Sunday, July 08, 2012

Tracking Training & Proficiency, the Hi-Tech Way

Critiquing a proficiency or training flight has been made a little easier, thanks to GPS, some creative app developers, and Google mapping technology. For iOS device users there's CloudAhoy (an odd, yet memorable name) and for Android users there's My Tracks. I won't be reviewing My Tracks since I don't own an Android device, but conceptually these apps do similar things: They record GPS track data (or breadcrumbs, if you prefer) to your mobile device so you can upload them and review them on a web site using your browser. If this all sounds boring, the results are anything but.

Getting Started

To use CloudAhoy, first go to their web site and create a free account. Next, visit the iTunes store and download the iOS app. While the app was designed for the iPhone, it runs fine on an iPad in 2x mode. If you own a 3G/4G enabled iPad, CloudAhoy will used the built-in GPS receiver. If you own a WiFi iPad, you'll need an external bluetooth GPS like my new favorite, the Dual XGPS150A.

A reminder if you're planning to use this app on an iPhone: The FCC prohibits the use of mobile telephones in an airborne aircraft. To comply with this regulation, you'll put your iPhone in airplane mode. Unfortunately, airplane mode disables the phone as well as the internal GPS. Kinda makes you wonder why the CloudAhoy developers made this an iPhone app, but it would seem that many people think that following the rules is like stopping at a stop sign: So 1980's ...

Once you've installed the CloudAhoy app on your iPad, launch it and enter the registration information you used on their web site. You can use the Settings feature enter one or more aircraft registration numbers for later use.

Recording A Flight

Before you takeoff (heck, even before starting to taxi) open the CloudAhoy app on your iPad, select an aircraft, enter who's in which seat, enter comments about the flight, then tap Start. The indicator above the start button shows which GPS source is being used and its relative accuracy. After starting the app, you can switch to another app or put your iPad to sleep, forget about it and go about flying the plane.

At the conclusion of your flight, after you've taxied clear of the runway and it is safe to do so, open the CloudAhoy app and press Stop. You'll need to have a network connection for the tracking data to be uploaded to their web site. If one isn't handy, wait until one is available. You'll see an indication of when data is available to transmit and when data is actually being transmitted.


Once the tracking data for a flight have been transmitted, return to the CloudAhoy web site, login, and look at the list of flights that have been recorded. To debrief a flight, click on the link next to the flight's description and you'll see that CloudAhoy attempts to decipher what you were doing at each phase of the flight; taxiing, takeoff, en route flying, maneuvers, even touch-and-goes. Their analysis software makes some very good guesses about what the track data mean and can identify steep turns, chandelles, touch-and-go landings and so on. You can click on the play button to see the track replayed and even speed up the playback from 2x to 10x normal.

Turns around a point ...

If you use the iPad's browser, you'll be limited to the 2D view because there is no GoogleEarth plugin support. If you use a desktop browser, you'll be able to see 3D views of takeoffs and even bring up a rendered cockpit view.

Steep turns, rendered with Google Earth ...

Useful? You betcha!

There are numerous training benefits that can be gleaned from CloudAhoy. For one, it makes critiquing ground reference maneuvers and holding patterns a piece of cake. It can even help determine how well a candidate flew an instrument approach procedure and perhaps even uncover problems in the design of a procedure.

A CFI-I candidate pointed out what he thought was a problem in the recently redesigned KAPC ILS or LOC 36L. Specifically the missed approach instructs the pilot to make a climbing right turn to a heading of 200 degrees and intercept the Scaggs Island 230 degree radial and track that to BURDE intersection. He used CloudAhoy to clearly show that a Category A aircraft properly flying the missed has little chance of intercepting the 230 degree radial on a 200 degree heading because they'll be on the wrong side (northeast) of the VOR.

Track of the missed approach in Category A aircraft ...

I can see a lot of benefit from pilots using CloudAhoy on iOS devices and My Tracks on Android devices, too. If LogTen were to find a way to integrate this sort of data, it would make logging flights in an electronic logbook so much easier.

If you fly a helicopter, CloudAhoy's heuristics for determining flight maneuvers, takeoffs and landings may not work so well. They're reportedly working on a solution.

If you live outside the US, CloudAhoy is not yet available:
"The debriefing relies heavily on access to aviation and weather information which is country-specific, and currently CloudAhoy receives such data only from the FAA, i.e., only in the US. In the future CloudAhoy will be available in other countries as well."
Used properly, this should be a great tool for instructors, students, and certificated pilots. Check it out!


JohnOCFII said...

Sounds like a neat App.

I also wanted to let you know you can keep the internal iPhone GPS enabled (at least on an iPhone 4S) while disabling both the Cellular and WiFi Radios that the FCC is concerned about.

To do this, instead of using the one-step Airplane Mode button, do the following:

1) In Settings -> WiFi - Select Wi-Fi OFF
2) In Settings -> General -> Network - Select Celluar Data - OFF

This will disable both WiFi and Cellular radios while leaving the internal GPS functioning.

Dave Starr said...

This is a great use of technology. There are several "cheap enough?" for general aviation flight recorded systems out there on the market, but nothing can compare in cost or convenience to this ap.

In addition to the obvious benefits to the individual pilot, if I were a CFI I'd certainly toy with the idea of requiring my students to use it all the time while "under my wing". If i were an aircraft owner/operator, maybe I'd require it.

Sure would eliminate a lot of buzz jobs and other dangerous goofing around sometime engaged in by students and other rental pilots.

John Ewing said...


It appears the ability to selectively disable cellphone, GPS and WiFi was introduced in iOS 5.1.1. I missed it and appreciate your pointing it out to me.

There's no regulatory requirement that I know to turn off WiFi (unless it interferes with equipment in the cockpit), just cell phone and, by extension, one would assume, cellular data. For example, the new Stratus ADS-B weather/GPS receiver uses WiFi to provide multicast services to multiple devices. I'm still waiting to get my hand on one of those to review, btw ...

Dave Starr,

Interesting point about how tracking could be applied to rental aircraft and even part 135/121 flights. Like cockpit voice recorders, the prospect will make many pilots, professional and non-professional, uncomfortable ...

capnaux said...

What a cool, fun app! I think I'll have to try it on my A320 during my PHL-SAN flight! ;)

Ron said...

How does the app affect your battery life? I've use apps like MapMyRide but find they tend to kill the battery pretty quickly.


John Ewing said...


Haven't noticed much impact on battery life on the iPad 3, but training flights tend to be shortish. A backup power source seems prudent for longer flights.