Forecasting for the Terminal Area is Incredibly Difficult

Perhaps the most difficult forecast any meteorologist has to issue is a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast or TAF. They are the most detailed aviation forecast made available to pilots and they will be around for a long time to come. The terminal area is quite small; it is officially defined as “the area within five statute miles of the center of an airport’s runway complex.” Do you remember the world globe you used in grade school?  Well, imagine placing a single dot on that globe with a sharp pencil – that’s about the size of the terminal area. Consequently, forecasters consider a TAF a point forecast.

Let’s take a look at a specific example. Below is a TAF for the Fort Smith Regional Airport (KFSM) issued at 1736 UTC – well before any thunderstorms had formed. Notice the forecaster believes that moderate rain and thunderstorms will temporarily impact the Fort Smith terminal area between 0000 and 0300 UTC (8 p.m. to 11 p.m. EDT).

FSM-TAFIf you had also looked at the automated ForeFlight MOS forecast below within a similar timeframe, you would have seen a much different forecast. In fact, MOS did not forecast any thunderstorms or precipitation from 1900 to 0200 UTC (3 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT). Instead, MOS predicted some gusty southwest winds with good visibility and a high scattered cloud deck. Which one provides the best guidance?

FSM-MOS

Actually, both! As it turned out thunderstorms did roll through the terminal area as predicted by the TAF a little bit after 0000 UTC as shown in the METARs below. However, the total amount of precipitation measured in the Fort Smith rain bucket for the event was a meager 3/100 of an inch.  So the primary thunderstorm cell passed through the northern edge of the terminal area with the sun low in the horizon beaming in from the west (notice CLR skies were also reported).

KFSM 250353Z 28005KT 10SM CLR 18/14 A2992 RMK AO2 SLP127  

KFSM 250253Z 27007KT 10SM CLR 19/15 A2990 RMK AO2 SLP122

KFSM 250153Z 26010KT 10SM SCT050 22/15 A2986 RMK AO2 RAE19 TSE33 P0003

KFSM 250139Z 28008KT 10SM FEW038 BKN050 21/16 A2986 RMK AO2 RAE19 TSE33 P0003

KFSM 250053Z 21012KT 10SM -TSRA CLR 24/14 A2982 RMK AO2 RAB49 TSB02 SLP093 LTG ICCC P0000 

KFSM 250008Z 21013KT 10SM TS CLR 26/13 A2980 RMK AO2 TSB02 LTG ICCC 

KFSM 242353Z 21016G21KT 10SM CLR 26/13 A2979 RMK AO2 

KFSM 242253Z 22019G26KT 10SM BKN065 27/12 A2979 RMK AO2

Fort Smith was on the southern-most edge of a fairly broken line of thunderstorms as shown on the ForeFlight Map view below.  This line of storms quickly moved in from the west along and ahead of a surface cold front. As you can see below, there was one small cell that moved through the Fort Smith terminal area approximated by the small red circle. It’s this cell that triggered the thunderstorm observation at 0008 UTC.

FSM-Radar

So it’s easy to see that Fort Smith could have been in that large gap to the northeast creating a situation more representative of the automated MOS forecast. The forecaster that issued the TAF took a little meteorological risk and felt there was a fairly reasonable chance this line of thunder would evolve and impact the Fort Smith terminal area; a gutsy move given how this broken line of storms ultimately evolved.

MOS, on the other hand, wasn’t as certain about the possibility of thunderstorms passing through the terminal area; it was leaning towards a forecast more representative of the weather within the gap. This is a good example of the “edge effect” that happens quite often when issuing such a point forecast whether it is issued by a meteorologist or automated tool. Ten miles can make a huge difference in making a good forecast or getting it wrong.

 

ForeFlight Mobile and iOS 8

The next version of ForeFlight Mobile will require iOS 8 or later. By making iOS 8 the minimum iOS version supported, we can deliver new features that require iOS 8, deliver smaller application downloads, improve energy efficiency, add improved support for devices like the iPhone 6 Plus, and deliver faster application performance. The only device that is not capable of upgrading to iOS 8 that is currently also supported by iOS 7 (the current minimum iOS requirement for ForeFlight Mobile) is iPhone 4.

This support article on Apple’s website describes how to update your iOS device wirelessly or using iTunes if you are wanting to get ahead of the release: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204204.

