An iPad Christmas Story
I awoke to the clatter of my inbox a chatter to find what would be a surprise of great matter. “What is this?” I would say as I found out today, but Santa came early with a gift oh to play.
It arrived off the hip, neatly wrapped as a ZIP, with instructions on how I should go install it. With the click of my mouse, I screamed through the house as I realized the gift was not just some app, but pre-release software from those iFlightPlanner chaps.
Dragging, and dropping, and syncing my way, one step closer in getting to play. When I opened the app, I wanted to clap, as I navigated around this new moving map. It's quick and it's swift, easy to use in a jiff, and might just become my new favorite pick.
Thank you dear Santa for making my day, now let me get back to what I should say.
Getting to Know iFlightPlanner
So, for those of you who've missed my recent comments and posts on Twitter and Facebook, the development team at iFlightPlanner and Sennheiser have finished their long-awaited flight planning app on the iPad. Official word is that it's been sent off to Apple for final approval while a group of lucky folks get a first access preview.
If you're not familiar with iFlightPlanner and what they do, please visit my iFlightPlanner.com Review to get acquainted.
Now, the story dates back to Oshkosh 2011 when meeting John and Andy for the first time. They had invited me to their booth to see the demo version of their iFlightPlanner iPad app developed in conjunction with the fine folks at Sennheiser. The app, at that time, was limited to some degree as it was more a proof of concept and word on the street was the official app would release later in the year.
Well, Later Has Finally Come
First thing I did after installing the app was update the Airports and Navigation data, a bit of a lengthy process which they estimated to be around 20 to 40 minutes. It took my version longer than that estimated time, an problem both John and Andy are aware needs to be refined and made faster. Although, once loaded, the app was ready to go.
Navigating through the screens was simple starting with the Account page where you'll be presented with the latest iFlightPlanner news and your favorite airports. WIthin the favorite airport display, you'll find the current weather conditions depicted using color codes and textual descriptions.
Next is the Airport page which is much like a virtual AFD, or airport facility directory. You can access airports using the nearest function based on the internal GPS of your iPad or you can search for them by name. You'll be presented with the an airport diagram, like Boston in the screenshots below, for those airports that contain them, otherwise that area of the screen will be blank because not all airports have a diagram.
Other items on the Airport page are similar to what you'd find in an AFD such as airport elevation, traffic pattern altitude, fuel, magnetic variation, and air traffic control frequencies. If there are any associated instrument procedures or charts, you can access those from this page as well. Nice thing about the charts is that they can be saved for offline use for access when flying.
Any instrument charts that you select will be presented in full screen mode and you can pinch and zoom as you're used to within other iPad apps. The charts can be opened in iBooks, opened in other supporting applications like Dropbox, GoodReader, etc. You also have to option of printing the charts if you'd like a paper copy as backup.
But Wait, There's More!
Just when you thought you didn't need any more information, you'll also be able to access the airport METAR and TAF via the Airport page. Other items like airport operations, runway information, airport remarks, and airport serves are presented here, too.
The next page is where your aircraft profiles are stored. Plain and simple. One thing to note here is these profiles can only be created and edited from iFlightPlanner.com. Once you're done with the aircraft profiles from within the website you'll return to the app and press the “Sync Aircraft” button to load those profiles into the app for later use.
Another website-only function, for now, is the Flight page. As the app currently stands, flight plans must be created and edited at iFlightPlanner.com, just like the aircraft profiles. Now, there is an option and a message that alerts you that you'll be able to conduct flight planning functions from within the app itself at a later time and only for premium members, a function which is currently still under development. Free members will still have to use the website to plan their flights.
So you may be thinking that not having the option to plan flights from inside the app itself is lame, but in all honesty, it's not. You see, this is one function that the other flight planning applications on the market today do not allow you to do. Plus, one of the following pages within the iFlightPlanner iPad app, titled iFP Online, allows you direct access to your iFlightPlanner account for the purposes of planning and saving your flights with out having to navigate away to Safari. So technically you can plan a flight within the app, just not via the Flight page. See, problem solved!
So, while it's not the most ideal flight planning method when compared to other products out there, it certainly is more versatile allowing you planning options from a multitude of devices, and then syncing your flight plans within the app using the, you guessed it, “Sync Flights” button.
Once your flights are synced on the iPad you can then view them overlaid on a variety of maps: street, satellite, hybrid (street & satellite), VFR Sectional, IFR Low Enroute Chart, or IFR High Enroute Chart. Again, going back to the visual color-coding, you'll find color icons on the map giving you another visual indication of weather conditions at each airport depicted.
You can access your navigation log with all the waypoints displayed. One thing to note though, is that you cannot move or change waypooints in the map display for the same reason discussed above. Remember, all flight planning is done via iFlightPlanner.com until further development allows Premium Members access on their iPads.
The map display comes loaded with GPS location showing your groundspeed, altitude, magnetic and true headings, and your latitude and longitude. While I didn't actually use the map page while in motion, I suspect it does operate as a moving map display based on the blinking blue location dot and the ‘center on present position' option selectable in the top right of the map page.
What's neat about this particular moving map is that as you zoom in the maps change on their own. What do I mean by that? Well, for instance, if you are in the VFR Sectional display and you begin to zoom in you'll eventually reach the zoom limits on that map. Once that happens, the map automatically changes to street view, which is actually pretty cool. The street view still shows your flight path overlaid on it but allows you greater detail as you can see streets and other items not often shown on a VFR Sectional.
Last But Not Least
As mentioned on the Airport page, the ability to save charts does exist via the Downloads page. Here you can access a list of all the US states which you'd like to download the charts for. Again, this function allows you to access the charts and procedures when offline, meaning you won't need internet access to use them inflight. Simply download them ahead of time and you're good to go.
The charts function is currently limited to the United States only.
So What's The Verdict?
I like the app. I like it a lot. It's well designed, has some great features, especially the option to plan away form the iPad and sync for later use. It's quick and easy to navigate in addition to being simple to use. Don't forget that it's a first generation app and there will be bugs that needed to be squashed and new features to come down the road. Like the other flight planning apps to come before iFlightPlanner for iPad, there's always room for improvement.