External iPad GPS Receivers for ForeFlight HD

ForeFlight is announcing support for external GPS receivers for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch. We’ve collected a great deal of data about how the iPad and iPhone built-in GPS receivers work in the cockpit, and quickly came to the conclusion that an external GPS receiver option is sorely needed for these devices.  With those needs in mind, we tested a variety of options over the last few months and finally found two hardware solutions that are up to the task of keeping oriented in the flight environment.

For the latest recommended devices, please visit ForeFlight’s iPad Buying Guide for Pilots. This page has the most up-to-date recommendations.

Pilots flying with ForeFlight can benefit from an external GPS.  For iPad WIFI+3G owners, these devices can replace the built-in GPS receiver for significantly better reliability and more consistent accuracy values.  For customers with devices lacking an internal GPS receiver, like the iPad WiFi-only model, these devices allow in-flight GPS positioning that isn’t otherwise possible.  These devices are authorized by Apple and require no special modifications to iPad or iPhone hardware.

Many of our customer know that we believed the GPS receiver in the iPad was not up to certain tasks and thus we intentionally avoided building in features that would lead pilots to believe otherwise. For example, showing GPS location on an approach plate without higher-quality GPS hardware was a bad idea, in our opinion – too many customers reported intermittent loss of GPS signal from the iPad or iPhone. With the availability of this newer hardware, however, we intend to open access to features that can benefit from this enhanced hardware. Stay tuned.

ForeFlight Mobile HD 3.7 with Airport Fuel Prices, Airways, SID/STAR, Direct-To, and iPhone Touch Planning

ForeFlight Mobile HD version 3.7 is now available! Download it today from the App Store and grab the latest version of the user manual.

This update is a big one, delivering a breadth of new functionality to both the iPad and iPhone. Included are features we have all wanted for a while – like airway ‘cracking’, airport fuel prices, and FBO comments. Also, our iPhone-only customers have patiently awaited the iPad’s touch planning capabilities.  Today, their wait is over – this release includes fully integrated touch planning on the iPhone. The first time we saw it, we were pretty excited. Hopefully it blows your hair back a bit!

We took our time with each of these big new features and added some very ForeFlight-esque user experience gems along the way. We also polished up some of our screens, giving them a fresh face to improve contrast and readability.

On our team and in the ForeFlight community, we’re using iPads and iPhones more often than browsers now when planning flights. The new features in version 3.7 bring even more resources to your devices, allowing you to further cut the cord from your browser and desktop computer. With the introduction of iPhone and iPad airport fuel prices, airway support, FBO comments, and more in version 3.7, you will be more productive with ForeFlight HD than ever before!

First, here’s a short video introducing the big new features:

Fuel Prices and Fuel Updates

We’re really excited to bring fuel prices to ForeFlight Mobile, and we’ve added this feature in a very ForeFlight way. Not only do we provide 100LL/JetA fuel prices for thousands of FBOs, but ForeFlight customers can submit their own price updates. Coverage is awesome, and includes more than 2,300 FBOs across the US and Canada, showing prices in the appropriate currency and measurement units.

We built two new fuel price maps – a 100LL map and a Jet-A map – that show you the lowest prices at any given airport and, via some statistical magic, dynamically color code the prices region.  It shows what’s most economical (green), average (yellow), and expensive (red) according to the region in which the FBO is located. Expensive in Texas may be cheap in California, so ForeFlight dynamically adjusts the display for regional differences.

FBO and Airport Comments

ForeFlight users are some of the smartest pilots on the runway. Learn from their experience by viewing comments for an airport or an FBO.  Have something to share?  Submit your own comment about an airport or FBO from inside the app. We review all comments to ensure they are courteous and professional, and the usually appear in the app within 24 hours.

Airway and SID/STAR Support

ForeFlight Mobile HD now supports airways (victor, jet, etc). The app supports complex, multi-runway departures, entrances and exits from airways,  and even allows round-trip-editing with touch planning. Have you ever wanted to see where an entire airway runs from and to? Search for just an airway identifier to see all its elements on the map (try V16 in the Maps view) or include an airway in the middle of your routing.  Airways require a start and end point when used in a route, for example: MOONN V90 DKK

3.7 also includes SID/STAR support in the Routes and Maps view. For example, type in KCLT 36R.MERIL5 RDU J209 ORF J121 SIE CAMRN4 KJFK. Want to see what other pilots are flying? View cleared ATC routes from a departure to a destination, and cycle through each of the available options to see the route of flight with all airway and waypoints drawn on the map.

