Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Must Have Apps

Note: For an up-to-date review of iPhone and iPad apps, click here.

I've had an iPhone for about 7 months now and it has definitely proven to be one of the most worthwhile devices I've ever purchased. In addition to the built-in features like email, calendar, contacts and web browsing, I love the ability to extend the device's usefulness with third-part applications. I wrote last year about switching to LogTen on my iPhone and on my Mac for logging all my flight times. I have to say this app is a must have, especially for Mac users.

I've found some other useful iPhone apps and here they are, in no particular order.

Filing Flight Plans

While DUAT provides a mobile device version of their web site, I don't find it much easier to use than the regular, non-mobile web site version. For a friendly, easy-to-read flight plan interface, nothing beats FltPlan. Access it using the web browser of your choice on your regular computer and create a user id at no charge. When you access FltPlan on your iPhone using Safari, login and you can get a quick and concise weather briefing (which meets the requirements of 14 CFR 91.103). You can file IFR flight plans very quickly and easily well as get access to radar summary and weather depiction charts, NEXRAD for an airport or a route, winds aloft, PIREPs and more. I don't have many suggestions for improving this site. The content has obviously been very well thought out, though the layout sometimes seems a bit crude.

Airport Directory Information

And another tip of the hat is in order to the folks at FltPlan for creating the free FltDeck Airport/FBO Info Guide app. I sure wish I'd had this on last summer's ferry flight since it provides lots of information on all airports in the continental US as well as Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. An important point to mention is that this is a stand-alone app: Once you install it, you don't need a network or 3G connection to access airport information and that means you can look up information while in flight with your phone in airplane mode.

Weight & Balance

Weight and balance spreadsheets have proven useful to me for years and I usually create one for each aircraft that I fly. I even created one years ago for the Caravan and it really simplified my life by letting me let the ramp crew know quickly and accurately how much cargo my plane could take that day. Wanting to weight & balance on the iPhone seemed like an obvious idea and Spreadsheet lets you do this easily. Create a weight and balance spreadsheet in Excel (I assume OpenOffice would work, too), then save a copy in XML format. You can use Spreadsheet's built-in file transfer feature to move the XML spreadsheet to your iPhone and you're in business baby! The original price has increased slightly since I bought it to $7.99, but it's worth it.

Surface Weather and TAFs

There are a lot of aviation weather iPhone apps out there and while ForeFlight is probably the best in breed, it's a little expensive for my current budget. I've tried a few of the cheaper apps, but for my money Aero Weather provides a lot of bang for little bucks - it's free! You create a list of favorite airports and you get a simple, concise, easy-to-read list of those airports. If you want to see the TAF for an airport, you can get that, too. And you have the option of raw or decoded formats. Remember this data does not meet all the requirements of a weather briefing for the purposes of 14 CFR 91.103, but it can give you a good overview of the weather situation in your area.

Another low-cost weather app is AirWx which only costs US$6.99. Like Aero Weather, AirWx lets you create a list of favorite airports, access METARS and TAFS, but it adds features like an E6B calculator and the ability to access weather charts, AF/D entries, and terminal procedures for many airports. It's not exactly what I'd call user-friendly and the E6B, while functional, is a bit cumbersome, but the price is reasonable.

E6B Calculator

While AirWx provides a usable E6B, PilotWizz does a bit better job. The price is either free or a low US$9.99 if you decide to buy the Pro version. It even has a holding pattern feature, though I think it's more useful as a teaching/learning tool than for actual use in flight.


I also use a few non-aviation apps (most of them free) that I can recommend, including:

Skype - internet telephony meets iPhone
Google Earth
Pandora - music
Shazam - music
iBart - for Bay-Area Rapid Transit train schedules
TouchType - for email and Twitter (once I'm ready to stream my consciousness)
Wikipanion - for reconciling bets and disagreements on facts, history ...
Tides - so I can walk my dogs near SF Bay without Taz disappearing into the mud flats!

Any aviation apps you use that I haven't mentioned? Please chime in, but be forewarned that spam and inappropriate comments will be sent to /dev/null.


Michael said...

Just an FYI:

Your link to "Touchtype" is linked to Pandora (which I agree is excellent).

I have purchased and use ForeFlight Checklist. The developers are very responsive to user feedback, and the free updates have improved what is already a very solid and easy to use app. One of the best features is the ability to customize checklists, to the point that I have mine tuned to the particulars of club flying. I still need to buy a mount to get the maximum utility from my iPod Touch in the cockpit however.

Some other apps I use are: "Daily Planet" which is a dual GMT / Local time clock.

