A few years ago in Pilot magazine I wrote an article in which I waxed nostalgic about logbooks from both a personal and a historical perspective. The gist of that story was the handwritten logs are much more personal and have far more meaning than a bunch of entries on a computer spreadsheet. While I was willing then, and still am today, to acknowledge the convenience and accuracy of electronic logbooks, I still prefer the handwritten ones. And I still caution against anything that is produced using flowing electrons.
I recently got a call from a friend of mine who was looking for some help in recovering flight records from our airline computer. Our old system kept records for three years; our new one only keeps them for six months. This fellow had been using a PDA-style device that had a popular logbook program on it. He was able to update it leg-by-leg in real time, and do so quickly without having to worry about forgetting details such as IMC time, approach used, etc. Further, he did not have to worry about making math errors that he might miss for months or even years.
But he also got caught be a reliance on the computer. Twice, the unit crashed, and a total of five months of his records were lost. He is now in the unenviable position of having to figure out a way to fill in as many of the blanks as possible while also figuring out the best way to explain his predicament when it comes time to interview for a job. It’s easy to blame him (I did!) for not making back-up copies and printing out the critical information he might need. But it’s also worth learning a lesson from him, even for those that use a paper log like myself.