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The ASOS system was developed in the late 1980s to relieve the expense of maintaining human observers at hundreds of sites, improve consistency of observations, and bring high-quality observations to rural and remote airports. Much like NEXRAD it was a joint product of the FAA, NWS, and DoD, and was fielded at 1000 US airports between 1991 and 2004. Its main components are temperature, dewpoint, and wind sensors, along with new technology like sky condition, present weather, and visibility sensors.
Some years ago, I was flying with a pilot in his Cessna. He was instrument rated, while I was working on mine. I watched him enjoying the two perfectly centered needles (old-style CDIs) accompanying the six-pack panel while flying to a VOR at 6000 feet. He remarked with a sigh of contentment, “Now this is the way to fly.” It sure was, especially for me, when I was building time in budget-friendly trainers where dual (working) CDIs was a luxury.
In the case of the departure, and from a certain perspective, I could call that report a requirement. The respective approach/center controller is required to verify your altitude anyway to make sure it is what they are seeing on their screens, just like the Tower controller is required to make sure you are squawking the right code before they switch you. As you continue your climb, and as annoying as it can be, the verification requests could continue on every new frequency, and certainly with each new facility. While your initial departure and the climb is where you will report leaving an altitude the most, what about when you’re at cruise or even up in the flight levels?
Depart Tri-Cities for Yakima from Runway 21R. You filed PSC V298 YKM and got a clearance with, “Cleared to the Yakima airport via Tri-Cities 7 then as filed. Climb and maintain 6000.” Use real-world weather so the winds are variable for this day. Or, if you must, dial up 800-foot ceilings and a wind out of the southwest. Set the radios, brief your route. Then fire up and taxi out. Assume Tower’s last words to you were, “...on departure, fly runway heading. Runway 21R, cleared for takeoff.”
IFR separation from other aircraft is well-understood in our community. Within the controller community there is something additional called terrain separation. A loss of terrain separation occurs when an aircraft enters a chunk of airspace at an altitude below the prescribed minimums. Minimum vectoring (or instrument) altitudes aren’t published, so initially they’re the controller’s responsibility. Busting either is CFTT, but they are not the sole province of ATC. Pilots also cause CFTTs. Let’s look in our own house first.
You already have a transponder that transmits a dumb and blind signal in response to interrogation from other sources. Well, it’s not entirely “dumb” in that you can enter a four-digit base-eight (no 8s or 9s) code on the instrument and when the transponder responds to an interrogation, it puts that code and even your present altitude (to the nearest 100 feet) onto its outgoing signal. ADS-B Out keeps that but takes it a bit further.