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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 Advisory Circular 61-98, the FAA emphasizes 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 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:
- 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. Here’s a thorough iPad Proficiency Check webinar video to get you started.
- 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 ICAO flight plan procedures, which are now the standard for flights in the U.S.
- 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, or if you have access to a home flight simulator. It could be a half-day, once-a-year event or a shorter, monthly review. We’d also recommend using this time to make sure your iPad is in optimum condition, using our iPad maintenance checklist.
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.