Stylus for iPad and ForeFlight ScratchPads

ForeFlight, the most popular aviation app for the iOS phones and tablets, includes a handy ScratchPad feature, described in this post at the ForeFlight blog. A video that shows the feature in more detail is also available at YouTube.

ForeFlight ScratchPads

I experimented with the ScratchPad the other day as I flew with an IFR customer. It’s a handy feature, with built-templates, but I quickly found that using my stubby index finger to scribble clearances and ATIS data didn’t work well. It was hard to write quickly and clearly.

Off to Amazon I went in search of a stylus designed for iOS devices. After a quick search and scan of customer reviews, I settled on the Bargains Depot pack of two styluses (with six replacement tips), for $5.99. Many other options are available at Amazon, generally at prices well below $10 for packs of 2-5 styluses.

I’ve now tested these tablet-pens with ForeFlight and other apps, and I’m pleased. The tips are soft enough not to damage the screen, but they also make writing on the tablet seem natural. They also work well as pointing devices when you need to tap on a menu or the map, scroll, or close a window.

If you use a tablet or smartphone in the cockpit, I recommend that you keep at least a couple of styluses handy. They’ll never run out of ink.

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iOS 7 on iPad and ForeFlight 5.4…OK so far

I just finished updating ForeFlight (version 5.4 adds a few nice features, described here) and installing iOS 7 on my iPad (64GB version 3).

All seems to be working well. I did the update via iTunes (which itself had to be updated) on my Windows 7 computer. The Apple servers are probably being pounded today. I had to attempt the download of iOS 7 several times before the transfer completed successfully.

Flying (and Filing) Direct v. Airways

Many pilots who use GPS as their primary navigation tool, whether operating VFR or IFR, now plan their flights assuming a direct course from departure to destination. They do so for several common reasons:

  • To save time and fuel by trimming miles from long flights
  • To simplify the creation of flight plans (lists of waypoints) in GPS navigators, especially units that don’t support entry of airway designations
  • To simplify navigation in flight by reducing the number of turn points
  • To avoid major changes from a filed IFR flight plan when they receive their actual clearance from ATC. Pilots who file direct often say, “Filing a specific route is futile. ATC assigns a different route when you get your clearance, so why bother planning a detailed route?”
Direct or…

Direct

…Airways?

Airway

While it’s true that direct routes are by definition shorter than those that include zigs and zags, as we’ll see shortly, the difference, especially on trips of the length typically flown by piston-powered aircraft operating below the flight levels, is usually much smaller than most pilots assume.

In the event, terrain, airspace, and preferred routes (under IFR) can make direct routes ill-advised, impractical, or impossible, especially in the mountainous regions of the West and within the congested airspace of areas like the Northeast, the Bay Area, and the LA Basin.

A route with several waypoints or which travels at least partially along airways has several advantages, including:

  • Making it easier to track your progress on charts
  • Helping you remain aware of alternatives should you need to stop for fuel, accommodate passengers, avoid weather, or deal with a malfunction

It’s also far easier to amend a flight plan than it is to build a complete flight plan from scratch, and having a detailed route “in the box” before you leave the ramp also helps reduce heads-down time while taxiing and during high-workload phases of flight like departure and arrival, especially when you’re trying to navigate unfamiliar airspace.

(Keep in mind that even if you prefer to file and fly direct under IFR, your route usually must include several waypoints. The procedures and requirements for filing direct and RNAV routes are described in AIM 5-1-8, especially sections C and D.)

But for the purposes of this exercise, assume that direct routes are feasible.

Direct v. airway: distance, time, and fuel

Today, many tools make laying out routes an easy, no-math proposition, so planning a flight with course changes is hardly a chore. Flight-planning/navigation apps like ForeFlight (version 4.6 is described here) now include flight-planning/route-building features that make it easy to compare direct and airway routings and to include preferred and TEC routes, and SIDs and STARs. The flight log features in iPad apps like ForeFlight also help you efficiently build flight plans in GPS navigators (such as the popular Garmin GNS 400/500 series boxes) that require manual entry of at least the fixes that define entry, turn, and exit points of airways or the initial fixes of SIDs and STARs.

Let’s use ForeFlight to explore some of the issues outlined above in more detail.

A typical flight: KBFI-S78

Here’s route between Seattle and Boise that I fly several times a year to support Pilots N Paws. It’s from Boeing Field (KBFI) to Emmett, ID (S78).

