10 December 2012


I've been studying aviation through av-magazines, books, and videos since the late 1990s.  During that time, there have been many changes in aircraft materials (from metal construction to composites), in the instrument panel (from analog mechanical gauges to digital displays, commonly referred to as glass cockpits), and in flight planning and communications devices (from pencils and paper charts to flight computers, and from cockpit radios alone to augmentation by cell phones and GPS).

When it comes to small general aviation (GA) aircraft, FAA regulations are generally slow to catch up with technology.  The lag time means that pilots must remain proficient in the use of older devices, even as they learn how to program and use newer tools.  A perfect example is the portable computer.  We've rapidly progressed from clumsy at-home desktops, through laptops and on to handheld tablets like the iPad (image above).

As of this writing, the FAA allows tablets and smart phones (for all their versatility) to be used only as an adjunct or backup, not as a primary tool for flight planning, in-flight monitoring, or communication.  The hardware and software are evolving so quickly that already it is possible to establish a wifi network between built-in cockpit instruments and portable devices, allowing the pilot to update information on position, speed, fuel consumption, engine status, and weather on one device, and have that update automatically transferred to all devices at his/her disposal.

I don't currently own a tablet computer, but I expect to replace my aging laptop with an iPad sometime soon.  The iPad comes highly recommended by my computer friend over other tablets for its superior security, and for the quality of available apps (applications).  For pilots, who use any electronic device under much more rigorous and grueling conditions than the average person on the ground, there are additional qualities which make the iPad the tablet of choice ~ physical durability (one can purchase protective jackets which act as padded armor), and battery life.

One of the nation's premier pilot supply sources, Sporty's Pilot Shop, recently published an article on the characteristics of iPad batteries, and recommendations for caring for them.  They include ~

  • Avoid using, charging, or leaving an iPad in temperatures higher than 95 degrees.  Most small aircraft have no air conditioning, so until you reach altitude, cockpit conditions can be uncomfortably warm.  The same advice holds true on the ground ~ do not leave your iPad unattended in your car on a hot day.
  • At the other end of the thermometer, avoid storing your iPad in cold conditions.
  • Use your iPad regularly.  Its lithium-ion batteries are meant to be used hard.  Frequent use and recharging are expected.
  • Keep your iPad updated to the latest version of iOS ~ each time Apple updates the tablet's operating system, they also include fixes and performance enhancements for the battery.
  • Adjust screen brightness and wireless radio (Bluetooth) settings for maximum radio life.  Turning down the screen from maximum brightness, and turning off unneeded services, reduce battery drain.
These tips apply to everyone, not just to pilots.  One more thing ~ here is a set of guidelines for charging your iPad battery, at home, in your car, or in a plane.  Have fun!

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