ForeFlight MOS is Now Booming

As icing AIRMETs begin to morph into convective SIGMETs, you’ll be happy to know that ForeFlight Mobile is ready for the upcoming convective season with some enhancements to its Model Output Statistics or MOS forecast. As was announced earlier, MOS provides a TAF-like forecast out to three days for over 2,000 airports in the U.S. and its territories. To help you anticipate convection during your preflight planning, MOS now includes a forecast for thunderstorms over the next three days as shown below.

Thunder-MOS

April Showers

To celebrate the spring thaw, we are taking MOS a step further; in addition to thunderstorm forecasts, ForeFlight’s MOS product now forecasts showery precipitation at the airport as shown below. While rain showers may not seem like a threat to many pilots, it can be a precursor for deep, moist convection or thunderstorms, including embedded thunderstorms. So any forecast for rain or snow showers should get your attention since it means a convective process is anticipated even if natural lightning isn’t likely. Showery precipitation creates a hazardous environment capable of moderate or greater turbulence in those showery clouds. Additionally, a forecast for showers should raise a red flag that a serious threat of airframe ice may exist while flying in visible moisture at a temperature below freezing.

MOS-Showers

Finding MOS in ForeFlight

The MOS forecast is available to all subscribers with ForeFlight Mobile 6.6 or later. To find it in the app, simply select an airport or station from the Maps view. In the pop-over window, tap the Forecast tab at the bottom. Then tap the MOS button and scroll through the next three days to see if those springtime boomers may alter your plans.

Access the MOS forecast in the Maps view by tapping on an airport.

Access the MOS forecast in the Maps view by tapping on an airport.

Faster, Better Auto-router Now Available and DUATS service deprecated

Last night we released an update to our airway routing suggestion in Route Advisor by replacing our previous route provider, DUATS, with our integration partner Lockheed Martin. This enhancement brings quicker response times and more accurate and direct routing for user-provided origin and destination pairs. 

Lockheed Martin provides proper entries and exits onto and off of the airways so that clicking on the suggested route and loading it as a flight plan should be a seamless process. Previously this was not always the case with DUATS and some routes failed to load properly.

Below is a screenshot of an airway routing between KAXH and KLAL in preparation for our flights to Sun ‘n Fun 2015, as computed by the new router:

IMG_1777

In addition to leveraging Lockheed Martin’s routing engine, we implemented server-side caching on routes that will provide an instant response for routes that have been recently searched by other users. Give it a try for some of your favorite routes and let us know about your experience – it is fast! 

We are always working to improve our infrastructure to provide the most utility for your flight planning goals, and this is another great step forward!

DUATS Support Deprecated

With this release, we are also deprecating our support for DUATs based services in favor of the modernized web services technologies provided by Lockheed Martin. For those customers who still have DUATS credentials configured in ForeFlight Mobile, we recommend removing those credentials to take full advantage of the more advanced capabilities.

Sign out instructions are provided on page 153 of the ForeFlight Mobile Pilots guide and as follows:

  1. Tap More > Accounts.
  2. Tap on the “CSC DUATS” field.
  3. Tap the red “Sign Out” button on the next page.

As always, we are on frequency at team@foreflight.com to answer any questions you have.

Icing and Turbulence Products Now Approved for Operational Decisions

If you have ever used the Current and Forecast Icing Products (CIP and FIP) or the Graphical Turbulence Guidance (GTG) product available in ForeFlight or on the Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS) website, you may have noticed a disclaimer at the top of the image like the one shown below. Essentially, FAA policy prohibited pilots from using this automated guidance to make operational decisions without also consulting the official forecasts, namely, G-AIRMETs and SIGMETs that are issued by meteorologists.

Warning-CIPEffective January 21, 2015 the NWS and the FAA agreed to relax this limitation and quietly removed the disclaimer from the charts. This opens the door for pilots to make safety decisions based on the information contained within this guidance. This is not to say that G-AIRMETs and SIGMETs can be ignored; they still provide valuable guidance to pilots, but may not have a comparable temporal or spatial resolution found in these automated products.

The disclaimer was also confusing to pilots given that G-AIRMETs for icing are issued for widespread moderate non-convective icing whereas the CIP and FIP provides guidance about all icing hazards big or small. In fact, these automated tools often provide a more realistic picture of the icing environment as it evolves.

