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Bits and Pieces

Electronics Corner

By Ian Brown, Editor – Bits and Pieces, EAA 657159

Typical CoPilot screen during flight planning

Since you’re reading this article online, you’re already in the demographic of those pilots who are more computer savvy. This means you probably use a computer or handheld for other things including flying. Each month we hope to include an item on electronic products and techniques to make your flying easier and safer without any commercial influence in the selection of articles. Read more

Since I’m suggesting it, I guess I should get the ball rolling. But feel free to submit reports and suggest products for review. This isn’t intended to be any kind of commercial endorsement, but simply a user-based product review.

The first product I’d like to cover was created by a Canadian, Laurie Davis, who lives in Chelsea, Quebec, just north of Ottawa, and keeps a Piper Cherokee, C-GXBU, at Rockcliffe Airport. CoPilot flight planning software, originally implemented on the Palm Pilot in the late ’90s, was made available on the iPhone shortly after that product became available in Canada.

It’s also available on the iPod Touch and iPad. One of the problems with other flight planning software, including EAA’s Aeroplanner, is the lack of support for Canadian airports and waypoints, and that’s one of CoPilot’s strengths. Another significant differentiator is that its algorithms include very detailed climb and cruise calculations, the same ones you learned to do with a pencil and paper. The author states that many instructors use CoPilot to check the work of their students’ flight planning.

I use CoPilot for flight planning. My friends were using it and were very happy with it. When I acquired an iPhone, I discovered that it was available for $19.99 which is a great price for software that takes the place of an E6B, does all your flight planning and even checks online for the latest weather and winds at the altitude of your planned flight, and plugs in the corrections to your speed and direction automatically. It’s also an outright purchase of the software, not an annual licence fee.

The top down idea is very much like you would think of the manual version—I’m going on a trip, and it will consist of several flights. Each flight will consist of several legs, and each leg is a flight between waypoints. You have the option of loading information about several aircraft, and when you begin inputting your flight plan details, the first section relates to which plane, how much fuel on board, and how many passengers.

Setting up the software includes telling it which units you prefer, providing data about your aircraft such as fuel used in the climbout and in cruise, cross-country speeds, and inputting any waypoints that may not be in the 150,000 worldwide waypoint database.

From this point on, your flight plan is going to be using the information for the aircraft selected including fuel burn, weight and balance, and call sign. As you modify your flight plan you can see the estimates of fuel used being updated.

Aha, I hear you say, the iPhone is a bit small to be using to read a flight plan in flight. Well, that’s true, but the good news is that you can e-mail a route report to your computer which you can then print out in familiar kneeboard format. If your return trip is within the weather forecast time window, you can just select to add a flight with the reverse route, update the anticipated time of the return flight, and have the effect of any weather loaded into your flight plan from the Internet.

The creator mentioned that he never intended to create anything more than a flight planning product, but that the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) and moving map display seem to be useful secondary backups, for those devices that have a GPS.

It seems like simplicity was the main goal, from thinking like a pilot to invisible automatic updates of waypoints without user intervention. I find CoPilot well conceived and a very good deal for a simple-to-use, accurate flight planner, especially one that fits on my phone.

On a bonus point, if you’re becoming alienated to all the software updates pushed down your throat for all the applications you’ve bought, this one is different. As Laurie Davis says, “I don’t have any plans for major changes.” It just works as advertised and it will stay that way.


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