Creating your own iPad proficiency review

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Take your iPad along on your next flight review!

The FAA continues to put renewed emphasis on the Flight Review, the biennial (or hopefully more often) training event that all pilots should complete with a flight instructor. In the most recent update to Advisory Circular 61-98, the FAA is emphasizing some hot topics in aviation circles, like stabilized approaches, hand flying without automation and traffic pattern operations. Those are certainly important skills to focus on, but one area that many pilots ignore is proficiency with avionics – and yes, that means tablets too.

You could argue that the FAA’s focus on stick and rudder flying competes with this, but we would disagree. It’s quite possible to be proficient at using your avionics and be proficient at hand flying. In fact, we would argue that being proficient with your avionics leads to less heads-down time, less distraction and safer flying.

As the old saying goes, “train like you fly, fly like you train.” If you fly with an iPad, don’t hide it during your training flights. Better to make it an integral part of your proficiency program, whether you’re on your own or with an instructor – including what to do if it fails.

Or as the FAA says in its recently updated guide to Conducting an Effective Flight Review:

It is within your discretion to require a “manual” flight plan created with a sectional chart, plotter, and E6B. In real-world flying, however, many pilots today use tablet-based apps and online flight planning software for basic information and calculations. Appropriate use of these tools can enhance safety in several ways: they provide precise course and heading information; the convenience may encourage more consistent use of a flight plan; and automating manual calculations leaves more time to consider weather, performance, terrain, alternatives, and other aspects of the flight. Encouraging the pilot to use his or her preferred online tool will give you a more realistic picture of real-world behavior, and the computer-generated plan will give you an excellent opportunity to point out both the advantages and the potential pitfalls of this method.

You probably have your own routines for staying proficient in the cockpit, whether it’s a formal session with a flight instructor or just shooting the occasional practice approach. But you may not be as disciplined about maintaining iPad proficiency. So what might an iPad proficiency plan look like? It will vary for each pilot, depending on what type of flying you do and how much you use your tablet. But here are some suggested areas to cover:

ForeFlight briefing tool
Do you know how to use the built-in weather briefing tools in your favorite app?
  • Review your currency and experience. You’ll get the most out of any flight review if you start with a plan. Sit down and review where you are with your iPad and app skills. Are you experienced and just need to stay up to date? Or are you new to the world of Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) and need some in-depth study? Make a plan to focus on those areas that directly impact the type of flying you do.
  • Regulatory review. This doesn’t have to be long and boring, but just like a good session with a flight instructor covers some of the essential FARs, so too an iPad flight review should consult the regs. They do change from time to time, so it’s important to stay current with the FAA’s advice on using an EFB in the cockpit. Here’s a good summary of the applicable regulations.
  • Basic iPad overview. Before you start working on aviation-specific features, make sure you understand the essentials of your tablet. This includes topics like the iPad’s battery limitations, iOS shortcuts, troubleshooting procedures and how to use screenshots. These are basic skills that can save you a lot of time in the cockpit.
  • Preflight planning. Go over the key elements to planning a flight and what your particular flow is: reviewing airport information, planning a route (including preferred routes), reviewing airspace and terrain, and filing flight plans. In particular, make sure you understand the new ICAO flight plan procedures, which will soon become mandatory.
  • Weather briefings. After planning a flight, go through your weather briefing flow. If you typically use Flight Service, request a briefing for a sample flight and review each element in detail. Are there sections you don’t understand? If you do your own briefing, consider each of the resources you use and how they fit together. The FAA offers some tips for a good briefing, but at a minimum you should know how to find: the big picture (prog charts, synopsis), radar, METARs and TAFs, Pilot Reports and NOTAMs. Explore the weather section of your app and look for products you may not be using.
  • Cockpit setup and taxi. Before taking off, review your cockpit procedures. Is your mount or kneeboard in a safe place? Do you set up key information before you start the engine, to minimize heads-down time? Do you know how to use taxi charts to maintain situational awareness on the ground? Here’s a quick checklist to make sure your iPad is ready to go.
  • Instrument procedures. There are a lot of potential topics to cover here, depending on your experience level. Some essentials would include: how to use automatic flight plan tools like ForeFlight’s Procedure Advisor, how to display approach plates on the map screen, how to change approaches quickly in flight if ATC switches runways, and how to use geo-referencing.
  • Automation management. This phrase is usually applied to autopilots and flight directors, but it’s also valid for iPad apps. If something goes wrong in the cockpit, make sure you know how to downgrade the automation on your iPad. Can you get back to the basic moving map page if you get confused? Most important of all, can you fly the airplane without your iPad if it decides to quit?
  • Accessories. Most pilots fly with some type of iPad accessory, whether it’s an ADS-B receiver or a basic GPS. If you’re flying with an ADS-B receiver, be sure you understand how it works and the difference between weather and traffic transmissions. If you use it for backup attitude, make sure you know how to calibrate the attitude display. If you use a Bluetooth GPS, review pairing procedures and how to check the status of the GPS reception. Finally, if your iPad is connected to your panel, you should be comfortable with the overall system design, any flight plan transfer features and weather data that comes from the panel.
  • Datalink Weather. The FAA continues to add new ADS-B weather products to their free datalink weather feed. It’s important to keep up with these updates and know and how to access them in your app, as well as keep up with the data latency inherent in datalink weather.
  • What’s new. App developers are constantly releasing updates, so make it a formal part of your iPad flight review to seek out new features or design updates. If you don’t learn at least one new thing during your work, you probably didn’t look hard enough.

