Despite my occasional nostalgia for the days of old, 2012 is a great time to be a pilot. We have safer, more reliable aircraft operating in an increasingly technologically advanced airspace system. We have incredible GPS, more access to weather and ATC information, and better performance data for our aircraft. With hand-held GPS devices and even new portable glass cockpit displays pilots have never had more information more at their fingertips.
Even more amazing than that is that we can access to all this information from tiny palmtop computers that we call “phones.” Truly, we live in the future.
I can’t speak for Android users, but as an iDevice user I have found several indispensable apps that I use on almost every flight or flight planning session. Here are some of my favorites. If you’re an iDevice user, you can find any of these apps in the App Store.
- Sporty’s E6B.The Sporty’s E6B app is incredibly useful. It carries all the functions of the traditional slide-rule style E6B in a much easier to use palmtop interface. I use this app all the time to calculate weight and balance, leg timing, crosswind component, and just do general aviation maths. I still have a metal E6B in my flight bag (and it will never run out of batteries) but I use this app a lot.
- Aeroweather Lite.A free weather app, Aeroweather will download the latest METARs and translate them to a user-friendly data block. I always get a weather briefing (don’t you?) but I still find this a useful app to update myself with the most recent weather right before I turn the engine over. The interface is clean and easy, and you can set any number of airports to see at a glance; since my home base doesn’t report weather, I have mine set to the nearest three fields that do.
- DTC Duat. As a Chicago pilot, I like to call a briefer and ask about TFRs just so there’s an audio record of me doing that. But for outlook briefings, or as a supplement to the audio briefing, I use the DTC DUAT app. You log in just like you would on the web, fill in a few forms, and BAM. You’re briefed. The app displays a textual briefing and gives you access to all the weather graphics you could need. It is an official DUAT product, so your briefing is officially logged.
- MyFlightBook. There are an infinite number of really great, and really expensive, logbook apps out there. Me? I use MyFlightBook. It’s great for a casual VFR pilot on a budget like me. I can log all my time, any special procedures, and even add pictures and share my log through Twitter or Facebook. I love this app. I still use a paper logbook out of a healthy paranoia about online data, but this is a great app.
- Cloud Ahoy. I discovered this app through a facebook friend, and it’s just the coolest thing. You activate the app before you taxi, and it will use your iPhone or iPad’s internal GPS to track your flight path. When you’re done, you log in to their website and you can see a 3D representation of your flight path in Google Maps. You can also download your flight as a *.KML and open it in Google Earth. It’s a neat tool to debrief yourself after a flight and see if your GPS remembers it the same way you do.
- ForeFlight.Last but definitely not least, ForeFlight is in my opinion the king of the aviation applications. You can perform all aspects of your flight planning with ForeFlight. You can see sectional and IFR charts, click and drag a plan, or manually enter waypoints. You can enter data about your aircraft and ForeFlight will calculate fuel burn, ETE, leg time, and even correct for winds aloft at your planned altitude. You can see all kinds of weather imagery, get briefed, and file your flight plan through the app. You can use the internal GPS, or connect it to something like the Bad Elf unit, and use it during flight to track your progress. It has approach plates (which I believe are georeferenced) and it has airport diagrams. It even has an aural warning if you’re approaching a hold short point at an airport. ForeFlight is free to download and trial, and then you must pay $25 for three months or $75 for a year. Trust me: it’s well worth the purchase price.
So there you have it. My list of six indispensable aviation apps. I use these apps every time I fly. They are incredibly useful to me. I still carry paper charts and a metal E6B, but I cannot resist the siren song of modern technology.
The author has received no compensation for mentioning any of these apps. Developers take note: bribes (and beta-testing opportunities) are always welcome.