Always refer to the official arrival/departure plate from the Airport view, as the ForeFlight Maps view is not able to show vectors, altitude info, and certain other details you’ll need.  If an arrival or departure requires a particular runway input, you will be prompted to provide it, with an example.

Revamped Maps with Direct-To and iPhone Touch Planning

We rewrote our map engine to make it more flexible and support some great new features.  Direct-To is available from a waypoint or directly from touch planning.  Just tap the direct-to D to get a direct-to-routing. You can also jump directly from a waypoint to the Airports details page by tapping the blue > icon.

With 3.7, touch planning is now available for the iPhone.  This works just like touch planning on the iPad – we were all blown away the first time we saw it in action.

Simplified Download Settings and Turbo Mode

The download settings are now greatly simplified: just pick your regions once, the data you care about once, then hit Download to grab the data. You no longer need to select individual states within each catalog. If you’re upgrading from an earlier version, all of your settings will be migrated to the new system.

Users with an iPad, iPhone 3GS, or iPhone 4 can take advantage of turbo downloads. Depending on your connection speed, up to four downloads will run at the same time. And no matter what device you’re running on, VFR and IFR charts will install much faster than earlier versions – usually in under a second!

Other Enhancements:

  • More runway details including displaced threshold lengths, runway headings, and more.
  • ATC routes now load in Maps when selected.
  • Edit button on File & Brief to easily delete flight plants.
  • Maps button on File & Brief to jump over to maps and visualize your route of flight.
  • Sunrise/set times now honor the “show local times” on/off setting.
  • Over 60 new high-res images for iPhone 4’s retina screen.  Almost all of the images have been converted now.
  • Freshened the design of the airport, METAR, TAF, and FBO views for a cleaner and more compact look.
  • Support for DUATS’ degree and min lat/lon in Routes/Maps. Ex: 3006/-08045
  • Support for a new waypoint/bearing/distance format in Routes/Maps.  Ex: GSO230015
  • ScratchPad uses slightly smaller line when drawing.

Bug fixes:

  • Better handling of downloads with low disk space.
  • Faster deletion of downloads.
  • Fixed bug on Maps where current location indicator and pop-ups appeared beneath route line.
  • Fixed bug on main iPhone screen where badge indicator had black background instead of a pretty shadow.
  • Fixed bug on iPhone with per-airport downloads of procedures.

The Pilot’s Guide to ForeFlight Mobile

We’ve updated our user manual, the Pilot’s Guide to ForeFlight Mobile HD.  Click here to get the latest version of the manual.

How to Get 3.7

New to ForeFlight?  Download ForeFlight Mobile HD today from the App Store!

Already have the app?  Follow these instructions for updating the app on your iPad or iPhone.

Need a group plan or backup subscription? View group pricing here.

Moving Map and Routes on the iPad, ForeFlight Mobile 3.5

The iPad Aviation era keeps getting better. ForeFlight Mobile HD 3.5 is now in the App Store, bringing our moving map, heads-up display to the iPad! Tap the locate button to see your aircraft position and track. Users who enjoyed spitballing routes with the iPhone version will be happy to find this integrated into the ‘Maps’ tab on the iPad. With v3.5, all of the functionality in the iPhone version is available on the iPad! We also improved the radar and satellite on both the iPhone and iPad, with color-coded freezing precipitation, county-level warnings, and a new visible+infrared composite satellite.

New users can download ForeFlight Mobile 3.5 HD from the App Store today!
Already have the app? Click here for instructions on how to update to v3.5.

ForeFlight Slip Maps™ on the iPad and iPhone are amazing, with full-screen HD NEXRAD, satellite, flight rules, sectionals and more. Version 3.5 brings these to the next level, with killer new features done ‘ForeFlight Style’!

