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A Flight on Satcom Direct’s G550

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A Flight on Satcom Direct’s G550

As an aviation journalist and an all-around plane geek, there’s one question that I love being asked: “Do you want to fly on our aircraft?”

You can guarantee that the answer is almost always yes. So when Satcom Direct invited me to fly on their beautiful G550 and test out their new in-flight connectivity whilst in-flight, I jumped at the chance.

To be upfront and honest, I had done this before, sort of. I had tried out the previous generation of Satcom Direct’s connectivity on their prior aircraft, an equally beautiful Gulfstream IV. That flight took place from Farnborough in the UK, and lasted for an hour over southern England, during which time I was able to play Fortnite on my iPad. When I say I was able to play Fortnite, I mean that I was able to spawn into the game and get shot straight away. It was the first time that I had ever attempted to play Fortnite, and while I never felt the urge to play Fortnite ever again, Satcom Direct’s inflight connectivity was flawless.

This time around the flight would take place over southern Florida on the eve of the 2022 NBAA-BACE event in Orlando.

On my first flight I was the lone journalist on a flight arranged for potential customers, but on this flight the aircraft was packed with journalists, as well as Satcom Direct’s Chris Moore and Michael Skou Christensen, respectively the company’s President, and Chief Commercial Officer.

After a grueling journey from Hong Kong to Orlando, which took 31 hours door-to-door and saw me make stops in Tokyo and Montreal on the way, the last thing I felt like doing was getting on another aircraft. However, all of those thoughts disappeared as soon as our transportation turned onto the familiar Tradeport Drive, and then into the Signature FBO. This flight would depart from Orlando’s main airport, as it was apparently difficult to get slots at Executive airport, still known locally as Herndon, which is where the NBAA static display was located. So for this flight we used the city’s main international airport, which borrows its MCO IATA code from its previous history as McCoy Air Force Base.

Stepping out onto the tarmac, we were greeted with a familiar sight from FBOs all across the US. Front and center was a Wheels Up Citation X, and behind it, a NetJets Citation Latitude, although on return, this had been replaced by a Flexjet Challenger 350. The NetJets fleet was out in full force, with a Phenom 300, Citation XLS and a Global 5000, which had just completed a short hop from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

But the main attraction was Satcom Direct’s 2013-build G500 registered as N621SD. The aircraft was originally delivered to a UK customer in 2013, before being registered in Austria in 2016 and then finally being sold to Satcom Direct in 2021. It is based at Melbourne airport in Florida, which is where Satcom Direct has its HQ.

There can be no doubt that it is Satcom Direct’s aircraft as not only are there Satcom Direct titles close to the entry door, but the tail of the aircraft is adorned with the title “Plane Simple” which is the marketing name of the company’s antenna systems. Before going any further, it is worth pointing out that this aircraft is not just used as a corporate aircraft in the traditional sense of the word, it is also used as a flying testbed for the company’s equipment, as well as a demonstration aircraft so that potential customers can try out Satcom’s connectivity first hand.

Inside, the aircraft is configured much like any other G550, with four club seats in the forward cabin, four-seat dining in the middle cabin, and twin divans in the rear. I’m the last to board as I’m busy snapping pics of the exterior of the aircraft, so my seat is rear facing at the front of the cabin.

As the door to the aircraft is closed, we are given two things. The first is an obligatory glass of champagne, the second is a coaster for the champagne glass to sit on. The coaster is emblazoned with Satcom’s logo, but also includes a QR Code. Scanning the QR Code allows us to connect to the aircraft’s internet.

 

Leaving the Signature ramp, we taxi and hold short of runway 36L, pausing briefly so that a Frontier Airlines Airbus A320neo arriving from Trenton New Jersey can clear the runway, and then we are off. On the climb out we pass directly over the top of Executive Airport at just 7,000ft, giving great views of the NBAA-BACE static display.

On board, the champagne starts flowing and people start to think about how they could test out the connectivity. Obligatory selfies are taken and uploaded to Instagram and FaceTime calls are made. Nobody makes a TikTok.

Living in Asia means there’s a 12-hour time zone difference between myself and home, so rather than risk video calling a friend at 04:00 Hong Kong time and being told to stop showing off and then hung up on, I get busy uploading the videos and pictures that I have already taken to both Instagram and WeChat.

Once things settle down, I start talking to Chris Moore, the company’s President. We talk of speed, latency, costs, and the time an aircraft needs to be out of action to have the required equipment fitted, but we bond most on our views that MEO satellites are best suited for business aviation.

Back to Plane Simple though, which is a Ku-band system launched earlier in 2022. The system includes a 12-inch tail-mounted antenna, which feeds into a modem that is housed in the rear of the fuselage, and that’s it, no other equipment. Its beauty in simplicity, as both the antenna and modem are line replaceable, meaning that the time needed to install the system is low. The antenna itself connects to Intelsat’s FlexExec network to deliver speeds of up to 15/2Mbps, which in layman’s terms means it is fast enough for video calls and streaming content, which I notice some of my fellow journalists doing on the flight.

Deciding to join them I turn back to my phone, open the NBA app and start streaming an old playoff game. There is a short pause before things get going, which, to be honest, was more than likely an issue with the NBA app, but once things do start going the video is crisp and clear without any buffering in sight for the 10 or so minutes that I spent watching the game. 

Soon enough it’s time to start chasing our shadow as we head back to the airport to land. We glide effortlessly down onto runway 18R this time, as the wind has changed direction. On the short taxi back we watch as an AeroMexico 737-800 thunders down the runway on its way back to Mexico City.

Back at the Signature FBO we are given some stats about our journey. The flight lasted for 69 minutes, during which time there were 45 devices connected.

Think about those 45 devices for a moment. Not all will have been active at the same time, and some might be just browsing websites, whilst some will have been streaming a film or making a video call. But even so, how many of us have been on Zoom or Teams calls having speed issues whilst somebody else plays games or streams content in another room? And that’s just with a handful of devices connected, so to see no speed degradation or connection issues with 45 devices connected – at 35,000ft – is nothing short of miraculous.

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G550 NBAA 2022 Satcom Direct

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