AIN Blog: iPads Are Missing in the World of Aircraft Simulation

 - March 30, 2011, 6:10 AM

The rapid uptake of Apple’s iPad into business and even commercial aviation cockpits has been stunning. So, too, has been the deployment of applications that do everything from displaying moving maps with geo-referenced (own-ship) position on airport, en route and approach charts to providing terrain awareness and pre-flight (and soon in-flight) weather. 

There is a problem with any handheld device brought into cockpits, however, and that is learning how to use the and incorporate the device into flying processes. If you plan to use an iPad with own-ship position display on an approach plate, for example, when do you begin preparing the iPad and the app for the approach? Do you know exactly how to pull up the correct approach chart when you want it? If you need to have the destination airport in a flight plan, do you know how to do this quickly? (A weak point in most iPad apps that I’ve tried is lack of a simple direct-to function.)

These questions don’t apply just to the iPad; I’ve run into the same issues with Garmin’s 696 and Honeywell’s AV8OR handhelds. You cannot just go flying and expect to be able to use these to provide the information you want without practicing beforehand. Trying to use these in weather or busy terminal areas without prior practice would be unsafe and downright stupid.

I know there are legal questions about flying with iPads and handheld GPSs, but the fact is pilots are using them and the industry is designing mounts and brackets to make iPad use easier in the cockpit (see video of new iPad yoke mount that Flight Display Systems designed for Gulfstream business jets). Now, the industry needs to help pilots learn how to safely fly with iPads, too. And the big simulator training facilities need to help pilots incorporate their desired gadgets (when legal, of course) into their flying procedures.

There are two problems, however, with trying to get the simulator training companies on board with iPads and handhelds. One is that until the FAA specifically lays out the legalities, no training company is going to encourage pilots to use an iPad. When I asked one big company about this at a recent convention, the company rep basically told me, “They aren’t approved, so they don’t exist as far as we’re concerned.” And what if your customers are using them, I asked. “They’re not FAA-approved,” he said. (Of course, he is misinformed, because the FAA is rapidly approving the use of iPads as Class 1 EFBs for charter operators, and a European airline even has gained approval for iPads in the cockpit.)

The other problem when using an iPad in a simulator (unless you are using your iPad to display approach plates only and you don’t care about having your own-ship position on the charts) is that the GPS in your iPad won’t know that you’re “flying” somewhere in a simulated world, and instead will indicate your own-ship position as the real building in which the simulator is located. Fortunately, this part of the problem is not insurmountable. The folks at Flyit Simulators of Carlsbad, Calif., told me that it would be simple to program a position output for the iPad, to fool it into following the simulator around on its simulated peregrinations.

So, it can be done and training organizations need to get with the program and update their systems so that commonly used cockpit devices can be incorporated into training sessions. They also need to pull their heads out of the sand and listen to their customers.

The future is coming quickly and companies that don’t answer their customers’ needs should not be surprised when small nimble upstarts deliver the goods and take a bite out of the bigger companies’ market shares.


Matt, I agree that flight simulation companies should get with the program and include the iPad. Technology is moving forward fast, so flight sim companies should not allow themselves to fall behind.

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