iPad Takes Aviation by Storm

Pilots have been users of all sorts of personal electronic devices (PED) but I have never seen a new piece of electronics catch fire with pilots like the Apple iPad. The bright, colorful tablet is showing up in flight decks from light-sport aircraft to the biggest business jets.

The iPad is, of course, a smash hit with almost everyone, but the pilot community is not always on the cutting edge of electronic gadgetry. After all, our demographic is, well, pretty old, and old guys in general are not the people constantly texting, gaming, and otherwise fiddling with some sort of electronic device. But the iPad is appealing across the spectrum of pilots like no other PED. 

Sporty’s Pilot Shop has created apps for the iPad and they have been big sellers. But more remarkably, Sporty’s has produced online iPad training webinars that have been more popular with pilots than any other topic the company has offered. The Sporty’s people are simply amazed at the response.

(Watch the EAA webinar hosted by Bret Koebbe, from Sporty’s Academy)

On the other end of the GA spectrum, Gulfstream and FlightSafety International are using the iPad to create the first paperless business jet training course for the new super-performance G650. Pilots transitioning to the new large cabin business jet will be given an iPad when they arrive for training and all documents and course materials will be loaded – and then automatically updated – in the device. Instead of leafing through huge paper manuals, or even looking at a conventional computer screen, pilots in the FlightSafety classroom will use the iPad to follow the instructor and learn the systems.

Gulfstream has also developed its own app so that the required airplane and pilot manuals for the G650 can be stored on the iPad so, with the charts already stored in the onboard avionics, paper can be abolished from the G650 cockpit.

Pilots of all types of airplanes are using the iPad for flight planning, and for carrying the flight plans along into the flight deck. You can use the iPad itself to connect to many flight planning services, or you can use it to download navigation logs, charts, weather, and so on from conventional Internet flight planning systems.

The iPad is, obviously, an excellent way to store and display charts and airport information without lugging along the paper. And between flights you can use the iPad to fly simulated missions.

Jeppesen, of course, has an app to store and display its charts on the iPad and, I hear, is tackling the issue displaying en route charts in an effective and usable format. Approach charts and airport diagrams are a natural for the device, but en route charts with their necessary larger scale have been a problem, and the iPad may be a solution.

I’m not sure exactly why pilots have adopted the iPad so quickly. Smartphones and other tablet PC devices can do almost everything the iPad can, but they have had only limited acceptance in the flight deck, and to even gain that level of use by pilots took many months or even years of being on the market. But the iPad didn’t face that “wait and see” attitude we pilots give to most new contraptions. Pilots embraced the Apple tablet immediately.

Maybe the iPad has benefited from the widespread use of flat glass flight deck displays in everything from amateur built airplanes to the biggest airliners. Many of us now stake our lives, and our passengers’ lives, on colorful glass displays that are the only things that allow us to stay right side up when we fly in the clouds. Once you have come to grips with that, how long does it take to appreciate what an iPad can do?

The iPad also brings together for the first time in the same package a large screen, bright colors, very low weight, huge computing power, and long battery life. Before the iPad you had to select from that list because not all capabilities were available on a tablet style device.

I don’t know if I am all that different from an average pilot, but I still use a dumb phone and get e-mails on a computer – a little computer – but still a PC. Nothing that had come along was compelling enough for me to change my Luddite attitudes toward personal electronics. Yes, I have a flat glass PFD with non-moving gyros in my airplane. Yes, I have synthetic vision on the PFD. And yes, I have been receiving weather in the flight deck from satellites for years. But those capabilities always made sense to me because they are so specifically linked to flying precision and potential safety.

Now the iPad has come along and even I can see how its almost limitless capability can enhance my flying. That puts me near the end of the line of people to figure it out, but iPads and pilots are a natural fit – the first time I have been able to believe that when it comes to fancy electronic personal gadgets.

