When digital charts were first released for the iPad there were a few features lost during the shuffle. While overall the benefits of switching to digital charts far outweighed the downsides, the simple fact remained that you could no longer write or make markings on your taxiway diagrams or approach charts like you could with paper. It didn’t take long though for the app developers to solve this problem and they soon added the ability to add annotations and markups directly on the charts. With an Apple Pencil (or even a “dumb” stylus), it’s even easier.
Here we’re going to show you how to use this feature in several apps and offer tips on how to make make the most of them during your flying.
How to add annotations
The procedure to add annotations is a little different in each app, but the end result is the same. Here’s how to use the feature in three popular aviation apps:
- WingX Pro — when viewing an instrument procedure or taxiway diagram in the AeroNav Charts section of the app, tap the Pencil button in the lower-left corner. This will enable the drawing tool and allow you to highlight items on the chart or make notes.
- Garmin Pilot — when in the Charts or Documents section of Garmin Pilot and viewing a procedure or document, tap the Menu button in the upper right corner and select “Annotate Chart.” To change the color or thickness of the writing tool, tap the pen icon in the upper left corner to view style options. The Draw option uses a darker color ink to make notes, while the highlight option creates a transparent marking useful for highlighting frequencies or important notes.
- ForeFlight — this app offers the most customization options for annotations and allows you to mark up the moving map, instrument procedures, airport diagrams and any saved documents. When on the maps screen, tap the pen tool at the lower left of the screen to activate this feature. When viewing a chart in the Plates section of the app, press the pen button in the upper left corner to enable the annotation mode. A menu bar will appear at the top allowing you to customize the pen. ForeFlight also allows you to activate a typing tool to help write notes in a variety of fonts and sizes that are much easier to read. Refer to the Annotations chapter in the ForeFlight Pilot’s Guide for a detailed description on how to use each tool.
Annotation tips for VFR Pilots
VFR pilots will find it helpful to use the annotation feature when viewing an airport diagram at tower-controlled airports. And remember if you’re flying with ForeFlight that you have access to hundreds of additional custom airport diagrams created just for this app that can be marked up as well.
- Draw your taxi clearance — at large airports with complicated taxi routing, it can often be tough to visualize a route when it’s given to you as a lengthy series of letters and numbers. The next time you receive a clearance, try drawing the route directly on the airport diagram.
- Mark closed taxiways — the ATIS will provide a listing of closed taxiways and runways at the airport. Try drawing a simple X over the closed taxiways as they’re reported. ForeFlight users can also view NOTAMs for closed taxiways and runways directly from the chart screen by tapping the red NOTAM button at the top of the display.
- Add FBO information — during your preflight, circle the location of the FBO on the chart and write down the name. You’ll also find it helpful to jot down their discrete communication frequency along with any other unique details related to their services.
- Draw the wind direction and speed — after receiving the reported winds from the ATIS or AWOS at the airport, draw an arrow on the chart showing the approximate wind direction and note the speed. You’ll find this very useful to help visualize crosswinds before takeoff or landing, and it can help you decide the optimum runway for operations at non-towered airports.
- Note any noise abatement procedure — if you learn there are noise-abatement procedures or areas to avoid immediately around the airport, draw them directly on the airport diagram. This will be a helpful reminder as you taxi to the runway before takeoff.
- Highlight special use airspace or weather hazards along your route — ForeFlight users can mark directly on the moving map in addition to airport diagrams. You may choose to note airspace to avoid, frequencies on the sectional or mark the location of a notable PIREP for reference later in the flight.
Annotation tips for IFR Pilots
In addition to using the tips listed above on airport diagrams, instrument pilots should consider using the annotations feature to highlight important features and notes on these charts:
- Highlight approach minimums or MSA — there is a lot of information on every instrument approach chart, but when inside the final approach fix all that matters is your minimum descent altitude or decision altitude. Highlight this value on the bottom of the chart so you can quickly recognize it during high workload times. Also, highlight the Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) depicted on the top-down view. This number is a real lifesaver if for some reason you deviate from a depicted leg on the procedure or experience an emergency and need to climb to an altitude above all obstacles and terrain in the area.
- Circle major obstacles in red — the highest obstacle on the chart is always depicted in a larger font on the top-down view, but other obstacles near the airport and final approach course are just as critical, especially when performing a circle-to-land approach. Circle any obstacles in advance so that they’re quickly recognizable.
- Label important approach altitudes on the top-down view — typically all the intermediate and MDA/DA values are listed in the plan-view, but consider typing or writing out important altitudes directly on the on the top-down view next to the fix name. You’ll find this helpful when flying with geo-referenced charts to see the altitudes next to your airplane depiction as you fly the procedure.
- Note changes per NOTAM — more often than not you will find NOTAMs issued for instrument procedures that change the minimums and visibility required. Note these directly on the chart during preflight.
- Draw missed approach procedure on top-down view — if the procedure has a complicated missed approach procedure with multiple turns, consider drawing the path of this procedure directly on the chart with a thin line. You may find it helpful to note the altitudes for the missed approach on the top-down view if it doesn’t clutter up the chart too much.
- Highlight crossing altitudes on SIDs/STARs — each arrival and departure procedure will typically have either an expect or mandatory crossing altitude as part of the procedure. These can be easily overlooked, so make it a point to review these when the flight’s workload is low and highlight this number on the chart.
Each of these apps will save your annotations even after the app is closed down, and they offer the option to erase your makings at any time. If you’re using ForeFlight and like to display your approach chart directly on the map, you’ll see that your annotations are transferred here as well. ForeFlight and Garmin users also have the ability to make annotations on documents in that section of the app. This can be helpful for highlighting important items in the POH, or to mark up checklists with additional notes or corrections.