Flying with the iPad - Great Situational Awareness in the Sky
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Flying with the iPad – Great Situational Awareness in the Sky

I’ve been flying in Canada & the United States with my iPad now for over a year and there are more than 300 aviation applications available at an App Store near you.

There are two main reasons why pilots love the iPad; big screen with incredible resolution and a ten hour battery life. Over the past few months commercial airlines like Alaska, United and American have experimented with the use of the iPad, replacing almost 50 pounds of paper binders and technical manuals in the cockpit.

Most applications allow you to test drive their apps for 30-days before buying. ForeFlight  is a good moving map display, including all airport diagrams, approach plates, and most importantly in-flight XM weather. Garmin’s MYCAST, charges a fee for one year, six months, or 30-day usage. Garmin’s software has widgets along the bottom of the screen which makes it very comfortable for Mac users like me. Garmin and the WingX Pro7 app allow pilots to “Rubberband” routes, in case you plan to divert or stop at another airport along the way for fuel or because of bad weather.

Me and many other pilots still depend upon a primary GPS device for navigation. My Garmin 496 has a subscription for XM weather, so I also see what’s coming ahead in real time. I use my iPad for Geo-Referenced plane position with respect to my sectional chart, depending on where I may be flying in the USA/Canada. WingX Pro 7 includes Synthetic Vision. Professional units usually cost thousands of dollars but Hilton Software’s WingX  Pro 7 provides Synthetic Vision ( to prevent you from flying into mountains and power lines and give you an artificial representation of obstacles or airport taxi-ways in fog or snow). It is very affordable and works great.

16 GB or 32 GB iPads work fine for the amount of memory required. The developers of the majority of the aviation apps have been able to use no more than 7 GB for the entire set of government charts covering the entire United States, but I only download the charts where I plan to be flying, mainly the North-East. If you do plan to take a trip to California or Florida for example, you can download the additional data before leaving and planning your trip.

One tip for pilots venturing into the blue with an iPad for the first time; be familiar with the apps. Run the applications once before flying, load routes and make your mistakes and ask your questions on the ground— not at 10-thousand feet. Make sure your data-bases are current and updated.

Also, when you first begin using the iPad in-flight, DO NOT USE AIRPLANE mode. It kills all wireless, Bluetooth and GPS signals. Kind of important.

The WingX Pro 7 application costs little and for $99.99 you can get a one year subscription for the Synthetic Vision. The split-screen is like having two moving maps in one. Both charts are zoom-able and there are low/high altitude charts and airport approach/departure procedures. The software gives you the flexibility of choosing which screens you want up and you can flip between them. Along with the sectional map there is the in-flight weather, Notices to Airmen, Pilot Reports for your region, and the weather reports for your home or destination airport— all on the iPad screen.

Another $99.99 buys you a very small & portable AHRS device (attitude heading reference system) this “add-on” hardware gives the WingX Pro 7 software the ability to to replace traditional mechanical gyroscopic devices and provide superior reliability and accuracy. The visual representation on the iPad, along with two airspeed an altitude tapes on the sides of the screens, gives a pilot instant visual representation of the aircraft and the nearby terrain. The colours yellow or dark red gives an instant reference to the altitude of nearby terrain like mountains or buildings. The colours change with altitude.

One of the things I like the most about this iPad App is the constant reference to restricted air space zones and TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions) This will keep most experienced pilots safe and sound with constant reference to prohibited airspace such as Washington, D.C. An F-16, firing tracers ahead of your plane in the morning, can ruin your entire day. Handcuffs and three days of interrogation and FAA paperwork will probably also cost you a suspended licence. The iPad will always let you know with great accuracy –within 16 feet of your relative position on the moving map.

Seamless Visual Flight Rules sectionals can be pinch-zoomed and panned around. In-flight weather can be over-laid easily and the WingsX Pro 7 and shows your route, expected time of entry to a given way-point and expected time of arrival at your destination. A brightness control is great and there is a night view. What I really like is the lock key which prevents accidental touches. The software knows what environment you are flying in and will alert you when you are about to enter controlled airspace either above or below your altitude.

