Oct 20 2009

SkyCharts App – Dan’s Review

Category: Aviation GPS,iPhone Apps,RamblingsDaniel @ 6:20 am

SkyCharts
Released Oct 18, 2009
Seller:  Heikki Julkunen
(C) 2008-2009 Heikki Julkunen
Price (as of 10/20/2009):  $9.99
Rated 4+ as of 10/20/2009 on iTunes Store

Most general aviation pilots know how expensive true aviation-grade portable GPS systems can be.  Garmin and Lowerance systems cost upwards of $2,000 for a decent one, even the seemingly awesome Bendix-King AV8OR costs around $700+.  In my mind, those are ridiculous prices for the amount of functionality those devices provide.  After experimenting with my Mio Personal Navigation Device for aviation use with some success, I was hopeful to find something just as useful on my iPhone.  I’m very happy and excited to report about the SkyCharts app…truly a great little gem on the iPhone!

SkyCharts

Granted, it’s no fully integrated electronic flight bag (EFB), but it does exactly what it claims to do…  it puts your GPS position directly on top of the paper sectionals/charts you’ve grown to know and love.  The first versions of the app did ONLY that, but the latest version added some flight planning capabilities as well.

One VERY important feature of this app is that you can cache the various charts to use while you don’t have a data/cellular signal.  In other words, you can use this while flying (even though you aren’t supposed to – like any app).  Furthermore, it now has a database of all U.S. airports, nav points, and fixes – all of which can be selected and routed direct-to.  For each airport, it also will cache and display approach plates and airport diagrams.  Overall, very useful stuff!  The flight-planning is currently only 1 point direct-to lines, but future versions may include multiple waypoints.  The development of this app has been moving quickly, so I wouldn’t be surprised if those features are included in the near future.

Overall, for $10 ($9.99 technically), it’s WELL worth the cost!  I’ve used this MANY times in the air already, and think it’s a superb app.  I HIGHLY recommend it!  Check it out on iTunes here!

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Sep 27 2009

iPhones and General Aviation

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 5:08 pm

iphone

Well, I finally splurged and made the leap to an iPhone….and boy, do I LOVE it!  I’m a techie, and I could write 50 blog posts just about the iPhone in general, but I’ll try to make the next few posts focused on the general aviation uses and aspects of the iPhone.  Firstly, I would highly recommend checking out a fellow aviation blogger who started a website dedicated to listing out all the aviation-related iPhone apps – www.aviatorapps.com.  If you go there, you’ll notice there are a TON of free apps related to aviation.  Some weight & balance calculators, E6B’s, electronic checklists, POH’s, airport finder, and even some navigation / sectional apps!  Here’s what I’m using so far, and direct links to download them in iTunes Application store:

I’ll do a review on each of these apps in the near future.  As you can see, 3 of the 5 that I use a lot are 100% free – and those are just the apps I’ve KEPT after testing out probably 40 or so other free aviation apps.   If anyone is on the fence about getting an iPhone, I will say that just the potential aviation uses can help justify the buy (in additonal to the TON of other great uses).  Of course, with my Mio C320 portable GPS device, I’ve got double GPS backup sources and I feel pretty confident going on longer and longer trips now!  Hopefully I’ll be up in the sky again soon!

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Mar 17 2009

Spring Flying Almost Here

Category: Aviation GPS,Solo FlightsDaniel @ 5:42 am

We got a taste of Spring a little early this past weekend in Chicagoland, with temperatures reaching into the 60’s and gorgeous clear skies.  I wasn’t the only pilot who had the itch to fly as the skies were full with general aviation aircraft.  blue_sky_1920This past Sunday my wife and I went back to Pilot Pete’s (which hadn’t been to since the fall) for dinner.  Everything about the flight and the day went great.  I had probably my finest landing to date at Schaumburg that afternoon, just a perfect greaser  (the non-existant winds probably helped too).

The flight helped me also flight-test my Mio C320 personal navigation device with the NavGPS Pro software (see my full review here), since I was flying with our club’s older Cessna 172 without a moving map GPS.  I gotta admit, my little GPS system (which cost under $100) performed just as well as a built-in GPS system for my needs.  My only complaint with the Mio is that during the late afternoon with the sun low in the sky, the glare off the screen was pretty bad.  Once the sun wasn’t direct, though, the screen was totally readable and the software did great.

The dinner was awesome as usual at Pilot Pete’s and my wife and I had a great time.  This trip I logged 1.0 hours of flight time.

