Talk to any pilot about their favorite EFB app feature and you’ll likely hear about the increased situational awareness coming from geo-referenced charts, weather avoidance thanks to ADS-B datalink weather and the increased margin of safety provided by terrain overlays and obstacle warnings. There is another feature though in EFB apps that may not be as glamorous but is equally important for both VFR and IFR flight operations – supplemental documents.
The transition from paper to electronic charts in the late 2000s was pretty seamless thanks to the FAA’s effort to publish all charts and airport data in digital formats, making it relatively easy for app developers to organize and present this data within their app. There were some additional elements though that needed to be accounted for, like chart legends, approach chart supplements, TAC flyway graphics, etc., and this required app developers to come up with a solution.
ForeFlight’s primary approach to this has been a dedicated documents section in the app that includes all of the “extra” chart resources in a nicely organized viewer, complete with a download manager. What makes the ForeFlight Documents feature even better is that pilots can import their own PDFs to quickly access documents like airplane flight manuals and avionics pilot guides.
The latest update to ForeFlight makes this feature even better, with an updated interface, new sync features and support for documents on iPhone. Here’s what to look for.
The first thing you’ll notice when opening the new Documents screen in ForeFlight is an optimized layout that uses the familiar iOS split view, similar to the Mail app. The main folders are located on the left side of the screen, and then you select the content you’d like to view from the individual folders documents on the right. You’ll notice after updating to ForeFlight 11.3 that all your previously saved and imported PDFs are still available and organized in a similar binders structure, which is now located at the top of the list on the left side of the screen.
To create a new Binder, tap the green “Add New Binder” button at the bottom of the Binders menu. You can then add any document to a Binder by opening it up in the main viewer and pressing the add button at the top right.
The renamed Drives section under the Binders list displays the standard catalog of documents to download, including all the supplemental chart data for FAA, Canadian and Jepp charts, FAA training documents, ForeFlight user guides and user-added cloud-based drives like Dropbox, Box or Amazon S3 (more on how to set this up later).
You’ll see the familiar download status buttons along with each document – tap the blue download button to save it your device. The download button will change to a green checkmark symbol when the download is complete. You also have the option to download all the documents in a folder with a single press of the blue download all button, located to the right of the catalog name.
ForeFlight’s PDF support was already top notch in previous versions of the app, including document outlines, search and bookmarking. The latest update adds syncing capability so that all documents added to one device will also be available on a second iPad or iPhone.
The syncing is extended to any personalization you add as well so that annotations or bookmarks you add to a document on one device will also appear on your other devices, including the last page you viewed in that document so you can pick up right where you left off.
You can use the search bar on the Airports, Maps, Plates, or Documents views to search for and view documents, whether downloaded or not. ForeFlight returns all documents with titles matching your search term and highlights that term within each title.
Documents on iPhone
When ForeFlight first launched for iOS devices, the iPhone 3G was the latest and greatest iPhone on the market, with a screen size measuring 3.5″ diagonal – not exactly optimal for reading larger documents. Fast forward to today, where the latest iPhone Max’s screen measures 6.5″ diagonal and is used by many pilots as their primary EFB device in the cockpit. It’s much easier to read books and documents on these larger screens, so it only makes sense that ForeFlight would add Documents to the iPhone app.
The Documents tab on iPhone takes the place of the Imagery tab at the center of the navigation bar, and the Imagery view is now accessible from the top of the More view. It includes all the same functions as the iPad Documents view and will automatically sync documents, annotations and bookmarks from all other devices logged.
It’s worth mentioning that ForeFlight has offered a cloud sync option (requires a Pro Plus subscription or higher) that allows you to connect a Dropbox, Amazon S3 or Box account online and send documents remotely right to your iPad or iPhone from a shared folder in one of these accounts. To set this up, log in into your ForeFlight account online here, select your name from the menu on the left side of the screen and then select the Integrations tab at the top of the screen. You’ll then see options to connect and manage cloud document syncing.
Once the account is linked, you’ll see a new folder in the Drives section of ForeFlight Documents, with the same name as the shared folder in your synced cloud account. In this example our shared Dropbox folder is labeled Airplane Training: