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Electronics Corner - ForeFlight User Report

By Nora Hague, Chapter 266, EAA 1023702

While planning for attending the 2012 Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In & Expo at Lakeland, Florida, the question of obtaining U. S. aviation maps and directories inevitably came up. Buy paper (again), or should we go digital with a tablet and the ForeFlight app?

Paper maps and directories are expensive, space-consuming, heavy (when numerous), and hard to manipulate (especially at night). One's exact position has to be determined by observation of ground landmarks and comparison with the paper map, tedious to do (especially at night). Depending on the maps' expiry cycle, a trip down and back to Sun 'n Fun could involve double the maps (and double the cost). Each trip south requires new maps. It's expensive and wasteful of paper in the long run.

Buying all the paper maps, directories, sectionals, and terminal charts needed for a flight to Lakeland adds up to more than $170 - repeated for each trip to the United States.

On the other hand, digital maps and directories have quite a few advantages. They take up much less room and weigh a lot less. The map is backlit at night so no more swallowing a flashlight while refolding a map while flying with your third hand. A GPS receiver feeds your exact position to the map via Bluetooth; no more comparing the map with the invisible blackness of the ground at night.

The digital option adds two new expenses: a one-time hardware cost of $500 for an Apple iPad 2 (32 GB, Wi-Fi only) and a recurring $74.99 annual subscription to ForeFlight. The subscription gives you all of the U.S. and free downloadable updates for a year, so the maps and directories never expire. Once bought, the set-up is good for many yearly trips anywhere in the U.S.

We decided on the digital option. Along with the iPad and ForeFlight subscription, we bought a DUAL XGPS150 receiver ($99.95). We also put ForeFlight on my iPhone as a mini-backup in case of iPad failure, but the documents option is not available for the iPhone yet. It is possible to use other apps to read larger documents. We planned to carry last year's paper maps as a backup.

Dual XGPS150A with Bluetooth

All the equipment operates for about eight hours on battery power, but we plugged the iPad and the DUAL USB connectors into a 12-volt power supply. C-GSDD's 24-volt system would not be suitable for the devices. We bought a plastic RAM mount to hold the iPad to the passenger's knee. We briefly considered mounting the iPad to the yoke, but the configuration was not workable. The weight was a little too much and visibility was not good. We found the iPad's glossy screen reflected far too much light, so we added an adhesive cling-film matt screen "protector" to cut the glare. It still needs to be tilted on occasion, and the black screen, if left on your lap in the sun, gets dangerously hot. If the iPad gets too hot, it shuts down, leaving you with your paper backups until it cools off. I find I have to keep my knee down as the yoke can hit the iPad.

We also discovered, when I dropped the iPad at KART Watertown, New York, an iPad mini or another full-sized iPad might be a good idea as an additional backup. Fortunately at this time the iPad was just dinged a bit on the corner and it still works fine.

ForeFlight is a complex package that is intuitive to use and grows with your needs. From the main map screen, nearly all the submenus and functions are accessible.

Adirondack airspace
Adirondack airspace example

Across the bottom are the following functions: Airports, Maps, Plates, Documents, Imagery, Flight plans, Sketch pad, and More. I'll go through them one by one.

Maps, from main menu

Main Map Display
Main map display with planned route

This is your main map display, with your planned route as a line, and your aircraft's position. Centered over the bottom menu bar is the HUD, which is configurable with your choice of data. It can be displayed or not, at will. At the top of the screen, left of center, is a symbol with horizontal bars; this displays the Nav Log with your waypoints, airports, and journey legs displayed with ETAs, distances, and gas estimates. The columns at right don't display information until you're actually moving. One can keep a list of favourite routes, and recently used routes are always available from the top menu. At the top left is a drop-down with various map overlays (weather, radar, flight rules, etc.).

Choosing data to overlay

As our iPad doesn't have a cell connection, the data is only as good as the last download, unless you have a Stratus ADS-B unit or similar. Luckily most U. S. airports have Wi-Fi, so the data can be updated every time we land. The data indicates how old it is in a tag at the upper left.

ForeFlight keeps adding little improvements with each update. They recently added a global view where you can see your entire route, and the latest addition is a track vector - a line extending forward from your position with a configurable length set in time.

