Flight operations specialist François Lassale brings up a good point in a recent issue of AINSafety, that “the [iPad’s] simplicity means training on the iPad and its use in the cockpit is seldom given much thought.” Lassale is absolutely right, and his views should extend to the use of any device or product that pilots bring into cockpits to help with their flying tasks.
By “any device or product” I mean not just tablet computers like the iPad and Android devices but also portable GPS units, electronic flight bags (EFBs) and even paper approach plate binders.
I recall when I was training for my instrument rating, my instructor never spent any time showing me the best way to use en route and approach charts in the cockpit. He left it up to me to figure out whether to use a kneeboard or yoke clip or just a rubber band on the old bound NOS plates.
What I should have been taught is that before taking off on an IFR flight, I need to figure out how to incorporate these tools into my normal flying processes. The same is true for adopting an iPad, portable GPS or EFB. You can’t just take off without learning how to use the features that you plan to use and how the device will fit in with every phase of flight.
For example, if your iPad app lets you save approach charts into a favorites folder, is that part of your preflight planning? Are you checking that all charts are up-to-date before takeoff? Do you know how to find any chart quickly? Do you include SIDs, STARs and AFD information in the folder? Do you have a plan for a dead battery? An overheating battery? A shutdown of the device due to overheating? If you use the own-ship position display feature, how do you ensure that it is giving accurate information? Are paper charts properly organized, current and easily viewable?
Most of this preparation can be done by just sitting in the cockpit and flying an imaginary flight, including practicing how these products fit in with your emergency procedures. But there is a better way to train, and that is to use a simulator. The big simulator training companies do allow pilots to use iPads during training, but simply as a chart display device. So far, it doesn’t look as if any of the simulator training companies have figured out how to spoof an iPad into displaying the GPS position of where the simulator is flying, so you can’t use the own-ship position display feature during training. (Redbird simulators can do this, and Redbird instructors do use iPads during training.) This is likely because the FAA still refuses to acknowledge the benefits of own-ship display on iPads and cautions pilots not to use it. Most app developers have added a switch to turn off own-ship display for operators whose OpsSpecs require not using the own-ship display feature, but I’m betting that few pilots turn that off unless there is an FAA inspector in the jump seat.
The best way I’ve found to learn how to use an iPad app for flying is with the X-Plane personal computer simulator. X-Plane works wirelessly with both ForeFlight Mobile and WingX Pro7, so you can fly X-Plane and test most of the features, including real-time weather, of ForeFlight and WingX at your own pace on the ground. This can also be done with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator program and ForeFlight.
Not all iPad apps offer this capability, however, so to simu-fly other iPad apps such as Bendix/King’s myWingMan, AOPA’s FlyQ, Jeppesen Mobile FliteDeck, Garmin Pilot and others, you need a special cable, available from King Schools. Two versions are available, the $199 Cygnus Home Direct (cable and software only) and the $599 Cygnus Pro Wireless (which includes a Bad Elf GPS Pro that can also be used in flight). Note that these devices work only with Microsoft Windows.
Now that the technology to allow proper flight simulation with iPads has proved it works, it’s time for app developers and simulator manufacturers to get on the stick. Any moving-map iPad app should be able to work with X-Plane and Flight Simulator wirelessly, without the need for an expensive additional device. The benefits of learning how to use the app and incorporate it into flight operations using a low-cost computer flight sim are overwhelming, and there is no excuse for app developers not to adopt this feature. But manufacturers of simulators also need to figure out how to connect to iPads, because most of their customers are using these devices and they need to train how they fly and vice versa. The technology isn’t an obstacle, but apparently the reluctance to move the effort to the top of the to-do list has so far been insurmountable.