Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Must Have Apps Stuff for 2010

The iPad has been out for about half a year now and many pilots have found the device useful, some might even say invaluable. The perfect cockpit device has yet to be produced and clearly each pilot's personal preference will determine whether they continue to use paper charts or trust a stream of electrons. The iPad may not be perfect, but it offers numerous advantages for pilots and even more for flight instructors. Here's a round up of some apps, gadgets, procedures, and tricks that can help you harness the power of the iPad.

Head in the Clouds

Whether you're using DUATDUATSForeFlight, or AOPA's Flight Planner, getting a preflight weather briefing on the iPad is a no-brainer. Of course you'll need a 3G iPad with 3G coverage or WiFi access, but you can access almost all the data you could possibly want. For prolonged ground sessions, I've taken to using a kickstand for my iPad along with the battery-powered Apple Wireless Keyboard. This allows me to use my favorite Dvorak keyboard mapping, even though the iPad's touch keyboard layouts still don't support Dvorak.

Regular readers may recall the iPad kneeboard I created by modifying an aftermarket plastic case. Ten minutes with a Dremel tool and I had two slots through which I threaded an elastic band from an old kneeboard. Surprisingly, the price of this case has dropped to a mere $11.99 and now includes a clip-on kickstand.

Another iPad kneeboard solution I just learned about is the HandHolder for the iPad. While it costs a bit more, apparently it can be had with a longer strap for kneeboard use. What's more, this solution doesn't involve a case which may reduce the likelihood of the iPad overheating in hot weather.

I haven't used the HandHolder, but you can read nice review on Rick Felty's blog.

Charts 'n Stuff

I find the iPad as electronic flight bag works very well, in spite of some short-comings. I continue to be a big fan of SkyCharts Pro, which recently added Fly charts containing the reverse side of many VFR Terminal Area Charts that depict landmarks and VFR transitions around and through Class Bravo airspace. Compare a $19.99 one-time purchase price with subscriptions that can cost several times that per year and SkyCharts Pro is a most excellent value. Still, I'd like to see some SkyCharts Pro enhancements like:

  • Double-tapping on MOAs and prohibited/restricted airspace to reveal details
  • A method for measuring between arbitrary points on a chart
  • Separate buttons for selecting the type of chart (rather than one button that scrolls through all chart types)
  • The ability to store and recall frequently used routes

ForeFlight is a big contender in the EFB app market, though I use it more for preflight briefings and filing flight plans than I do in the cockpit. Compared to SkyCharts Pro's chart-based tap interface, locating and displaying terminal procedures with ForeFlight is convoluted enough that I tend to lose interest.

Jeppesen's new iPad app appears to let JeppView subscribers download and view terminal procedures. I've not yet used this product, but my understanding is that it doesn't currently provide a way to view en route charts. I have asked Jeppesen to provide a demo and I hope to post a review in the future.

Whatever you use as an EFB app, you'll need a plan B and a maybe even a plan C. My plan B is SkyCharts Pro on my iPhone and my plan C is a selection of a few paper charts. I use ReadyProcs to print out a small booklet of terminal procedures and airport diagrams that I can use if my two electronic solutions fail.

Take Note

Adopting the iPad as EFB has meant that I haven't used a single scrap of paper, thanks in no small measure to Penultimate, which lets you take notes using your fingertip as a pen. After some practice, it's become second nature to me. No more dropped pens or pencils, broken lead, or running out of ink. Sure my handwriting still sucks, but I have yet to misplace my right index finger.

The latest version of Penultimate offers a selection of different pen widths and several colors, making it even more useful as a miniature whiteboard in a teaching environment. Penultimate lets you create multiple notebooks and (edit 9/30/10: correcting my earlier post) allows you to name the notebooks. I like to keep a different notebook for each student, so naming each one let's me find the specific notebook I want.

Penultimate lets you email PDF versions of pages or entire notebooks. I've been using this feature to store notes and records using a web-based service called EverNote, which lets you organize most any type of data whether it be a PDF, a text file, a URL, or a sound or audio clip. This provides a valuable way to keep a record of training given without having to actually file pieces of paper.

Logging Time

LogTen for the iPhone runs just fine on the iPad, but Coradine says they'll soon release an iPad specific version of LogTen. Syncing the iPad with LogTen Pro on the Mac has gotten a lot better. And LogTen Pro makes it easy to answer weird questions like "How much night IFR time have you logged in a Bonanza in the last 120 days?" Logbook Pro now has an iPhone app that could be just the ticket for PC users, though I've not used it and cannot make any hard and fast claims.

