CloudAhoy App Offers Flight Recording for Free

 - February 3, 2013, 4:55 AM

The power of mobile devices has spawned many useful and inexpensive applications for pilots. Beyond the increasingly capable moving-map applications, however, smart people have leveraged Apple’s iPhone and iPad to deliver unexpected new products such as CloudAhoy’s flight recording and playback app.

Developer Chuck Shavit, a pilot and information-technology entrepreneur who was looking to launch a new business, quietly released CloudAhoy more than a year ago. After selling his company in 2006, Shavit decided to pursue a lifelong dream and learned to fly at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. A friend persuaded Shavit to buy an iPhone, and, he said, “I started hacking code on it.” He wondered if there was some way he could use the iPhone to help him during training for his instrument rating.

Shavit’s first attempt was a data-logging system, where he could pull GPS data recorded during the flight and play it back on Google Earth on his computer after the flight. Viewing the flight data, he found, was addicting, far better than the typical post-flight briefing walking back to the flight school office after a flight where the instructor is too busy thinking about the next student to provide much useful information. “Then it all clicked,” he recalled. “Why don’t I make this my next company and see if I can make it useful beyond my immediate needs?”

Replay the Flight

Thus was born Shavit’s next company, CloudAhoy. The (currently) free CloudAhoy app, available for the iPhone and iPad, uses either the device’s internal GPS or an external GPS to record an entire flight. CloudAhoy works only in the U.S. After a flight, the CloudAhoy app automatically sends the flight data to CloudAhoy’s servers once the mobile device is connected to the Internet. The user can then play back the recording of the flight by going to his account on the CloudAhoy website and clicking on the just-flown flight.

To view the completed flight, the user must install the Google Earth plug-in on the web browser. I use Google Chrome, which works well with Google Earth. The flight can be shared with anyone who has the Google Earth plug-in installed. One person I shared a flight with reported that the share link didn’t work with the Firefox browser.

Recording the flight requires launching and starting CloudAhoy before takeoff and a decent GPS signal. (If you’re trying this on an airliner, it might not work so well if you can’t keep your mobile device turned on and close enough to the window to receive GPS during takeoff and landing.) CloudAhoy works better with an external GPS such as the Dual XGPS150 or Bad Elf units.

If you don’t start CloudAhoy before takeoff, you won’t be able to start it once airborne. CloudAhoy needs to detect a specific speed threshold for takeoff and landing, and it will not work in a car unless your car can take off and climb from an airport.

Using CloudAhoy is simple, because once it is launched there’s nothing for the user to do. It runs in the background, and you can use other aviation apps while flying. For each flight, you can enter the tail number, pilot and copilot or instructor name and remarks. After landing, tap the “Stop” button and the data gets sent to CloudAhoy for later review.

During one test of CloudAhoy, I recorded an instrument proficiency practice flight. The debrief allowed me to overlay the approaches that I flew so I could see how closely I was able to match the approach parameters. Another useful feature is that CloudAhoy users can share debriefed flights with anyone, just by copying and sending a link.

The iPad version also has a CFI function that allows the right-seater to record specific maneuvers for later review. I tested CloudAhoy during simulated engine-out maneuvers after takeoff (done at altitude, of course). The resulting debrief showed exactly how much altitude I lost during the attempted turnback to line up with the imaginary runway, which is much more useful feedback than just flying the maneuver without any recorded data.

Recorded flights can be viewed either in a “picket fence” mode, which shows an external view that can be seen from almost any angle, with “fence posts” representing altitude. CloudAhoy shows true airspeed, groundspeed, wind, heading, course, vertical speed and MSL and AGL altitudes. A cockpit view is also available, and in both viewing modes the user can play back a video of the entire flight or just a portion of the flight.

CloudAhoy is available free for individual users (up to four devices) and for flight schools or flying clubs, so flight instructors can view all their students’ flights.