Although we at the Air Safety Institute have poked fun at iPads in the cockpit, they really are useful devices provided we remember that we’re flying aircraft—not fiddling with computers. Even the airlines have largely gone to electronic flight bags (EFB) for their pilots.
The benefits are myriad:
- Fifty pounds less per crew to carry—allows for more payload, which is desperately needed in these days of more luggage and passengers.
- Automatic updates of charts—why our IFR system needs significant overhaul every 28 days is still something of a mystery, but many of us have spent too many hours replacing thousands of chart pages, character building as that might be.
- The ability to see our own ship, weather, and other aircraft on a moving map—priceless!
- Greater awareness of terrain and towers—there’s hope for fewer CFIT accidents although there will always be a few Darwin Award candidates who attempt terrain-following feats of foolishness.
- Less back surgery and chiropractic visits by not having to lug aforementioned flight bags around.
But there’s always a fly in the free lunch. On my way to the Triple Tree Fly-in, the trusty iPad went into meltdown mode. (Shameless plug: TT is one of the best East Coast fall fly-ins going and is highly recommended!) The melt had never happened before—everything was working perfectly and then it wasn’t. The iPad insisted on a cooling-off period. That behavior might be OK in labor-management negotiations but not from our avionics!
The workload was increasing for the arrival procedure into TT and the iPad’s insight would’ve have been helpful. Fortunately, the procedure had also been programmed into the aircraft’s GPS and it was a nice VFR day—so keep calm and carry on.
But why the sudden hot flash? On longer trips, I generally fly at 7,000 or 8,000 feet where the cockpit is about 10 degrees cooler in the late Carolina summer. No need on this trip because it was only a little over 100 miles. Apparently the warmer ambient temperature was enough to overheat the processor. The solution was equally simple: Turn on the air conditioning or, barring that, hold the iPad up to an air vent.
In about three minutes the eBrain reverted to its normal brilliant self, but if this little incident had occurred on a solid IFR approach with approach charts needed for reference, that could have been a bit messy. Navigationally, it’s a non-issue because we have onboard tools—provided they are programmed before the outage. VFR pilots also might need some reference for staying clear of various airspace, even for that old-time skill of pilotage, etc.
Plan B: If the overheat occurred in the final phases of an IMC approach, perhaps best to advise ATC and have them help with chart references. If not in radar or a good comm environment it likely means a missed approach and diversion to an alternate, or fire up the backup system—which could be paper, another iPad, or a cell phone with the EFB app installed—and come back around for another try. Multi-tasking close to the ground or while needing to navigate precisely is not a life-prolonging strategy. Tell ATC you need a hold to reconfigure.
Don’t drop the aircraft to cool down the iPad and do plan for the occasional iPaddy melt, although it’s not near as good as barbecue!
Of course, one could carry paper charts—at least for the trip in progress.
If you’ve had a meltdown, what was the situation and what did you do about it?