A lot of this proficiency work can be completed at home or really anytime you have your iPad with you. That makes it a perfect training topic for rainy days or times when you can’t get in the air. It could be a half-day, once a year event or a shorter, monthly review.

You can also use your iPad during a Flight Review to enhance the training environment. We like to use Lightspeed’s FlightLink app (for audio recording) and track logging features from ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and CloudAhoy (for reviewing maneuvers and approaches). Both allow you to debrief your training flight in a much more structured way.

Any other proficiency habits you use to stay sharp with your tablet? Add a comment.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The photo that came with the email that linked here says it all !!! There is the lone (single pilot) aloft – no hands on the controls, not looking out the window, heads down playing with the ipad – really ??? Herein lies today’s pilot problem – SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE FLYING THE AIRPLANE !!! At least as long as we still have piloted airplanes, after that, who knows what problems we’ll face. But,,, I must say she was nicely dressed and had on the proper sunglasses and headsets – sorry, nice marketing but wrong message.

    • Oh come on. She’s in cruise flight with the autopilot on. That’s exactly when you should look at a chart on your iPad, not when you’re on short final with a strong crosswind.

      It’s ok to look at your iPad for a few seconds during a slow part of the flight. We once looked at charts or nav logs or whiz wheels. If anything it takes less heads down time these days. Not sure why the iPad is the bad guy here.

  2. The Truth is somewhere in between…

    Yes, you need to fly the airplane and visually scan for traffic, weather, terrain, and obstacles.
    No, you don’t need to look outside the window 100% of the time.
    Yes, you need to look at your screen for charts, checklists, and navlogs just like you had to with the non-computerized versions of the same tools.
    No, you don’t need to be scrolling around the screen for several minutes to find that one feature you’re looking for or bring up that desired graphic while in flight.

    This article is a pretty good intro to all the info that is available on the iPad. I would recommend some exercises to be performed under CFI (or a flying buddy) supervision by the pilot within a few seconds to test his/her familiarity and proficiency with the app and iPad. For instance, you plan an RNAV 18 approach to your destination only to be overridden by ATC to expect RNAV 36 instead. How long does it take to bring up the new chart and re-program the GPS navigator? You have to be able to do this on the fly in a high workload environment. This is not the time to be fumbling through menus. How quickly can you look up METAR weather at your destination, interpret it, and determine how old that weather is. Being proficient in toggling on and off information on the screen can make comprehending info much easier. It’s too easy to just turn everything on (breadcrumbs, range circles, weather, ALL traffic, route of flight, CDI, etc…) and think you’ll be able to interpret everything in a timely manner. The term information overload comes to mind. Yes, you can sort it all out eventually, but is it all that information really needed at that stage of flight? It’s all about managing the information overload.

    Face it, if you’re proficient with your app, you”ll have more information available for quicker retrieval than you ever could without the iPad. That’s why we use it and that’s why it is so popular. But if you rely on it for all your charts and other flight info, and the battery goes dead, or you’re not proficient with the app, you might be better off without it.

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