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Foreflight Review

Posted by on March 20, 2012 11 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog

This review has been a long time coming. I’ve been using ForeFlight Mobile since version 2, and raving about it on Twitter the entire time. At this point, ForeFlight has been around long enough that you know their flagship product: an electronic flight bag, in your pocket, on anything that runs iOS.

On the iPhone, ForeFlight and I are inseparable. I can view live METARs & TAFs, pull down NOAA weather graphics, and view sectional and enroute charts, complete with weather overlays. On top of the maps, I can plan my route, then file it as a flight plan. All of this is done from an interface that feels right on the device. ForeFlight Mobile has been my primary source of weather information for the last two and a half years of full-time flight instruction. Only occasionally have I felt the need to find another source, and with recent updates like PIREPS on the map view and improved access to icing forecasts, those times are becoming increasingly rare.

While ForeFlight is great on an iPhone before a flight, it’s less useful in the air. It allows you to save and view instrument procedure charts, but an iPhone or iPod touch screen is simply too small for non-emergency use. With that in mind, I recently purchased an iPad 2 (wifi) to act as a more complete flight bag in the cockpit. This isn’t a review of the iPad, but the larger screen size and therefore larger keyboard mean easier data input and present procedure charts at scales approximating paper Jeppesen or NACO charts.

There are currently three $99 GPS units on the market that allow a wifi iPad to add location data to applications like ForeFlight. The GNS 5870 MFI and Dual XGPS150 are battery (or cigarette lighter) powered and use the iPad’s Bluetooth connection, while the Bad Elf connects directly through the dock port and is powered by the iPad’s battery. I wound up purchasing the GNS 5870 as a result of concerns over the dock connector connection feeling fragile, and my father owns the Dual XGPS150. We’re both satisfied with ours, although the Dual is definitely the nicer device. That said, all three offer great performance.

Once you’ve planned and filed your flight, and you’re up in the air, ForeFlight really shines. The georeferenced enroute charts allow you to quickly and easily modify your route, either by touch & drag or text entry. Assigned an airway enroute? No worries – simply type “PAE V23 BTG KPDX” and your entire route gets plotted. Unless you’ve got a GNS480 or a fairly recent G1000, it doesn’t get any easier than that, and even with the latest panel hardware it certainly isn’t as fast as ForeFlight. With the recent addition of XM WX datalink weather, you can add live weather overlays in flight at any altitude, although it comes at a steep price for the XM hardware. If you don’t quite have the cash for that, your 3G iPad (or your wifi iPad tethered to your smartphone) can be used to access a data connection to access current data – although you may incur the wrath of the FCC for doing so.

While other iPad apps are on the market – WingX and Jeppesen both offer georeferenced approach procedure and enroute charts – they seem to be targeting different groups of consumers. Jeppesen is obviously focused on commercial users, and as much as I love their approach plate format, I can’t justify the pricing. WingX seems to be adding some edgy (and very neat) features like synthetic vision and AHRS support, but the peripherals to do so cost more than the iPad and their UI seems pretty lacking. What I need in the cockpit is ease of use and great organization, and that’s what I have with ForeFlight.

In summary, ForeFlight is an amazing cockpit resource, and certainly the first practical replacement for paper charts I’ve ever used. Other implementations exist – most commonly on the Garmin 696 handhelds, but also on the G1000 MFD in the form of Jeppesen ChartView. Both solutions are limited by a poor retrieval interface and highly pixellated charts. ForeFlight’s presentation, while limited to NACO, is fantastic. When you combine the enroute view (and the information available as overlays, from weather to fuel prices) with geo-referenced instrument procedures (an extra $75/year), you have an incredibly powerful tool for situational awareness.

ForeFlight Mobile Aviation Weather, Flight Planning, EFB, and Charts - ForeFlight

PRO:
+ highly integrated
+ outstanding interface
+ multiple form factors
+ georeferenced charts
+ on par or less expensive than Jeppesen’s Express regional paper subscriptions
+ compatible with external GPS units in flight
+ compatible with WxWorx XM WX receiver

CON:
– expensive when compared to NACO paper
– like other georeferenced providers, must manually add approach waypoints

ForeFlight 4 HD

11 Comments



  1. Paul Tocknell on Mar 20, 2012

    Eric,

    Thanks so much for completing this review. I too have been using Foreflight for a few years and don’t know how I ever flew without it. I have it on both my iPhone and iPad (3G) and it is simply awesome.

