The tablet has become an indispensable part of most cockpits fulfilling a wide range of purposes from navigation, to weather, to administrative functions. Which such a large choice of devices and software, it is hard to decide which to use. In this article I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of some of these software packages as I have experienced them.
The devices most commonly used in the cockpit generally fall into two categories, the iPad and proprietary devices such as de Garmin Aera 795. Before the iPad, the proprietary devices used to be more popular, but the quality of the software on the iPad has matured to such an extent the iPad has definitely become the preferred device in the cockpit. As the iPad can accommodate several applications, it is also more versatile. The rest of this article will focus on the iPad.
Due to the space constraints, the iPad Mini is the best device to have in the cockpit. It is also important to choose the iPad Mini with an inbuilt sim-card, not only to allow Internet and the receiving of the latest data, but also to have built in GPS. The regular iPad may also work in some cases, but it is often difficult to accommodate it in the cockpit. Mounting it on the joke often means that at least part of the instruments are obstructed, restricting the regular iPad mainly to lap use.
Ram Mounts manufactures a range of mounting systems which allow the iPad to be attached to jokes or windshields. The iPad Mini seems to be just the right size to be mounted comfortably on the joke or the windshield. The screen size also seems to accommodate most approach plates perfectly.
One of the primary purposes most people use iPads, is for navigation. This article will discuss 2 of my preferred applications, SkyDemon and Jeppesen FD. I use both of the packages for different purposes.
SkyDemon tries to pack a wide range of functionality into one package, and they do an amazing job at it. At its heart lies a set of vector charts covering all of Europe, and most of the world, with a high level of detail. The subscription costs around € 104 / year, and includes all of the charts, that can be individually turned on and off and downloaded within the app. SkyDemon updates itself regularly, and also connects to the Internet to perform various functions such as receiving the latest weather, NOTAM’s, approach plates and even the submitting of flight plans within the app.
Planning a flight with SkyDemon is very easy. The initial screen starts with a form asking for the departure, arrival and alternate aerodromes. As soon as these are filled in, one is met with a chart showing the entire route.
By drag and dropping the pink link one can create the desired route, taking into account any airspace or areas one wants to avoid. As the application also downloads the latest winds applicable to the flight, it is also directly able to calculate the expected duration of the flight. These calculations are also conveniently directly integrated into a pilot log.
The pilot log calculates the navigation problem, by estimating the speed, calculating the headings based on the winds, and ultimately the time taken for each leg considering the speed. Furthermore, it also calculates the fuel requirements for the trip, including any reserves.
The pilot log view also conveniently lists the radio frequencies that may be required during the route. It is also possible to print the pilot log through the iPad, along with a number of other documents such as weight and balance and charts.
The applicable Notams for the flight are located on a tab on the right side of the application. The Notams are interactive, such that upon clicking them, the location is indicated. The fixes the tedious task which previously required the drawing out of the coordinates on the chart. SkyDemon does this completely automatically.
SkyDemon is also capable of doing of doing weather planning, though this functionality has some limitations, and I rarely use it exclusively for weather, particularly when he weather is more complex, or with IFR flights.
SkyDemon has a tab on the right side of the application that displays the applicable METAR’s and TAF’s for the route. It is also able to display a weather radar image on top of the chart, though I have found its detail to be somewhat limited in some cases compared to other websites for weather planning.
A welcoming function in addition to the above, is also that it is possible to, within the application, download charts and information directly out of the AIP of the country.
The charts are displayed on top of the vector chart, addition an additional level of detail. It is also possible to do the same for taxi charts. Other textual documents are displayed in a viewer within the application. In practice I do not use the vector charts for the main reason that the charts coming from the AIP are difficult to read, particularly as countries in Europe each have their own style. While this rarely presents a problem for VFR flights, it does become problematic for IFR flights, where it is necessary to be able to quickly retrieve essential information from a plate.
SkyDemon provides more functional allowing Weight and Balance calculations, filing of flight plans and even the filing of a GAR required when flying to the UK. This application has become my preferred method for flight planning. Although the IFR capabilities are somewhat limited, calculating the times to be entered in the flight plan has become a easy task.
An alternative to SkyDemon is Jeppesen Mobile Flight Deck VFR, however, this is not my preferred app. SkyDemon has more functionality that the Jeppesen app which is limited to the navigation function. The SkyDemon vector charts are similar in quality to Jeppesen, but Jeppesen charges are much high price for its charts.
Jeppesen makes the best approach plates in the market, period!, and its application Jeppesen FD packs all of this into a very easy to use application.
The first screen one sees when opening the application is a moving map. In a menu at the top one can create a flight plan by entering the aerodrome of departure, arrival, any alternates and the waypoints between the route. The waypoints are essential IFR waypoints. It is also possible to directly enter IFR airways instead.
At the bottom left there is a ‘Wx’ button, which allow a limited display of weather such as icing, winds aloft and so forth. I particularly use the icing functionality for IFR flights in the winter as it provides a good indication of where icing conditions are likely to be encountered.
The moving map is more suited for IFR than VFR flights. This is also a disadvantage of SkyDemon that has limited IFR support. The chart clearly shows all IFR routes in a manner that is almost identical tot he Jeppesen enroute charts. The blue line can be dragged and dropped to create a route.
At the heart of the Jeppesen FD app lies the plates. As already mentioned, the Jeppesen plates are of an extremely high quality that is almost second to none. They are simple to read, because hey follow a strict set of rules so you always know where to find the information you are looking for. Particularly for IFR flights this is essential, but for VFR flights it can also significantly reduce workloads. In particularly compared to the free charts as can be found in the AIP, the quality of the Jeppesen plates shows.
