Paper or Plastic

On of my favorite aviation bloggers, Aviatrix over at Cockpit Conversation, had a bunch of questions about changing over to an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and how the iPad might compare to paper maps. As I was reading her entry I started thinking of a comment or two to post, but the more I read, the more I realized it would be too long for a comment. Here are my answers to her very astute questions.

(I have been flying with an EFB for more than four years now. I even wrote an article about aviation apps for your iPad. I have actually switched over to an iPad mini, which is really easy to always have with you.)

I am going to assume that the operation will sign up with Foreflight. Anything else will be sad. I can’t compare the applications for them and I am sure they are getting sales pressure from Garmin, but I have tried them all and I know the iPad user experience. Foreflight is the leader for a reason.

You can spread paper charts over the whole wall/bed/floor to get a big picture of where you are going.

The zooming in and out in Foreflight is seamless. And you can flick on and off the different map layers, so while you are in your hotel and on WiFi you can turn on the animated radar images and change your plotted course to get around the back side of a storm system. You can check the IFR low altitude map and then double check where that takes you on the VFR map so you can see the terrain.

What I find that I do is to put in the route direct, then fill in points along the way. Before I pack everything up I pan along the route zoomed in so I can see things. There are all sorts of amazing tools, like the new profile view to show you the clearance from terrain.

Paper charts don’t become useless when broken.

When the iPad first came out I read a story about a fellow who was tapped to do the vows for his best friend’s wedding. He had them all typed into the iPad and his wife was making fun of him for being such a geek. Then during the ceremony the sun was beating down and while everyone was getting to the seats the iPad overheated. There’s no way to turn it on if it is above a certain temperature. I have not heard of that happening in the cockpit but I assume most pilots are like me and a little careful about not having it sit in direct sunlight for hours at a time.

When we fly across the country I have my iPad mini loaded up. Then I have my iPhone, also loaded with Foreflight. And I have my wife’s iPad loaded with it. The boys are each carrying an iPad and and iPhone (so is my wife), so I guess if I got a little nutty I could have three backup iPads and four backup iPhones. I have, once, had the iPad out of battery when I was approaching an airport (VFR) so I pulled out my phone instead. It was a non-event.

If I were running a commercial operation I would have a pair of iPads in each cockpit. They are too cheap not to do that.

(When I take off the iPad is always fully charged, but the new smart cover had dislodged just enough in my bag to let the screen light up. So it ran the battery down.)

Paper charts are temperature and pressure independent.

See above comment about overheating.

Paper doesn’t glare or wreck your night vision.

I believe there is a night setting on Foreflight, although I haven’t looked into it because I just turn the brightness down on the iPad.

You can write on a paper chart.

Foreflight allows for annotations, although I have not used this feature yet. They also allow you to make comments on FBOs and airports, which means that you could have permanent information stored there which other pilots could see as well.

Since they let you share PDFs across your operation you could also have an operational document that you continually amended and that would be the first place to check for information related to a particular airport or area.

You can set up a series of paper charts to show the important stages in your journey.

I have not found a way to bookmark a particular pan and zoom setting, although the Foreflight team is always improving things and that’s a good feature suggestion. The zoom and panning is so natural that I usually have a bunch of waypoints on the magenta line and I just zoom to the section that is first, then the next section… like that. It is pretty easy to navigate to each waypoint on the flight plan.

I imagine if I want to find Moose Creek airport I can do a search, rather than hunting all over the map for it, or looking up its lat-long in the CFS. If i want to know the distance and bearing from Moose Creek to Squirrel Pond, I expect the electronic product will draw a line on it for me, and tell me its bearing, distance and MEA. It would be nice if it could also line up the frequencies I should expect, but I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it is that clever.

It is so much better and more clever that you can imagine and it gets better every six weeks. Just recently they added a weight and balance feature and a record-my-track feature. There is a feature to set up a search-and-rescue grid (which could, uh, be used for other things). But yes, searching for an airport is easy. There is an on-screen measuring device that pops up when you just spread your fingers on the screen, just the way you would expect. MEA is on the chart and I am not sure if it figures that, but it does show the profile view for the magenta line, which is what I want to see. It will download the NOTAMs and other information for a route, a fairly new feature called “packing.”

If i put my finger on the MAP, will I change my view?

You can lock the screen, which I do when I get to the Initial Approach Fix (IAF).

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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