Along with this innovative and extremely affordable application for the cockpit, I also keep two other moving-map apps on my iPad. Each have their specific strengths and weaknesses.  I like   Jeppview by Jeppesen  and Fore-Flight. Each requires a yearly subscription and a subscription for XM weather (the same people who bring you those toe-tapping tunes in your car). If you have an ADS-B (Automatic Dependant Surveillance Radar ) receiver, The ADS-B system can also provide traffic and government generated graphical weather for free.

ADS-B will be replacing radar as the primary surveillance method for controlling aircraft worldwide. In the United States, ADS-B is an integral component of the NextGen National Airspace strategy for upgrading/enhancing aviation infrastructure and operations. WingX Pro 7 software already has incorporated this important technology.

When you do use add-on data devices, they will be connected wirelessly in the cockpit to the Ipad by Wi-Fi. My external GPS device is connected by Bluetooth to my iPad and provides a much more reliable signal with hours of battery life.

So after flying for several months (and using my iPad in my car as a “big” GPS device), here are some additional tips:

Never leave your iPad attached to a wind screen in the bright sunlight, as you go into the airport restaurant for a $100.00 hamburger and coffee. When the iPad heats up it will turn itself off until it cools down. Apple states that the unit works best up to 10,000 feet and with a temperature of between 0 degrees to 40 degrees C. Another good tip is to direct the flow or cooler air from your cabin vents across the black-back of the iPad to provide a little air-conditioning for the micro-processors inside, especially on a hot sunny day.

Do all your pre-flight set-up (airports, charts, waypoints) the night before or before you take-off. A pilot’s first job is to “fly the plane”—not fiddle with headings and iPad screens.  Of course make sure the devices are all fully charged. External power source is also an option with USB plug-in. Take note however that the iPadwill NOT charge with an iPhone cable. The iPad uses a 10 watt/2.1 amp system, different from the iPad.

Both iPad 1 & iPad 2 will work with all the equipment and software described in this article, however the newiPad 2 has a much faster micro-processing speed.

I encourage anyone who uses an iPad in an “outdoor” setting or aircraft cockpit to invest in a quality glare-shield. Makes it much easier to  read the screen. Experiment with the placement of your device. There will always be GPS interference in a metal cockpit or automobile. I use a portableiPad bracket with a suction cup attaching it to the plexi-glass pilot-side of my aircraft. It allows me to do a regular instrument scan from left to right without obstructions. My primary GPS device is attached to the airplane yoke with another aluminum clamp bracket.

It’s important to syncronize your iPad weekly to make sure your charts and airport data are current, along with the additions of new cell-phone towers or wind-turbines in rural areas.  My WingX Pro 7 software also includes GoodReader, one of the best document readers for the iPad. This allows you to keep and manage documents along with the entire catalogue of Federal Aviation Regulations (USA) & CARS (Canadian Aviation Regulations). Talk about saving weight in the cockpit—these are almost the weight equivalent to a small heavy bag! Weight in an airplane is critical for more efficient fuel management and extending the range of a given flight. The TOOLS application also allows one to compute the aircraft weight/balance and perform most calculations involving wind speed/angle, fuel burn and rates of climb/descent. Excellent reason to put the old whiz-wheel/slide-rule away!  The cockpit apps also allow you to keep an electronic log-book of flight times, landings and take-offs.

The Federal Aviation Adminstration, under its Advisory Circular has declared that an Ipad or any other Electronic Flight Book, may be considered a 100% legal replacement for sectional charts/airport diagrams as a PRIMARY source of navigation. Nevertheless you must always make sure your information is CURRENT. Like the boy scouts, BE PREPARED.I never leave home without a recent version of the paper maps I may need, depending upon where I am flying. —Just in case.

Safe flying or driving and try the iPad in the cockpit or car for long trips. It will make you say by-by to Tom Tom and similar standalone GPS units..


Josef Singerman
1 Comment
  • Robert Laflamme

    I use iPad since last December and it is 100% efficient. Foreflight airnav pro are the best. I have current radar in flight
    I also use Internet skype email. All while flying

    October 6, 2011 at 6:23 pm Reply

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