I tried to explain to my seven year old how incredible the iPad he was playing on was. It might be commonplace to most of us by now, but the technology we have at our fingertips is remarkable. In my most genuine “back in my day” sort of rant, I reminisced on tape players that required flipping to the other side and -gasp- rewinding. The only thing wireless was the aluminum foil laden tv antennas. I used encyclopedias if I needed to look up data on a topic. And I’m only in my 30s. There isn’t much you can’t do on an iPad or iPhone these days, sonny, and with a seemingly endless stream of apps, many that aren’t worth their salt, finding the necessary aviation apps can be a challenge. Take a look at the aviation apps I use – some for flying, others for nurturing my avgeek on the ground.
This is a great app for use in flight – once you have learned the old fashioned method of flight planning and are ready for this technology. This is referred to as an “electronic flight bag” because it allows for flight planning, weather planning, maps, approach plates, airport information, and lots of other little bells and whistles. My iPad is the “wifi + cellular” type which means it carries a GPS chip. This allows me to have Foreflight up while I’m flying and my location on the sectional chart is displayed right on the screen. In flight training, it’s totally cheating because of its incredible ease and situational awareness capabilities. But that means that beyond learning to fly, it’s an incredible measure of safety and info at your fingertips. Don’t figure it out in the plane, though. Flying with an iPad is all about using it responsibly and keeping your eyes on the iPad as little as possible.
This app gives you the ability to put in a list of different airports to see the weather they are reporting (the METAR). I set up various airports from around my flying region to be able to get a snapshot of the weather. For instance, if the clouds are 6000 near me and reporting generally between 5000-8000 in the region. That’s good high cloud cover, whereas if my area showed clear, that might give me a false snapshot if I didn’t see that most other stations in my region were reporting being socked in by lower clouds or fog.
3. X-Plane 10
While this game has some realistic aspects to flying, it really is more of a game than a training device, especially given the tilt controls of the iPad. It’s fun, though. It comes with a couple airplanes but you can purchase others for a couple bucks each to use in different scenario based missions. For example, one scenario has you in a Cessna 172 that develops an engine fire. With smoke in the cockpit, you have to put it down at a nearby airport in a certain time frame. There are general aviation, commercial, and military aircraft as well as helicopters. It’s a fun diversion from the desktop version of X-Plane that does have some real benefits to pilots. Read about those in my 5 Ways A Flight Simulator Can Make You A Better Pilot blog.
4. Weather Underground & Storm
These apps are great for typical day to day weather of temperature, rain chance, wind, etc. There are lots of great tools and a very user friendly interface. I use this for my several days out flight planning, or for the week ahead snapshot. The storm app has a good radar interface and shows the frontal movements and has customizable layers. In general, I use these apps to determine which day to book the plane.
5. ASA FAR/AIM
The official source of all aviation rules. The Federal Aviation Regulations and Aeronautical Information Manual is usually found in a big, brick like book that could take out a couple toes if you drop it. This app won’t make your iPad weigh another ounce. I still wouldn’t recommend dropping it, though.
6. Live ATC
I mentioned using this app to improve your radio technque in my 5 Tools To Better Understand And Improve Radio Communication blog. Listen in live to different air traffic control frequencies all over the world. I’ll admit, I have been known to jam out to this driving down the road. It’s. It the kind of thing you blast at traffic lights for cool points, though.
7. Flight Computer by Diego Rodrigues
The classic metal E6B flight computer is a staple for your flight bag, as noted in my blog on building your flight bag. It’s fitting, then, that this electronic version of a manual flight computer that still isn’t the electronic version of a manual flight computer (did you get all that?) would make a great choice. It’s like when you long for the feel of the metal slide rule but all you have is this silly iPad.
8. Sporty’s E6B
I am a manual E6B guy all the way, but this app is great for double checking your flight calculations or for some of those lesser known E6B functions. This is the true electronic E6B where you simply type in the data you know and the calculations you need appear in the answer box.
9. VFR Radio Communications by MZeroA
Another great tool for learning and improving radio communication, this app features great video of arrivals and departures into the different kinds of airpace with instruction from Jason Schappert of MZeroA.
10. Takeoff by Sporty’s
Sporty’s Pilot Shop is well recognized across the aviation industry – I have been known to spend a dollar or two there. This app has both free and paid features. The paid features require a monthly subscription to view ($9.99/month or $59.99/year), but the free stuff is plentiful enough to satisfy your aviation craving of training videos, pictures, quizzes, and articles. I’m sure one of these days an irresistible topic will cause me to cave and drop the cash for the subscription, but until then, I’ve been holding out nicely.
11. Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge by Insomniac Studios
This is the classic FAA flight training manual right on your device. I read through this as a refresher before taking my biennial flight review and like having the info at hand if I need to reference it.
Alright, I’ll go ahead and tell you this one is a little pricey, but I don’t regret spending it for a moment. You choose the app of the type of plane you fly – they design an app for a number of different airplanes and helicopters. Then you have an interactive Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for the purposes of weight and balance and performance calculations. You can type in the weights of you and your passengers, baggage and fuel to find a graphical representation of your limitations. Then, using that loading configuration, you can input the air temperature and pressure to calculate the takeoff distance, climb and cruise performance, and landing distance. The cool part to me is that you can adjust any of the sliders, like turning the temperature up, or dropping pressure, and see how all of the other specs are affected. Pretty rad. There is a disclaimer when you start it up that you should use the actual aircraft’s POH, which is solid advice. This is much better used as a training device and a double check to your performance calculations to see if you arrive at the same conclusion using two different methods.
Call Me Old Fashioned
As I detailed in my How To Start Flight Training blog, learn flying the old fashioned way and then graduate to using an iPad – if you feel so inclined – once you have mastered the old way. Even when you are at that point, always have a backup. Any electronic device can malfunction, but you can’t beat the reliability of a map. Even with a good charge on the battery, you never know what could happen. I was recently on approach back to my home airport at Thomson (KHQU) when I glanced down at my iPad to confirm a radio frequency. My screen said that the “iPad needs to cool down before you can use it.” Good thing I had a map at hand – fully charged, and nicely folded. And cool enough to read.
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