Saturday, May 01, 2010

iPad EFB in the Cockpit

Having used the iPad in the cockpit for several weeks now, I'm very pleased with the device. And I have more observations to offer about how to position the device, using the SkyCharts Pro application for electronic charts and terminal procedures, and some other apps for taking notes, logging flight time, and flight planing.


One of the first iPad issues is where to put the dang thing. I started by flying with the device resting on my lap, next to my old, trusty kneeboard. That worked, but seemed a bit awkward.

Next, I tried the first generation RAM Mount bracket being advertised for holding the iPad. This bracket is actually a multi-purpose product meant to hold most any sort of flat, electronic device. I tried the mount attached to the window via a suction cup, but in most aircraft this arrangement doesn't ... fly: There's not enough clearance for the flight controls and the viewing arrangement was too close to work for me.

Another RAM Mount option is to attach to the control yoke. While I found this marginally better, the mount itself weighs more than the iPad. This considerable weight resting on the control column is noticeable while banking, not unlike excessive wheel flop in a mountain bike. A seat rail mount option is available from RAM, but that's impractical for me since I fly in so many different aircraft.

A new RAM iPad mount will be available soon. And perhaps there will be other mounting options created or ones that currently exist of which I'm not aware.

Kneeboard Options

Note: For a newer post on iPad kneeboard options, click here.

A cool product is the iPad kneeboard and I had the opportunity to use this kneeboard for a week. It's definitely well-made and the iPad fits snugly into the kneeboard with plenty of room to access all the buttons, controls and plugs. A hinged cover which holds a pad of paper closes over the lower portion of the iPad screen, allowing you to take notes in the conventional way.

An unfortunate side-effect is that if you put pressure on the hinged cover while it's closed, you can get unwanted input on the iPad if you leave it turned on. I also found the elastic band to be too big for my leg - or maybe I need to work out more or gain some weight! Luckily, another elastic, velcro band from an old kneeboard fit the iPad kneeboard and worked much better for me.

You can clip a pen on the notepad clamp, but it would be cool if there was a pen holding device somewhere on the cover. Lastly, the cover is small enough that it can't hold a standard notepad, though a PostIt style pad seemed to work well.

Yesterday, I decided to take a Dremel tool to my iPad GriponPad Rubberized Hard Case, cut two slots in the back, thread the aforementioned elastic band through the slots, and use that as my holder. It works well and at $19.99 it's relatively inexpensive, though not as elegant as the iPad kneeboard.

EFB Apps

*** Edit *** You can access the SkyCharts Pro video here.

I'd hoped to have a video demo of SkyCharts Pro for the iPad, but just haven't had time to finish editing it. When I do, I'll make it available on YouTube. Until then, if you haven't used or seen SkyCharts Pro on the iPad you'll just have to take my word for it - This app is a game-changer (I hate that phrase, but in this case it's true).

SkyCharts Pro lets you cache and access huge amounts of chart data, terminal procedures, and Airport/Facility Directory while in flight. You access that information through a scrollable, zoom-able, chart display. To access information on an airport, you just tap on the airport's symbol and like a hyperlink, you'll see the information available on that airport.

SkyCharts Pro is still a work in progress and there is some stuff missing. I'd like to see a feature where tapping on an MOA, or prohibited area would bring up the altitudes, effective hours of operation, and the controlling agency. It would also be nice to be able to see the reverse side of Terminal Area Charts, the side that contains information on VFR flyways and Class B VFR transitions. And SkyCharts currently doesn't offer high-altitude IFR en route charts. Until these features are available, SkyCharts Pro is not a complete replacement for all paper charts. But it comes darn close!

ForeFlight is a great app on the iPhone for getting a weather briefing and filling flight plans, but on the iPad it's missing a lot of important features. ForeFlight does provide VFR sectionals, TACs, and both high- and low-altitude IFR en route charts as well as terminal procedures. It also allows you to cache that data so you can access it in flight. Unlike SkyCharts Pro, accessing this information on ForeFlight is clumsy and does not match the workflow that pilots normally use with paper charts.

Other Apps

GoodReader is a must have for displaying terminal procedures from Nacomatic or PDFPlates, but it also lets pilots download and store the FAA's Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, and various practical test standards.

Penultimate is a low-cost app that allows you to write reasonably well on an iPad. Check it out!

