The vintage 1952 Grumman Albatross – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
“Do you have time this week for a flight in a 1952…”
â€œWhat time do you have avaâ€¦â€¦â€
â€œIâ€™ll make time available. Just grab me a seat!â€
Thatâ€™s pretty much the conversation I had prior to the 2015 APEX Expo, where Global Eagle subsidiary Row 44 had its Grumman Albatross on hand to give demo flights throughout the week. Naturally, when offered the chance to hop on board for one of the flights, I made it my business to be available.
The classic controls – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Global Eagle is the in-flight internet provider to a few major airlines in the United States, including Southwest Airlines. While its satellite equipment is installed on hundreds of commercial aircraft, an aircraft it can call its own is necessary to constantly test the service and upcoming products. While our friends at Gogo now have a 737 to call their own, Global Eagle kind of went the other way on this one. Its test aircraft is this wonderful oldÂ Albatross. What better way to test the future of in-flight connectivity than with a half century old twinâ€“radial engine amphibious flying boat?
N321GGÂ -Â Gogo’s 737-500 testbed – Photo: Gogo
Like most business travelers, I have grown accustomed to looking for the familiar WiFi symbol while boarding a plane. Just a few years ago, in-flight connectivity was a luxury and something one could notÂ depend on, whether through spotty deployment across fleets, or because the cutting-edge technology delivering said connectivity wasn’t terribly reliable.
Over the years, however, following increased adoption among carriers, this luxury has morphedÂ into something closer toÂ a necessity. Business travelers like consistency, yetÂ as comedian Louis CK accurately pointed out in one of his more popular skits amongst AvGeeks, we are more entitled than we should be. While I have grown increasingly dependent on connectivity, the underlying technology has always been a bit of a black box to me. You’ll be happy to know the hardware isÂ in-factÂ encasedÂ in black boxes.
Some of the hardware required to power Gogo’s IFC and IFE systems – Photo: JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with the Gogo team at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) Expo in Portland to learn all about in-flight connectivity. For two days I mingled with PR folks, engineers, and even some of Gogo’s competitors in an attempt to get a solid understanding of IFC basics. Now that I have had a few days to digest the the technology and various initialisms, I’m excited to share what I learned.