It is certainly understandable for such a disclaimer to be required when a new weather product is first introduced or is considered experimental, especially if the guidance is automated. However, these icing and turbulence tools have been available to pilots for over a decade, so it’s finally nice to see them lift these restrictions.

 

Bulletin: March 5 Data Updates

Data updates are now available to download for the March 5, 2015 – April 2, 2015 and March 5, 2015 – April 30, 2015 periods:

  • Airport and Navigation Database
  • ForeFlight Airport Diagrams
  • North American Obstacles

From the FAA:

  • VFR Charts and Terminal Area Charts
  • High and Low Enroutes, Area Charts
  • Caribbean High and Low Enroutes, Area Charts
  • Ocean Planning Charts
  • Taxi Diagrams
  • Terminal Procedures
  • Airport/Facility Diagrams
  • Documents

For our ForeFlight Mobile Pro Canada customers:

  • Taxi Diagrams
  • Terminal Procedures
  • High and Low Enroutes
  • Canada Flight Supplement
  • Documents

For our Military Flight Bag customers:

  • Georeferenced worldwide D-FLIP Terminal Procedures
  • Georeferenced worldwide D-FLIP Airport Diagrams
  • CSA High and Low Enroutes, Area Charts
  • PAA High and Low Enroutes, Area Charts
  • D-FLIP Publications such as Planning Change Notices, Area Planning Documents,
    Chart Supplements, Enroute Change Notices, and Terminal Change Notices.
  • Airfield Qualification Program (AQP) diagrams
  • Airfield Suitability and Restrictions Report (Giant Report)
  • Airport/Facility Directory

All customers will be prompted to download these updates inside of ForeFlight Mobile.

MOS Forecast Extends Now To 3 Days

Back in December we announced a new forecast tool in ForeFlight Mobile called Model Output Statistics or MOS. A TAF-like forecast, MOS provides site-specific weather guidance to pilots for hundreds of airports where a TAF is not provided by the National Weather Service (NWS). We’re happy to say that we’ve taken MOS even further.

Now Even More MOS

Not only have we added over three hundred additional MOS airports to ForeFlight Mobile, but we’ve extended the MOS guidance from 24 hours to 3 days. That’s right, in ForeFlight Mobile 2,032 stations throughout the U.S. and its territories now have a TAF-like MOS forecast with site-specific weather guidance out to 3 days in the future. Pilots can now get a forecast of wind direction and wind speed, ceiling height, ground visibility and precipitation similar to what you might see in a TAF, now extended to 72 hours for over 2,000 airports. This means that even when the TAF stops at 24 or 30 hours, MOS continues to provide site-specific weather guidance beyond the forecast timeframe for over 700 NWS TAFs.

Finding MOS in ForeFlight

The MOS forecast option is available to all subscribers with ForeFlight Mobile 6.6 and to find it in the app, simply select an airport or station from the Maps view. In the pop-over window, tap the Forecast tab at the bottom. Then press the MOS button to reveal this forecast product and scroll through the MOS forecast over the next three days.

Access the MOS forecast in the Maps view by tapping on an airport.

Access the MOS forecast in the Maps view by tapping on an airport.

Flight Rules Thrown Out of the ForeFlight Mobile App

No, we didn’t convince the FAA to change the regulations; however, in ForeFlight Mobile we’ve stopped using the term Flight Rules when referring to weather conditions for an airport. Flight Rules has now been replaced with a more appropriate term, namely, Flight Category which appears as a selection below TFRs. Same useful information, just under a new name.

Flight Category selected in the Map overlay selector

Flight Category overlay is shown selected in the Maps view menu.

Flight rules refers to the regulatory requirements defined in 14 CFR Part 91, Subpart B. These include Visual Flight Rules (VFR), Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) and Special VFR. Although derived from Flight Rules, Flight Category describes the observed or forecast weather conditions at the airport based on the combination of prevailing ground visibility and ceiling. Using a color-coded marker, flight categories include VFR, Marginal VFR (MVFR), IFR and Low IFR (LIFR) as shown below. Although not implemented in ForeFlight, the National Weather Service (NWS) uses a fifth category to represent Very Low IFR (VLIFR) conditions which includes a ceiling less than 200 feet and/or visibility less than 1/2 statute miles.

Flight Category legend.