"myLite" which I can use a flashlight in the cockpit or a distress signal (in theory)

"Pilot Wizz" E6B functions, weight and balance, quick log, etc.

John said...


Thanks for pointing out that link error. It's been fixed.

Ron said...

I am a major iPhone convert too. My major gripe with the phone has to do with the AT&T coverage, which is fairly poor when compared with my previous provider, Verizon.

However, I've undergone a major mental shift since buying the iPhone and now think of this device more as a computer which just happens to work as a phone than as a phone which does a few computer-y things.

I use AirWX and love it. I never even considered ForeFlight or whatever that $80.00 app is called. Holy cow, that's 12x as much as AirWX costs, and about 50x more than the typical "pay" application. I've used it on a friend's phone and while it's better than AirWX, I just didn't see how it justified the extreme price. If they ever put it on sale, however...

Anyway, i've used my iPhone for all sorts of things in the cockpit. Taking pictures, listening to music, referencing data, correlating a ground position via Google maps. It's an amazing device.

I can't wait till the 3.0 software upgrade. They're adding cut and paste, MMS, and a bunch of other cool stuff. :)

Matthew Stibbe said...

Pilots and iPhones sort of go together, don't they? I love mine. I recall reading that Microsoft picked a flight simulator as their first (or perhaps second) game because there was such a crossover between PC owners and pilots back in 1982!

Anyhow, here are my iPhone aviation top picks:

X-Plane - a real flight sim on the iPhone.
Morse-it - a morse code tutor
Units - helpful for calculating Gallons to Liters etc.
Flight Control - the best game on the iPhone is also the best ATC game ever
Google Earth - look at where you're going before you get there

iPhone-able websites PDA version - Europe weather radar in real time. - File ICAO flight plans on your iPhone - a great, lightweight TAF/TAR browser

Paul S said...


Got my iPhone yesterday--I'm still bleary-eyed from playing with it for hours.

Anyhow, iWeathr is a great, free app for accessing NOAA radar iWeathr

Agreed about Fltplan where you can also get the weather.

On another topic, I just received the iRex DR1000S and am taking it for a test drive. This is the big brother of the iRex Iliad that you reviewed a while back. Bigger charts are easier to read, but I still don't know that you could count on it for real-world IFR. It's tough to beat paper for reliability.


Anonymous said...

I created a shortcut to It has a lot of good info (including charts) in an iphone-friendly format.

I also like the Weather Channel app.

bobw said...

The article was great!

I've just uploaded a new iPhone app that retrieves worldwide weather, "World Aviation Weather." It has a database of nearly 7,000 airports, making retrieval fairly easy. It also ties into Google Maps, which provides an aerial view of the airport. Finally, the weather package (METARS and TAFS) can be sent via email to any recipient.

Let me know what you think.


Robert said...

I use Foreflight every day, probably 3-4 times a day as an instructor. Can do everything I need for preflight briefing.

I just starting using the free version of Logten Basic to keep track of my flights before I can enter then in my logbook.

I have LiveATC to listen to tower and approach/center frequencies.

I use Flightplan for the E6B and W&B.

I love the PilotFAR, PilotAIM and PilotPrep.

Have Checklist, but only use in a pinch. Charts is nice, but would be better if I had a GPS phone.

FlightAware live tracking is a good app as well.

Last one is the large file reader, GoodReader, and I download the large PDFs from PDFplates who have entire approach plate books and AFD's. Great interface where you can navigate an approach on the iPhone.

teamBT said...

Just for your information,
I just released "Pre-Flight", a multi leg flight planning tool for the iPhone or iPod Toch. One of the nicer features offered by this new app is world wide info on wind aloft for the entered route. Combined with climb and cruise performance of you aircraft it will suggest the best economy altitude for each leg of your flight.

Check it out. I'm sure you'l like it.

Anonymous said...

Zulu converter is a great app...cost 1.99 but if you are like me and are too lazy to try and figure out zulu time and dont have a "zulu watch" its a great app.

bartley millikan said...

Skycharts is a must include. Offline Sectionals with your GPS position and tracking overlayed.

Anonymous said...

I use Pilot Time almost every day -- can never remember the current UTC conversion and this give it to me in one touch. Also has a converter (like for figuring out what the local time is on that Pirep). Free. Plus it's fun b/c you can upload your own background images.

Pete said...

have you guys tried avWeatherPro?
just got it for 99cents.
pretty good for the price.
shows aviation weather charts live. said...

I use GearUp...very useful for professional pilots...