The Apple iPad as an Electronic Flight Bag

by HPA · April 8, 2011

Impressions using ForeFlight Mobile HD Pro

By Chris Reed, CFI, CFII, MEI

Technology is constantly changing the way that people access information. The same is true of pilots in the cockpit. Modern avionics systems often work with data subscriptions that are capable of providing weather information as well as terminal procedures charts. In comparison, paper charts—whether they are VFR sectionals, IFR enroute charts, or terminal procedures charts—can seem cumbersome and outdated. When looking at electronic devices as a replacement for paper charts, most pilots have the same questions. Is it legal? What can it do well? What can’t it do well? Let’s address these questions from a general aviation (part 91) point of view and look at using the iPad as an EFB.Apple iPad and Airplane

Is it legal?

The legality of replacing some or all of your paper charts with an EFB depends entirely on your operation. A charter company or airline would need specific FAA approval. In fact, Executive Jet Management, a subsidiary of Netjets, was able to do just that with an iPad after some rigorous testing.

However, if you are flying general aviation aircraft under part 91, it is up to the pilot in command to determine whether or not the equipment can be used and how it should be utilized. Relevant reading includes 14 CFR 91.21 and Advisory Circular 91-78. Regulation 91.21 deals with portable electronic devices and states that no one may use such a device under IFR unless “the operator of the aircraft has determined [the device] will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft.” Also keep in mind that the FCC would not want you using the 3G features of your iPad in flight.

Advisory Circular 91-78 deals with the use of Electronic Flight Bags under part 91 and again puts the decision on the PIC’s shoulders. The EFB must be the “functional equivalent to the paper reference material.” The information referenced must also be “current, up-to-date, and valid.” AC 91-78 also very wisely suggests an evaluation period as well as some sort of backup to the EFB. The backup could be paper copies of essential charts or another EFB.

What can it do well?

The iPad can have great utility as an EFB. The application that I use in flight is ForeFlight Mobile HD. I have the Pro subscription, which includes georeferenced terminal procedures charts through a license with Seattle Avionics. The app is free, but the subscription is currently $149.99 per year. You get a good deal of information for that price. The two images below show georeferenced terminal charts in action. The blue airplane is your GPS position. I do not use an external GPS device. Keep in mind that ForeFlight suggests an external device for added GPS reliability. However, I have yet to lose GPS signal. Be aware that only the iPad version with 3G includes a GPS receiver.

Even without the Pro version, you can still utilize the iPad 3G’s built-in GPS receiver to view your position on VFR and IFR enroute charts. The easy access to nationwide charts is one of the greatest benefits of using the iPad as an EFB. See the images below. The magenta line is your route overlaid on the chart. Routing is entered in the search bar at the top right of the screen. Victor airways, arrivals, and departures are all supported.

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Charts are conveniently downloaded by state. Only charts that were downloaded ahead of time may be viewed in flight. Chart data is updated every 28 days, and the application warns you when your data is getting old. You may also save your preflight briefing from DUATS and view it in flight, which is a very handy feature. See the image below.

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The airport information page provides easy access to most of the information that you might need about a given airport. Pre-downloaded weather and NOTAM information for your favorite airports is available in flight. See the image below.

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What can’t it do well?

The iPad running ForeFlight has great utility as an EFB and allows access to a vast amount of information. However, nothing is perfect. One of the biggest drawbacks of using the iPad as an EFB in flight is the screen glare. See the image below. There are anti-glare screen protectors available. The battery life is good—around 10 hours depending on screen brightness—but must be taken into consideration. There are also reports of some overheating issues, but I have not run into any trouble. I always keep a few paper approach plates handy just in case, though.

ForeFlight Mobile is a great program, but there are a few things that it does not yet do. It does not give access to the actual Airport/Facilities Directory, which would be nice. It also does not include the information from the chart tab, so without a paper chart you may be left guessing about the altitudes of a restricted area or MOA.

In the end, the technology is relatively new. That means it will continue to get better, and it’s pretty good right now. The iPad, when used properly, can replace most paper charts; it can enhance situational awareness; and it can simplify preflight planning. Last minute trips are no problem when you have nationwide charts literally at your fingertips. Just don’t forget to look outside!

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

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