Saturday, January 25, 2014

Aviation Software For Android

There used to be a web site that was dedicated to what aviation software was available for the android platform. That we site has gone somewhat dark. It used to be, there wasn't much to report on for Android use in the cockpit, but recently there has been almost an explosion.

The big tablet software names are not out there saying how wonderful the Android is, but that doesn't mean there is no software for the Android. There have been E6-B type applications for many years, and a couple aviation charting apps. The big guys are seeing the light, and noticing there are customers for their apps using Android tablets and phones.

The following is a sample of apps that I think is significant. 

Moving Maps

There is are several pretty good moving map package available for the Android.

Naviator is another app that is all charts for everyone. It will show as a PFD, HSI, weather or mapping and can split the screen and show two screens at once. Runs on phones and tablets, and allows you to share one license between two devices. It works with external devices, like the Zaon XRX for traffic.The subscription is $49.

Avare is a great app. Mostly it just shows charts, the FAA ones. You have to manually load them, which puts you in control, so check before you want to leave if you need any new chart updates. It works with WAC, IFR Hi/Lo and sectional charts, and merges them to a smooth display. It only works in the USA and Canada, because of the chart limitations.It supports external GPS devices as well. Best of all, it is free!

GPS Air Navigator is a navigation app for the rest of the world. It seems to be mostly VFR only, and the maps appear to be open street type maps, with airports located on them. This is free.

Fly is Fun, I just found this one. It looks interesting, but I haven't installed it. It says it has terrain, and worldwide navigation database. It says it will do approaches (ILS, VOR, NDB, GPS, DME) and the screen shots show a HSI looking device below the maps. There is a free version, and the pro version is 19.90.

The big name here is Jeppesen. Jeppesen has made terrific charts for decades, and I have used their products. They have some really amazing tools. Their web site is pretty awful, and if you can find anything useful on it, it will be by pure luck. Their Mobile terminal charts (TC) app is available for the Samsung Galaxy line of tablets. As some other sites have noted, their charts are great, too bad they can't find someone to write better software.

There are others, just hit the play store searching for "Aviation Chart".

E6-B apps

E6-B's are the aviator tools to rely on. The Wiz Wheel is still needed for taking FAA tests and such, since they don't want you googling your answers. When you aren't taking the test, it is really fine to use a computer!

AvDroid Wow, I have seen this app get better and better over the last few months. It is more than E6-B functionality, since it will get the weather, show airport information and organize it in a way that will make setting up for an approach a simple task. The free version has some limitations, the paid app is $1.59.

Aviation Pocket Knife has some basic conversion tools, gets weather and NOTAMs, and can find approach charts. It does some really handy things (like calculate descent by altitude) in an easy to use format. So many features I won't list them here, but being Free it can be quite handy.

Flighttools E6B is a really basic E6-B calculator. It doesn't try to do anything else. It calculates the time-speed-distance that you may need, cross wind calculations, and does conversions to and from everything. Again, this is free.

There are many more E6B apps for the Android. To find the E6B apps, go to the play store and search for E6B apps.


Getting weather on the tablet can be very useful. It will allow you to make some preliminary plans around a flight. Getting the weather on the tablet is better than nothing, but may not qualify for flight planning purposes. Using DUATs or Flight Service will still be needed.  

Aviation Weather is an app that allows quickly getting the weather for specific airports. It comes up with the local airports, and then allows you to search for other airports. It used to be free, but now is $1.85.

Avitation Tools is more than weather, it will fetch charts, and organize alternates. Probably pretty handy if out on a flight, and you have access to data. I have the free app, and it tries to cover the world.


There are so many other aviation related apps that I couldn't categorize. I could put together an exhaustive list, but it would take months. Trying these tools and properly reviewing all of them would be very time consuming.

IATA/ICAO  Dictionary this is one of those tools, that if you work for an airline you probably need to have. Airport codes are a mess, since IATA only uses 3 letters and only covers airline operations, where ICAO uses 4 letters and covers GA, helicopter, and airline operations. Knowing that KBBG is Branson Missouri can be handy, when the ticket on the airline say BKG. (Branson is a relatively new airport, and the Butaritari Atoll in Kiribati already used the BBG designator). It can also be handy to know that DAL is the ICAO designation for Delta airlines, and DL is the IATA designation. The tool does so much more (including weather and maps).

In-flight Instruments well this seems to be an attempt at a panel app for the Android. It doesn't quite work on my Samsung Note 10.1, but I have other apps that don't work on the note 10.1 as well. The apps shows the potential of the android platform for a backup panel. There are probably a whole slew of other apps that do it better, using the gyro and GPS fused.To be safe, it would be best to have an external attitude heading reference system bolted into the plane, and the tablet would only display the results.

X-Plane it is a limited version of the full PC simulator. I don't think it is limited because of the hardware, other than memory limitations. The controls are the tilting of the device, which I guess is similar to yoke type actions, or not. I've been able to show people what it is like to land a 777 at SFO on a VFR day, and just have fun with it when I am waiting for the dentist or something.

I could go on and on, but I want to limit this to a few titles that I have used, or thought looked interesting.


Benét J. Wilson at AOPA has a column with apps listed for both iOS and Android.

If you have a favorite app, lets start a conversation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Night Flying VFR

I am only a private pilot, but I have flown at night a little bit. Flying at night can be very pleasant, but it has it's challenges. On an airline flight one fourth of July, I saw a spectacular fireworks display. The lights are very pretty, and are sometimes helpful.

Looking at the image above, it is hard to tell, but that is an airport. The lights at an airport are mostly directional. The runway lights are brightest when the aircraft is lined up with the runway. Various other lights are in the airport vicinity, occasionally, and may help identify the orientation of the runways.

The FAA will depict the runway lighting on the airport charts, and in the airport facility directory (A/FD) the specifics of the airport lighting will be spelled out. Some of the lighting specified in the AF/D include:
  • ALS - Approach Lighting System
  • MALSR - Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System With Runway Alignment Indicator Lights
  • PAPI - Precision Approach Path Indicator 
  • PCL - Pilot Controlled Lighting
  • REIL - Runway End Indicator Lights
The otherside of flying at night, it is dark out there. When in the city, there are usually lots of lights, street lights, house lights, parking lot lights, etc. Out in the country it is dark, maybe a yard light is on near a farm, but not much more. When out flying, it is amazing how much rural landscape is out there. During the day, it doesn't really matter, the rural landscape may be grids, and help us navigate. At night, the rural landscape is mostly black. 

If someone has been flying VFR at night, the navigation is probably very similar to instrument navigation. Radio aids are usually used to locate specific places, or distance. The cockpit isn't conducive to much lighting, so the nav systems should have dimmed lighting as well, so the pilot doesn't hamper their night vision acuity. 

There are various schemes that can be used to identify landmarks at night. Looking for local landmarks can help (IE 2 miles south of the city). Using the pilot controlled lighting, is another trick, click 3 or 5 times on the CTAF of the desired airport, and see if the lights change. If the visibility is lower than about 5 miles, VFR conditions exist, but VFR navigation will not be suitable. 

Flying at night, it may be desirable to use oxygen. The eyes work hard all the time, but especially at night, they need all the help they can get. Some people describe using oxygen during night flights, as a way to turn the lights on.

Flying at night can be pleasant, but has its pitfalls. Fly extra careful at night.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Careful With Cheap Tablets

Google has had a policy that unless a tablet meets some specification, you cannot participate in the Google PlayStore. Sometimes tablets would meet the specification, but they weren't tested for it.

It used to be, most tablets, if they could get the PlayStore app loaded, will allow loading apps on your tablet. Now, Google seems to be enforcing the policy, and not allowing tablets and phones with Google PlayStore to download applications. The list of approved devices is pretty extensive, but not complete. One of my favorite vendors isn't on the list at all (JXD).

Like everything, there are ways around this. Sideloading is an old concept, and can be used. There is another way to load apps to your Android device, called pulling. I am not sure about the technicalities of the differences, but the idea is, if you have a legitimate Android device, that is approved to use the Google PlayStore, then you can get apps on the other device. They may not always work, but they probably will.

These loading methods won't let you get paid apps for free, but they will let you run free apps on devices that maybe Google doesn't think you should be able to run them on.

Probably the first app to load on these "unapproved" devices is GetJar. GetJar is another playstore like place that you can download apps to various devices. GetJar is smart about the devices you have, so you don't get Intel or Mips binaries on ARM devices. True, if you have a fat binary, the app will probably run on any processor, and most OS versions, but some apps require a minimum OS version (IE 4.1) and a specific processor (IE ARM).

The cheap tablets work, and can be used, but you have to know a little more than using a name brand tablet.