Monday, November 02, 2009

ForeFlight Charts for iPhone

ForeFlight recently released two new apps for the iPhone, ForeFlight Charts and ForeFlight Checklist Pro. As promised, here's my take on the charts app, including who might benefit from using them, and what I like along with enhancements I'd like to see in future version. As before, I want to disclose that I was provided with complimentary versions of these iPhone apps in consideration for reviewing them. Expect a review of ForeFlight Checklist Pro soon.

The premise behind ForeFlight Charts seems simple: Provide pilots the ability to quick access VFR Sectionals and Terminal Area Charts on their iPhone even if it is in airplane mode and doesn't have a 3G or WiFi connection. Aside from the limited screen size of the iPhone, this $9.99 app succeeds. You can enter an airport, route or just select your current location and in no time you're looking at the VFR chart for that area. Use the usual gestures to zoom in or out and scroll. The screen refresh rate is good on my 3G iPhone and is probably faster on a 3GS phone.

Consider the problem faced by a student pilot (or any pilot for that matter) who needs to plot a course between two airports, but the airports are on different sides of the chart. With ForeFlight charts you can enter the departure and destination airport to quickly find out the straight-line distance and the magnetic course for a direct route between the airports.

It would be cool to be able to do this in flight from your current position, but the iPhone's airplane mode disables the GPS and it's illegal to leave a cell phone active while in flight. I'm told that users who jail-break their iPhones can disable the phone while leaving the GPS receiver active, but this is an issue that Apple really needs to appreciate and address.

You can configure a cruise airspeed and fuel burn (in gallons, liters, or pounds per hour) and, enter a route, and get a rough estimate on the flight time and fuel requirements. Of course this does not take into account winds aloft or the fuel required during climb or descent, but it gives you a rough idea.

The routes you can enter a somewhat limited since ForeFlight Charts doesn't seem to understand Victor airways, VORs, or other waypoints, but you can enter a string of three or more airport identifiers to create a direct route between each. It also a bummer that ForeFlight Charts does not support IFR low-altitude en route charts. Perhaps they'll consider that for a future release.

One unfortunate design assumption is that you already know the ICAO or FAA identifier for each airport. There is no search feature, but remember this app is only $9.99. If you want a more robust search feature, I guess that's what ForeFlight Mobile is for.

So my short laundry list of what I'd like to see in a future release:

  • IFR Low-altitude En Route Chart support
  • Search for airports by name, city, or state
  • Ability to understand Victor airways, VORs, and intersections

All in all, I think ForeFlight Charts is a usable package at a reasonable price. Keep in mind that you'll need to pay $9.99 each year to be able to continue to get current charts, but that's a heck of a lot cheaper and more convenient that what NACO has given us. While this app won't yet replace a paper chart, pencil, and plotter for student pilot use, it is still a great learning and teaching tool. It's also handy for arm-chair flying when you want to imagine all those cool trips you'll be taking in the future. And when the Apple tablet computer finally becomes available, these sorts of apps will become that much better.


Nelson said...

How does ForeFlight Charts compare to Skycharts? They seem to be doing similar things, but Skycharts has more features?

Thanks for all your iPhone reviews, I've learned a lot from you.

John Ewing said...


I think SkyCharts has more features, like A/FD and IAP charts, but it is more dependent on having a WiFi or 3G network connection. I wish someone would do IFR low-altitude en route charts on the iPhone ...

Glad you enjoyed the reviews. They take a fair amount of time and effort to produce, so if you found them helpful, why not make a $10 donation?