Flight Category legend used in ForeFlight Mobile.

In the app, you can also display the ceiling and visibility markers separately on the ForeFlight Map. Similar color coding of these markers will occur based on the criteria shown above. For example, ceilings markers are being displayed on the Map below. Notice for Topeka, Kansas,  a marker labeled “26” representing a MVFR ceiling of 2,600 feet so the marker is shown in blue. It is critical to understand that this does not imply that the Flight Category for the airport is MVFR since this marker does not also factor in the reported visibility.

Ceiling marker view.

Ceiling markers do not factor in the reported visibility relative to Flight Category color coding.

In this case, tapping the marker for Topeka as shown below indicates that the surface visibility is reported at 1 statute mile representing an IFR Flight Category. Hence the coded observation is colored red accordingly.  Similarly, when displaying the visibility markers on the Map, the color shown does not also factor in the reported ceiling.

Weather station details in the Maps view.

Tap on the marker to reveal the Flight Category, indicated by the highlighted observation text, when using the Ceiling and Visibility overlays.

Lastly, ceiling markers are unique in that a marker will only be displayed when the observation is reporting a broken, overcast or indefinite ceiling. In other words, if the sky is clear or there are just scattered or few clouds in the report, a marker will not be displayed on the Map.

While the departure from Flight Rules seems pretty subtle, using Flight Category in the ForeFlight Mobile app now matches FAA documentation and other official weather guidance provided by the NWS.

ForeFlight Mobile Connectivity with Dynon SkyView, ScratchPad Upgrade, Graphical Winds Aloft in ForeFlight Mobile 6.7

With ForeFlight Mobile 6.7 we are excited to announce wireless connectivity between ForeFlight Mobile and the Dynon Avionics SkyView system. The integration with Dynon expands our ForeFlight Connect capability ‒ a set of features that allows ForeFlight Mobile to connect to portable and installed avionics to enable capabilities like flight plan transfer, ADS-B weather (currently Stratus only), and more.

We also re-invented the ScratchPad view to provide much more capability. Use the helpful new templates feature for quickly jotting down clearances and PIREPs, save and share multiple ScratchPads, and swipe between ScratchPads with a simple gesture. ScratchPads are integrated into the ForeFlight Sync system so all your notes are automatically backed up across your iPads.

In the Maps view we added a global graphical Winds Aloft layer that shows wind barbs on the map for altitudes from 3,000′ to 54,000′. The new altitude slider lets you easily see how the winds change across the world and across the flight levels.

ForeFlight Mobile version 6.7 is now available on the App Store.

Wi-Fi Connectivity Between ForeFlight Mobile and Dynon Avionics SkyView Enables Seamless Flight Planning Capabilities

We are delighted to work with Dynon Avionics to bring Wi-Fi connectivity between your iPad and iPhone and the SkyView glass panel system. ForeFlight Mobile can send and receive flight plan routes on the ground and in the air and can receive SkyView WAAS GPS and AHRS data to feed Synthetic Vision and the moving map display.

Update your route on ForeFlight Mobile then push the changes to SkyView using the Send To icon in the Route Editor:

Send to the panel-mount avionics from the route editor

In the Route Editor on the Maps view, use the Send To button to transfer route plan changes from ForeFlight to SkyView.

Route changes made on SkyView are easily updated on the iPad with a single tap on the Connect icon:

Pull flight plan changes by tapping the Connect icon.

To pull flight plan changes from SkyView into ForeFlight tap the Connect icon in the top menu bar.

In addition to transferring flight plan route changes, ForeFlight Mobile receives SkyView’s built-in WAAS GPS to drive aircraft position on the Maps or Plates view. This is a great GPS solution if you have a Wi-Fi only iPad, or if you just want the reassurance of an additional GPS source. ForeFlight Mobile also uses the SkyView AHRS to display pitch and roll information on the Attitude Indicator and Synthetic Vision views.

ForeFlight receives the SkyView GPS and AHRS data.

ForeFlight Mobile receives the SkyView GPS and AHRS data to feed the moving map and Synthetic Vision views.

The wireless connectivity feature between ForeFlight and Dynon SkyView requires a ForeFlight Mobile subscription (Basic or Pro) and a Wi-Fi Adapter for each SkyView screen. Read this blog post for more details on how to set up and use the wireless connection between ForeFlight Mobile and Dynon SkyView.