Like SkyDemon, Jeppesen FD is a subscription based application. It is possible to choose different packages per region for VFR, IFR or both. The VFR subscription for Central Europe would set you back to about € 213 a year. The IFR subscription would set you back to over € 1.000 a year. Even for VFR only flights, I still highly recommend this application, particularly if you regularly fly abroad and consistency in the approach plates is a desirable characteristic to have.
Both SkyDemon and Jeppesen FD are good applications for planning flights, and as for VFR flights, SkyDemon is really all you need.
However, for IFR flights it can be more complex, as there are often several routes that can be taken to reach the destination. The object is often to find the shortest route, which can be limited by altitudes or other operational limitations.
EuroFPL is a free website, that can be used to find IFR routes. Upon entering the details, it will find several possible routes ordered from shortest to longest. The application also provides the possibility to validate the route before it is submitted. This is also a useful feature even if the flight plan has not been searched for in EuroFPL, but created otherwise.
Flight Plan Submission
While SkyDemon has the functionality of submitting a flight plan directly from the application, I find that it does not give me the same fine grain control as I get with other solutions. In the Netherlands, pilots get access to a website maintained but he dutch air traffic control organisation, LvNL. This website is available at www.homebriefing.nl, and access is provided to dutch pilots when contacted them and providing license information.
One of the functionalities I love, is that it allows saving template flight plans. IFR routes tend to be pretty stable for the most part, in that they often do not change. By saving these flight plans as templates, it is easy to file them on the go.
The overview screen also provides the functionality of delaying, cancellation and many other options. The only disadvantage of www.homebriefing.nl is that it is not optimised for mobile phones or other devices.
Weather planning is a complicated process requiring different sets of information. Unfortunately, I have not found any one site or application that is successful in integrating all the information I would want. In practice, I use a variety of sources, depending not the flight being conducted.
The British Met Office maintains a website at www.metoffice.gov.uk, providing a wealth of information. A feature that I particularly like is the surface pressure charts.
Using the slider at the bottom of the Surface Pressure Chart, it is possible to see the applicable chart for a particular time. This is extremely useful if one is trying to decide whether to fly in one or two days time, or when one wants to know what the weather will be like.
Other charts on the Met Office Website are good, but often limited to mainland UK.
Belgo Control, the Belgium ATC, offer a website at www.belgocontrol.be that provides some useful weather information. The website is free for use for pilots.
One of my favourite aspects of the Belgo Control site is the ease of use of the interface. The website allows for easy retrieval of METAR’s, TAF’s but also charts such as SFC analysis, SIGWX charts, Upper wind and temperature charts, radar imagery for Belgium, satellite imagery for Europe and so forth. A feature I particularly like is the textual weather forecast for Belgium that provides for a week forecast. This makes it easy to gain some understanding of the weather to be expected in some days time over Belgium.
Dutch pilots can request access to a website created by the dutch meteorological institute, specifically geared towards aviation. This website is available at www.luchtvaartmeteo.nl.
Although interface is poor and difficult to use, a wealth of information can be downloaded, including detailed information for cloud basis around he Netherlands, and all the regular charts one can expect.
A feature I particularly like, that I have not been able to find elsewhere, is the radar imagery that extends for the whole of Europe. The radar imagery seems to integrate different radar stations such that a high resolution picture is created for the whole of Europe. With this image it is easy to see heavy areas of precipitation and thunderstorms.
There are two iPad applications I regularly use.
AeroWeather is an application that allows the downloading and viewing of METAR’s and TAF’s for any aerodrome in the world. The interface is very easy to use on iPad as well as iPhones.
AeroWeather allows you to easily add different airports on your route, and also provides a decoded functionality. I rarely use the decoded functionality, as I find raw METARs easier and quicker to read. However, I am sure this is a welcome functionality for new pilots still learning how to interpret METAR’s.
Another application I often use is SkyMet.
SkyMet is a neat app that works nicely on the iPad as well all the iPhone. It displays the METAR’s and TAF’s in small icons across the chart. The colour coding gives a quick indication of the weather, with the number inside representing the visibility. The wind is put on top of the chart, as well as a weather radar. The weather radar works fine, but i sometimes find the resolution of it a little poor and inaccurate.
One of the nicest features of SkyMet is the little cross in the middle of the screen. By moving the map, it is possible to place the cross on a different location. On the top left some vital information for that area is then displayed. It is possible to change the altitude using the icon on the left, such that the weather conditions for a particular location and altitude can be displayed. The weather conditions it then gives is the wind vector, expected temperature and expected relative humidity. The latter two are very useful for IFR planning and to gain an understanding of the expected icing conditions at that altitude.
The app also integrates several charts such as SIGWX and so forth. However, I also find the choice rather limited when compared to some of the websites.
Recently I have started logging my flights digitally. There are several advantages to this. One is that it obviously avoids carrying around a heavy log book in an already filled up flight bag. Another bigger advantage for me is that it is very easy to calculate total hours and gain insight into the flight hours.
LogTen Pro X is by far the most refined an beautifully designed app. The application is available for both iPad, iPhone and Mac’s, and I use all three of them.
The software is able to create some beautifully designed reports, including one that has the exact same layout as the popular Jeppesen logbooks.
Furthermore, if the software is installed on several devices, a nice feature is that they all seemingly synchronise with each other.
Although the subscription is quite pricey, the quality is very high, and regular updates come along.
The iPad has become a vital piece of equipment in the cockpit, and provides a added layer of safety. Several mature applications exist that can replace a lot of the paperwork we traditionally had to carry along. It also makes flight planning easier and quicker.