With the digital revolution, pilots were convinced that relief was in sight from having to lug a case of Jepp manuals on every flight. But because of some stubborn technological and cockpit environment limitations, satisfying solutions have been exasperatingly slow in coming.
The SolidFX FX10 portable aviation chart reader, which uses a software program called FXView, comes very close to overcoming every one of those limitations.
Using the iRex Digital Reader as a platform, the FX10 is in nearly every way better than a standard computer for the job of displaying Jeppesen's excellent electronic aviation charts.
Portable computers are an option for displaying charts in the cockpit, but they're far from ideal. They draw a lot of power, have limited battery life and can be hard to read in very bright sunlight. And most are a bit bulky.
The iRex reader, on the other hand, uses a completely different display technology called Electronic Paper, or e-paper. This technology is better in a few important ways for viewing documents, such as charts, in the cockpit. For one, it doesn't use precious battery power to redraw the screen every few milliseconds. Instead, an e-paper display stays lit and only refreshes when the image changes. Consequently, the iRex reader can credibly claim a battery life of around 10 hours. And e-paper doesn't get dimmer when the ambient light gets brighter; the picture actually gets better, darker and with more contrast. Finally, the iRex reader is light and fairly thin, making it easier to incorporate into the cockpit than most laptops or tablet PCs.
The Jeppesen charts on the 10-inch diagonal reader are not displayed full size, but they're very close, a scant ½-inch narrower than paper charts. And e-paper displays in 16 shades of gray, so any color features of Jepp charts are not shown.
Getting around on the FX10 is easy, as long as you turn off the bezel-mounted buttons and use the stylus, as recommended. You can zoom, pan, return to full view all by using simple gestures to get where you want to go. Want to get a closer look at the minimums section? With the stylus, draw a box (or squiggly circle) around what you want to zoom in on, and in two seconds, it's larger than life. Tap twice with the stylus and you go back a page to view a different chart or a different airport.
I've used the FX10 on a few flights, and I've been impressed.
The unit is fast to come to life. Click the usual disclaimers and launch the program, and you're ready to look at some charts in about a minute. FXView gives you the option of storing your planned destinations in tabs along the top of the screen. On my trip, I stored my home airport, the destination and an alternate in the tabs. Just click on the tab and all the procedures associated with that airport are listed. Tap on the one you want, and voilà.
Downloading new data is done automatically through your Jeppesen e-charts subscription from a net-connected computer using free software. It couldn't be easier, and the iRex reader charges while it's connected, which is handy too. It is also a full-featured e-book reader, something many pilots, especially pros, might find appealing.
Cost of the FX10, which comes ready to load with your Jepp charts and use, is $1,595. The Jeppesen eChart Reader subscription is $700 annually. For more information, visit solidfx.com.