In 2014, Paxton Calvanese launched a unique aviation weather app called Wx24 Pilot. In the ensuing years, he developed a similar road weather app called Driver Weather. With constant refinements and updates, it’s now a popular tool for truckers.
Calvanese loves hearing the positive feedback, Some truckers have told him it’s a life-changer. “It’s probably saved a life or two somewhere along the way,” he said.
Perhaps that is the motivation behind creating the initial app.
How it started
Eight years ago, it was just after he got his private pilot’s license, that he shook him to his core.
Calvanese was taking his children, then 7 and 12 years old, on a flight from their home in Chicago to Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. They were planning to stay there for about a week.
Calvanese checked the weather forecast for the entire flight plan. Everything indicated clear conditions.
“It should have been an easy flight,” Calvanese told FreightWaves.
He decided to use the pilots instead of the windshield rather than staring at the instrument panel. Calvanese figured this would make the trip more relaxing. It’s standard practice under clear skies.
Over Iowa, cruising at about 8,000 feet, he saw an unexpected cloud layer on the horizon.
“As I get closer, I have a decision to make,” Calvanese said. “It’ll be about 20 minutes before I hit this. Do I go above it or below it? ”
He knew he would have had more time to correct if he was higher and above the clouds. But then, if there was an airport below, you might have to call the airport, for special filings, possibly change his flight plan, etc.
A novice at the time, he didn’t have the confidence yet to execute all of this in the air.
“So, I decided to go below it. Because at least if I go below the cloud layer, I could see the ground. I could land anywhere. There wouldn’t be an issue. I would be safe, ”Calvanese explained.
But turbulence suddenly dropped him into the clouds and everything turned white. Then he dipped below the clouds to under 1,000 feet.
“Now I’m starting to sweat a little bit,” Calvanese recalled. “I can see fine underneath, but it keeps on pushing me lower.”
Per his training, he tried to make a U-turn to escape the situation, but he couldn’t. Worried about hitting a radio or cell tower, Calvanese switched to instrument flight rules, or IFR, to level his bank – which he didn’t realize was off by 30 to 40 degrees.
If not level when low to the ground, the plane could stall. He leveled out and air traffic control him back above the clouds.
Much to his relief, the sun hit him square in the eyes.
His children had no idea what was happening. Calvanese realized he was in trouble until he was clear of danger.
“Literally, my kids were looking at their iPads, probably watching ‘Madagascar 2’ or something,” Calvanese said.
He was still shaken up for a small airport in eastern South Dakota to regroup. Calvanese told his kids he just needed a break.
Fulfilling a vision
Fueled by his midair scare, the former IT consultant and software developer had a vision – create a simple but reliable aviation weather app that would allow private pilots to make quick “go / no-go” decisions.
He wanted himself and other pilots to feel more confident about flying and didn’t see any apps at the time that could handle these situations.
“You have to calculate where you will be at each step. You have to look at the weather at that location. Then you have an account for time zones. Give it some leeway, ”Calvanese explained.
“You might be slower or faster than you expected to be there, so you have to look ahead a bit. And the further you go out, the more weather you have to look up. ”
Wx24 Pilot, which simplifies the process of reading aviation weather reports by visually consolidating terminal area forecasts (TAFs) and other weather data on one screen. Information is displayed in a circular format representing a 24-hour clock.
“If I’m going to continue flying, I need to make this app. I don’t want to risk it. I had this vision. I knew this would solve the problem, ”Calvanese said.
Wx24 Pilot launched in late 2014, followed by tweaks and additional features. As far as Calvanese knew, it was the only weather aviation app that could take the process of checking weather and making calculations along a potentially changing flight plan in just seconds.
Drive Weather is born
Wx24 Pilot – Calvanese never thought of his marketing or sales guy, but rather the idea guy – he eventually scaled back his flying time. He then discovered there are more drivers than pilots in the world.
So he used the Wx24 Pilot template and brought it down to the ground, envisioning a road weather app for truckers that would provide a high level of situational awareness.
“For a public, consumer app, it had to be slick and it had to be easy,” Calvaese said.
He designed Drive Weather so truckers could enter their destinations and stop them wanting to make along the way. The app then shows the drivers, automatically updating forecasts and starting points.
The app, which launched in late 2019 in the US Calvanese, changed the aviation jargon. He said it was a big sell at the market, but he seems to have something unique.
The app allows truckers to compare routes and uses high-resolution display, limiting data caps. It also contains the algorithm to determine when roads may become based on atmospheric conditions, and there is an option to adjust travel speed for more accurate weather predictions.
“It’s really polished now,” Cavanese said. “It works well and people love it. It’s a huge win for me. ”
According to Calvanese, the app had 55,000 downloads and 3,500 new subscriptions in 2020, 200,000 downloads and 15,000 new subscriptions in 2021, and 120,000 downloads and 10,000 new subscriptions as of late April this year.
It’s also been a huge win for Jeremy Parratt, who found the app during a Google search. He noticed most other road weather apps were specific to cars or RVs. He downloaded a few that were geared toward truckers but found them cumbersome. Drive Weather was just what he was seeking.
Parratt is a solar-trucker line for the Old Dominion Freight Line, and it routinely drives through changing weather on Interstate 70 between Kansas City, Kansas, and Denver. He’s been using Drive Weather exclusively for a few months. He told FreightWaves it’s been a game changer for him.
“Even into February and March, we were getting some pretty crazy snowstorms that would pop up, some black ice conditions, things like that,” Parratt said.
One of his favorite features is the Kansas City. Knowing when and where conditions will be gusty along his route can keep him from rolling over.
“If I’m driving through a 30-mile-an-hour sustained wind, I know it’s always going to be there,” Parratt explained. “But when you’re talking about gusts, you pop over with the 50-mile-an-hour gust, it grabs your attention really quick. ”
It came in handy last week when he left Denver around 5:30 am MT with two empty 28-foot trailers. The forecast on Drive Weather was for gusts of up to 50 mph starting at noon around the midway point of WaKeeney, Kansas.
“I knew that since I left at 5:30 am, I’m going to be in WaKeeney at 9:30 and past WaKeeney by a couple hours at noon. So I’ll be way past the high-wind warnings, “Parratt said.
He added that the app has saved him time and money, and his family has faith in it too.
“My wife knows that I use this app and that I check this app a lot. So, it gives my family peace of mind knowing that I’m already checked and the weather’s going so well they don’t have to worry about me going out into crazy weather, ”Parratt said.
Drive Weather then launched in Canada around mid-April. It’s mainly a tool for drivers, but the most available API for dispatchers.
Where things stand now
Calvanese is satisfied with the way Drive Weather turned out. He said it was worth the time and money – an estimated $ 300,000 to $ 400,000 to develop both apps. He gets emails from truckers almost every week.
“They’re super excited about it. They’re appreciative that I made it. They tell me how it saved them, ”Calvanese recalled.
The typical valuation formula provided by the company has recently expressed interest in acquiring the app. But after a lot of hard work and hundreds of thousands of his own dollars, he wasn’t about to sell.
“Before he even finished, I said, ‘That’s worthless to me. I don’t care. You don’t get it. I’m not trading those emails for whatever number you’re going to throw at me, ‘”Calvanese said.
Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.
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