Ask any pilot about the advantages of the old, heavy paper ‘brain bags’ versus the modern electronic flight bag (EFB), and you won’t find many, if any, that prefer the old days. Jepp binders, company manuals that would run 1,000 pages or more, and personal items meant that the flight kit, usually black or brown leather and adorned with stickers, would weigh 40 to 50 pounds. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for going electronic was the steady rash of injuries that pilots suffered from the bags, usually to shoulders and backs that were abused in manipulating the bags in and out of the cockpit.

But there was one huge advantage to the paper books, and that was the ability to write, note and cross-reference from one book to the next. There was hardly a pilot around who didn’t keep some kind of notes in the manuals based on his/her previous experiences or inability to remember complex tables. In my case, I was always double-checking requirements for weather for certain approaches, for filing for an alternate, and for determining the need for a second alternate. I came up with my own tables and flow charts for this, but I also made heavy use of notes and ‘see page XXX in the other manual.’

Revisions also came with vertical change bars on the margins, so when you were doing the revision, you could immediately see what had changed. Highlighted passages could be transferred (or deleted, or added) as needed or desired. I always used two highlighters. One was yellow and one was pink, and they each had a different meaning. Doing the revisions by hand, in my opinion, made everyone slightly more aware of what was going on within the operation, because you felt compelled to read and understand the changes. It was also a bit of a challenge to try to find the inevitable mistakes that made it through several layers of editing and proof-reading. Minor mistakes would be taken care of in the next revision cycle, but major mistakes would be addressed right away, usually with a yellow-paged temporary revision. Every three or four years or so, there would be a total rewrite the books, and we’d all get the fun of getting familiar with some slight ‘improvement.’

With the EFB, the updates are constant and instantaneous. Notes in the margins of pages no longer work, because they get deleted during the updates. Same with highlights. There is a revision summary that goes through all the changes and has a hyperlink to the affected pages so that you can you see the actual change. But unless you want to create a separate PDF of the book, the days of dog-eared pages covered with notes and comments and highlights are gone. Is that good? Bad? It’s probably both, and like my brethren, I am in no hurry to lug a 50 pound bag around anymore with all of the risks involved (the handle on mine broke as I was going through security one day; fortunately, I was able to get a new one in the airport). Because nobody any longer worries about the cost of printing or the number of binders needed, a few of our manuals are pushing 2,500 pages, which is ridiculous. And, all of my personal notes, comments, memory joggers, etc. are in a spiral notebook as well as a file on my computer.

That said, I no longer have to worry about coming back from a vacation to a V-file stuffed with revisions. One quick tap on my EFB, and I’m ready to go in less time than it takes to put on my uniform. And that’s okay.