The Apple Watch started arriving over the weekend for those that pre-ordered the device a few weeks back, and so far the reviews have been mostly positive. While each person will be looking to get something different out of the new smartwatch, pilots have been primarily focused how it can enhance the digital in-flight experience. While the screen is relatively small compared to the phones and tablets we’re accustomed to using in the cockpit, it has the potential to be a helpful tool always displaying key information about the flight on your wrist.
Aviation app developers have been hard at work over the past few months creating watch-compatible apps and several are already available in the app store. You won’t find dedicated apps specifically for the watch, but rather developers must add watch compatibility to their existing apps, allowing them to display information formatted specifically for the smaller screen. Another key point is that the watch must be in range and connected to an iPhone for these apps to function. The watch itself does not have an internal GPS and is not compatible with iPad in its present form.
Despite these limitations, there are some really cool features available for pilots from several aviation and weather app companies. Here’s a quick rundown of a few aviation apps that pilots flying with an Apple Watch should check out:
- ForeFlight Mobile — ForeFlight’s Apple Watch feature set is fairly comprehensive for this first release, including the ability to display text weather and airport conditions, in-flight ADS-B weather from Stratus, customizable flight instruments, flight notifications and timers.
- Aerovie Reports — this is one of the newer EFB apps on the market and provides a full complement of navigation and moving map features. We reviewed this app in a previous report and it’s one of the few apps that allow you to send electronic PIREPs directly to Flight Service. Similar to ForeFlight, you can view timers, airport weather, airport information and customizable flight instruments on a watch.
- NRST — many of the mainstream aviation apps lack a useful nearest airport feature, and this app fills that gap by providing navigation information to nearby airports at all times. The watch version makes even more sense since you can run your primary aviation app on your iPad or iPhone, and leave this running on your watch for quick viewing should a deviation become necessary. The watch screen can display vectors to the 4 nearest airports, vertical navigation info to a selected airport and an HSI to make sure you remain headed in the right direction.
- Pilot Log — this is a useful app for those looking for an inexpensive, no-frills electronic logbook. The watch extension allows you to view key stats about your flight time and currency at a glance, including recency of experience.
- RWY Go — like the NRST app, RWY Go is a supplemental aviation app that provides time-critical nearest airport information when you need to get on the ground quickly. This app has only been on the app store for a few weeks, and packs a lot of information on the watch’s screen. You can view a listing of nearby airports, airport layout and frequencies, text weather and basic navigation information.
- SkyNav — here’s another aviation app that has only been out for a few weeks and allows you to display both GPS and barometric altitude and variometer (rate-of-climb) instruments. The watch version of this app is a natural extension that can display each of these instruments right on your wrist. This is the only app we’re aware of too that includes vario sound as part of the variometer instrument, which glider pilots will especially appreciate.
- FlightStats — stuck flying on the airlines instead of your cloud-bouncing Cessna? Make sure to add the FlightStats app to your phone and monitor departure and arrival status on your watch. It’s worth pointing out too that most of the major airlines have already added Apple Watch compatibility too, including Delta, United, American, JetBlue and Emirates.
- Weather Underground — while not specifically designed for aviation, this app serves as a great overall weather app to keep an eye on forecasts and radar imagery. The watch version adds current conditions, weather radar, city forecasts and severe weather alerts to your Apple Watch.