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.