This entry was posted in Mac Clellan's Left Seat Blog, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to iPad Takes Aviation by Storm

  1. Marty Rogers says:

    But the great part about it is that it doesn’t matter which computer you choose it just works and very soon you won’t need a computer at all to set up your iPad. Just think what we’ll be doing with them in 3 years time.

  2. Bill Hemme says:

    I really like the iPad and like the ForeFlight app. However, downloading current weather and radar data via the 3G cellular service link is basically that the weather data link won’t work above an altitude of 5000 ft.

  3. Lindy Kirkland says:

    The iPad with ForeFlight is a near perfect EFB for a light aircraft. The zoom feature is great, especially on the Low IFR charts as you can scroll out to follow a Victor Airway and determine any turn points for the route. The only utility that I wish ForeFlight had was a robust weight and balance program. Everything else is spot on.
    Also, In my usual rushed manner, I hate to admit it but I have left my iPad on the wing of my Bonanza and taxiied away…not once, but twice!! Both times, the corners were a little more dinged but it survived intact and worked perfectly. Great piece of gear!
    Lindy Kirkland

    • Jim Hardin says:

      You have taxied away [b][i]Twice[/i][/b] with your iPad on the wing???

      No offense, but you need to seriously reevaluate your piloting style…

      Once in a lifetime, OK. (cup of coffee in my case)

      But twice is a trend and not a good one.

  4. Jeff says:

    A flying friend of mine just purchased an I-Pad for his aviation use. I am envious, I want one…. But I don’t fly enough to justify the purchase…

  5. Bob Briggs says:

    My wife got me an iPad2 with just wifi for my birthday. Fortunately there’s an Apple store nearby so I could learn how to use it – it’s limitation of only one application displayed at a time makes it a lot different from a PC or Mac experience. Later I visited my sister, who has an iPhone, and she knew how to use my iPad immediately – they seem to have similar user interfaces.

    So far the most valuable use has been to lug around pdf copies of the flight supplements I’m supposed to have in the airplane, which is a bunch of paper that I never need.

    I plan to order charts – can’t decide between ForeFlight and WingX.

    The most addictive game I’ve ever run across was in the “free” apps in the iTunes store when I first logged on – called “Clever Click Clear”. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve spent more time with the iPad on this game than any other use yet. I think they are charging 99 cents for it now.

    Need to get back to flyng …

  6. Bob Briggs says:

    Oops – the game mentioned in my previous post is “Clever Clear Click”.

  7. We have had Flight Planners and Moving Map Charting products for Windows TabletPCs since 2001. And my competitors also have similar and more extensive software products for Windows Tablets. Windows Tablets cost less than the iPAD and do not require monthly fees. And if you think the iPAD is wonderfull, you will soon see a huge number of Google Android Tablets (Samsung Galaxy TAB, ViewSonic 10) that are going to put the iPAD to shame.

    • yogi says:

      if you check the reviews, the Galaxy is a reasonable second, but the other tablets are poor competition. 9 out of 10 tablets sold in the US is an IPad according to the WSJ. they go on to say ” the IPad IS the tablet market” at present.

    • Borneo Pilot says:

      So how are those sales for Tablet PC software going for you? The Tablet PC experience Microsoft has been pushing for the last ten years has been a major fail because they’ve simply pushed the desktop OS onto a tablet. Sure, it may “do more” than an iPad (or Android based tablet), but guess what? Nobody cares. A touchscreen interface demands a different user experience than a desktop, but Microsoft hasn’t cared what the public said for the last ten years.

      There are some other decent tablets out there too, but for now they’re a generation behind the iPad because everyone was caught flatfooted when Apple redefined a new category of computing. For now all tablets are either iPads or ones trying to copy the iPad.