From the map, all the information about airports, a condensed version of the directory entries, is available in a pop-up by touching the airport symbol. Information on MOAs and TFRs is also available in the same way with a slightly briefer touch of the screen.

Airports, from main menu

Favourite Airports
Information about favourite airports

Airports brings up the airport/facility directory page information, with the airport diagram in the upper left corner. The latest NOTAMs, TFRs, runway wind directions, METAR, and TAF are available (as of the last Wi-Fi connection). This choice provides a lot of information that is not available in the paper version: contact information for the FBOs, gas prices (as of last Wi-Fi connection), lodging, restaurants, taxis, and rental car companies. If you really want it, you can bring up the duplicate of the A/FD page.

FBOs with gas prices

Plates, from main menu

Airport plates
Airport plates

Plates are mostly used for IFR flights. The instrument approach plates can be seen when Wi-Fi is available, but without paying for ForeFlight Pro, they are not available off-line. As we do not fly IFR, we have not used this section much. It can display the generally available airport diagrams with the taxiways, and a new function has just been added - a proximity warning as you approach a runway. It does not, however, show you your position on the plate unless you have paid for ForeFlight Pro.

Documents, from main menu

All of your documents in one place

Documents is a handy place to keep personal documents such as the Sun 'n Fun NOTAM, user manuals for equipment, aeronautical information from Transport Canada, etc. All you have to do is e-mail yourself a PDF, and when the choice appears, open it in ForeFlight and add it to the Documents available.

There is also a built-in, information-packed catalog of very useful aviation-oriented works. Here you will find the legends for the sectionals and TACs, map symbols, the map user's guide, the ForeFlight user's manual, the key to image symbols, the A/FD directory listing explanations, aeronautical info guide, pilot's handbook, pilot/controller glossary, aviation weather, and if you convert your POH to a PDF, you can add that to the Documents as well.

Imagery, from main menu, current as of last Wi-Fi update

Weather images

Imagery contains a wealth of graphical weather and climate condition information: NOAA ensembles, weather overlays, Doppler radar, infrared, icing. All useful, but in our case, only current as of the last Wi-Fi contact. If you have an ADS-B device, such as Stratus, the information would be current.

File and Brief, from main menu

File and Brief refers only to U. S. registered pilots, so we haven't used it yet. ForeFlight is now in negotiations with NavCanada to include the Canadian data, maps, CFS, and the ability to file a flight plan from within ForeFlight. They say they're close to an agreement. Meanwhile, if you're a Canadian VFR pilot, the Canadian subscription is not worth it as the information mostly concerns IFR flights.

Scratch Pad, from main menu

Scratch pad is designed for notes and drawings, but we haven't found it really useful yet. You have a choice of drawing with your finger or a stylus, or typing. So far, we have found a paper pad and a pen to be more durable and more permanent.

More, from main menu

setting up new aircraft info
Setting up new aircraft info

This is where you can configure the parameters for the program, set up the parameters for your aircraft (several can be entered), your units of measurement, and user waypoint management. The information for the map, document downloads, and updates is here, along with control parameters for auxiliary devices such as the DUAL GPS and Stratus. Your account information is also accessible here.

During an actual flight, CSS3 to CYCC to CSE4, the Nav Log and the HUD fills in the ETA numbers once you're moving.

ETA once moving
ETA once moving

ForeFlight recently added the option of north up or track up; this view shows track up. The U. S. version of the information from the CFS sometimes has wrong or missing data.

ForeFlight's Canadian Information
ForeFlight's Canadian information

Our use of ForeFlight is still a work in progress. We will probably look into the purchase of an iPad mini or a second iPad as a redundancy backup measure. The whole system is smooth, fast, and intuitive to use; it's just a matter of learning where to look for the information. On the return trip from Sun 'n Fun, we needed to divert due to bad weather. Finding a nearby airport and all the necessary information took about a minute. If we'd been using paper, it would have taken significantly longer, shuffling maps and flipping through A/FD pages.

The only thing that can substantially improve ForeFlight is the addition of complete Canadian airport data; we look forward eagerly to a conclusion of the negotiations.


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