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Feature Article

Matt Debsky, Aircraft Owner WVFC

iPad In The Cockpit

 I don't know why it took me this long to embrace using my iPad in the cockpit. I've long used it for flight planning, weather briefings, and when flying with clients as a CFI.  However, I hadn't used it anywhere near to its full capacity as an in-flight aid.  It took me awhile to decide on the iPad's cockpit setup.  Once my iPad setup was finally complete, I experienced two flights that changed my flying life--a recent cross-country trip to southern California and a practice IFR flight shortly beforehand.  


Before I could effectively utilize the iPad, I had software and mounting decisions to make.  There are numerous mounting solutions on the market and some due diligence will help determine your best fit. I fly my own airplane, N81034, more often than any other club airplane.  So, when looking for an iPad mounting solution I searched for something that would work first and foremost in an Archer.  Based on Aviation Consumer reviews and various Piper forums, I found a RAM Mount to be perfect.  The mount attaches to the tube behind the yoke, wraps beneath and around the front to sit between the two handles that form the sides of the yoke.  This arrangement leaves my knees free, provides for ample range of motion, doesn't impact my copilot seat, and leaves all the windows and instrument panel unobstructed.  

Software choices are likewise plentiful. The most popular iPad aviation apps all offer free trials.  I tried the Seattle Avionics FlyQ EFB, Garmin Pilot, and ForeFlight before deciding that ForeFlight met my needs best.  Due to varying tastes, it's worth checking out two or three (or more) apps before deciding on one.  They all offer similar features, but the app navigation, presentation, and extra features will cause one to stick out as your favorite.  I also purchased a Garmin GLO external GPS/GLONASS receiver.  A remote receiver improves the quality of the GPS data delivered to the iPad, adds a GPS if your iPad does not have one, and eliminates the battery draw and heat production of the iPad internal GPS.  While not essential, I found the advantages worth the $120 purchase price.  As with the apps, there are several different external GPS receivers with substantial differences, so do some research into which unit best meets your needs.

IFR Practice Flight

My first experience using the iPad in the cockpit during one of my own flights was a game changer.   I have used Jeppesen plates and charts for my IFR needs since the beginning of my IFR training.  The 10-pound, 3-inch binder and bi-weekly updates have been a fixture of my flying life for the past eight years.  Prior to each flight, I had to go through the binder and pull the plates and charts I might need during the flight.  At the conclusion of the flight I would dutifully file them away.  With ForeFlight, for ease of organization in flight I pulled the plates I would use into a virtual binder.  During the flight, I just tapped the plate I needed, much easier than trying to manipulate the clip board on a missed approach, winding up with approach plates all over the cockpit by the conclusion of the flight.  I purchased the Pro version of ForeFlight, which comes with geo-referenced approach plates.  So, I could watch as the controller vectored me onto final or more clearly visualize what my holding pattern entry should be.  The ease of switching between plates, runway diagram, and enroute chart blew me away.  In addition to adding to situational awareness and being easier to keep organized, the flight was just more fun.

Cross-country Flight

My subsequent trip to southern California built on the experiences with the IFR practice flight.  I did my flight planning using the ForeFlight app and used a combination of the old GX60 panel-mount GPS in the plane and the iPad for navigation.  My flight transitioned the Los Angeles class Bravo, so I did carry a paper Terminal Area Chart for ease of reference while following the various assigned Bravo transition routes.  For this first "real" flight, I had two concerns about the iPad: battery life and overheating.  I did not want to wind up in instrument conditions and have my source of charts go blank.  To my pleasant surprise, battery life was not an issue.  Through judicious use of dimming and only turning the iPad on when I needed it, I landed with 75% or more battery remaining after both three-hour flights.  During a flight with a client to an airport in the Central Valley, I did experience a case of the iPad overheating.  When this occurs, the unit refuses to power on until it has cooled down.  On that day, the cockpit was hot, the iPad was sitting in my lap, I was using the internal GPS, and the sun was beating directly on the iPad.  My current cockpit setup, with the external GPS, iPad with greater airflow and not resting on my body, and with a sheet of white paper covering the screen when I'm not using it, reduces the likelihood of overheating.  Still, I will carry a backup paper chart and copies of the approach plates for my planned destination and alternate airports for a while to come.  Using the iPad on the cross-country increased my confidence in it and my own ability to navigate the app while flying.  While a thorough pre-flight is still necessary, the information available in one place means that instead of pulling together information from AirNav or the AF/D, Flight Guide or the California Pilots Guide, and any local airport information, one tap brings you to a page with all this information plus the weather from your last briefing including information about the cross-wind components for each runway.


After these two recent flights, the iPad will take a greater role in my cockpit resource management.  Given the WVFC member roster, I imagine I'm a later adopter than most.  If you haven't tried using the iPad in the cockpit yet, I urge you to give it a try.  When doing so for the first time, you may want to ride along as a passenger or have a safety pilot or CFI on board so that you can safely devote additional attention to the new tool.  After a flight or two, you'll wonder why you waited so long to see what all the fuss was about.