2013 is shaping up to be a busy year for ForeFlight, general aviation’s most popular app. Just a few weeks after releasing version 4.8, the app company has unveiled version 4.9, packed with some major new features–including track up. We went flying with the latest version, and think it’s the most significant upgrade to the app in a long time. Let’s review some of the changes.
All-new map engine
The biggest upgrade with version 4.9 is behind the scenes, as ForeFlight has added a completely new map engine–called Altus. The map engine is sort of like the chassis on a car, the platform on which the rest of the product is built. Take one look at the Maps tab and you can see the difference. The entire world is shown as globe, with charts and weather overlaid on this base. The result is an incredibly accurate (and good-looking) map, with great circle routes and worldwide weather. You can plan a flight from San Francisco and London with the tap of a button, and panning around the map is amazingly smooth.
The new map engine enabled ForeFlight to add the feature at the top of many pilots’ wish lists: track up. While North up is great for preflight planning, many pilots prefer a track up view for in-flight navigation. Weather on the map matches the view out the window, and the view on your iPad can match the view on your panel avionics.
But ForeFlight did a lot more than just add track up to their existing app; they obviously spent some time making it pilot-friendly. For example, pilots have the option of viewing the map in three modes: North up, track up centered (where the airplane is in the middle of the screen) or track up forward (where the airplane is at the bottom of the screen). Both modes of track up are useful at different times during flight, so it’s a nice option to have. This is easily selected from the settings menu at the top left of the Maps page.
The track up presentation is also surprisingly smooth. Some apps have a tendency to bounce around a lot in this mode, as every one or two degree change in track makes the entire map seem to wobble. This is particularly annoying on a long cross-country. But ForeFlight apparently does some smoothing to prevent this–even in a steep turn, the map rotated smoothly and consistently.
Finally, ForeFlight has added route labels to the map. Since the text on a chart will be upside down when flying south, it’s important to have some data labels that are always aligned with your track. With Route Labels turned on, each waypoint on your active flight plan will be displayed in track up mode so you can easily read them.
Tap the map layers menu and you’ll see a new layer: obstacles. This is another major improvement in our view, allowing you to view all the towers in the FAA’s Digital Obstacle database. But instead of cluttering the screen with thousands of obstacles, ForeFlight smartly declutters obstacle symbols as you zoom in and out. The tallest obstacles are always displayed, and you can tap on any obstacle for complete details (height MSL, height AGL and type of lighting). Obstacles is just another map layer you can turn on, so you could view a sectional base map with a radar overlay, TFRs overlay and obstacles on the same view. It’s a huge amount of information, but it never seems to get messy or hard to read.
There’s more to this update, including the option to overlay user waypoints on the Maps page and the option to use “Classic Mode” on the iPhone app (some users did not like the recent Slider menu on the iPhone). As always, the update is free and available for iPad and iPhone. Complete details are available at the ForeFlight blog. To download the app, click here.
ForeFlight also says 4.9 isn’t the end of the updates: “we have a lot in store for 2013 and look forward to showing you something new and exciting every few weeks.” Stay tuned.