Also check out our ForeFlight Connect page to learn more about our growing wireless connectivity capabilities.


New ScratchPads Sync to the Cloud and Make it Easier to Take Notes in the Cockpit

The ScratchPads feature was re-written for v6.7. Now you can choose from six different templates, including a PIREP template to help you transmit the perfect PIREP with confidence.

The CRAFT layout makes it easy to use the well-known aviation mnemonic for copying down departure clearances from ATC:

And by popular demand, you can add, edit, rename, and delete multiple ScratchPads:

ScratchPads thumbnail view.

Add, edit, rename, and delete multiple ScratchPads.

If you prefer to write with a stylus versus your finger, check out this popular one from Sporty’s. ScratchPads is available on the iPad to ForeFlight Mobile Basic and Pro subscribers.


New Winds Aloft Layer in Maps View

A global graphical Winds Aloft forecast is now available as a weather overlay option in the Maps view. The new Winds Aloft layer is available to all ForeFlight Mobile subscribers.

Global graphical Winds Aloft map layer.

Global graphical Winds Aloft map layer is available in the map selector dropdown menu.

Winds Aloft markers are color coded to the following scale:

Wind marker color scale.

Winds Aloft marker color scale.

Use the slider on the lower right of the screen to select the desired altitude or flight level. Tap on a marker to view forecast details: wind speed and direction, altitude, temperature, and the winds aloft report time stamp.

Winds Aloft slider and marker details.

Use the slider on the lower right to change the altitude. Tap on a wind marker for details.

Resources

How To Use ForeFlight Mobile and Dynon SkyView Wi-Fi Connectivity

We are delighted to announce an integration with Dynon Avionics to bring you secure Wi-Fi connectivity between ForeFlight Mobile on the iPad and iPhone and the SkyView glass panel avionics system. This integration expands our ForeFlight Connect capabilities and delivers more ways to make flying easier and more efficient.

Getting Started

The wireless connectivity between ForeFlight Mobile and the Dynon SkyView system is enabled by a Wi-Fi Adapter for SkyView. The USB adapters may be purchased from an authorized Dynon Avionics dealer or directly from Dynon Avionics. Please see the Dynon website for current pricing.

For software, you will need SkyView version 12.0 or later and ForeFlight Mobile 6.7 or later (Basic or Pro). Once configured, ForeFlight connects to SkyView via a Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) connection.

Your checklist for ForeFlight Mobile + Dynon SkyView Connectivity hardware and software requirements:

  • Wi-Fi Adapter for SkyView for each screen you have installed
  • SkyView version 12.0 or later
  • ForeFlight Mobile version 6.7 or later (Basic or Pro)

After the Wi-Fi Adapter(s) are installed, configure the SkyView Wi-Fi network though SkyView’s Setup Menu. Refer to the current SkyView System Installation Guide for full instructions.

Connect ForeFlight and SkyView

With SkyView turned on, locate the Wi-Fi network in the Settings menu on your iPad or iPhone and connect. You can verify connection in ForeFlight Mobile in the following places: 

  • When ForeFlight is connected to the SkyView network you will see the Connected logo along the top menu bar: 
Pull flight plan changes by tapping the Connect icon.

To pull flight plan route changes from SkyView into ForeFlight tap the Connect icon in the top menu bar.

  • Navigate to the Maps view and tap on the Settings menu cog icon in the top menu bar and scroll down to Devices. 
  • From the Route Editor, tap on the Send To icon to see the panel Connect icon:
Send to the panel-mount avionics from the route editor

In the Route Editor on the Maps view, use the Send To button to transfer route plan changes from ForeFlight to SkyView. 

  • Navigate to the More view > Devices > tap on the SkyView box on the right for connection details.
Connect status in the More view

Navigate to More > Devices to see the SkyView connectivity status.

 ForeFlight Mobile and SkyView Connectivity

 ForeFlight Mobile and SkyView connectivity has the following capabilities:

  •  Send and receive flight plan routes between ForeFlight Mobile and SkyView
  • ForeFlight Mobile can receive SkyView’s WAAS GPS data to drive the moving map display and information in the HUD instrument panel.
  • ForeFlight Mobile can receive SkyView’s AHRS data to drive pitch and roll in the Attitude Indicator and Synthetic Vision views.