The apps are the secret to Connected Panel, and Aspen gives full credit to its partners, which range from Sporty’s and ForeFlight for flight data and data logging to JP Instruments for engine instrumentation. Aspen shares its app and hardware source data with app developers, who are free to write apps that will play with Aspen or other devices. Some apps might be either free of charge or an included feature, as with ForeFlight; you get the Connected Panel interface for the price of the ForeFlight app. Other apps could cost anywhere from a few bucks to hundreds of dollars.
To try out Connected Panel, we used ForeFlight Mobile Pro, a leading aviation charting, mapping and data app that has been optimized for Connected Panel. ForeFlight allowed us to see Connected Panel’s capabilities and potential. In case you haven’t tried it, ForeFlight Mobile Pro provides a tremendously more satisfying user experience than the Garmin GNS 430W does. On the other hand, the Garmin 430W is an FAA TSO’d IFR navigator, something an iPad will never be. ForeFlight is a graphically rich and feature-packed aviation app, something a 430W will never be. Connected Panel gives users the best of both products.
I tried out Connected Panel in Aspen’s SR22 at Plant City, Florida, recently, and I was impressed. I’d been a skeptic too. The idea of using an iPad connected to the panel for serious aviation tasks seemed a bit of a stretch, but I was wrong. The interaction with ForeFlight was seamless. I was able to load flight plans from ForeFlight and import them into the SR22’s Garmin GNS 430 navigators, and vice versa. The biggest surprise was how readily I adjusted to the idea of using an iPad as what amounts to a touch-screen programmer for the FMS and MFD. It couldn’t have been easier or more intuitive. Not to mention useful. And when all was said and done I had a brilliant display — my iPad — to show off the strengths of the 430W.
There are sure to be skeptics who question the wisdom of melding the portable and panel-mount worlds. I know. I was one of those skeptics. Aspen’s claim, and it’s a convincing one, is that there’s little to no risk of doing something silly by accident on the iPad and having that screw up your flight plan, fuel planning, databases or what have you. That’s because nothing happens in the panel without having to first command it and second confirm it. And because Connected Panel apps are written to interface through the gateway in a prescribed fashion, there can be no surprises. The risk, it turns out, seems to be the same as simply entering incorrect information into a flight plan or other panel-mount system. Could it happen? Sure. Is it likely? Not really.
If the risks are small, the potential rewards are great. For pennies on the dollar you get a greatly enhanced user interface for your panel — via the app — and an additional touch-screen controller/display (your iPad) as part of the deal.