To illustrate why the iPad is like the 3DBB, consider just a few of the apps I've run across that you can use to hone your aviation skills.
Sporty's G1000 Checkout
If you've been avoiding transitioning to the G1000, Sporty's new app could be a big help. The app consists of a series of instructional videos that introduce the G1000 components and then delves into the features in a systematic and logical way. From synthetic vision to autopilot usage, this app pretty much has you covered. There are even G1000 manuals and quizzes you can take to test how much you've retained. Pony up $80, go through this series before you get in a G1000 Cessna, and you might just save yourself a big chunk of change.
Garmin GTN Trainer
Garmin's 430/530 series of GPS receivers was hugely successful, but that success certainly was not due to a sterling user interface. What helped aircraft owners and pilots accept the Garmins was the availability of a free PC trainer they could use to master the perverse cursor-mode-big-nob-little-nob-enter dance for free. Garmin has done the smart thing and produced a simulator for their new GTN series of touchscreen GPS receivers. Though the GTN trainer isn't free, it's a good way aircraft owners to try before they buy. All that's needed is an iPad (which for pilots seems to have become de rigueur) and about $25 bucks.
With a functional representation of the new touch interface on the iPad, the GTN trainer simulates the larger-screened GTN 750. And just in case you have some sort of cognitive impairment, the app reminds you it is in demo mode and shouldn't be used for navigation. The GTN 750 screen Home screen provides access to all the GTN features. From, left-to-right, top-to-bottom, you'll find the volume and squelch control, communications frequencies, the audio panel settings, the transponder setting, and the VOR navigation frequencies. The top part of the display is static and you'll always see this data once the unit has completed its start-up.
The middle of the screen allows you to access one of the 12 basic groups of functions, a huge improvement over the 430/530 scroll-big-knob-to-view interface where the current context was not at all obvious. With the GTN you can clearly see what functions are available and there's a clear and consistent way to get back to the home screen after selecting a function.
The row at the bottom is used to display status messages, GPS sensitivity, and whether GPS or VOR is the selected navigation source.
The trainer lets you experiment with the GTN user interface in a meaningful way, though there are some odd ... features. Garmin designers seem to have figured out a way to further overload the big-knob-little-knob interface (yee gads!). Switch from the trainer app to another app and the trainer will start over booting up again, from scratch (d'oh!). Still this trainer could be just the ticket for contract pilots and instructors who might one day find themselves in front of one of these units. A okay deal for $25 ...
Cirrus SR Perform HD
For Cirrus SR20 and SR22 fliers, the free Cirrus SR Perform app gives you a fast way to calculate weight and balance as well as takeoff, cruise, and landing performance. For Cirrus renters and instructors, you can enter profiles for multiple aircraft. There's even information on lean-of-peak operations and the dreaded "red fin." All this for free? Yeaah baby!
PC-12 Digital Aircraft Flight Manual
If you're like most GA pilots, the Pilatus PC-12 holds a special appeal. The reason is simple. Unlike a Gulfstream, the average GA pilot could see themselves actually flying a PC-12. Okay, you'll need an extra couple million dollars lying around, but you don't have to own a PC-12 in order to try out the free app. In addition to weight and balance calculations, this app lets you calculate takeoff, climb, cruise, and landing performance. If you're a PC-12 pilot or operator, this app could save you a bunch of time. Even if you're not going to be flying a PC-12 anytime soon, a guy or gal can dream, right? And the app's price is right!
Whether you're a student pilot seeking to hone your radio skills or a certificated pilot wanting to stay sharp in your spare time, you've probably heard of LiveATC. LiveATC provides streaming audio from a network of aircraft communications receivers around the world, supported primarily by volunteers provide the necessary radio equipment and technical moxie to make it all work. Not all airports are supported, but for a mere three bucks you can get an iPhone app (it also runs on the iPad) or an Android app and listen to ATC feeds. Two things to be aware of. Many folks speaking on ATC frequencies are in serious need of remedial training and are not the best examples to emulate. Use LiveATC over a 3G connection and you risk significantly raising your monthly data consumption, so find a wifi connection.
This is a quick survey of just a few of the apps that can make your iPad an even more useful tool. Whether you're struggling to learn the G1000, improve your radio technique, or just kill some time in the pilot lounge between flights, the iPad can be your very own 3-dimensional blackboard.