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Mar 08 2009

Navtech EFISce GPS Software on Mio C320

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 2:59 pm

efisimg6Navtech’s EFISce application is another Windows CE compatible aviation GPS software package.  To install on the Mio C320, use the Pocket PC 2003 version (the 2nd one down) on the download page.  Install using Activesync, and ignore any errors/messages it throws up.

The software does work, but pretty slowly.  Also, unfortunately the application only occupies half of the screen on the Mio, in either the lanscape or portrait screen settings.  The program seemed fairly unstable (I’m not sure why), and crapped out a handful of times not really allowing me to fully test the software, nor want me to try it in the air.  I can’t say that these errors may just be a function of the “trial” version of the software, maybe the $50 priced real version won’t fail so much, but I’m not willing to drop the cash to find out.  It may be worth downloading and installing the trial version yourself, but don’t drop the money until you do.

Test Specs: Navtech EFISce Pocket PC 2003 version tested on March 7, 2009 on Mio C320
Pros: Cool looking, appears to have lots of features.
Cons: Does not work reliably on Mio C320, app only occupies half of screen on the Mio.

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Feb 28 2009

APIC Moving Map Review on Mio C320 (Doesn’t Work)

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 12:35 pm

Approach Systems Inc’s APIC Moving Map software, although very cool looking, AND the availability of a totally free version, is not compatible with the Mio C320.  According to their website, the program is not compatible with any program running Windows CE.  Even though the Mio does indeed run WinCE, I did try installing it anyway and sure enough, it doesn’t work.  Oh well.  If the makers of APIC decide to ever make a version for Windows CE, you bet I’ll be first in line to test/try it!

I will say the PC version (especially the free version) is very cool and if you have an ultra-mobile notebook PC with a GPS receiver, definitely give this software a shot.

Test Specs: Approach Systems APIC tested on February 27, 2009 on Mio C320
Pros: Cool looking, but doesn’t work on Mio.  Give PC version a shot.
Cons: Does not work on Mio C320.

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Feb 27 2009

NavGPS Pro and NavGPS Basic Review on Mio C320

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 5:54 am

The next program on my review list is NavGPS Basic / NavGPS Pro series of software.  Both versions looked pretty cool on their website so I again was hopeful this could be a viable option.

I was a little intimidated by the install process as this wasn’t as “turn-key” as PocketFMS, but I finally got it installed and working.  Here’s how I did it.  The download page offers three different versions for the Pocket PC platform, luckily the first one for the ‘ARM/XScale” processor is the correct one for the Mio C320.  You then need to be running your Mio just like a Pocket PC.  So, you’ll need have installed and be running “PocketMio” on your Mio and then “activesync” on your computer and install through that.  (I’ll post separate instructions on how to turn your Mio into a fully functioning Pocket PC later).  Anyway, when you install the NavGPS package through activesync, it may also throw up a message stating the installed application may be incompatible, but allows you to continue.  navgpspro_sampleObviously do continue and everything will install fine and work fine (clearly it is compatible).  Once installed, the program will load and ask for your registration info.  If you are just trying the software for 30 days, you can leave it empty (which is what I did).

Running the program the first time it looked very promising.  The software had a hard time finding the GPS unit automatically, but if you go into the preferences and set the GPS port to “Com 2” and the Speed to “57600” it runs fine.  The program has many of the same features as Pocket FMS and other high-end aviation GPS programs.  See their site for the full details on the Pro version.  The one GREAT thing I noticed right off the bat is that the program ran a LOT faster than Pocket FMS.  It still wasn’t blazing/instant, but things were reasonable this time.  Also (and this is very good), when the screen redrew itself after a zoom in/out, it would have the airspace and airports/fixes draw first (almost instantly).  The topography and ground detail would come in shortly after (if you have the Pro version).  THIS I could live with and made complete sense.  I don’t know if they planned for this, but I definitely like it.

The only major negative is that the software is definitely created for a “standard” pocket PC, using a stylus/pen and supporting hardware buttons.  Obviously the Mio has none, so the shortcuts you could assign to hardware buttons are lost here.  Furthermore, many of the on-screen menus and buttons are way too small to click with your fingers (especially during a flight).  You’d definitely need to use a pen/stylus to perform the actions you need.

Bottom line is that this is definitely a solid application.  Hopefully future versions will be a little more “finger-friendly”, but I’m going leave this one installed and test it in the air on my next flight.  The standard version is $99 and the pro is $234, both reasonably priced.  I will also play more with the Pro versus Basic versions to see which really has the features I personally would need to use.

