September 22, 2011
By Mike Collins
Seattle Avionics announced Voyager FreeFlight, a new flight-planning application for the Apple iPhone, at AOPA Aviation Summit on Sept. 22.
Although it has some functions usable in flight, FreeFlight doesn’t have a moving map because it’s intended to be used for preflight planning, offering airport data, weather information, and planning capabilities. It’s not designed for the iPad, either. That’s because people don’t use phones in the same way they use tablets, explained Steve Podradchik, CEO and co-founder of Seattle Avionics. “The usage pattern is different. You always carry your phone with you—it’s your buddy.” The tablet is more of a companion, called upon for extended use instead of a quick answer.
Seattle Avionics sells the SkyPad Electronic Flight Bag, which is based on a tablet computer running Windows. “And we sell chart data to virtually every tablet product out there,” Podradchik said. “We didn’t want to create a product that stomps on what [our partners] do.”
FreeFlight utilizes Voyager’s Web sync feature to share flight plans, aircraft profiles, and other information across multiple devices, regardless of the operating system involved. For example, flight plans can be shared by personal computers, iPhones, and iPads—and they can be sent wirelessly to Aspen Avionics’ new Connected Panel, Podradchik said. Hitting a Send button will transmit the plan to the Aspen unit, and another button push will load it onto a linked Garmin navigator.
Hilton Software’s WingX Pro7 and Airguide Publication’s iEFB soon will be able to access FreeFlight flight plans, displaying them over geo-referenced approach plates and charts.
FreeFlight uses a powerful cloud-based back end to generate wind-optimized flight plan routes on the server, where the processing power is, and returns the plan to the iPhone almost instantaneously, Podradchik noted.
On launch, FreeFlight determines location from the phone’s GPS and displays basic information on the nearest airports. It can translate METARs to plain text, and text can be enlarged to fill the screen.
“When you focus on something iPhone-sized, you focus on readability of the text,” Podradchik said. It will request a weather briefing in the background, so it’s downloaded and ready to display when the user is ready for it. The app will allow flight-plan filing, and filing will be acknowledged with an emailed receipt.
The free app, which is optimized for 3G wireless service, does not offer the ability to optimize a route for fuel pricing. “We think it will be available in about a month,” Podradchik said. The company anticipates release of an Android version within six months, he added.
Mike Collins has worked for AOPA’s media network since 1994. He holds a private pilot certificate with an instrument rating.
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