Editor’s Note: In the March 2012 issue’s “All About Avionics,” Stein Bruch touched on the ForeFlight application (among others) for use on smart phones or an iPad. Herewith, a more in-depth look at the software’s features.
Let’s face it. I’m a computer geek as well as an avionics geek. My very first computer was cobbled together in high school using tubes and relays. It could actually add two two-digit numbers together in a lightning-quick 5 seconds. I graduated to a TRS-80 Model II with 8-inch floppies and a whopping 64k of memory. A real blazer for its day, and the machines kept getting better and better.
Very little in the way of computers has come along in the last few years that really hooked me until I saw ForeFlight aviation software. ForeFlight is the do-it-all flight software that covers every facet of flying (www.foreflight.com).
The pricing isn’t bad, and one subscription works on both an iPhone and an iPad. The first 30 days of full service is free as an introductory rate. A three-month extension is $25; a one-year extension is $75. When you consider the price for printing VFR and IFR charts, airports/facilities directories and more, you’ll be happy that this program costs less than the paper you’d need to print those on. Updates are automatic, so the current chart is always in memory. Low-altitude IFR charts, VFR charts, approach plates and more are always completely up to date.
The first thing you’ll receive on the Airports menu bar is current information on any airport in the United States and U.S. possessions. You will notice I said all airports (and heliports), not just public-use airports. It also lists private and military airports. The base information page lists the current weather status of the airport (VFR, LOW VFR, IFR), the field elevation and pattern altitude, fuel types available, what instrument procedures are available, and then all the frequencies for that airport (ATIS/AWOS, tower, ground, common traffic, approach and departure).
Grass Valley International Peapatch is loaded in the main section of Airports. You’ll find the most important information for KGOO (Nevada County Air Park) right here. Notice that the flight rules in green show that this airport is currently VFR. The right top corner has the buttons for Taxiways (airport diagram), Nearby (nearest airports), FBOs (names and phone numbers) and Comments. The Weather tab is selected with the METAR option open. Again, the airport is VFR, and as of 17 minutes earlier this was the reported weather. Below the itemized weather is the weather for all reporting stations around Grass Valley (Blue Canyon, Auburn, etc.).
There are four buttons on the base information page. One is NEARBY which gives distance and direction to the closest airports. One is TAXIWAYS, which gives you an airport’s layout diagram. One is COMMENTS, which has additional information, such as which runways to use at night, the airport manager’s email address, noise abatement, and other little tidbits. The last is FBOs, which lists all the FBOs and Repair Stations on the airport, their phone numbers, and in the case of a fuel provider, the latest fuel prices.
The first tab on the Airports section is FREQUENCIES, which at first glance seems a little redundant because these are also given on the base information section. However, any unusual or strange frequencies are listed along with the name of the facility. For example, you may not be very familiar with Grass Valley Airport and make the call “Grass Valley Approach” coming in on Flight Following. ForeFlight will tell you way in advance that the correct call is “Norcal Approach,” and that the local Flight Service is “Rancho Murieta” on 122.20.
The resolution of the charts is to the point where you can zoom in until the airport fills the screen.
The next tab on the Airports section is WEATHER. It gives you a choice of METAR (Aviation Routine Weather Report), TAF (Terminal Area Forecast) and WINDS ALOFT. If your airport doesn’t report a METAR, it will give you the METAR of the closest airport—same for TAF and winds aloft from sea level to FL540.
Next on the Airport tab list is RUNWAYS, which gives you runway heading, lighting and instrument approaches for each runway. A link on the instrument approach will let you call up the approach plate for a particular runway.
The PROCEDURES tab allows you to call up all the instrument procedures for that airport, both approach and departure. The NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen) tab gives you the local airport NOTAMS, the TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions) in the area, and the ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center) NOTAMS. The SERVICES tab gives you the phone number of the local cab company, a few of the local hotels, car rental numbers, restaurants either on or close to the airport, and some of the local attractions. The A/FD tab gives you that airport’s facility directory. The MORE tab gives you the operating hours, the name and phone number of the airport manager, the current chart cycle and date for this set of charts, the magnetic variation, the name of the VFR sectional, the name of the ARTCC, and the name of the local Flight Service Station.
This information is provided in just one of the six major divisions of ForeFlight.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve started scribbling down an instrument clearance on the little scraps of paper on my kneepad, only to have the pencil break or the ink run dry halfway through. With ScratchPad I can either type or handwrite a note directly on the screen and it will stay put until I push the Erase button. Even if the iPad is turned off accidentally, the note will still be there when it is turned back on. (If you choose to write, you have the choice of entering the information using your finger or buying a special stylus, which is a little neater but not nearly as handy.)
ScratchPad with a simulated instrument clearance: “Cleared to San Jose, depart runway heading 250°, squawk code 1735, departure control frequency 125.7, expect higher altitude in 5 minutes.”
File and Brief
Full-bore briefing, just like you’d get from FSS (Flight Service Station), is available. You’ll find the same digital entry data as the paper form, but once you enter a departure and destination point, all you have to do is pull it up and get a current briefing for future flights over the same route. Perhaps most important, ForeFlight keeps that briefing in memory should (heaven forbid) you need to prove that you received a briefing including NOTAMS, weather and more, that FSS normally gives you. At the end, you can file that flight plan with FSS by simply clicking the button.
This File and Brief shows the weather briefing from Grass Valley to San Jose. You can read it at your leisure rather than trying to copy it or comb through massive amounts of data from a web site.
Organizing your instrument approach plates can be done with “Binders” in which you can put multiple copies of the same approach plates into separate binders and call them up for use when you need them. Windows calls this concept “Folders” but this is the same thing. This really makes it easy when you need approach plates for one trip and then some of the same plates for another.
In Plates you’ll find this collection of useful information on the departure and arrival airports. Note the instrument approach to San Jose: You don’t want to get too far off the localizer centerline on this one. Those brown areas are really high and really rocky.
There are two more major divisions of ForeFlight that I’d like to review, but first I’d like to show you how to make a portable (or not so portable) antenna for that scanner or base station you received over the winter holidays. If I can do it for less than 10 bucks with all new parts, I’ll bet you can too. Until then, stay tuned.