Android Tablets as Electronic Flight Bags – Part 4

I am a little late in posting this to the blog, this article originally appeared in the EAA 14 Newsletter for April 2014, enjoy! 


As you may recall from Parts 1, 2 and 3, this is a series of 5 articles about Android Tablets as Electronic Flight Bags, this series is arranged as follows:

  • Part 1 – an introduction to the EFB, the Regulatory environment and Terminology

  • Part 2 discussed Software/Applications

  • Part 3 discussed Hardware

  • Part 4 (this article) will discuss Accessories

  • Part 5 will discuss Training and Simulation

In last month’s article we reviewed hardware, the devices EFB applications can be run on. So this month, we are going to review various accessories that can be used for the hardware and applications.

As with the previous articles, I’ll introduce a new term related to possible accessories; specifically ADS-B (Automated Dependant Surveillance-Broadcast). And lastly I’ll review some of my favorite accessories.

As I have repeatedly mentioned, remember that none of the devices or accessories discussed here are approved for use as a primary navigation source – however as also touched on in the previous articles, no approval is required for use as a source of supplemental information.

ADS-B (Automated Dependant Surveillance-Broadcast

From the FAA News webpage (

What is ADS-B?

ADS-B is one of the most important, underlying technologies in the FAA’s plan to transform air traffic control from the current radar-based system to a satellite-based system. ADS-B is bringing the precision and reliability of satellite-based surveillance to the nation’s skies.


How does it work?

ADS-B uses GPS signals along with aircraft avionics to transmit the aircraft’s location to ground receivers. The ground receivers then transmit that information to controller screens and cockpit displays on aircraft equipped with ADS-B avionics.

Screen Protectors

Because we use EFB’s in the cockpit, and because we want visibility, there is usually a lot of ambient light in the cockpit, as a result one accessory that should not be overlooked is a screen protector. While these initially came about to actually ‘protect’ the sense elements of the earlier touch screens, they are now important more for preventing the appearance of fingerprints and reducing glare. Available in a number of finishes (e.g., gloss, matte, semi-matte) these self-adhesive films will greatly improve the usefulness of your EFB by making sure you can actually see all the cool data it can display. I prefer a matte finish because it reduces glare better than a gloss finish, but any screen protector is going to be better than no screen protector. Good sources for screen protectors include local retailers, and online marketers.


Glossy on Left, Matte on Right                        


No Protector on Left, Matte on Right


Because Android devices are touch driven, one element that has seen a lot of development recently is the use of a stylus, basically a pen with a capacitive point on it create the electrical charge that normal touchscreens require to capture input. Where a typical stylus offers moderate resolution (think thick lines), Samsung recently added a new twist with a high resolution stylus called the S-Pen (currently only on Samsung Note devices) produces very high resolution (think thin lines). Either device can make for precise inputs to your device, but they should be tethered to the device to avoid becoming FOD in the cockpit. You can find S-Pens and Stylus of varying design at online and local retailers.


Stylus Pens                                                              


Samsung S-Pen

External GPS Receivers and ADS-B Receivers

Some tablets may not come with an internal GPS receiver or you may prefer ADS-B data for inflight weather and ADS-B traffic, for these uses an external GPS or ADS-B Receiver may be just the right thing. While most EFB applications can be made to function with any suitable external GPS Receiver, some EFB applications can only work with certain ADS-B/ADS-B GPS Receivers, so be sure you know that a receiver will be compatible with your EFB application and the tablet/device (e.g., Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity). Because the GPS and ADS-B Receivers are aviation specific, you’ll need to look for them at dedicated aviation retailers online or in pilot shops like Sporty’s and Marv Golden’s.


RAM Mounts/Kneeboards/Lap Desks

One obvious question is where to locate and hold your EFB. Of course you can just set it down on your lap and hope it stays there, but a better approach is to decide if you want a mounting system that stays with you as the pilot, or with the airplane. I fly lots of different planes so for me, I want a mount that stays with me and use a generic 9G kneeboard that I bought at Marv Golden’s, it fits my Galaxy Note 8 tablet perfectly. Users of portable GPS devices are probably familiar with the RAM mount system, this uses a small hard plastic ball with moveable mounts that can be positioned as needed.


Power Cords/Chargers

Most tablets either come with a vehicle charger (12V car charger) or can be powered with a universal charger. The primary challenge is to ensure that the charger is compatible with your plane’s power system and does not cause any interference with radios or avionics. As with most other accessories, you can find Power Cords/Chargers at local retailers and at online stores.

Next month’s final installation will cover training and simulation.

About the Author

John Knolla is currently Manager, Product Support Engineering Group for an Engineering Services company in San Diego, CA. He has nearly 20 years of Technical and Management experience in Reliability, Maintainability & Safety Engineering, Integrated Logistics Support, Systems and Project Engineering, and Technical Documentation supporting Aerospace and Defense companies such as Hawker-Beechcraft Corporation, Eclipse Aviation, Dassault FalconJet, ITT, BAE Systems, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, Embraer, and The Spaceship Company.

He has served on Air Transport Association (ATA) Working Groups defining Digital Display and Flight Operations approaches for the airline industry, and the FAA/industry panel that developed Advisory Circular AC120-76/120-76A Guidelines for the Certification, Airworthiness and Operational Use of Electronic Flight Bags.

He currently holds an Instrument Rating and Commercial Pilot’s License and has flight experience in more than 30 different make/model fixed and rotary wing aircraft. John maintains membership in EAA (since 1987), AOPA, the International Aerobatic Club (IAC), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) and the Redstar Pilot’s Association (RPA).


About acrogimp

Pilot (real world, simulator and RC), Engineer, Blogger - all around wing nut! Also, below-knee amputee, snow skier, motorcyclist. Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Uncle.
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