LogTen Mobile works on the iPad, though in iPhone app mode. I actually find LogTen Mobile easier to use on the iPad: The selections and input fields are larger, easier to see, and the app runs faster than on my positively ancient iPhone 3G.

Keynote lets me use my PowerPoint presentations when giving ground instruction. It's got some minor bugs, but it works reasonably well.

DUAT works on Safari on the iPad, though some of the field layouts are annoying on a touch screen - It's too easy to tap on the help link for a field instead of the field itself.

AOPA's Flight Planner works fine on the iPad, too.

There are more - So many apps, so little time!

iPhone OS Woes

A problem that may soon be solved is multi-tasking for the iPad. As it stands right now, switching back and forth between apps is time consuming and clumsy. SkyCharts Pro and ForeFlight both do a pretty good job of remembering what you were doing when you exited the app, but still ... We can only hope that iPhone OS 4.0, due this summer, will help, but it looks like Apple may control this feature in a way that could limit its usefulness ... (sigh) ...

Almost Paperless

Truth be told, I haven't accessed a paper chart in the last few weeks of flying, but I still carry a select number of paper charts - just in case. I wrote about the dream of a paperless cockpit quite a while ago and with the iPad, that dream is almost here. Almost.


David said...

As one of your CFI applicants, I found that the iPad worked well for my mock lesson with you. 
The ability of being able to share my lesson plan and/or textbooks was a HUGE plus because now I no longer have to bring 30 lbs of texts with me.  I also prefer to save my golden HP ink at home, and Goodreader allows me to print just one copy (rather than several) of my lesson plans for display.  I realize that resulted in an interesting note-taking experience for the both of us, however.
With Skycharts Pro, I can access charts that I would otherwise have no access to (in a pinch), like the Seattle sectional, or the San Diego TAC.  I hope that they continue to develop the application and build more of what we need into it, like airway support.  I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for this developer to get QICP certification from the FAA, becoming a one-stop shop for weather and charts.
I think handwriting still needs to come a ways before it's as accurate and easy to use as paper.  The iPad’s touch sensitivity can get in the way of writing on Penultimate, unless an insulating fingerless glove is used.  My cycling gloves didn’t work for me in using the Pogo pen.  Perhaps a software fix can be made?
The iPad’s relative light-weight and slim form factor result in a better platform than a laptop, because this allows me to use the internet (just like a laptop) without having to lug one around.  Its basic limitations are a fair tradeoff in comparison to a fully capable computer just because of its portability.  There are plenty of gripes, such as basic USB and SD card support, but these inconveniences only help focus the iPad’s purposes, which are being an EFB and instruction tool for me.  So much for it being a toy!
Oh, and have you noticed that the iPad’s location service is a bit on the creepy side?  It can find me even though I have no WiFi network access.  In fact, it followed me as I took BART to see my wife the other day, by tracking WiFi hotspots near the train tracks.

Maggie said...

I did not have as good luck as you did. I couldn't see ANYTHING on the screen in the bright sun in a PA28 cockpit. Reading your blog gives me hope that I just have some settings wrong.

Do you use anti-glare film?

John Ewing said...


As I pointed out in this post (, there are times when you need to shade the iPad or reorient it for it to be readable. The same is true of paper and other screens, too.

I occasionally fly with a pilot who has a Bendix/King av8or GPS and I find its touchscreen much harder to read than the iPad. Even the Kindle DX, for the short time I experimented with it, became unreadable in direct, bright sunlight. Bottom line: Some bright light conditions are too bright for reading any surface, paper or otherwise.

The iPad ain't perfect, but I've used it in several PA28 aircraft models (just flew in a Arrow today), and I find I the screen performance acceptable in most cases and very, very good in some cases. Be sure you're not using polarized sunglasses, BTW.

Thanks for writing and remember your mileage may vary ...


Funghie said...

Nice article thanks. I am a PPL Student and have been putting some UK iPad apps through their paces. You may find my article of interest:

Kent said...

Our flight department has been using the iPad with Foreflight for about 3 months, replacing all paper charts. We find it much quicker/easier to access info on waypoints, airports, approaches, and enroute fixes than paper charts. Foreflight continues to improve and welcomes suggestions for all pilots. We have found the iPad to quickly overheat/shutdown in a yoke mount configuration, so have opted for a floor mount/seat rail mount.

544smith said...

How does the moving map function work on the foreflight app on ipad? Thanks.

John Ewing said...

It works quite well. You can read my impressions here: