Android Tablets as Electronic Flight Bags – Part 2

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


Introduction

As you may recall from Part 1 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 (this article) will discuss Software/Applications

  • Part 3 will discuss Hardware

  • Part 4 will discuss Accessories

  • Part 5 will discuss Training and Simulation

In this Part, I will introduce several Android Applications that can function as Type A and Type B Software as defined by FAA. I will provide reviews of applications I have personally used, along with overviews of other applications I am not personally familiar with, including pricing, installation, and where to go for more information or to download or purchase. We will talk applications first since choice of application and intended use will drive the next article which is hardware selection (which device to buy).

Most of the applications are fairly intuitive and while there would seem to be a fairly limited number of ways to interact with software, there are more than enough differences between them for me to try and capture the specifics for each of the applications listed below. Most either come with a downloadable PDF manual or online help and many also have online Youtube videos prepared either by the developer themselves or dedicated users.

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For this article, we’ll introduce a few new terms, EFB Applications come in basically three types, those that are free (freeware), those which have initial and/or ongoing expenses (payware), and those which may eventually be payware but which are initially released as a free test version (Beta). Another term we’ll use in this article is Geo-Referenced which means a chart or plate that allows for the display of aircraft position on the chart or plate (like an approach plate for example).

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One thing to keep in mind is that none of the applications reviewed here are approved for use as a primary navigation source, this is a limitation of all mobile devices – however as touched on in the first part, no approval is required for use as a source of supplemental information.

Overview of Typical EFB Uses

Below, I have listed the primary uses for EFB’s in Part 91 operations:

  • Preflight Weather and Flight Planning

  • Flight Plan Filing and Briefing

  • In-Flight Situational Awareness

  • Technical Documentation

Preflight Weather and Flight Planning

Most of the EFB applications have at least some rudimentary ability to check current weather data, either forecast or real-time or near real-time radar data, usually with METAR, TAF and other FAA/NOAA products as well. They also usually include some flight planning capability, from simple waypoint to waypoint planning up to dynamic rubber-band style or graphical flight planning.

These features combine to assist in the initial planning of a flight as well as the tactical decision making the night before a flight or even the day of. The ability to check for NOTAMs, weather patterns, fuel prices, airport services (AFD pages) and more, up to and including just prior to takeoff can really improve the go/no go decision.

Most EFB applications allow for the storing of favorite routes as well as one-touch route reversal to take an existing flight plan and simply reverse the order of waypoints and the bearing/track/time enroute information for setting up the return trip home.

Flight Plan Filing and Briefing

Similar to the Preflight Weather and Flight Planning above, most of the applications have the ability to initiate a weather/route briefing and can even file a flight plan using DUATS or similar. Several applications can also download an electronic briefing by decoding METARs, TAFs and other weather products along the planned route. This provides a simple electronic method for filing flight plans and getting a briefing in a streamlined fashion.

In-Flight Situational Awareness

The primary interest for many pilots with EFB’s is for in-flight situational awareness, primarily moving maps. Most of the EFB applications provide moving map displays with various layers of information. The underlying imagery is called the Base Map and will usually include Sectional charts, Terminal Area Charts, Topographic or Elevation maps, even basic roadmaps. On top of the base map, it is usually possible to layer weather radar, cloud imagery, infrared satellite, flight path and even traffic data depending on the application and available data.

Data sources can be downloaded prior to flight via WiFi, can be downloaded while in-flight via telephone cellular networks, or via the ADS-B and TIS-B systems for select application and hardware combinations.

Moving map displays can provide an incredible level of situational awareness by also giving access to Airport Facility Directory (AFD) and other airport information, such as various radio frequencies, runway and traffic pattern information, FBO phone numbers, and even nearby points of interest.

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Technical Documentation

One area that is not typically an actual part of the EFB applications themselves but which can be installed on any Android device are document readers to provide Airplane Flight Manuals, Pilot’s Operating Handbooks, Pilot’s Guides or other documents. The Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) allows for quick and easy electronic versions of literally any manual. If you fly a lot of different aircraft, this really makes a difference in the weight of your flight bag. I highly recommend using a document reader to maximize the value of any EFB.

So without further adieu, here is a brief review of several leading applications.

