Tuesday, May 04, 2010

SkyCharts Pro Video

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.