Apr 09 2012

My Favorite Things – Flight Planning and Weather

Category: RamblingsDaniel @ 8:15 pm

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been over four years since I started flying (and started this blog). Along the way, I’ve been able to test out a lot of great websites, products, and applications. I figured I’d write down a list “my favorite things” that I frequently use while flying and/or to help me prepare to fly.

Prior to any flight, I almost ALWAYS use SkyVector to help me plan. It’s a 100% free website (www.skyvector.com) with up-to-date, high resolution scans of sectionals and area charts. It’s super easy to use and even has fairly decent flight planning capabilities. It’s very easy to map out different routes and see the mileage and necessary waypoints. Furthermore, almost every object on the map (Airports and NAV points especially), you can click and get very detailed information about. I know it says you aren’t supposed to use it for official navigation purposes, but I honestly haven’t purchased an official sectional since the printouts of these can look even better and you don’t need to figure out how to fold a huge map.

The AOPA flight planning tool (from www.aopa.org) is another useful flight planning tool. Its “maps” aren’t as great as SkyVector (I like the usual sectional maps from SkyVector more), but the AOPA tool can help me calculate winds and flight times since it has a robust database of planes and performance. It definitely helps with the math aspect….and it’s free for AOPA members.

In terms of weather, I use two websites and one iOS app to help me plan. To help me plan my future scheduling, I’m usually using Weather Underground to keep a general eye on what I think the weather will be on the day(s) I want to fly. It can get VERY detailed and tends to have real observation data from all the airports/areas I would want to fly. A few hours before my flight, I then use DUAT to get me an official briefing and route-specific weather. Plus, that will give me the OFFICIAL information I need regarding TFRs and NOTAMs and such. If there’s any doubt in my mind that it won’t be a beautiful day to fly, I’ll actually CALL for a briefing, but since I’m always flying VFR on generally pretty days, DUAT works for me.

On the way to the airport, I start using the AeroWeather Pro app on my iPhone/iPad. It pulls all the current METAR observations and terminal area forecasts (TAFs) and translates it into normal English – no decoding required (unless you like reading the code, you can choose which you prefer). The other great thing about this app (there’s a free ad-supported version or for $3.99 (as of April 9, 2012) you get the PRO version (which I use)), is that it uses your device GPS to pull the nearest stations. VERY useful when checking weather en-route or at my destination prior to flying back.  You can read my full review of this great app I did a while back, if you want further details.

Well, that completes what I usually do PRIOR to actually getting to the airport and flying. What does everybody like to use? Next post I’ll cover what I use AT the airport, during flight, and beyond.

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Apr 01 2012

Helicopter Flying

Category: RamblingsDaniel @ 5:01 pm

Helicopter FlyingThis most recent Christmas, my wife got me a Groupon for an introductory helicopter flying lesson.  I finally put it to good use this afternoon and flew a helicopter for the first time in my life (actually it was my first time even IN a helicopter).  It was a lot of fun, and it felt like my first lesson in an airplane all over again!

I was firstly surprised at the amount of space inside the copter.  From the outside the thing looks dinky (it’s just a two-seater Bell), but on the inside there was plenty of room spread out…more room than the typical Cessna 152’s or 172’s that I’m used to flying at least.  I was also surprised by how sensitive the controls are.  I remember being scared of airplane controls at first, but then quickly realizing it takes a LOT of input to move the plane.  With this helicopter, literally 1-2 millimeters of movement on the stick could drastically change the course/angle of the craft.  Granted, I’m sure with practice it becomes second-nature, but today it was definitely challenging to keep the copter in proper hover.

It was a LOT of fun, but I think I’ll stick to my fixed-wing airplanes.  It just took toooo much control; you have to constantly be adjusting and manipulating the controls.  Definitely not a craft that you can relax, sit back, and “let the plane fly itself” as my instructor sometimes used to say.  Plus, generally speaking, you are only a few hundred feet above the ground, so any issues and you VERY QUICKLY need to fix them.  The lower altitude and glass-surround cockpit really make you feel like you are IN the air though…that was sweet.

So, although I didn’t catch the helicopter fever, this once again sparked my passion for flying.  I can’t wait to get up in the air again (in a trusty Cessna)!

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Apr 01 2012

AnywhereMap for iPad and Android, FINALLY!

Category: RamblingsDaniel @ 10:31 am

Just a few short years ago (pre iPhone and iPad days), the handheld General Aviation GPS unit market was booming.  It was RIGHT when I was earning my private pilot’s license and I was DYING to have one.  I remember seeing ads for Control Vision’s AnywhereMap software and system, it looked like the coolest thing ever, and a heck of a lot cheaper than Garmin units.  Of course, I still couldn’t drop about $795 (I think that’s what it cost back in the day) to support my occasional flying.  Well, maybe that situation has now changed!  Control Vision has released iOS and Android versions of their AnywhereMap moving map software package, and it’s under $100!  (Actually, it’s $79.95 at the time of this post, April 1st, 2012).  Granted, I’m very happy with my sub-$20 SkyCharts Pro app still, but I’m seriously considering plunking down a few bucks for this one.  If anyone has used this package, what do you think?  If you want to check it out yourself, here’s a link to the iTunes store!

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