Test Specs: NavGPS Pro version 4.5 (and NavGPS Basic version 2.5) tested on February 26, 2009 on Mio C320.
Pros: Lots of features, good data, good maps, basic version would get the job done.
Cons: Buttons/menus too small to operate with just fingers.

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Feb 26 2009

Pocket FMS Review on Mio C320

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 5:15 am

I’m starting my review series of various GPS applications for my new Mio C320 with the Pocket FMS application.  I heard promising things about this software from other blogs, so I decided this would be a good place to start and I had high hopes.

mioc520-08Overall this program has a TON of features.  From multiple moving maps to in-depth flight planning and even weather, the PocketFMS people did indeed include many great features.  The included databases and maps are up-to-date and very detailed.  You can click on basically ANY data point, airport, airspace, NDB, VOR, etc., and this program will give you applicable data.  Obviously you aren’t supposed to use this as your primary navigation/data source, but if you DID happen to forget everything in your plane except for Pocket FMS, you’d have the information you need to get around.  See their features page for all the great things the program can do.  I’ll also give them props for including detailed step-by-step instructions and the ability to install on “unlocked” personal navigation devices (PNDs) like my Mio C320.  This program installed very easily as advertised and I was hopeful this would be an awesome trial.  For €150 per year (they are based in Europe) this program would totally seem worth it too IF I decided to buy…

HOWEVER, the only problem (and unfortunately this is the killer) is that this whole application runs ridiculously slow on the Mio C320.  I can’t address the speed of this program on other handheld systems, but even on my home office PC, the desktop version of the software ran slowly.  There’s clearly a LOT of information being processed and put on the screen and that takes computing power/time.  I tweaked the settings as much as possible (checked their forums) to help boost performance without much incremental benefit.  Obviously, when you are flying at 110 knots or so, waiting 10-15 seconds for your map to refresh after a zoom in/out (not exagerating), this program becomes useless.  Even the extra text data when you click an airport, let’s say, takes a good 5 seconds to load.  Getting back to the map takes 10-15 seconds again.  This wastes precious time and more importantly takes your eyes off the sky and your focus off flying the plane.

Bottom line is that I’m glad I tried this software and they DO provide 30 days to test it out for free on your own device, that’s nice.  So, I recommend checking it yourself and hopefully it’s faster for you.  But, for me, this program doesn’t cut it and I’m not going to be spending my money on Pocket FMS for my Mio C320.

Test Specs: Pocket FMS version 1.2.1 tested on February 25, 2009 on Mio C320.
Pros: Tons of features, tons of data, good maps, great information.
Cons: Too slow to use.  Period.

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Feb 25 2009

Quest for Affordable Aviation GPS

Category: Aviation GPS,RamblingsDaniel @ 5:58 am

As I’ve been flying more and more in our club’s newest Cessna 172SP, I’m really loving a moving map GPS system for situational awareness.  Unfortunately, only ONE of our club’s planes has this moving map and guess what, that plane is usually booked the most.  The other 172’s do have GPS, but nothing with a visual/map.  Furthermore, since it’s usually just my wife and I flying, I wouldn’t mind taking the 152’s up more again (like in my training days), but they don’t have any GPS at all.

Granted, I am still comfortable flying with VOR navigation and good ‘ole dead reckoning pilotage, but I must admit I like having the GPS to remind me of controlled airspace, distances from airports (very useful), and my general location.  As a result of all this, I’ve always been on the lookout for a nice handheld GPS system at an affordable price.  The relatively new Bendyx/King AV8OR looks really cool and relatively affordable at ~$700 versus the $1500+ for a good color moving map aviation GPS system, but that’s still way above what I’d want to pay to support my hobby at this time.

I’ve always thought it should be easy enough to “hack” some sort of other GPS system to use for aviation, and sure enough other people on the web agree (Google it).  After researching a ton, I heard great things about the Mio handheld GPS systems, built originally for car/walking navigation, but they run the Windows CE  / Pocket PC operating system and there’s plenty of other software to throw onto it.  Anyway, figuring I wouldn’t mind a decent navigation system even for my car, I dropped a minimal $93 to buy the Mio C320, which I received this week.

I’m going to play with my new Mio C320 with every/all aviation GPS mobile applications I can find and report back with my experiences on each.   Hopefully one will prove a winner!  My first test will be with the Pocket FMS application (as that was what was recommended elsewhere on the web)…wish me luck.

If anyone else has experience with either the Mio C320 or another personal navigation device (PND) and using it for general aviation, let me know!

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