Checking the weather before flight has always been one of the most popular uses for the iPad. After all, it’s easier to get an update by looking at your tablet or your phone than to sit down at a computer. But which app to use?
There are thousands of weather apps for the general public, from free to quite expensive. These are great for deciding whether you need a jacket tomorrow, but when it comes to aviation weather–looking at thunderstorms, ice, turbulence, visibility and so much more–these apps just aren’t enough. So we’ll focus mostly on aviation weather apps, both free and paid.
Here’s our top 8 weather apps for pilots:
8. Intellicast HD. This is not an aviation-specific app, but we’ve included it here because it’s still useful for pilots. Created by WSI Corporation, makers of the ubiquitous FBO weather stations, it combines an excellent radar map, forecast radar images, hourly forecasts, charts and a lot more. This is the base app in our weather toolkit, good for a general overview of conditions. Best of all, it’s free. Get the app here.
7. CloudTopper. This may not technically be a weather app, but it’s useful in flight when dealing with weather. CloudTopper, just $0.99, is the answer to the ever-present question, “Are we going to top those clouds?” Using the iPad or iPhone’s built-in gyro and camera, it allows you to point your phone at the clouds ahead, get it exactly level and see whether or not those clouds are above you. You can even enter your estimated distance to the clouds and the app will estimate how many feet you would need to climb to get on top. Great for VFR and IFR pilots alike. Get the app here.
6. MyRadar. There are literally hundreds of radar apps in the App Store, and with good reason. Checking the radar is an essential task for pilots and non-pilots alike. Almost all of these apps use the same data (from the National Weather Service), so it’s mostly how this data is presented that distinguishes apps from each other. One of our favorites is MyRadar. It’s free, fast and easy to use, with high quality looping radar. But as we’ve mentioned before, there are some nice aviation features in there too, like an AIRMETs overlay. Get the app here.
5. RadarScope. If MyRadar is the lightweight, easy-to-use radar app, RadarScope is the weather geek’s radar app. It focuses less on pretty pictures and more on options–you can display any of the 155 different radar sites in the US, and choose between base and composite reflectivity. This is a complicated subject, but many pilots think composite reflectivity is most useful for flight planning (but is not what most TV stations show). Having the ability to compare different radar scans can offer some good insights with a little training. This app, which costs $9.99, also allows you to zoom in and look for tell-tale severe weather radar signatures. Get the app here.
4. SkewTLogPro. Another geeky tool that some pilots like is the Skew-T log p diagram. This is intimidating at first glance, but the Skew-T offers a lot of information, including temperature, dewpoint, wind direction and wind speed at different altitudes. With some training, this chart reveals a lot about cloud bases, cloud tops, icing, turbulence and more. This handy app, at $6.99, is a fast and easy way to view Skew-T diagrams at any location in the US by entering either an airport identifier or lat/longs. You can even tap a button to automatically see the sounding closest to your current location. Get the app here.
3. Aviation Weather. This isn’t really a native iOS app, but rather a link to a web app, so you need an internet connection to use it. But it still offers a lot of great NOAA/NWS information, from text weather reports and AIRMETs to Pilot Reports and satellite images. There are a few hidden gems on this site, too, and the app is free. It’s a time-saver. Get the app here.
2. WSI Pilotbrief Optima. WSI is one of the leading weather technology and analysis companies in the world, and their FBO weather stations and website have been essential pilot tools for decades. The company has recently launched an all-new app, called Optima, which bundles all of their exclusive weather products into one slick interface. There’s a full route briefing tool that pulls all weather data–even NOTAMs–into one view, so there’s no jumping around between maps. And WSI’s unique NOWrad radar picture is probably the best available. Recent updates allow pilots to save weather charts for offline use, which is helpful for taking your iPad into the cockpit. The app isn’t cheap (it requires a WSI subscription that can cost over $100/mo.), and it’s not 100% bug-free, but this is still a powerful app with some exclusive features. Get the app here.
1. ForeFlight/Garmin Pilot/WingX. Whichever of the big three aviation apps you use, they are hard to beat for weather briefings. Because you can overlay your flight plan route on different weather maps, they offer great situational awareness and endless possibilities for diversion planning (you can even factor in fuel prices). These apps also include a wealth of information, from graphical METARs to icing forecasts, that you can’t find most other places. Finally, they allow you to get a formal DUAT/DUATS weather briefing right in the app. This is not to mention the in-flight options for datalink weather, whether it’s XM or ADS-B. Each app has a free trial, but requires an annual subscription to keep current. Get ForeFlight here, Garmin Pilot here, and WingX here.
What’s your favorite weather app? Add a comment below.