Grace under Pressure

For weight and balance calculations, I've imported most of the Excel spreadsheets I had already developed into the Numbers application on my Mac and then transferred them to the iPad version. It works well, except there isn't anyway that I know of to protect cells in a spreadsheet you don't want changed: You best tap carefully.

You can also use CFI Tools Weight and Balance. Since I fly a bunch of different aircraft, entering the data for each aircraft is a bit tiresome. Also, the CFI Tools Takeoff and Landing Performance app can a big help, provided your aircraft type is supported.

'lectric Book Bag

The iPad can store a lot of books and I'm a big fan of the $0.99 app GoodReader for downloading, storing and viewing FAA books, practical test standards, and a lot of other useful data. A blog reader pointed me to the app iAnnotate as a way to view and annotate PDFs. I currently have several flight instructor candidates who all have decided to adopt the iPad. When it's time for them to practice teaching a lesson, we just electronically transfer the lesson plans from their iPad. iAnnotate lets me mark up each lesson plan, adding suggestions or corrections, and then email the annotated version to each instructor candidate. The word on the street is that GoodReader may soon support annotations, too.

Portable Classroom

If all the above capabilities aren't enough, consider the iPad's ability to display videos and display Keynote lectures.

In addition to weight and balance, the Numbers app is useful for tracking a pilot's training progress, using a spreadsheet based on the appropriate practical test standards.

On Schedule, In Touch

The iPad's built-in Safari web browser is useful for accessing web-based aircraft scheduling sites like If you have a MobileMe account, you can automatically sync your iCal calendar and AddressBook contacts, too. Throw in email capability and all you need is an administrative assistant for your portable electronic office.

Cash In

Many pilots tell me that the only checks they write these days seem to be for flight instruction. With everyone paying electronically, it was only a matter of time before an iPad solution was created. The one I've adopted is from SquareUp. The reader and account set-up is free and the transaction fees are a bit cheaper than most other services. Also, there's no monthly charge for SquareUp.

Though they had some growing pains, I finally received my Square Reader, which plugs into the audio port of all things. My first credit card transaction was last Sunday and I found swiping the card is a bit tricky. I recommend resting the iPad on a desk or table, holding the card reader with one hand and swiping the card with the other. The app then provides a space for the buyer to sign using their fingertip.

Rough Edges

Some users have reported problems with their iPad overheating in hot weather and I've seen this only once when the outside air temperature was showing 35˚C, I had left the display on continuously, and my iPad was in direct sunlight. I put the unit to sleep, moved it to the shade and redirected one of the wemac vents onto the iPad. After about 2 minutes, the iPad was back and by following some common sense precautions (turning off when not in use, keeping it out of direct sunlight, etc) it continued to operate. Folks who use the Apple iPad folio-style case seem to have more problems with overheating since that case seems to reduce conductive cooling. While flying yesterday with surface temperatures being reported at 40˚C, I had no overheating problems by following the common sense procedures described above.

Multi-tasking for the iPhone was released this past summer and iOS 4.2 slated to arrive for the iPad in November of 2010 and it can't arrive too soon. Switching between tasks like SkyCharts Pro and Penultimate will be a lot simpler with iOS 4.2. There is the option of jailbreaking your iPad and using non-approved software to provide multitasking, but I'm content to wait for an approved solution.

Must Have, For Now

For now, that's my brief round-up of must have apps and stuff for the iPad/iPhone. If you know of a cool new product you'd like to see reviewed, drop me a line.


Craig Gomulka said...

Verifone also has a pretty slick handheld credit card reader and processing backend from what I hear.

Marshall said...

Your point about having a plan B when using an EFB is well taken. I'm wondering if you would consider the G1000 with a current database to be a sufficient plan B?

John Ewing said...


From what I read, Verifone's system still requires you to already have a merchant account. SquareUp does not.


A G1000 with a current nav database and a current terminal procedures chart database would seem to come close to a Plan B, but you'd still be missing en route chart information like MEAs, MOCAs, etc.

toddgrx said...

Goodreader now has nice highlighting and annotating feature. I use it to keep avionics PDFs for quick reference when not in the plane. Also have mx invoices filed as PDFs.