Today, pilots are using tablets to assist with just about every aspect of flying. These devices can help you plan cross-country flights, provide preflight weather briefings, display electronic sectional charts, show GPS moving maps and much, much more.
Even with these advances in mobile computing technology, there’s a good chance your flight instructor will still teach you how to plan and fly your first few cross-country flights with a paper chart, plotter, E6B, pen and paper, leaving your tablet on the sidelines. Despite what you may think, he’s not trying to punish you. The knowledge you gain by learning “the old school method” will allow you to appreciate the speed and simplicity that tablets provide, but more importantly it will help understand the fundamental concepts and calculations used in flight planning. And don’t forget you have to do it by hand on the knowledge test too.
After mastering the fundamentals of paper flight planning, pilotage and dead reckoning, you can then transition to using a app and tablet to automate routine calculations if you choose. And you’ll also be better equipped to identify any potential planning errors.
Most of the aviation apps available today include electronic versions of all the VFR Sectional and Terminal Area Charts, meaning you won’t be required to carry paper sectionals or A/FDs for navigation and airport info if you go that route. And best of all, when using your tablet with a GPS source you’ll see your airplane’s position right on the chart.
Before throwing your paper charts out the window and relying on a tablet, there are a few items you should become familiar with. The first is a basic understanding of the legalities that relate to flying with Electronic Flight Bags, or EFBs — the term the FAA uses to describe tablets in the cockpit.
FAR 91.21 requires that you verify your EFB (or any electronic device for that matter) will not cause interference with the navigation or communications systems installed on the aircraft.
You’ll also want to become familiar with Advisory Circular 91-78, which provides guidance to pilots using EFBs to replace paper charts in the cockpit. This AC says that it’s ok to substitute electronic charts for paper in flight, but you must adhere to the following guidelines. First you’ll need an application that displays the charts on the tablet, and the charts and data must be kept current. New data and chart updates are available for download every 28 days right in your aviation application.
Next, AC 91-78 recommends bringing along a backup source, such as a paper chart or second EFB, but this is not mandatory. Finally, the guidance suggests using the tablet first during an evaluation period with paper charts still accessible before relying solely on the electronic device for your charts in flight.
Another important consideration is how to secure the tablet in a way that allows for easy operation during all phases of flight, and to make sure it doesn’t fall out of reach when flying through rough air. The first option is a kneeboard, which keeps it locked down on your leg and within reach. An alternative is to mount it in the cockpit using a dedicated mounting bracket made specifically for aviation, either to the yoke or a side window.
After gaining some experience you’ll find that using a tablet in the cockpit can increase the safety and efficiency of your flights. And as you become more familiar with the device’s capability you’ll learn how a tablet can do much more than just automate flight planning and replace paper charts. When combined with wireless ADS-B accessories it can even display in-flight METARs and weather radar, show nearby traffic and even provide backup flight instruments.
Despite all these capabilities, resist the urge to use the tablet for all your flight planning needs from day one. Use a balanced approach with your instructor and take the time to learn the math that goes into these calculations and how to plan a trip by hand from start to finish. That way when you transition to a paperless cockpit with your tablet you’ll have a better understanding of the conveniences a device like this provides–and be prepared for an emergency.