You’ve torn open the packaging and pulled out your shiny new Apple iPad (or maybe it is an Android tablet). Powering the unit on for the first time, the image on the screen is just as stunningly rendered as you imagined. You stare into the glow of the capacitive LCD touchscreen and eagerly navigate to the App Store, where you type in the word "aviation." At your fingertips, quite literally, results for more than 1,500 apps materialize.
Now what? You haven’t a clue of where to begin.
Except that you do: The whole reason you bought an iPad or Android tablet, after all, was for the digital charts, which will free you at last from the burden of lugging all those paper sectional charts, IFR low en route charts and thick approach plate binders into the cockpit. And, of course, everybody knows that the best digital chart applications (in no particular order) are ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot, Jeppesen Mobile FlightDeck, Flight Guide iEFB and WingX Pro7. Purchase an annual subscription to any of these electronic chart services and you really can’t go wrong — plus, you’ll get a whole lot more than just charts because additional features are being added and improved all the time.
But that’s a different article altogether. Let’s get back to the App Store. Say you’ve successfully downloaded one of the EFB applications listed above and now you’re ready to add some additional cockpit resources to your digital toolbox. Maybe you’ve heard other pilots talk about some of their favorite apps or you’ve read about some intriguing choices online. Should you just download them all and try to figure out on your own which ones you’ll like the best? Or should you refer to the online user ratings and trust that a four- or five-star-rated app will be worth the asking price because, well, others liked it?
In the end, of course, not every pilot will need — or even want — every app that’s available. But for a great many of us, there are certain aviation applications that just beg for presentation on a touchscreen tablet computer. To help you get started, we’ve selected eight great aviation apps that are absolutely worth checking out. You’ve probably heard of at least a few of these, and maybe you’re even a regular user of more than one. We downloaded and tested each of them on an iPad, so if you’re an Android tablet user your experience may differ — also, sorry, some of these apps aren’t yet offered for Android devices.
At any rate, here’s what you should know about each app and why we picked it. If you think there are better apps that didn’t make our list, by all means drop us a note and tell us about them. We’ll update flyingmag.com with your favorites.
CloudAhoy is a seriously cool aviation app that lets you track each and every flight you make and then retrieve the captured data later from the CloudAhoy server for review on your home computer. The app uses Google Earth to let you play back your flight in a Web browser, either from a top-down view or a great 3-D mode superimposed on Google’s high-resolution satellite imagery.
CloudAhoy uses an iPhone or iPad internal GPS receiver (or an external GPS such as the popular Bad Elf unit) to record your flights. To get started, download the app from the Apple App Store, create your free account at cloudahoy.com, and, finally, register your device. To use CloudAhoy in your airplane, simply press the app’s start button just before engine start and forget about it until after your flight is over.
The data is stored locally on the device until you’re back on the ground and your iPhone or iPad is receiving a data signal. You can then log into your password-protected account and view your flight on any Windows or Mac computer. The service includes options for individual users as well as flight schools, making it a great learning aid. Best of all, the app and CloudAhoy data storage services are free.
There’s really nothing special about this iPad PDF and image viewer. The magic behind the app is in the customization, which is wonderfully tailored for the cockpit. The app lets you load aircraft manuals, e-charts and anything else you want to convert from paper to digital format. There are night and day viewing modes, a whiteboard for writing notes and a chronostat page for storing times and calculations. Probably the best feature is the ability to load thousands of pages and find the one you want quickly and easily. Really, anybody could have made an app like this; it’s just that nobody else did — at least not this well executed.
We almost hesitate to put the AeroWeather app on our list because it’s tough for us to believe there are pilots out there who don’t already know about it. But I was talking with a CFI recently who fell into the group of the uninformed, and so maybe many others fit this category as well.
Like most aviation apps, the beauty of this one is its simplicity. Rather than being a full-featured weather app including Nexrad radar mosaics, satellite views, airmets, sigmets and the five-day forecast for your hometown, AeroWeather includes just metars and TAFs listed in a format that’s easy to review. You can load multiple stations to get an idea of the weather picture for your route of flight, and the app can output in raw or plain English formats, so you don’t even need to know how to read a metar.