  8. Mike Heberling says:

    Regarding leaving an ipad on the wing:
    Prior to entering a GA airplane for flight, whether I am the pilot or a passenger, and the pilot thinks the exterior is safe, I briefly walk around one more time looking for the obvious. Occasionally I find a discrepancy (chocks, towbar, fuel cap, pitot cover, etc.). Most of the time the ship is ready for flight. If I find a discrepancy, I perform additional circuit(s) until no discrepancies are found.
    How well does the ipad GPS work including xm weather?

  9. Chris McClure says:

    About a year ago I bought an iFly700, which is about 1/2 the size of the iPad2 and works quite well, with an exceptionally accurate and inexpensive GPS antenna (not wireless, but very good). The iFly was a little over 1/2 the price of the iPad2. I wanted to be able to view approach plates without scrolling up and down, so I reluctantly put the iFly aside and bought an iPad2 with the maximum memory (I am using it for a lot of stuff besides aviation) and installed the Foreflight app that has all of the VFR and IFR charts. Both the iFly700 and the iPad with Foreflight have geo-referenced NOAA charts and plates, and both work very well. Bright sunlight can be annoying with either, but they each have adjustable brightness screens and I have used them both effectively in bright sunlight, and just as importantly, at night.

    I have thought about selling the iFly, but may use it in the back seat (I fly a Husky, which is a high-wing tandem seat aircraft). Since I have cockpit “glass” overhead, GPS reception has been fine with both the iFly and the iPad2 (my iPad2 is a Verizon unit with 3G and wireless capability). I have the Bluetooth remote GPS receiver for my iPad2, but my GPS reception is no more accurate with it than without it, so I normally don’t use the remote.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the technology will eventually improve to the point of making paper charts nearly obsolete, but I still use them for local flights and as backup for the gizmos…

  10. Dick Kaiser says:

    Hi Mac! A while back Robert Goyer wrote about an iPad failure while the instrument was sitting in the hot sun on the passenger seat. We’ve all seen this happen with LCD watches going black and slowly recovering. Any new info on temp limitations for the iPad? Kaise

  11. Dick Kaiser says:

    Hi Mac! A while back Robert Goyer wrote about an iPad failure while the instrument was sitting in the hot sun on the passenger seat. We’ve all seen this happen with LCD watches going black and slowly recovering. Any new info on temp limitations for the iPad? Kaise– If previously queried, never received a reply. K.

  12. Mac says:

    Hi Dick,

    No, I don’t have any reliable information on the temperature tolerance of an iPad. But I also don’t know what temps are possible on a glareshield, in direct sunlight in a closed cockpit on the ramp, but I’m sure they are very high. I don’ t know anyone who has had an iPad problem when the unit was in the shade in a closed cockpit or car, but maybe someone else has info on that.


    Mac Mc

    • yogi says:

      Apple reports this: Nonoperating temperature: -4° to 113° F (-20° to 45° C). like most computers it is built with a heat switch to protect the board.

  13. Peter Zajkowski says:

    I can’t get past the idea of relying on this thing for critical information in IMC. I don’t trust computers, at least not the ones we use as PCs. If I need to keep the paper charts anyway for backup then what is the point? Anybody else worried about that? Do you buy two of these things for backup?

  14. Mac says:

    Hi Peter,

    Every pilot needs to find their own comfort level with charts and other information because if you fly an airplane weighing less than 12,500 pounds for your own personal or business reasons the FAA rules make no demands.

    I have charts stored in the Garmin G600 flat glass system in my airplane and that is my primary source. I also print charts for the destination–sometimes–from the FltPlan.com site I use for all of my flight planning and flight plan filing. But the reality is, I just don’t look at approach charts all that much. The plan view presented on the WAAS enabled GPS navigators, and the other displays they drive, are so good what can a chart tell me? The only missing informaiton from the normal nav displays is some profile information, and complete minimum DH or MDA info. And even that is changing as new displays show more and more data without looking at a chart.

    But that’s me. Not you. If you need multiple chart sources, or a hard copy, to feel comfortable, do it.


