Aviation software for the really small screen

 - October 30, 2006, 8:16 AM

With Palm- and Windows-based personal digital assistants (PDA) rivaling the capabilities of larger PCs and laptops, it’s no wonder that hundreds of aviation software applications are now available for the handheld units. Web-enabled cellphones, cellphone/PDA hybrids and, to a lesser extent, Blackberry devices also have their share of aviation software. However, most applications for cellphones and Blackberries are Web-based and do not actually reside on the device itself, though this doesn’t limit their usefulness to pilots.

For those who don’t already own any of the aforementioned techno toys, Garmin offers the iQue 3600a as a “ready to fly PDA.” While its $1,099 price tag might seem high, the Palm-powered device’s capabilities equal those of some glass-cockpit multifunction displays.

The iQue 3600a package includes a bright, high-resolution color PDA, yoke-mountable cradle, pre-loaded software and WAAS GPS with an antenna that folds discreetly into the back of the unit, as well as built-in map, terrain, obstacle and Jeppesen databases. Its QueMap software displays a comprehensive set of mapping data, including navaids, airports, airspace, sectional chart-like topographic data and obstacles. The iQue 3600’s QueTerrain software also uses a topographic/obstacles database to alert a pilot to any potential terrain conflicts.

Its QueNav software displays GPS-derived speed, altitude and guidance in an aircraft panel format, while QueFlights records flight time, mileage and start/end point in a digital logbook. An optional auto kit that includes a street-map database is available for $219.

AirGator of Mount Kisco, N.Y., also offers a PocketPC PDA bundled with its NavAir moving map and NavAirWX aviation weather software. The package, which starts at $1,999, also comes with a Bluetooth GPS antenna and Bluetooth XM weather receiver and antenna.

The NavAir and NavAirWX software for Windows-based PDAs can also be purchased separately for $309 and $675, respectively. Additionally, NavAirApproaches software (complete with NOS approach chart database) is $249 for a one-year subscription, and NavAir Streets with complete U.S. street maps is $129.

Pittsburg, Kan.-based Control Vision similarly markets its $1,995 AnywhereWx Bluetooth system. This complete package includes a Windows CE-based PDA, Bluetooth XM weather unit and GPS and 12 months of updates.

Its AnywhereMap software combines a high-resolution terrain map and detailed aviation data (including navaids, airspace, airways, TFRs and more) with flight tools such as Vnav HSI, flight planning, weight-and-balance and an airport guide. Meanwhile, the AnywhereWx software displays graphical weather data streamed from the XM WX-Radio satellite network. Also available for an extra $199 (including one year of updates) is a 1GB expansion card with NOS approach charts for the continental U.S. A 12-month subscription for the AnywhereMap and AnywhereWX software can be purchased separately for $95 each.

Á la carte PDA Software

It would be impossible to list all of the available individual aviation PDA software in one article, so we’ve focused on those applications that would be of interest to business aviation pilots. For a more comprehensive listing of aviation software for PDAs, visit www.palmflying.com or www. zenithair.com/ppilot/

One of the most popular business aviation applications is UltraNav’s aircraft performance software, which can do performance calculations for nearly 60 different business jets and turboprops. The $995 software–which can run on Windows XP-based PDAs, as well as on tablet PCs, laptops and desktop systems–computes maximum allowable takeoff weight based on all limiting factors, such as field length, climb limitations, brake energy and other factors.

UltraNav can then compute and display takeoff distance, V speeds, second-segment climb gradient, takeoff thrust setting and other pertinent takeoff parameters dependent on aircraft type. For landing, it computes and displays all V speeds, landing distance, landing field length and go-around climb gradients for both approach and landing. The software also performs weight-and-balance calculations, including weight, percent mean aerodynamic chord and c.g. limits for zero fuel, ramp, takeoff and landing conditions of your aircraft.

Airport Performance Group offers aircraft performance and airport database software for PocketPCs for $100 to $150 per aircraft per month. Its takeoff and landing analysis software airport database and driftdown/terrain clearance application is Web-based, while the airport analysis and weight-and-balance software reside in the handheld device.

RMS Technology’s Flitesoft Express for PocketPC handhelds is a software package that includes IFR and VFR vector charts, moving-map functions, NASA-inspired attitude indicator and in-flight satellite weather, as well as weight-and-balance and flight-planning capabilities. Flitesoft Express, which is sold bundled with Flitesoft for PCs starting at $347, does not include an XM satellite weather receiver ($400) or GPS antenna ($119.95) needed for the moving-map and weather features of the software. NOS approach charts can be added to Flitesoft Express for $99.95 a year.

For the more budget-minded business aviation pilot, there is plenty of low-cost and free PDA software. One such application is PocketFMS, a freeware flight-planning and moving-map program. While not as feature-laden or graphically sophisticated as the aforementioned moving-map software, PocketFMS still receives good reviews from pilots of all skill levels.

Jet Log Pro ($9.95) is an electronic logbook designed to allow pilots to track simulator time, currency, medical, BFR and instrument proficiency check and view total hours on their Palm-based PDA. It includes basic filters that can display hours by aircraft type, model and engine, among others, as well as a text-entry field for adding crew notes.

SunFly, which is freeware, calculates not only the time of sunrise or sunset but also its position relative to the aircraft. When the pilot inserts two waypoints from the aircraft’s FMS and the current time and flight level, the Palm-based program will output the sunrise/sunset data.

The most popular Web-based cellphone weather service is WxServer, which costs $6.95 a month or $49.95 a year (those with a CFI certificate can sign up for a free one-year subscription). WxServer, which can remember the pilot’s home airport, has zoomable weather radar maps, satellite images, airport data, METARs and TAFs, real-time weather and FSS local-number lookup. With a cable and the company’s WxServer PDA software, pilots can use their cellphones as a datalink to display WxServer graphical weather and satellite images on a Palm or PocketPC PDA.

WxServer is but one of many Web-based weather applications for cellphones, some of which are free. In fact, WxServer is so confident in its services that it has a complete list of competitors on its Web site (go to www.avwx.net, click on “site map” at the top of the screen and scroll down and click on “the competition”).

For Blackberry devices, which are now carried by a majority of the fractional pilot workforce, there is WXSYS On Demand. For $19.99 for a three-month subscription, the program provides METARs; TAFs; radar and satellite images; IFR procedures; airport data; FBO and fuel information; local time; sunrise/sunset times; and sigmet/airmet information for most U.S. airports and selected airports worldwide.