Paper logbooks have a certain charm for both seasoned and neophyte pilots alike. Thumbing through a paper logbook is an experience that an electronic logbook has a hard time matching, but the more hours you have recorded the more difficult it is to manage and track currency and aeronautical experience. That's why I encourage pilots I train to duplicate the times recorded in their paper logbook in some sort of electronic format. Many pilots resist migrating to an electronic logbook because training flights require an instructor's signature, or because they need a place to record endorsements, or simply because they have amassed a fair amount of flight time and the thought of entering all that data is just too daunting. The latest release of LogTen Pro, a popular electronic logbook program for the Mac, iPhone, and the iPad has added features that move the electronic logbook closer to completely replacing hardcopy logbooks, including the ability to store digital signatures and endorsements.
Readin', 'Rightin', & 'Rithmetic
Most brands of paper logbooks provide precious little space for pilots and instructors to document each flight. That's why instructors either learn to write in very small letters or they end up taking multiple lines on a page to describe a single flight. Even when instructors succeed in writing in tiny letters, they still have to appropriate some blank space to record their signature, certificate number, and expiration date as required by 14 CFR 61.51.
By far the biggest disadvantage of paper logbooks is that mistakes, omissions and arithmetic errors invariably creep in. Even if you are incredibly circumspect in your math, there will be times when you'll be asked to provide statistics from you logbooks that can be time consuming to compile. For example, student pilots filling out an airman's application Form 8710 will need to provide some numbers like night cross country instruction received. Form 8710-10 (National Examiner Board-Designated Pilot Examiner Candidate Application) asks for very specific flight times, like multi-engine instrument flight instruction given. Ferreting out obscure flight times from a paper logbook can be time-consuming and error prone.
Several features make electronic logbook applications like LogTen Pro (LTP) appealing. You have more space to enter a description of the flight, track day and night landings, and the times for various categories will be totaled for you - a good job for a computer. Most electronic logbooks let you print out a hardcopy of your flight times, too.
LTP runs on MacOS, the iPhone, and the iPad, though you'll have to purchase separate versions of the app for each device. LTP lets you synchronize the logbooks on any and all devices that you have, just be sure you're backing up the logbook file somewhere safe. You can configure LTP so that certain hours, like PIC, are automatically populated when you enter a new flight.
You can record Hobbs and tach times as well as block-out/off/on/block-in times. Accurately record block times and LTP will automatically calculate how much of your flight was officially night time. You can also track night takeoffs and landings in a meaningful way, something that is missing from many brands of paper logbooks. Virtually all of the fields are configurable, so you can adjust LTP to be as simple or as detailed as you like.
For pilots who fly professionally, LTP can track your duty times and inform you when you've reached or are about to reach duty limits. As a flight instructor, I use this feature to track how long I've spent with each student.
Previous versions of LTP let you track things like instrument and type-specific currency, but one shortcoming was it was difficult to record multiple instrument approaches for a single flight. Version 6 lets you configure up to ten instrument approach fields for a single flight.
When an insurance company or flight club wants to know how much time you have in a specific aircraft type in the last 90 days, LTP makes it relatively easy to provide an answer. You can create your own Smart Groups that use multiple criteria to extract pretty much any flight time you might be able to imagine.
The coolest feature in LTP version 6 is the ability to sign a logbook entry for a specific flight. Before signing, fill in the flight details completely and correctly because once the entry is signed, it's locked. It can be unlocked to be corrected, but the instructor's signature will be removed, which makes sense. Assuming you've filled in the flight details, the signing process is relatively simple.
|1. Tap on the signature button|
|2. Select instructor by name|
|3. Enter the instructor's certificate number|
|4. Enter expiration date of instructor's certificate|
|5. Instructor signs in the white box using their fingertip|
LTP lets instructors enter endorsements directly into a pilot's electronic logbook, but this feature is found in the Certificates section. This may be a matter of semantics, but I found that odd. It seems Endorsements should be a separate category, but I digress ...
Tap on the Certificates tab, then add a certificate, select Endorsement as the type, and the instructor can enter whatever text and limitations they desire. Instructors can also specify an expiration date which is very handy for student pilot solo endorsements.
The bad news is that instructors must manually enter the text for each endorsement. Sure, you can cut-and-paste from AC 61-65E, but your student must have that AC stored on his or her device.
Once you've signed an endorsement, it will be locked and you can store the "certificate" (endorsement) on www.mylogten.com by tapping Share and specifying an email address. MyLogTen will send an email to the specified address which will contain a link where you can view and print-out the endorsement. This data will be stored on their server for one week and will then be automatically deleted. Not the best arrangement, but it's workable.
If you want to print out a copy of your LTP logbook, a dizzying array of report and summary formats are provided. In addition to doing a backup of your electronic logbook file, it's probably wise to maintain a printed version, too.
Warts and Requests
LTP offers a lot of features for a lot of different pilots, from students to instructors to airline pilots. Their instructional videos on their various products are good, but each one begins with the hyperbolic claim that logging your flight time with LTP "... couldn't be easier." The truth is that with all these features and options, configuring LTP can be a bit daunting. LTP eases things a bit by asking you what your role is when you first install the app, but there are a lot of bells and whistles. If you have questions, customer support for LTP is pretty darn good.
The biggest drag with LTP version 6 is that the app start-up time on the iPad and the iPhone is noticeably longer than the previous version: It takes anywhere from 15 to 20 seconds for the app to initialize and that's a bummer if you woke your iPad up simply to record a block-out or off time. I'm not sure what LTP is doing during that delay, perhaps it's busy calculating currency or duty times? The developers have been releasing updates on a regular basis (at least two have updates to version 6 have already been released), so one hopes this will be addressed.
The mechanism for entering instructor certificate expiration dates could be better. All certificates expire at the end of the calendar month: One should only have to select the month and year of the expiration without scrolling through the day to find the end of the month. This is likely a limitation of the iOS programming interface, but still ...
If both pilot and instructor are using LTP, there should be a way to record the flight once and have it be distributed to the pilot's and the instructor's logbook. Since I already log flight times and descriptions on my iPad, it's tedious to have to enter the details twice. I'd like to see a way to enter the flight, sign the entry, and then transmit it (perhaps via email) so the student can import it into their logbook.
Instructors are required to keep records of any endorsements they have given for three years (five years for TSA-mandated endorsements). Flight schools and flying clubs often want copies of those endorsements. With the ability to sign-off flights and give electronic endorsements, LTP is just crying out for a better way share this info. An email facility with a data attachment that could be imported into LTP might do the trick.
Which brings us to iCloud support. The lack of iCloud integration is more a reflection of Apple's iCloud not being ready for prime time than it is a lack of will on the part of LTP developers. Assuming iCloud app support does become generally available, some of the sharing issues mentioned above may find a solution. Until then, LTP has limited ways to share flights and endorsements.
Out With the Old?
Will electronic logbooks replace paper logs? Will most NDBs be decommissioned? The answer to both of these questions would appear to be "yes, eventually." You may have resisted switching to an electronic logbook because you don't want to enter all the flights recorded in your paper logbook. That's certainly understandable and you may want to consider this service for converting your logbook to digital format. Given LTP's ability to record signatures and endorsements, it may finally be time for pilots to consider converting from a paper logbook to an all digital version.