Today I received a comment on my post about me getting a smart phone. Mike, the commenter said, “Welcome to the 'Modern World' Bob. It’s crazy what you can do with technology these days. I’ve got flight instructors who use the iPad for a kneeboard*. It’s spiffy. It’s interesting where we’ve been and where we’re headed.”
Funny he should say that.
As I type this I’m sitting in a hotel room in Birmingham, Alabama. On the desk in front of me are: 1) My laptop; 2) my iPad; and 3) my Android smart phone.
My iPad isn’t good for writing. In fact, I’ve been slow to warm up to the iPad. I like it and all, but I just can’t see it replacing either my laptop *or* smart phone. It's an interesting device - one that I’ve been keeping it at arm’s length, so to speak, tucked away in my overnight bag.
However the iPad is good with this amazing aviation program called Foreflight. Whoever designed this thing is a genius. The program combines all of the things we pilots need as we go about our jobs. Flight-planning, weather, navigation…you named it, it’s got it. For me, the best feature is Foreflight’s ability to present Sectional Charts (which are just aviation-specific maps). I'll tell you why in a second. This is fine by itself (and indeed, other programs do this too. But Foreflight places your aircraft on the chart and shows its progress as you move along. No more getting lost! No more folding and unfolding paper maps!
Today was a busy day for us and the helicopter. The boss wanted to visit five locations in Mississippi and Alabama. There are really no Interstate highways that go to these places, and he would not have been able to see all of the locations in one day without the helicopter. We left home base, headed for our first stop: Tuscaloosa, Alabama. From there we continued north to Tupelo, Mississippi where we’ve opened a new dealership. Very quickly I discovered a problem.
Normally I carry with me the two aviation charts (i.e. “maps”) that cover the area we normally fly in. Somehow the charts got mixed up and I did not have the appropriate chart for any of the locations we were headed for. Don’t ask me how…it was a dumb mistake on my part. I did however have the appropriate chart for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but that city was not on our list. This is not a huge problem, as the aircraft GPS has all the information I need. And there is no FAA requirement that I keep paper charts in the aircraft. But I’m old-school – I like having paper charts.
But then I thought, “Heyyyyy, wait a minute! I’ve got the iPad!” I whipped that puppy out of the baggage compartment and fired it up. Sure enough, I was able to display everything I needed. And the beauty? You can take the chart on the screen and zoom it to make it readable even without reading glasses! (You young pilots do not yet appreciate the usefulness of this feature. But you will!)
My dad, who flew in WWII and the Korean “conflict” is long gone now. But if he were to somehow come back from the grave he would not believe the advances in technology that have come to aviation. He would scoff at me, tell me how easy I’ve got it, and then tell me I’m not a real pilot if I can’t do a 500 mile flight with just a compass, a watch and an old road map from an Esso gas station. In really poopy weather.
Which is all true.
The iPad is now a permanent part of the "necessities" I carry in the cockpit when I fly. The paper charts (when I remember to bring them) will stay folded up in a pouch. I may even write a little app which will let me use the iPad as my flight log sheet (which lets me keep track of my takeoff and landing times, where I've been and who I've flown) so I don't have to maintain the paper one.
Time marches on, baby!
* A kneeboard is just a small clipboard some pilots use which rests on and is sometimes attached to our thigh just above our knee. On it we usually attach pertinent information about the flight (charts, pens, notes, clearances, etc.) that we want to keep handy so we don’t have to grope around the cockpit for it. They even make one now that accommodates an iPad. I don't usually use a kneeboard, but the iPad thingee might make me a convert.