Garmin Pilot (Payware)

Overview

Garmin Pilot is my current EFB application. The user interface is very intuitive, the built-in and online manuals are very legible, and the application is very stable on my Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet as well as my Acer Iconia A500 10” Tablet.

Garmin Pilot is, in my opinion, the 800 lb Gorilla of Android EFB’s. It is the Cadillac application, Garmin is a huge developer, and they offer an iOS version of Pilot for Apple fans and the application is feature-rich. Graphics are fantastic, flight-planning is very intuitive, and all pilot, aircraft, flight plan and subscription data is stored on the Garmin network tied to a Google account and can be accessed on PC as well as up to 2 Android devices meaning it is easy to share across devices.

Garmin Pilot is payware, the base application costs $74.99/yr with optional Geo-Referenced Approach Plates for an additional $49.99/yr and Garmin’s SafeTaxi which are geo-referenced airport and runway diagrams that show the aircraft position for $24.99/yr.

Garmin does allow for a free 30 day trial of the base application to include all the various basemap images which is a great introduction to its’ capabilities.

Avilution Aviation Maps (Payware)

Overview

Prior to purchasing Garmin Pilot, Avilution’s Aviation Maps application was my preferred EFB application. Aviation Maps began as a free application but as it became more feature rich it eventually moved to a paid application. Like Garmin Pilot it provides for flight planning, briefing, weather and excellent moving map capabilities. A nice element of Aviation Maps is the ability to select custom aircraft icons for the moving map to include canards, biplanes, warbids, even jet types.

I really like Avilution as a developer, the gentleman who started it is the primary tech support contact, and he is very responsive to bug reports as well as feature requests. The in-flight interface is very good, however the flight planning interface is not as polished as Garmin Pilot.

Avilution Aviation Maps is payware, the base application costs $74.95/yr with the Premium application costing $149.90/yr but including Geo-Referenced Approach Plates and Airport Diagrams.

Like Garmin, Avilution has a free 30 day trial of the base application to include all the various basemap images.

AVARE (Freeware)

Overview

One application I recently became aware of is called Avare. Avare is not quite as seamless and easy to use as Garmin Pilot or Avilution Aviation Maps, but it is very feature rich for a truly free application. I have not flown with Avare, nor have I tried to connect it to the simulator, but playing with it a few times at the airport and at home shows it to be a very capable application that offers a lot of capability. For basic Day/Night VFR flying it seems very hard to beat Avare as an entry-level application.

The graphics quality on Avare is not quite as clean as the Payware applications, I assume due to the manner they are scanned for use in the application but as mentioned above, for a free application they are more than adequate. It also includes a fair amount of customization for the data fields which show when flying.

Avare is freeware, there are no costs for the base application including regular updates to the various navigation data products used.

NAVIATOR (Payware)

Overview

I have downloaded Naviator and played with it a little but have not flown with it. Naviator has a decent interface but the downloads are not intuitive compared to the other Payware applications (or weren’t when I tried it last year). The graphics quality was good, but the in-flight interface was also not as polished as the other Payware offerings.

Naviator currently supports several ADS-B traffic receivers, and also support DUATS briefing/flight plan filing. It also supports some AHRS/attitude source devices for a simulated EADI function which is cool.

Naviator is payware, the base application costs $14.99 which unlocks the application. Charts are $34.99/yr and include geo-referencing.

iFly GPS (Beta)

Overview

I was recently approached by the developer of iFly GPS to evaluate the Beta version of their product. I have downloaded it and played with it a little but have not flown with it yet. The interface and download management are intuitive and the graphics quality is good. Once it is considered stable/mature, I am sure they will charge for it but for now it is a great free application.

EBookDroid Electronic Reader (Freeware)

Overview

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, one use for EFB’s on larger aircraft that I want to encourage pilots of smaller aircraft to consider is the storage and display of technical manual type data such as Flight Manuals, Maintenance Manuals, Pilot’s Guides and the like. There are many PDF reader applications available for Android but the one I have found to offer the most control and best speed is call EBookDroid Electronic Reader. This is a free application but I would gladly pay for it if it was Payware.

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Next month’s installation will cover the hardware choices, which tablet or other device best suits your intended use and the applications you plan to use.

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).

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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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