As you can see below, the direct route is 327 nm. In this example, at 160 KTAS, estimated time in en route is 02:10, and the trip requires about 32.5 gallons of fuel, not including time and fuel to climb.

020

And climb we must to fly this route, because under IFR we must cruise at or above 10,000 ft. to clear terrain (probably at least 11,000 ft. when flying southeast). The direct route also clips or comes close to a couple of restricted areas.

My typical, mostly airways, route, at 341 nm, is only 14 nm longer, about 5 minutes at 160 knots. This route follows the airway between SEA and ELN (MEA 8000) and clears the big restricted area near YKM. In fact, the total mileage is a bit less, because after takeoff, ATC typically vectors me to join V2. The KBFI-SEA leg is in the flight plan (and the box) just to make it easier to join the airway.

This route also passes near many airports and VORs, giving me options and backup navigation sources.

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Another common route, via V4 out of Seattle, is, at 330 nm, practically the same as the others, although it requires a cruise altitude of at least 10,000 ft. under IFR.

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Another example: Seattle to northern California

Here’s another trip that I make a few times a year: KBFI to the Bay Area with a fuel stop (for relatively inexpensive fuel) at KOVE (Oroville, CA). The direct route is 483 nm.

023

That route spends a lot of time over the mountains and clips some MOAs. Because of traffic between Seattle and Portland, ATC isn’t likely to offer it under IFR.

My usual filed route avoids those issues and comes in at 511 nm, a difference of 28 nm (about 10 minutes at 160 knots). It clears the busy corridor between Seattle and Portland, and ATC usually accommodates it. Again, this route remains close to many airports, and the majority of the flight is over terrain that allows reasonable MEAs. Because I have stored this route (including the fixes that define V23) in my GNS530W, it’s easy to include changes or shave miles if ATC approves shortcuts (e.g., between OLM and EUG) or deviations for weather. But as we’ve seen, on trips of this length, trimming a leg or two doesn’t typically offer significant savings in time or fuel.

024

One more example: KBFI-KOSH

But what about a much longer flight, say the annual trip to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI? Leaving aside the need to stop for fuel and spend the night, the direct route from KBFI to KOSH is 1,417 nm, about 08:38 of flying time at 160 KTAS.

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A typical, mostly airway route (subject, of course, to changes for weather) is about 100 nm (some 7 percent) longer, but it adds less than 1 hour of flying time (winds aloft and other factors being equal). Total block time, of course, would be much greater to accommodate fuel and overnight stops, but those considerations also apply to the direct route.

029

More importantly, the mostly airways route guides you through mountain passes and keeps you relatively close to airports and highways (which means you’re also nearer towns and services).

Flight plans and flight planning

As I’ve suggested above, filing and filing a route that includes airway segments and multiple waypoints can also help you track your progress more easily than when following long direct segments. The act of laying out a route and building a flight log encourages you to become familiar with navigation fixes and to think about decision points along the way. What’s the weather like at nearby alternates? Which airports offer the best services? What types of instrument approaches are available along the way? What are good points en route to evaluate your actual flight time and fuel burn?

It’s certainly possible to ask and answer such questions when laying out a basic direct route, but there’s often real value—and little additional cost in time or money–in following another path.

Flying with an iPad3: First Impressions

I recently bought an iPad3, primarily to use electronic flight-planning tools and digital charts in the cockpit. As instrument-rated pilots know, a typical trip involves lugging several binders or volumes of instrument procedure charts, plus en route charts, backup sectional charts, and at least one volume of the A/FD. Flights usually cross several chart boundaries, requiring pilots to juggle and refold large maps in crowded cockpits.

IFR-EnRouteSample

Part of a typical low-altitude IFR en route chart published by FAA AeroNav Products.

Apps for the iPad have transformed the cockpit, just has electronic publishing is revolutionizing the way people read books and periodicals. Pilots are rapidly turning to products like ForeFlight and WingX to go paperless and use an electronic flight bag (EFB). Airlines are also getting on board.

A Pilots N Paws flight on March 24 gave me a great chance to try the new gizmo and software under VFR, and as it turned out, the long round-robin flight (KBFI-S78-KBLI-KBFI) proved the value of an EFB when weather over the Cascades argued for change of route.

