Friday, November 18, 2011

iPad EFB Gotchas

Pilots everywhere have been using iPads as Electronic Flight Bags for over a year now in all kinds of aircraft and some ... umm ... interesting incidents are starting to be reported. The iPad, combined with one of several EFB software packages, is a very useful device. But perfect it ain't. Here are a few common iPad gotchas and ways to avoid them.

Out-of-Date/Missing Charts

You haven't flown in a few weeks, so you make plans to get airborne, head out to the airport, but the weather isn't cooperating. You are IFR current so you launch your favorite EFB app to prepare an IFR flight plan only to learn your charts have expired. This happens more often than you might imagine, especially for infrequent flyers. If you have internet access, go ahead and start the update but expect a delay. If you don't have 'net access or if the access is really slow, you could be inconvenienced in a big way.

Solution? Do a dry run a day or two before you plan to go flying: Launch your EFB app and ensure your chart data is up-to-date. You can also keep track of the chart expiration dates in your electronic or paper calendar as a reminder so you aren't blindsided.

GPS Reception

If you purchased a 3G iPad and rely on its built-in GPS, you may find in some circumstances GPS satellite lock can be lost. Depending on the aircraft you fly and satellite coverage at a particular point in time, you may be fine or you may not. Of course you shouldn't be relying on your iPad for anything other than situational awareness, but losing GPS coverage can be seriously distracting at a high-workload moment.

Solution? Trying to keep your iPad from being shadowed by aircraft structures may help, but there are only so many ways you can hold your iPad in flight and still have it be usable. Another solution is to use an external, bluetooth GPS such the GNS 5870 MFI GPS Receiver or the newer Dual XGPS150 Bluetooth GPS Receiver  that comes with it's own rubber mat for laying on the glare shield. If you prefer a plug-in solution, the Bad Elf GPS Receiver  could be just the ticket.

Bluetooth Blues

Another distraction is discovering that your bluetooth GPS receiver is not connected to your iPad. I see this fairly regularly since upgrading to iOS 5.0.1, but futzing around with bluetooth settings isn't something you want to try while hand-flying in IMC.

Solution? I find going into the iPad settings, turning off bluetooth and then turning it back on to be the most reliable way to reestablish the connection. If you are using a bluetooth GPS receiver, make sure it is communicating properly with your iPad before you takeoff.

All EFBs are Equal?

Flying through the LA Basin is a heck of a time to discover that your chart app doesn't have a graphic depiction of the VFR transition that Socal is asking you to fly. If you're using ForeFlight and you don't have a back-up paper VFR terminal area chart (TAC), this could happen to you.

Solution? For one, Skycharts Pro does include the VFR TAC marginalia as well as the fly charts from the back of the TAC. If you haven't purchased that app then you may want to invest in a paper TAC or print out the necessary information from a site like SkyVector.

Hold Your Cards

If you own a 3G iPad and you rely on the built-in GPS, be advised that if the SIM card rattles loose you'll see a "no sim" alert and you'l loose GPS, too.

Solution? Reseating the sim card usually fixes this issue, but you might want to consider an external bluetooth or plug-in GPS as a back-up.

App Crash

Most iPad apps seem to be pretty stable, but having your EFB app crash at an inopportune time can be a real drag, especially during an instrument approach. Witnessing this happen to an instrument student of mine was an eye-opener. He not only had to re-launch the app and wait for it to initialize, he had to navigate back to the approach chart he was using.

Solution? There's no way to completely immunize yourself from app crashes, but there are a few preventative things you can do. Some folks feel it is a good idea to shutdown and restart your iPad every few days. Same goes for syncing your iPad on a regular basis. Next, become familiar with your EFB app's user interface while sitting in your living room in a nice comfy chair. If your EFB app allows you to mark favorite approaches or create binders of approaches for a trip, by all means use these features. Anything that helps you better organize charts will also help you locate those charts more quickly if you have to re-launch and start over.


In hot weather it is possible for an iPad to overheat since the device is cooled solely by conduction. When this happens, the iPad shuts down until it cools off. You can't control the weather, but there are a few things you can do.

Solution? Put your iPad to sleep when you aren't using the display. Keep the iPad out of direct sunlight. During refueling stops, don't leave your iPad in the sun. Avoid folio cases that completely enclose the iPad and cases that are dark in color since they trap and absorb heat. If your iPad does overheat, get it out of the sun, direct a fresh air vent toward it, and wait.

Getting Juiced

The iPad has outstanding battery life, but the battery might not last very long if you forget to charge your iPad the night before you fly. The same problem can happen with external bluetooth GPS receivers, especially the GNS 5870 since its capacitive-touch power switch makes it all too easy to turn on accidentally.

Solution? Invest in a USB charger solely for use in the aircraft. Some adapters take a long time to re-charge the iPad, but at least they'll power the iPad and keep the battery from draining further. Turning the brightness down can also reduce the iPad's energy consumption.

What's Your Problem?

Had an interesting iPad technology moment? Post a comment and let others learn from your experience.

1 comment:

Paul in the CA Desert said...

One problem I have with ForeFlight is the lack of TEC routes in the app. I didn't know that until one flight I got a SAN routing and had to go back out to the FBO to buy a paper AFD. Minor thing but I thought the idea was to be paperless.