With Wings As Eagles: Craig P. Steffen's Blog

One trend I was ahead on

2011 August 24 08:07

It all started when I went to renew my subscription to Flight Guide. It's a set of publications put out by a company called "Airguide Publications".

They contain non-official information about airports in the US. The great thing is they contain(ed) information about the airports that wasn't in any official source. They list hotels and businesses at or around the airport, and they have airport diagrams for airports too small to have official diagrams in the official FAA stuff. They are (were) awesome tools for the VFR pilot. Although I let it lapse a couple of times, I had an active subscription for most of the time between when I got my pilot's license in 2007 through last year.

After I got my instrument rating last fall, I realized my subscription had lapsed, and I went to renew it. Well it turns out that they were changing their format and the old format is no longer available. Huh. I started digging into their web site, and I noticed one of their products called Fight Guide iEFB. Hmm...I wonder what that is and would I want it?

There's a set of descriptions for Electronic Flight Bags (hardware and software), and Airguide has apparently decided to spend a lot of their time building one for the Apple iPad. An EFB application has and displays charting and reference informationt for operating at airports and flying between them. It can contain charts, frequencies and departure and approach information which before pilots carried in their flight bags (the big heavy bags that pilots carry onto the airliners).

At first I didn't feel a burning need to swtich to electronic stuff. While I certainly love gadgets, I have enough to think about when I'm flying. However, I thought about it and did some math. Instrument publications change over a lot faster than VFR publications, some of them every 28 or 56 days. The information in those publications is free (as a product of taxpayer money), but getting them on physical paper costs money. I realized that keeping myself in publications for the parts of the US that I would want to fly in would cost me something on the order of $300 per year. The electronic EFB applications generally require a subscription service; Flight Guide's cost like $75/year for everything I want. Given the great cost efficiency increase by going electronic, I went ahead and invested in an iPad.

The flight guide app does have charting, but I don't think it's the best app. The one that I use when I'm flying is ForeFlight. It's a great interface, it's very smooth, and it's very very SIMPLE. I find it's great to use in the air. Here's ForeFlight on my iPad displaying instrument en-route charts with a highlight flight plan:

And displaying an instrument approach:

This is roughly my setup when I'm flying:

I have the iPad on my left leg mounted on an leg mount from Ram Mounts. That's a kneeboard on my right leg (basically a clipboard with a strap). I have a note pad clipped in it for writing down clearances and frequencies and stuff. This is obviously not taken in an airplane; I just took this at home for illustration purposes. When I'm flying, normally there are rudder pedals and things in front of my feet instead of, in this picture, a cat. I've flown with this setup for real, lots in VFR, and also in simulated instrument flying for practice and in on case an actual instrument approach. It works very well for me.

What's interesting is that air carriers that carry passengers for hire have been working on getting FAA approval for using iPads for charting devices. This February, a company called Executive Jet Management got approval from the FAA to use iPads (with Jeppesen Mobile TC application) as their charting source (article on Wired) (article on Gadget Venue). The second article is interesting because it says that they have approval to use the iPad as a sole source of charting information.

The reason that I bring this up is that yesterday, United Airlines announced that they are going to be issuing iPads to their pilots to replace bound paper charts and publications. So, for once, this is one trend that I'm actually in on the ground floor!