Getting back in the cockpit after an extended break can be exciting (and maybe a little bit overwhelming). Once you learn about the new regulations, the new airspace, and the new avionics, you might notice something else that has changed: pilot gear. Slide rules, paper charts, and ear plugs have been replaced by iPad apps and sophisticated headsets. These advances have made flying safer, easier, and more fun, but they might require some changes to your flight bag.
Certainly the biggest change in the last decade is the rise of tablets and electronic flight bag (EFB) apps. Companies like ForeFlight, Garmin, and WingX have revolutionized the way pilots plan and fly their flights, from weather briefings and fuel calculations to moving maps and terrain alerts. Most aviation apps are free to download and try for a month, so the best way to find the right app is to spend some time “couch-flying” each of the options and decide which one makes sense to you.
Once you have a tablet and a good app, there are two other items that will complete your digital cockpit: a portable ADS-B receiver, and a way to secure your tablet in the cockpit. ADS-B receivers like Stratus are wireless, battery-powered devices that transform your favorite app from static chart viewer into a powerful in-flight tool. You can display subscription-free weather, nearby traffic, and even backup attitude instruments. Also, be sure to secure your tablet so that it doesn’t become a projectile in turbulence. The two most popular options are kneeboards or mounts, and there are plenty of options to fit almost every aircraft.
The iPad isn’t just for in-flight use, though. Video training apps like Sporty’s Pilot Training app have made it easier than ever to brush up on aviation topics anywhere you have a tablet and a few minutes free. Make it a habit to do some type of video training every week, just to keep your head in the game.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the noise level in most general aviation airplanes. Fortunately, headset brands like Bose and Lightspeed have developed impressive new headsets that include powerful active noise reduction (ANR) technology that make flying quieter than ever. Once you fly with ANR, it’s hard to go back. Most of these headsets also include Bluetooth interfaces, which allows you to connect your headset to your phone or tablet.
Finally, all this new technology means you probably need a new flight bag, since your old was designed to carry many pounds of paper charts. The most popular designs today are smaller in size and feature dedicated pockets to protect your tablet and ANR headset.