Turn On, Drop Out, and Tune In

June 4, 2014 by Bruce Landsberg

With apologies to Dr. Timothy Leary, an early adherent to the “mind expanding” capabilities of LSD, I had a slightly different experience at AOPA’s Indy Fly-In. It has nothing to do with mind-altering substances, so if that’s your interest—this ain’t it!

Had flown out to Indy in a C182, enamored with the mind-bending capabilities of the iPad, and was preparing to head home Sunday morning. The trusty iPad is now a core part of my flight planning and on-board supplemental information package. On power-up in the morning to check weather, a blue iTunes button and a white cord to connect to another computer was all that appeared on the screen. No manner of button pushing, secret incantations, or threats would make the beastie come alive.

A quick smart-phone consult revealed the dreaded “iTunes reset” was in order. The Pad had gone down hard and needed a transfusion from iTunes to unscramble its brain. I had no computer capable of said fix (which ultimately took about 25 minutes, not including complete chart downloads—you’re probably looking at about an hour for a full re-lobotomizing with charts).

Here’s the point: Without real old fashioned paper charts and approach books on board, the flight would have been significantly delayed while procuring the suitable data. It was a beautiful VFR day and one isn’t required to carry charts, but FAR 91.103 notes: Preflight action. Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight…

So as long as I was able to stay out of complex airspace or any number of myriad hypothetical issues that only a Murphy’s Law addict could conjure up there was no need to use paper guidance—it could have worked. But let me see…ah…AOPA’s Pilot Protection Plan with legal services and a spare NASA ASRS form in the flight bag…just in case.

Here’s an excerpt from AC91-78, which may be more than you wanted to know—emphasis added:

a. EFBs/ECDs can be used during all phases of flight operations in lieu of paper reference material when the information displayed meets the following criteria:
(1) The components or systems onboard the aircraft which display precomposed or interactive information are the functional equivalent of the paper reference material.
(2) The interactive or precomposed information being used for navigation or performance planning is current, up-to-date, and valid.
NOTE: Supporting reference material such as legends, glossaries,
abbreviations, and other information is available to the pilot but is not
required in the cockpit during operation.
b. The in-flight use of an EFB/ECD in lieu of paper reference material is the decision of the aircraft operator and the pilot in command. Any Type A or Type B EFB application, as defined in AC 120-76A may be substituted for the paper equivalent. It requires no formal operational approval as long as the guidelines of this AC are followed.
c. It is suggested that a secondary or back up source of aeronautical information necessary for the flight be available to the pilot in the aircraft. The secondary or backup information may be either traditional paper-based material or displayed electronically.”

Most airlines and large jet operators still carry charts by my understanding, but some are migrating to Electronic Flight Bags—but no single Pad operations! The logic in that suddenly becomes crystal clear! Being a Luddite has its benefits!

You might enjoy this Pilot Safety Announcement we put together awhile back. Don’t misunderstand—we love the Pad and most of the time it works beautifully, but when it doesn’t, a backup is more than just a good idea.

Has anybody had any iPad problems? We’d love to hear!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • http://www.alexanderaviation.com Jim Graber

    Saw the video.You’re kidding, right? Is this dude out of his mind? Despite the disclaimer at the end, this is the most egregious endorsement of distracted flying I have encountered. During the “boring” times of flight, I have caught, via panel scan,impending electrical failure and engine failure-both of which were ameliorated by prompt remedial actions. I’m not a regulatory advocate,but maybe this is an instance where an FAR should be considered.
    Sincerely, Jim Graber AOPA 309093, CFI

  • Lee Gilbert

    I’ve gone paperless (except for essential TP) and have found scores of gottchas associated with EFBs. I fly with downloaded wx/plates/info on a yoke mounted G696 and backup provided nav/plates info on a first gen iPad. Unfortunately, some of the info comes from Jeppesen (approaches/arrivals/departures) and some from Garmin (general nav info). I often don’t find some Jepp info on my Garmin nav and some Garmin nav on my Jepps, most often arrival/departure fixes. Also, the Garmin nav info for the 696 doesn’t always mirror that on the 530s and are different subscriptions. I’m too old not to think that computers and GPS have eroded our basic piloting and navigational skills while crowding too much needless and hard to get at information in our cockpits.

  • http://www.aopa.org/asf Bruce Landsberg


    It’s a spoof. Read the names of the “development team.” Fly the aircraft – NOT the panel !

  • http://www.aeromedix.com Brent Blue

    For some reason, Sporty’s (Stratus) and Apple (Ipad) must thing pilots only fly for four to six hours at most. That means for guys like me who might put in an eight or ten hour day flying has to have power backup. I keep a high amperage cigarette charger (available from Sporty’s but less expensive on Amazon) in the airplane at all times. If that fails, I also have a portable 120 VAC inverter and use the normal wall plugs to keep the units running on these long days.

    BTW, the high amp cigarette charger will not actually charge the Stratus. It will keep it going and prevent further drain on the internal battery.

    Even though the new white Stratus does not heat up as fast as the old, black one, it still will over heat on the windscreen. Once it has the initial coordinates locked in, it seems to do fine sitting on the copilots seat. I also have created a white paper “tent” to put over it on the sunscreen which also delays the inevitable over heating warning.

    They definitely lighten the work load and the carry on load!

  • Dan & Sandy Newfang

    Cool video … brought a smile :)

    We’re a flying family (wife/husband both GA pilots) and have embraced technology as another tool in our flight bag (i.e. iPad using WingX, ADS-B weather & traffic).

