I'm not sure who introduced me to the handy, square, brown-cover wonders known as Flight Guides, but over the course of my flying they have become an essential part of my flying equipment. They were compact enough that they could hold information pertaining to a third of the country's airports in a single volume, from FBOs to traffic patterns, frequencies, nearby hotels and runway/facilities orientation. There were other airport data guides, but none as well done as the Flight Guides.
Readers of my early stories with the Cheetah will also recall that my first Flight Guide also doubled as a terrific (if temporary) transponder fixer — a sharp "whack!" with the flat of the binding against the front of the transponder did wonders for getting it back on line. But the books fit on the corner of the glare shield, didn't take up much room in a crowded cockpit, and made VFR flying immensely easier — especially if you marked your destination and alternates with the accompanying plastic bookmarks. So when I took the Cheetah exploring across the continent, I got Flight Guides for the entire country (3 volumes).
This year marks several important milestones in the life of Airguide Publications, which publishes the Flight Guides. First, this marks its 50th year in business — an accomplishment for any aviation company. Second, it marks the end of the three-volume set. I spoke with owner Larry Garcia at the AirVenture show, and he explained that the three-volume set was all manually produced, in-house, and the costs had become prohibitive — especially because many pilots, perhaps strapped for money in a tight economy, were not renewing their subscriptions.
"Each of those revisions cost as much as putting out the whole book," he explained. "They were all manually done. And we just couldn't sustain it anymore."
The result is that the guides are now going to be published by an outside printer. But that printer can't do the small, thin paper characteristic of Flight Guides. So the new guides will be slightly larger than the old versions. They will also divide the country into six segments, with a separate guide for each one. The upside, at least for pilots over 40, is that the guides will now have no more than 4 airports on a page. So there will be less need for reading glasses, but more pages overall. Hence the six volumes.
But for anyone who doesn't want to carry six volumes around, Flight Guide has launched another option, here in its 50th year of business. It's developed an application for the Apple iPad that puts all the Flight Guide charts at a pilot's fingertips, with minimal weight and clutter. Flying's senior editor Robert Goyer has an in-depth review of the iPad Flight Guide application in an upcoming issue of Flying. But from what I saw, it looked cleanly designed, and fairly simple to use — even though I opted to get one of the soon-to-be-museum-piece three-volume replacement sets, instead. At least for now.
But regardless of whether it's printed paper or an iPad, 50 years in business is an impressive accomplishment. And I'm sure I'm not the only pilot for whom Flight Guides have been an integral and essential tool for adventuring in the sky.
So Happy Golden Anniversary, Flight Guide — and thanks for all the help, for all these many years.