KBFI-S78-KBLI-KBFI

GPS track of the 900 nm flight as shown in Google Earth. For more information about recording and displaying GPS tracks, see the June 2010 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.

My Setup

I fly an A36 Bonanza. It’s equipped with a GNS 530W IFR-approved GPS, and I also carry a Garmin GPSMap396 as a backup and to display weather reports, forecasts, and NEXRAD imagery received via SiriusXM.

imageI’ve now added an iPad3 (64GB with Wi-Fi and 4G), which I use with an ASA iPad Kneeboard that features an easel that tilts the iPad at a handy angle or collapses to allow the tablet to lie flat. The ASA kneeboard also includes a transparent flap that protects the iPad screen while allowing you to control the device with its snazzy touch interface. On this trip, I used the latest version of ForeFlight (I’ll test other products on future flights).

I set up my cockpit as shown below as I cruised en route.

NotLostYet-Label

Although from this angle, the transparent flap on the kneeboard seems to exacerbate reflections from the iPad’s glossy screen, a different view shows that the plastic overlay didn’t appreciably interfere with viewing or controlling the display. I even finger-scribbled ATIS reports, transponder codes, and other information on the scratchpad in ForeFlight—a blank page intended for jotting such notes. I like the protection the flap offers, but you can tuck it away if it proves distracting.

iPad-ASAKneeboard-Closeup

The front seats in my Bonanza feature high-density foam, so they’re a bit thicker than those with standard padding and upholstery. But in cruise flight, the iPad didn’t interfere with the yoke, even when it was tilted on the easel. I would, however, fold it flat when maneuvering and during takeoff and landing. I didn’t try flying an instrument approach on this trip, but I suspect I would fold the kneeboard flat during that critical phase of flight, too.

GPS Reception

My subscription to ForeFlight includes real-time tracking of my aircraft’s position on all charts, including instrument procedure charts and airport diagrams. I bought a Dual XGPS150A Bluetooth GPS receiver to supplement the built-in GPS in the iPad3, and that combination worked well. As the battery in the iPad ran down after some 6 hours of constant use, I turned off the XGPS150A to save the drain required for running Bluetooth. Even in the Bonanza, the iPad continued to show my GPS position, based only on the tablet’s internal receiver. I’ll test GPS reception on more flights.

Heat and Cooling

The press is abuzz with reports about the heat generated by the new processor in the iPad3. I checked the tablet periodically during the flight, and it definitely felt warm. The tilt-up easel on the ASA board, however, allows air to flow around the tablet and keeps it above your leg. Ambient temperatures were moderate on the day of this test flight, so I’m not sure if heat will prove an issue on warm summer days. The fabric ASA kneeboard tightly encloses the tablet, which might exacerbate any heating issues. Nevertheless, the iPad never complained or shut down.

A Change of Plan

I had planned to fly the leg from Emmett, ID (S78) to Bellingham, WA (KBLI), via my usual route across the Cascades along V2 between Ellensburg (ELN) and Seattle (SEA).

image

About 30 minutes after takeoff from S78, however, a check of the NEXRAD display showed rapid buildup of precipitation, including snow over the Cascades east of Seattle. I chose to turn west near Pendleton, OR (PDT) and follow the Columbia River through the gorge to the Portland area, and then turn north to KBLI.

image

The seamless charts in ForeFlight, which you can zoom in for detail and zoom out for the big picture, made laying out the new route quick and easy. And the flight log immediately reflected the new ETE and ETA and fuel requirements for the longer route. With the new waypoints locked down on the chart, I could easily transfer the information to the GNS 530W and GPSMap396.

Cascades-24March2012-01

The unexpected clouds and showers over the Cascades that prompted the reroute through the Columbia River gorge.

Conclusions So Far

I want to evaluate the iPad/ForeFlight combination on a few simulated instrument flights before I rely on it for actual IFR flying, but even after one test, I’m sold on the potential of electronic charts. On long flying days,  I’ll have to swap among devices that run off the power outlet in the airplane to make sure that they all have sufficient power reserves during approach and landing. And I plan to continue practicing creating and amending routes, switching among chart types and procedure plates, and other essential tasks to make sure that flight operations become second-nature. But even after only one flight, I feel comfortable and reasonably proficient with the iPad and ForeFlight. I expect to become a 95 percent paperless pilot* soon.

*I think I’ll always carry printed copies of a few critical approach charts on IFR flights.