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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