    I am fortunate enough that the aircraft I am currently flying has WIFI which means I’m able to pull up enroute and terminal weather. Being able to get live graphic weather in the cockpit (vs traditional scanning radar) has proved rather valuable when requesting vectors around storms.

    The only problems I have is consistent GPS reception but that is more due to the altitudes and the heating elements in the window / windshield. I’ve tried the Bad Elf GPS receiver, but I have better luck with the leaving the 3G on the ground and letting it get a position fix on the climb out (I know…I’m supposed to have it off right?)

    Thanks again for the review! Great job.

    Paul



  2. Micah on Mar 20, 2012

    My only complaint (and I should be clear that I agree completely with the review; Foreflight is revolutionary, or at least a response to revolutionary technology) is that I must download all files every 28 days to update my data. It would be so much easier if the files were indexed such that only the changed files were required to be downloaded, but I’m not even sure that NACO provides the files this way.



  3. Eric Gideon on Mar 20, 2012

    Paul, glad I could finally wrap this up. I’ve read on Amazon about several issues with GPS reception in airliners and bizjets, although one Lear pilot pointed out that he could place the GPS at a back window, plugged into power, and connect to it from the cockpit. I imagine the windshield heating elements are interfering with the signal! You’re really luck to have inflight wifi, though. :)

    Micah, that’s a really good point. I’m pretty sure that NACO doesn’t provide diffs for the digital charts, but ForeFlight gets their approach geodata (and possibly all approach charts) from Seattle Avionics, and it’s certainly worth a suggestion.

    I didn’t mention it in the review, but Tyson and the rest of the ForeFlight team are _incredibly_ responsive to bug reports, suggestions, and other questions. Hit their contact form (http://foreflight.com/contact/) and let them know! They’re probably working on it, or at least aware, but every piece of input helps them know where to focus on future versions.



  4. Paul Tocknell on Mar 20, 2012

    Eric,

    Very good point about support. Anytime the pilots in my flight department have had issues, the entire Foreflight team has been incredibly responsive. Usually it is just a few minutes before someone responds to an issue or concern. I’m also impressed with the new features that have been introduced since it’s introduction. It gets better with each release.

    Paul



  5. Ryan Miller on Apr 15, 2012

    You can also get a discount on Foreflight if your a member of SAFE.



  6. Brian Stevens on Dec 26, 2012

    One thing I’ve been gotten a clear answer on is. Does the software work without the update subscription? ie if i simply decided to update it every other year will it still work or does it lock you out at the end of the period



  7. Garry Wing on Feb 23, 2013

    Brian – It doesn’t lock you out, per se, but you won’t be able to access any outdated data (charts, plates, A/FD)… And why would you want to (knowingly) use old data? It’s a subscription service; they basically developed the app for free, but make their money delivering data.



  8. Earle Williams on Feb 27, 2013

    I am curious about the rules used for integrating ground-based radar data with the pirep icing reports in Foreflight. Can someone put me in touch with the person who wrote the software for this application?



  9. Robert on Jun 24, 2013

    Hi, I use an IPad and have the Garmin Software ( Full Package Subscription )
    Its now due for renewal, however, I`m considering changing to Foreflightght.

    What can Foreflight offer that Garmin Does not ?

    Thank You !



  10. Tyson Weihs on Jun 24, 2013

    Robert,

    ForeFlight Mobile has evolved a lot in the past year. A list of what changed in the most recent release is available at http://www.foreflight.com/ipad/whatsnew/.

    One of my personal favorites is the new pattern entry advisor and the runway winds advisors, which help you select runways and get lined up for runways properly.

    Any questions, email us at team at foreflight dot com.

    Here’s a list of blog posts, too, that highlight other big additions this year:

    Version 5.1
    * blog: http://blog.foreflight.com/2013/04/29/traffic-track-vector-and-plate-swiping-now-available/

    Version 5.0:
    * video: http://blog.foreflight.com/2013/04/05/foreflight-mobile-5-video-overview/
    * blog: http://blog.foreflight.com/2013/03/23/new-terrain-foreflight-5-lands-in-app-store/

    Version 4.9:
    * blog: http://blog.foreflight.com/2013/03/01/foreflight-mobile-updated-track-up-obstacles-classic-mode/

    Version 4.8:
    * blog: http://blog.foreflight.com/2013/01/29/foreflight-mobile-for-iphone-reinvented-and-military-flight-bag-support/



  11. David St. George on Apr 28, 2014

    As Ryan mentioned SAFE membership gives you 33% off ForeFlight Pro (save $50!) This is an amazing product by a passionate group of developers.

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