In the early days of moving-map apps on smartphones and tablet computers, the basic functionality was easy to figure out and there weren’t too many features. But now electronic flight bag (EFB) apps have become so complicated that pilots need to spend hours learning how to use them before putting them to work in flight.
Although EFB apps like ForeFlight come with extensive manuals, many pilots elect to train by doing, but they might miss a lot of the helpful features or not understand the best way to do something. To help solve this training problem, Master CFI Gary Reeves has developed training specifically for ForeFlight and other products and he offers the training either on his Pilot Safety website or with intensive in-person, in-flight lessons.
An app like ForeFlight, which is as close to a flight management system on a tablet or smartphone as it can get, requires a lot of practice, especially before trying to fly IFR with the app’s (advisory only) assistance. And many pilots have grown up with ForeFlight, from its early days as a chart display app to its current highly capable and user-friendly but also complex configuration.
Many pilots are now learning how to use EFB apps with zero background, often while starting flying lessons. Training is needed, and the Pilot Safety ForeFlight Mastery program is an excellent way to get started, especially when users follow along with Reeves on their own iPads during the training.
While the ForeFlight Mastery and other Pilot Safety training programs are video-based and thus not always up to date, Reeves does try to keep them current. Apps like ForeFlight add new features so often, however, that it’s hard to keep a training program completely fresh, so users might find some of the material no longer applicable.
ForeFlight Mastery includes more than eight hours of material, starting with setting up ForeFlight then flight planning, maps, checklists, VFR and IFR procedures, and emergency use.
Reeves, who has logged more than 6,700 hours and regularly teaches pilots how to fly with modern avionics, encourages student pilots to start learning how to use EFB apps right away. “A lot of instructors don’t understand it enough to teach it,” he said in the first ForeFlight Mastery session. “The second a student has finished their private pilot license, they’re going to use it on their own. It’s better to learn from the beginning.”
He also points out the convenience of using an EFB app to store maps and charts, because it makes it easier to access the material and keep it up to date and satisfy FAR 91.103 requirements to be familiar with all elements of an upcoming flight. There also are no regulatory requirements for pilots to use paper charts, and Reeves recommends using another device with the EFB app installed as a backup.
In addition to teaching users how to set up and use ForeFlight, Reeves helps with advice on which iPad to buy (ForeFlight runs only on iOS devices). He also recommends the use of an ADS-B In receiver to provide free traffic and weather information, as well as an X-Naut iPad cooling case to prevent the occasional iPad overheat and shutdown on sunny days.
The ForeFlight Mastery course is full of tips from Reeves’s experience flying with ForeFlight. He shares these as he goes through each part of the course, from the best way to get a weather briefing to flying with ForeFlight VFR and IFR. When it comes to ADS-B In or SiriusXM satellite weather, Reeves explains the delays involved in delivering that weather information and the importance of not using it for real-time avoidance. When ForeFlight says that ADS-B FIS-B weather radar information is, say, 8 minutes old, he explained, that means it was 8 minutes old when it reached the first ground station, then it had to be processed and sent to ADB stations then broadcast to aircraft. “Never ever try and navigate between or around thunderstorms using anything you see on ForeFlight,” he says. “It’s not current weather. What’s current is looking out the window, getting a pilot report, or airborne or ATC radar.”
For VFR and IFR flight planning, Reeves walks the user through the planning process, highlighting all the ForeFlight features. He does warn VFR pilots not to rely too much on the EFB’s moving-map: “Using ForeFlight makes you a better pilot. But remember, ForeFlight is a situational awareness aid to back up pilotage. It’s not certified for primary navigation. It’s an aid to pilotage.”
A discussion about military GPS outage testing helps the user understand how ForeFlight can be used to draw the locations of the planned testing on the chart to see if they will affect the route of flight. “I’ve been in Long Beach, California,” he says, “inside a cloud at a thousand feet agl and had a GPS signal lost because some guy in Beatty, Nevada, was testing, and what they’re testing is their ability to turn it off. It’s a matter of national security.”
A useful tip for IFR pilots is to use the drawing tools to mark up departure and arrival procedures charts and highlight important elements. These could include frequencies, routes, and altitudes as well as the route description, and that makes it easier to find the information. He also suggests using the drawing tools to mark airport notam information on the airport diagram, such as closed taxiways, to help with avoiding those areas and also to see how they affect access to FBOs.
The marked-up charts remain that way until the chart is updated, so it’s easy to see that the chart has changed when its markings disappear, Reeves explained.
Much of the IFR training segment is a good review of IFR procedures, including weather briefing, flight planning, expected routing, terrain separation, and creating binders for maps and charts at the departure and destination airport.
As powerful as EFBs are, Reeves reminds users to exercise judgment. “Don’t let ForeFlight make your decision for you,” he said. “ForeFlight’s just trying to be helpful. It’s an awesome product, but you have to guarantee your own terrain separation.”
Nevertheless, Reeves does recommend that pilots practice using ForeFlight and an ADS-B In receiver with AHRS capability as an emergency backup, with an instructor, by shutting off the aircraft's avionics and pretending that a complete loss of electrical power has occurred.
The ForeFlight Mastery training is useful for any pilot who wants to improve his or her knowledge of how to use the app more effectively.