AOPA's Smith offers 20 favorite aviation apps

Presentation given at AOPA Aviation Summit

October 12, 2013

Adam Smith, senior vice president of AOPA’s Center to Advance the Pilot Community, did a lightning presentation at AOPA Aviation Summit Oct. 12, offering up 20 of his favorite aviation apps. His choices included electronic flight bags, logbooks, weight and balance calculators, pilot education, games, and radar apps.

In his presentation, Smith noted that since the iPad was introduced in April 2010, it has had a massive impact in a short space of time. “It’s already changed aviation, for the better,” he said. “In the current landscape, we now have 1,000-plus aviation apps on different platforms. iOS is the dominant platform for pilots, outselling Android by approximately four to one.”

It’s an exciting and fluid time as the industry moves quickly to what Smith called “Aviation Apps phase 2.0,” where the app and device are integrated with other hardware. “The most obvious example of this is the EFB apps and ADS-B [Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast] receivers,” he said. “But we have apps connecting to the panel [Aspen Connected Panel], to video cameras, and to watches. It will be interesting to see what app developers make of Google Glass.”

It’s very compelling and very competitive, said Smith. “I like the competition because it’s driving innovation,” he said. “But it’s also hard to keep track of all the improvements and updates.”

Smith said many of the best apps he’s found have been from flying friends showing him something they’re enthusiastic about. “So hopefully I can pay the same thing forward.”

For newbies, Smith covered the basic breadth of what’s out there. “For experienced app junkies, some of this territory will be familiar but hopefully you’ll leave with some new ideas too,” he said. “What this won’t be is a detailed review of everything. As this is a personal view I should disclose my personal prejudices. I’m on iOS and have roughly 25 aviation apps installed and roughly 150 apps in my account that I installed and later deleted.”

ForeFlight (free in iTunes, but yearly subscriptions range from $74.99 to $149.99 a year) – This is the only EFB Smith said he can speak authoritatively about. “It was the first blockbuster iPhone/iPad app and it’s incredibly good, with the attention to detail in design and the user experience is great,” he said. “I trust it with my life pretty much every time I fly, and can pay no higher compliment than that.” Smith also mentioned WingX, Garmin Pilot, AOPA FlyQ, Jeppesen FliteDeck, Bendix King MyWingman, FltPlan Go, Avare, and AvPlan EFB. 

CloudAhoy (free in iTunes) – CloudAhoy automatically collects your flight data, and helps you debrief all the phases of your flight after you land. It has a high “cool factor” and is helpful for training too, said Smith. It is optimized for the iPhone 5, but can be used on the iPad.

Pocket Horizon Pro ($8.99 in iTunes) – For $8.99, Smith said it might save his life one day, admitting that there is some controversy about horizon apps. “This one combines GPS data with the internal gyros. I’ve tested it under the hood and feel it’s good enough,” he said. The app is optimized for the iPhone 5, but can be used on the iPad.

Xavion ($99.99 in iTunes) – This iPhone/iPad is used as a glass cockpit and a copilot, said Smith. “The emergency runway finder is the most interesting feature; it genuinely feels like a step into the future of aviation,” he said.

MyFlightBook (free on iTunes and Google Play) – There are lots of logbook apps out there, but Smith advises that users look no further than this one. “It’s free, competes well with the expensive paid apps, integrates with social media, and is general aviation-friendly,” said Smith. The app is optimized for smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

SocialFlight (free on iTunes and Google Play) – In a July 16 AOPA apps column, Smith said “It’s my number one tool for finding local fly-ins, pancake breakfasts, and just a general reason to fly." It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

Sporty’s E6B ($9.99 in iTunes and Google Play) – “While there are lots of them out there, Sporty’s is the one I installed but that could be because they were the first,” said Smith. It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

FlashPass (free on iTunes) – This iPhone/iPad app offers easy electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS) filing with Customs and Border Protection, said Smith. “The CBP website is incredibly user-unfriendly. This app makes the whole process a lot easier,” he said. It also charges an in-app fee of $1.99 for each filing after the trial period, he added.

SwitchBox (free in iTunes) – This iPhone/iPad app allows users to turn on their engine pre-heater (and coffee maker!) remotely, said Smith. Users must buy the separate SwitchBox control for $299.

Aviation W&B ($9.99 in iTunes) – This advantage of this weight and balance tool is access to more than 100 templates—most common GA aircraft are already in the system. 

LiveATC ($2.99 in iTunes and Google Play) – Smith called this smartphone and tablet app “especially helpful” for student pilots wanting to hone their radio technique.

Gyronimo (approximately $15 in iTunes) – Smith said this series of iPad apps comprise “pilot's operating handbook for the twenty-first century,” covering helicopters and a range of common fixed-wing aircraft.

Sporty’s Study Buddy ($9.99 in iTunes and Google Play) – There are lots of choices out there for course prep, said Smith, but Study Buddy on the iPad gets his vote.  

Flight Control (99 cents in iTunes and $2.99 in Google Play) – Video gaming is the most successful and lucrative form of entertainment ever devised by mankind, said Smith. “It’s important for a new generation of pilots who are coming up through gaming,” he said. “Flight Control is a highly addictive ATC game has sold well in excess of five million copies. We are training a nation of air traffic controllers.”

Breitling Reno Air Races (free in iTunes and Google Play) – In one of Smith’s favorite games, users can fly the Reno Air Races course, upgrade airplanes, use different play options, and learn to play via a tutorial.  It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

X-Plane ($4.99 for most iTunes versions, free in Google Play) – Smith called this tablet app “somewhere between gaming and useful.” It’s good enough to do some proficiency practice, like shooting an ILS.

Nav Trainer Pro ($4.99 in iTunes and Google Play) – This one is especially recommended for someone training for his or her instrument rating. It helps your understanding of the different navaids, providing a visualization of how they work. It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

CloudTopper (99 cents in iTunes and Google Play) – Smith said this app, best used on smartphones, uses augmented reality to judge the height of clouds ahead. “The practical use is debatable, but it’s worth 99 cents just for the feeling that I’m living inside an episode of Star Trek,” he said.  It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

MyRadar (free in iTunes and Google Play) – Smith noted this is a good weather radar app that has had more than five million downloads. It’s best on smartphones, but can be used on tablets.

AOPA Magazines (free in iTunes, but must be a member and digital magazine subscriber) – “I’m finishing with a shameless plug for our own wonderful magazines,” said Smith. “And this is a reminder that it’s possible to carry a whole library of books and magazines on your portable device.” It’s best on the iPad, but can be used on the iPhone.

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.