We took off under a pristine blue sky from a small airstrip outside of Las Vegas, miles away from the chaos of the Consumer Electronics Show. The Albatross, built in 1951, is a test plane for the latest in wi-fi technology on airplanes, courtesy of Row 44, a company acquired by Hollywood investors Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky in November.
The sturdy, amphibious biplane was built to rescue pilots downed in the ocean. It has recently been re-outfitted with an extensive set of routers as well as equipment that points up at a satellite to allow airline passengers to stream live entertainment without jiggles, wiggles or other pesky interruptions.
It felt like an adventure.
We flew past the grand Hoover Dam, over barren rocky outcroppings that surround Lake Mead — the sparkling manmade body nourished by the Colorado River — where we landed. Yes, we landed on the water (check out the video and smooth takeoff by pilot Dave Cummings).
The point was to demonstrate how wi-fi is pushing its way onto airplanes in a much more insistent way: Row 44, acquired by Sloan and Sagansky’s Global Eagle along with most of Advanced Inflight Alliance for $430 million — has been steadily outfitting SouthWest Airlines’ planes with wi-fi that streams via satellite and not, unlike its competitor Gogo Inflight, via cell towers on the ground.
The satellite capacity means you can stream entertainment directly to your tablet or laptop computer on the plane. And it also works over water.
Check out the video and the exclusive demonstration by Row 44 CEO John Lavalle:
Video editing by Greg Gilman