are available if you just can’t leave the world behind.

But if you venture just 50 yards from the resort, you will find yourself on a deserted beach, just yards from the entrance to a vast mangrove swamp teeming with bonefish, rays, barracudas and conch. The fishing is excellent. 

If you choose to experience the rest of the island, you can rent a car and head south along the only main road there is. Max’s Conch Bar looks for all the world like a roadside shack, yet it serves the world’s best conch salad—with breadfruit chips. At Max’s you will be dining with the locals, drinking Kalik beer made in the Bahamas.

A little further south is the settlement of Deadman’s Cay. The airport at Deadman’s Cay (MYLD) has no services; it’s primarily to service the harbor at Clarence Town, which is filled all year with vessels of all sizes, from small boats to yachts. Everyone is there to enjoy the amazing variety of sport fishing that is available.

The next settlement is Dean’s, home of Dean’s Blue Hole. It is a 663-foot-deep hole in the ocean surrounded by very shallow water on one side and 33-foot cliff on the other. An international free diving competition is held there every year, but most visitors come to experience this amazing marine anomaly for themselves. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I have been there several times, and more times than not, we were all alone.

Hamilton’s Cave is a geological wonder you need to see. It’s a natural limestone cave complex used by the Lucayan Indians, and you will be guided through this underground maze by a descendant of the Hamilton family. On the wall you will see messages inscribed by visitors going back to the 1800s and stone carvings dating back to the original Lucayan Indians, as well as most species of bats indigenous to the Bahamas.

For those who love history, you can visit the ruins of Adderley’s plantation, a cotton plantation established in 1790 and operated into the 1900s. 

Continue further south in order to visit Galloway and Gordon’s Beach. Once again, these beaches are mostly deserted. It’s not uncommon to see conch just moving along the flats and not another human anywhere in sight.

A truly wonderful place

Of all the islands of the Bahamas, I have fallen in love with Long Island. The people are friendly, the history is rich, and the beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. 

In addition to enjoying Cape Santa Maria on the north end of the island, I have also stayed at Gems at Paradise. This impressive resort is near Dean’s Blue Hole on the Atlantic side of the island. In general, accommodations are not particularly expensive, though food can be. 

Long Island is a truly wonderful place to visit. If you have any trepidation about how to go, where to stay, or what to bring with you, you can always reach me through the association or by email. Many association members have done so in the past and I’m happy to help.

Michael Leighton is a 10,000-hour, three-time Master Flight Instructor and A&P living in South Florida. He can be reached directly at and on the web at flymkleighton.net. Send questions or comments to .



Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort and Villas



Gems at Paradise Private Beach Resort



Further information about Long Island

The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism 


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