There’s also a free “Lite” version that works great, but the additional features in the paid Pro upgrade are worth the $4 asking price. These include a built-in “nearby” list of stations, improved search functionality, the ability to e-mail weather reports and more. While it’s true other weather apps can do more, there are few you’ll click on more often.
Simple. Simple. Simple. That’s the common denominator in all of the apps that made our must-download list, and Sporty’s wonderful electronic E6B app hits the bull’s eye in this regard. This handy app includes all the classic utilities any pilot could want, plus a number of features that pros will appreciate, including Mach speed, top of climb, specific range, required rate of descent and more, all presented on an easy-to-use app interface. The electronic E6B also includes a clock/timer that always shows local, home and Zulu time, and which can count up or down, making it useful for timing approaches or knowing when to switch fuel tanks. Best of all, the app works with all versions of the Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Developed by the same folks who brought us the ForeFlight Mobile digital chart app, ForeFlight’s Checklist Pro is a dirt-simple electronic checklist that makes running through cockpit flows a breeze. Again, with this one there’s a free “Lite” version, but the $20 cost for the Pro version is worth it once you realize what you get for your money.
The first thing, obviously, is the ability to tailor your checklists not only for your specific airplane, but also exactly how you like to do your flow. (The Lite version also lets you move items around but isn’t as customizable.) Even better, you can create and edit checklists online at the ForeFlight website and then synch them to your iPhone or iPad. There’s even a feature that lets you share checklists among multiple users, which is perfect for large flying clubs and schools.
Pilots love the app because of how easy it is to use in the airplane. To run through the checklist, simply tap an item and a green check mark appears. This also automatically moves you along to the next item on the list. You can hit the “skip” button to move past any item without checking it, or tap the emergency button to take you to the emergency checklist procedures. Bottom line, if you want fast and easy, this is the checklist app to get.
Spin-a-Wind presents you with a screen that shows selectable values for the runway number, wind direction and wind speed. You simply spin each wheel to the appropriate value and the app reads out your headwind and crosswind component in large, easy-to-see type.
Additional screens let you calculate pressure and density altitudes as well as set caution and warning parameters for those times when the wind is blowing perhaps a bit too strong for comfort. The default setting warns you when your crosswind component exceeds 30 knots, so you might want to dial back the values if your airplane doesn’t say Boeing on the data plate.
WnB Pro is a simple yet powerful app that is designed to quickly and accurately calculate weight and balance for nearly any GA aircraft. A couple dozen of the most common airplanes are pre-configured, but the real benefit is the ability to set up custom aircraft by entering your specific data.
The template airplanes are good for learning how to use the app, but you’ll want to take the time to enter the correct data for the aircraft you fly. To use the weight and balance calculator, you simply manipulate a number of sliders on the screen to input weights for passengers, baggage and fuel. If the weights you have input place the airplane outside its CG envelope, all the values will turn red to warn you. Once you’ve entered the values, the weight and balance is plotted on a graphic envelope for easy reference.
You can also set up the app with your airplane’s tail number and share its weight and balance data with other app users, making WnB Pro another app that’s perfect for flight schools and flying clubs. For under five bucks, this one’s hard to beat.
FltPlan.com Mobile is the companion tool to the highly regarded fltplan.com website. With this app, you can download free routes, approach charts, navigation logs and FAA-certified QICP (qualified Internet communications provider) weather from FltPlan.com and bring it all along in the cockpit, with no Internet connection required once what you need is downloaded to your device. You can also plan and file flight plans using the app, download approved weather briefings for offline viewing, track a flight and view FltPlan’s FltDeck Guide with detailed information on more than 6,000 airports in 17 countries.
The FltPlan.com Mobile app is completely free to download and use. So why wouldn’t you just use this one app and be done? There are a couple of reasons, one being that the resolution in the paid apps is better, as well as the fact that the paid apps include a ton of additional features besides charts and maps. But for a basic EFB app, FltPlan.com Mobile is one of the best we’ve seen.
Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.