By BILL WALKER
I received an iPad for Christmas last year and put it to use straightaway in my Skyhawk.
Not knowing which aviation application to use, I tried several. I purchased ForeFlight, Flight Guide and Pilot My-Cast by Garmin, and did a 30-day trial of WingX Pro from Hilton Software. Now, nearly a year on, I use ForeFlight most often, with My-Cast a close second.
With these apps I can plan a flight, review the weather anytime, fly the plan or change it on the move using an easily readable and seamless electronic sectional — and take advantage of the cheapest fuel stops enroute. In deteriorating conditions I can use the approach plates with georeferencing of my position as a backup to the IFR-certified GPS in my plane.
I bought a mount from Ram and the iPad sits on the yoke without covering any instruments. To connect with the Internet, I use Verizon’s Hotspot, a pocket-sized device that costs about $40 a month. The Internet connection even allows me to check email, file an order with Sporty’s or Aircraft Spruce, or read the best of General Aviation News online — all these on the ground, of course.
Once underway from Marion County Airport (MAO), my home base at Marion, S.C., I rarely fly above 5,500 feet and my cross countries seldom exceed 350 miles. I have had no problems receiving information inflight. But the connection can be lost, just like with cellphones.
ForeFlight works problem-free with my iPad’s built-in GPS. My-Cast also pairs nicely with it. Flight Guide recommended its add-on GPS receiver (now $299) and I bought it. It works fine as well.
The apps show your plane’s location on the maps and approach plates. Pilot My-Cast superimposes weather on the sectional while ForeFlight requires a change to another page.
The iPad viewing screen is bright, clear and easily expands to show increased detail. I set maximum lighting intensity and use a cigarette lighter charger plug to save the iPad battery. Even the brightest setting can be washed out by direct, brilliant sunlight, but I can count on one hand the number of times screen fadeout has been an issue. Also, a dark shirt offers less reflection on the screen in all conditions.
In hot weather keep the iPad out of direct sunlight or it will overheat and shut down until cool. Mine has never overheated while mounted on the yoke with the plane in motion. My iPad has never been exposed to temperatures lower than freezing in the cockpit, so I have had no experience with shutdowns because of extreme cold.
The most important decisions I made this past year using the iPad were the ones not to launch. At least half a dozen times, after a look at weather on the iPad while sitting in the plane, I chose to fly another day.
On the days I decided to fly, the iPad was more than helpful. Once, on a 112-mile flight to Burlington, N.C., the early morning report at BUY showed light winds and good visibility. But underway a few hours later a nasty crosswind and lowering ceiling showed up on the latest METAR. The information didn’t improve conditions, but I was prepared for arrival long before I listened to the Burlington ASOS.
One Saturday I craved a barbecue sandwich from my favorite airport restaurant, Stanton’s near Bennettsville, S.C., 29 miles away. I got a late start and didn’t land on Stanton’s quirky, inclined, dog-leg grass strip until after one.
When I walked back outside in mid-afternoon there were Cb buildups in three quadrants. The iPad radar painted an ominous red and yellow squall line to the northwest with the opening back to Marion dotted with patches of rain. I got off the ground almost immediately and flew a zigzag course home, dodging scattered circles of heavy rain that were easy to see out the window and also on the Pilot My-Cast screen. I landed in a calm drizzle at Marion and three hours later the storm arrived, packing a wallop that would have overwhelmed my aircraft.
I bought a farm this past summer and that involved the iPad in an unusual flight. The farm has a pasture ideal for an airstrip. After working each day to clear the weeds, I flew down to the farm in late evening to relax and to see what the approaches would be like. On each 10-mile trip, with the sun already below the horizon, I would set up for a landing and fly the planned runway at about 100 feet.
One evening darkness caught up with me on the return. No reason for alarm, I knew. This was my home territory and I’d catch the MAO beacon in a moment. Only there was no beacon. And no runway lights.
I found out later a construction team at the airport shut down all exterior electricals when they quit work. That left only blackness beyond the cow pastures where the airport should have been illuminated. I could have easily diverted to a lighted field. But what if I had been a stranger to the area, low on fuel and desperate to land?
On that evening, I called up the ForeFlight Runway 4 GPS approach plate with two finger taps. The miniature airplane on the screen pinpointed my position and I rolled left to intercept the initial approach fix, then turned again moments later directly for Fokav, the final fix. A few minutes later the fuzzy outlines of the runway stripes emerged from the darkness. This would also have been an ideal situation to use WingX Pro7’s new synthetic vision add-on, which I don’t yet have.
I include the iPad in my refresher training to stay IFR current, using it as a backup to the older Garmin 300XL GPS in my aircraft. Seeing your exact position on the iPad approach plate is superb for situational awareness under the hood while shooting GPS or VOR approaches.
In the final analysis, the iPad, like my handheld transceiver and portable GPS, is a safety backup. I could do without it, but that would take my flying back to a less informed, less safe arrangement. Obviously, I will not go back. But I might go forward soon to the even faster iPad2.
Costs: An iPad2 ranges from approximately $550 to $700. ForeFlight offers a VFR plan for $74.99 yearly and ForeFlight Pro with additional instrument procedures and diagrams is $149.99 yearly. Pilot My-Cast basic is $99 per year and the full package is $180. Flight Guide begins at $99 yearly and the IFR standard plan is $129, the IFR Plus Data Plan is $199. Flight Guide has also partnered with Zaon to offer traffic alerts directly on the sectional. Wing X Pro7 is $99 yearly and the Synthetic vision add-on is $99. Add $75 for georeferencing of your aircraft on the charts and another $30 for fuel prices.