Over the course of your flight training there will be times when things feel like they’re happening very fast and it’s tough to keep up with the airplane. This is completely normal and typically happens during the first few weeks of training. It also is common when learning a new maneuver or procedure, or when getting checked out in a high-performance airplane. We all know the airplane isn’t the ideal classroom environment with engine noise to shout over, turbulence to ride through, aircraft instrumentation to interpret, all while your CFI guides you through a lesson plan. Wouldn’t it be nice though, if you could relive your flight lessons in a more controlled environment, to replay the flight and see how you handled each scenario?
The good news is that you can; and it’s never been easier thanks to advancements in a wide-spectrum of mobile technology. New iPad apps and action cameras make it a snap to record the details of each lesson, including your audio communications, cockpit video and GPS flight path. In my experience incorporating these techniques will help you progress more quickly towards your checkride, ultimately saving you time and money.
The easiest way to get started is to record the cockpit audio from your flight using an iPhone or iPad app. You’ll will find it beneficial to go back and listen to the dialogue between yourself and the CFI as they give real-time feedback on maneuvers and procedures from the flight. You’ll hear things you missed, along with reinforcements of what you did right and wrong throughout the flight. This is also useful when learning ATC communications, allowing you to review radio calls from Approach and Tower controllers and analyze your responses.
The simplest way to to do this is to use the included Voice Memos app on your iPhone and an audio adapter cable that interfaces between your intercom jack and headset. If you want to use an iPad or Android phone, a quick search in the app store will reveal several audio recording apps. If you have a newer Lightspeed headset check out the FlightLink app, which seamlessly interfaces with these modern headsets. The app will even record wirelessly over Bluetooth with the new Lightspeed PFX headset.
In-flight cockpit video
To take things to the next level, consider adding a small action camera to record video of your flights. Everyone knows the name GoPro these days, and these mini cameras do an excellent job at recording HD video from your flight. You’ll be able to see the instrument panel, flight controls and each event from the flight. You can even add an audio adapter cable to tie into the aircraft intercom to record both ATC and cockpit audio synced with the video.
Another in-flight camera option is the Garmin Virb, which records high-quality HD video like the GoPro, but also simultaneously logs your GPS position data. This allows you to quickly locate various points in the flight when reviewing the video by seeing your ground track on an adjacent map. The Virb is also a better option when recording cross-countries since it has about double the battery life of the GoPro and lasts about 3 hours. And after you earn your pilot certificate you’ll love taking these cameras with you on all your flights and capturing your experiences out the window as you travel to new airports and destinations.
GPS flight path logging
Ok so we’ve covered options for recording both the video and audio, what’s next? The latest trend in aviation is flight data recording, where you capture your GPS flight path with a portable device, and then analyze the data when back on the ground to visually debrief your maneuvers. Since most pilots are flying with iPads these days, the easiest way to do this is with an iPad/GPS combo and an aviation app. Both ForeFlight and WingX Pro, two of the mainstream aviation apps for pilots, include this capability right in the app.
When back on the ground you can then easily view your flight path on satellite imagery or aviation charts. You can also export the data to Google Earth for a 3D picture of your flight. And for the ultimate review, you can export the flight data to a premium-app like Cloud Ahoy, which will allow you to visualize each maneuver. It’ll even analyze them to show you where you deviated from altitude on steep turns, or heading when performing slow flight, for example.
Another option for data-recording is to use a dedicated device like the Stratus ADS-B receiver, which contains a built-in data recorder. The benefit here is that it starts recording automatically, leaving you with one less task to handle in the airplane. Just like when recording with ForeFlight’s built-in flight tracking feature, you can quickly export this data for review on aviation maps, Google Earth or CloudAhoy.