    Mac Mc

  15. Danny Bullard says:

    Thanks for your thought provoking blog – always a pleasure to read.
    I recently had a great experience using an iPad in a new and different way (at least for me). I was out flying with some colleagues, riding in the back seat, while my two colleagues were up front shooting approaches and doing the normal “under the hood with safety pilot” thing. This allowed me to use my iPad to act as ATC. With the geo-referenced NACO charts, I was able to provide a very realistic ATC simulation. Of course, this would only be prudent where you had an additional pilot solely devoted to a safety pilot role and you were in an environment that allowed you to maintain VFR.
    Nevertheless, a new twist in an otherwise standard practice of maintaining IFR proficiency.
    Anyway, I’ll be traveling to Airventure later this month, using nothing but my iPad to plan, navigate, and update my flight to and from KOSH. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Danny,

      That is an interesting use of the iPad I hadn’t heard of yet. But there are so many aviation apps available, and so many imaginative pilots, there really is no end to the iPad possibilities. When you’re the third pilot on an IFR training mission, playing controller to enhance the realism makes perfect sense.

      See you at Oshkosh,

      Mac Mc

  16. Pete K says:

    When the iPad came out I sighed and said “do we really need another Apple toy ?” A year later a fellow aviator showed me Foreflight, and it all clicked. Not only can the iPad 3G serve as a GPS navigator, it also is a portable library, communicator (email, Web) and just about anything else you could stuff into it.

    For all those folks who are holding out – waiting for something that may never appear on Android or WebOS – this Android-phone user recommends you look at Foreflight on the iPad. There is nothing like it anywhere at the moment and all you’re doing is wasting time hoping/praying/fighting. I used to be like that but no more. Get a clue.

  17. Keith says:

    I recently flew a Cardinal RG IFR from St Louis, to just outside Washington DC, to Fayetteville NC, and back to St Louis using only the electronic charts on our Garmin 696 and my iPad1 with Foreflight. The combination of the iPad and 696, both with battery backup, was sufficient backup that I did not feel I needed paper charts, even dealing with the SFRA around DC.

    I appreciated the utility of having the iPad / Foreflight for flight planning at home and at our stops, with the 696 providing datalink weather information in flight. The iPad was also very useful in flight, with the larger screen that it provided and ability to look at various charts and airports up close. Glare on the iPad screen in bright sunlight is a problem, but I plan to add Foreflight’s recommended anti-glare screen protector to alleviate that.

  18. Pete Cap says:

    I am thinking about getting an I Pad for aviation, I would mainly use for that purpose, do I need a 16, 32 or 64 mb?

    • trevor Smith says:

      The iPad is NOT a “new and innovative device” as touted by the FAA and the AOPA. Windows has had tabletPC’s for over 10 years that cost less and do more than the iPad. There are a huge number of aviation moving map software products that run on Windows Tablets. The ONLY thing the iPad did was to show consumers that the tablets were really cool. But Google’s Android has been around longer than the costly iPad with over 10 slates that equal or better the iPad and at lower cost. I looked at Foreflight on the iPad and that software is EXCELLENT. But you will find similar aviation software products Android very soon. Spend now and pay a fotune for the iPad, it’s good, but better is coming along.

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  21. Gary Pallett says:

    The iPad as an aviation tool is also now an excellent device for flight training too. We have just launched an app called Radio Navigation Simulator (for iPad/iPhone) which provides training/renewal for IFR.

    There’s also full copy of the product manual on our website. We hope it proves a useful additional tool for those spare moments on the ground when a little IFR refresher training is required :)


  22. iPad Andrew says:

    Nice to stumble upon this Blogpost and get more informations how pilots make use of the iPad. An friend of mine made it as an co-pilot and he told me the very same around a Year ago and i was totally stunned.

    Its amazing that this lightweight gadget is also used for flight training and inside the cockpit… Think about that, many people don’t even understand how to use the iPad to the fullest potential.

    Really great and informativ Source.

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