    Quite frankly we l-o-v-e these updated tools but as Brent has mentioned …. we have found it beneficial to take a “system” view with our step into the electronic world.

    We carry a back-up iPad; have two dedicated, high amperage USB power circuits for the internal equip in our panel, cooling air blowing on the iPad, ergonomically placed the iPad RAM mount high on the panel so the viewing screen is in our normal field of view which avoids either of us from “moving our head up/down” as we interface with the screen, audio inputs into our headsets from the iPad and an outside antenna for awesome reception of the ADS-B signal. Of course, we also carry our “little white towel” for those times when we’re on the ground (i.e. fueling ops) to place over the electronics in an effort to keep them from overheating.

    And finally … we both have our iPhones in our pockets for further redundancy.

    But, what we’ve learned … as with most aspects of flying, taking a “systems” view (i.e. power, cooling, ergonomics, is the better approach (at least for us) to minimizing the uncertainties & risk. Sure enough, we’ve had system interrupts which has directed us to refine our design. We feel as if we have a fairly robust design now … but are always looking for opportunities to enhance.

    Both of us love the blend of analog gages and digital screens we currently have. Looking forward to the future for sure.

    And, we find this iPad panel set-up allows us to spank the game Zombie Gunship while flying on those longer cross countries …….. just kidding.

  • Duane

    Paperless is still the way to go for me. EFBs are so cheap compared to panel-mounted avionics (in most instances, far less than 10% of the cost of equivalent certified avionics) that having redundancy in the cockpit is also cheap.

    In fact, the easiest/cheapest form of portable EFB redundancy is to use a tablet for main use (on a kneeboard or yolk mount) and use your smart phone as backup. Nearly everybody today who is engaged in some kind of business or professional practice already owns a smartphone

    Put your EFB app on both devices, and both will have essentially the same capability with the only difference being screen size. And if you think your iphone or android phone has too small a screen compared to your tablet, keep in mind that even the smallest smart phone screens are about the same size as a Garmin 430W or its touchscreen successor, the GTN650. Each device has an independent power source, and each can be powered by a cigarette adapter in the cockpit and/or by having charged backup batteries handy in your flight bag.

    Once you know how to use your EFB efficiently, you can extract the information you need from it much more quickly than you can finding and then flipping through a pile of charts (maybe in a bouncing cockpit), unfolding the correct chart to the correct panel, and hunting with your eyes (instead of letting the EFB search for you), which necessarily means your eyes are NOT engaged in flying the airplane.

    It’s become an accepted myth to many non-adopters that EFBs themselves are a distraction – but if you know how to use it correctly, the EFB eliminates distractions and gives the pilot confidence that he/she can find exactly what information they need to find, quickly and easily.

  • Ken

    I was relying on my iPad for nav info while flying a “Poker Run” event here in southwest Idaho. I mount it on a purpose-built kneeboard, and generally twist it to the right and close the cover when in the pattern so there’s no chance of it catching the yoke.
    Had just a brief moment of consternation when I opened up the kneeboard at about 1000′ agl after takeoff from the fourth airport in the circuit. The iPad gave me an overheat message and shut down. But I had my backup paper chart in the chart pocket, and my ever-gracious wife in the right seat to hold it open for me while I set my next heading. Not a big deal in this case, since I was over very familiar territory and could have flown home without any charts at all. But I doubt that I would have been able to find the next spot in the route, tiny Parma airport, without at least the paper chart.
    I shaded the iPad from the sun with the chart and left it off for about ten minutes. It came back up and stayed alive for the rest of the flight, about another 45 minutes. After the overheat I made sure to turn off the display when I closed the kneeboard for landing, and shut down the display for brief periods during cruise, flying a heading to a visible distant landmark. There was no way to keep the iPad out of the sun, flying eastbound in the morning. This practice seemed to work just fine.
    The iPad generates more heat than you realize, especially when encased in a closed, fabric kneeboard. If it overheats it’s about as useful for navigation as a waffle iron. Lessons learned. Other than this event, I’m absolutely delighted with the iPad and Foreflight for preflight and inflight navigation. I think back to the mail pilots of the twenties, navigating by dead reckoning in the dark, and thank my lucky stars–that is, satellites.

  • Alan D. Resnicke

    I’m a few steps above a Luddite, but I still enjoy using paper. I do just have a basic 6-pack and redundant CDIs in my Grumman Traveler for nav work. I don’t spin the E6B every flight as I used to… my intercranium computer (runs just fine on a stale donut and Pepsi) does a pretty good job estimating times and distances nowadays. Since I taught basic nav in the USAF, it’s still fun for me to prove that I can get from Point A to Point Z and beyond with my own skills. Even my steady copilot/wife/naviguesser is getting good with the paper charts. Thanks, Garmin, iPad, Aero, etc. – I’ll stick with the basics.

  • http://www.kanegeotech.com Bill Kane

    Had something like this happen once. Lost my data in the clouds temporarily from ForeFlight but just used my iPhone version as a back-up until my data returned. I could have used the phone the rest of the trip. I couldn’t imagine depending on only one electronic device — that’s almost guaranteeing a failure!!!

  • Keith Laken

    My iPad has saved me twice as my Garmin 530 display has gone blank twice during flight. All flights should have a backup. The Garmin random failure is a disaster waiting to happen.