Chris Stevens

Aviation. Tech.

Flying Digital: iPad + ForeFlight HD (Part 1)

One of the on-going expenses in operating an aircraft is buying both VFR and IFR charts and publications every 1-2 months.  These aren’t normally expensive either, typically about $8 per region, but our usual intra-Texas flights require 6 different publications.  Imagine then traveling across several states (our trip to Florida required 10 pubs) or the farther.

When the original iPad first launched, the aviation community saw some immediate parallels to the existing state-of-the-art electronic flight bags of the time.  Those devices, both highly specialized and ruggedized for the rigors of cockpit life, sold for thousands of dollars and had just one mission in life.  The iPad can do all that and much more with the right software.

After passing on the first-gen iPad, I picked up a shiny new iPad 2 on launch day with a plan to use it while flying in addition to the daily web consumption activities.  I’ll have to tell the iPad2 launch day store later.

I almost immediately loaded a free trial of arguably the best in-flight software for the iPad: ForeFlight HD.  The maps and charts are gorgeous and bright and full color, whereas the printed publications come in any color you like as long as you like black.

The mid-size iPad or bigger can hold all of the charts, maps, and publications for the whole US.  Weight and volume are a big deal in light aircraft transportation and this device and appropriate software can replace an entire case of paper for cross country flight.

One of the big issues in a transition to digital is safety of flight.  Paper is pretty safe and not known to spontaneous combustion, so short of being tossed out a window, most pilots are usually confident that their paper charts will be available when needed.  With digital devices, people start to worry about failures, blue screens of “death”, backups, and the regulations.  I’m not completely convinced yet, but I’m headed down the path.

I also think the pricing model for the Foreflight software is pure genius.  With my annual subscription fee, which is far, far less than buying a year worth of paper charts, I can use the software on 1 iPad and 1 iPhone!  Woohoo!  Now, I have a digital backup for the main device and still don’t need any paper.

In the next installment, I’ll talk about my flight tests with the new system.