A few years ago we learned about a simple but useful app that helps pilots keep track of their altitude, whether shooting an instrument approach or maintaining cruise altitude. AltitudeAlert was designed by an airline pilot who got back into GA flying and missed some of the safety benefits found on the flight deck of a modern airliner. The app is a surprisingly helpful tool, and since it works in slide-over mode on the iPad it’s easy to run side-by-side with ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot.
The latest version, called simply AltitudeAlert V3, works on all iOS devices from iPhone to iPad Pro to Apple Watch. That latter device is a nice addition if you fly with one – the app will now deliver haptic alerts in addition to pop-up notifications and audio alerts. Depending on how you set up your devices, you could have an audio alert in your Bluetooth-enabled headset, a vibration on your wrist, and a message on your iPad screen. All of these can be managed in the Notifications section of the Settings app.
There are three main ways to use the app:
- A new ALT HOLD mode monitors your altitude and alerts you when you exceed a preselected margin (say, 50 feet). This is ideal for cruise flight – just tap the big button to set your current altitude as the preferred one and the app will send a notification if you exceed your buffer. It’s simple and a great reminder, especially if you don’t have an autopilot.
- SELECTOR mode allows you to set minimums on an approach. The app will alert you 100 feet above minimums and again at minimums, just like a glass cockpit.
- SELECTOR mode also allows you to choose an altitude for level-off, either in climb or descent. You can choose either a single alert or an alert with the altitude remaining.
When you first install the app, spend a minute in the app settings to make sure the notifications are on and set to persistent – otherwise they’ll disappear after a few seconds and you might miss a notification. From here you can also toggle specific announcements. Note that these settings are in the main iOS Settings app, while specific altitude selections are made in the AltitudeAlert app itself.
While the app can work based on GPS altitude, we strongly suggest using a device with a built-in barometric pressure sensor for best performance. This includes any iPhone since the iPhone 6, iPad Mini 4 or newer, iPad Air 2 or newer, and any iPad Pro model.
One other change that comes with V3 is a move to a subscription model. The original app was a one-time purchase, but there were different apps for different devices so the cost could add up. Now there’s one new app to download on all your devices, and a subscription is either $1.49/month or $12.99/year. To get started, you can download the app free and try it for 30 days without a subscription.