  • Moving-map, heads up display for iPad with groundspeed, track, altitude, and GPS accuracy
  • Locator icon changes to an aircraft when track available
  • Animated radar and satellite for iPad
  • New visible+infrared composite satellite
  • Airport-level radar and satellite (see cells on or around the airport)
  • Redesigned artwork for lightning, mesocyclone, tornado, and hail activity
  • New base-map for radar and satellite providing street and airport level detail

With v3.5, routes are fully integrated into the iPad version. Instead of making routes a standalone window like the iPhone, we took advantage of the huge iPad screen and integrated them into our Maps. Search for a route in the top-right of Maps tab to see both the route line and a navlog overlay with detailed information about distance, course, fuel burn, and time. Want to see more of the map? Just tap the minimize button and the navlog gets out of your way!

  • View the navlog with ETE, fuel, distance, and headwind component
  • One tap to file a flight plan, look up ATC routes, or reverse the route
  • Favorite routes and recent routes
  • Remembers and displays your last saved route after you exit
  • Great circle route drawing
  • Routes can now include lat/lon values like 32.3N/82.2W

Version 3.5 is also stock full of performance improvements and bug fixes:

  • Improved memory management
  • iPhone OS 4 compatibility
  • Fixed a bug that could cause a download to fail
  • Fixed a crash caused by zooming on long routes
  • Fixed a bug that caused blank tiles on sectional maps

ForeFlight Mobile 3 Takes Flight on the iPhone

We are proud to announce ForeFlight Mobile 3, the latest edition of our flagship pilot productivity and Preflight Intelligence™ app for iPhone and iPod.  ForeFlight Mobile 3 was redesigned  from nose to tail. With innovations like HD NEXRAD Slip Maps™, future flight plan filing, and a new and flexible download manager, v3.0 lets you plan and visualize your flight faster and easier than ever before. Our improved weather presentation technologies improve pre-flight situational awareness and increase pilot confidence, helping us realize the ForeFlight vision of improving safety and making pilots more productive.  Hundreds of new features and a completely redesigned user interface make ForeFlight Mobile 3 the must-have companion for any student, private, instrument, commercial, airline transport, or military pilot.

New features in ForeFlight Mobile 3:

  • Brand new Slip Maps™ with slideable, zoomable maps for weather and charts.
  • Flight routes displayed over animated, QICP-certified  HD NEXRAD and satellite.
  • Full screen, downloadable, GPS-integrated moving map VFR sectionals.
  • Full screen, downloadable, GPS-integrated moving map IFR high and low enroute charts.
  • One-tap Intelligent Flight Briefings via DUATS with smart refresh, briefing email confirmations, and archival on ForeFlight servers for extra assurance.
  • Redesigned route planning with NAVAID support and wind-corrected flight plans.
  • New flight plan filing system with future flight plans more than 24 hours in the future, favorite aircraft, offline access, and automatic import from ForeFlight 2.
  • Brand new download manager with downloads of airport diagrams, procedures, and sectionals for the entire United States. Choose to download procedures for offline use one at a time, by airport, or by state.
  • Ability to pause, resume, and cancel downloads.
  • Redesigned airport interface for faster access to airports, weather, and imagery.
  • Global airport database with the best information from the FAA, AOPA Airport Directory, and Universal Weather and Aviation’s UVTripPlanner airport directories.
  • Redesigned NOTAMs organized by airport, TFRs, and regional ARTCC.
  • Local storage of all airport procedures, charts, briefings, and flight plans so you can view them offline.

ForeFlight Mobile 3 is the culmination of many months of hard work and collaborations with partners.  All of the new features are based on feedback from our passionate user community. We kept the best parts of ForeFlight Mobile 2.4, redesigned the rest from the ground up, and optimized everything. We spent months sweating pixels, testing out on the runway, and designing to fit the pilot workflow – all to create what we believe is the best aviation app for the iPhone.

ForeFlight would like to specially welcome aboard our newest partner, Weather Decision Technologies, whom we collaborated with for the past year to develop the technology that powers our new weather Slip Maps™. Thanks also go to our partners at the AOPA, Universal Weather and Aviation, and RunwayFinder.com helping us make ForeFlight Mobile 3 possible.

In July 2008, ForeFlight Mobile 2 launched alongside Apple’s new App Store to critical acclaim, becoming the highest rated iPhone aviation product in the App Store and a top five seller in the App Store’s weather category. In addition to a comprehensive airport directory, ForeFlight Mobile provides color-coded METARs, TAFs, winds aloft, infrared satellite, NOTAMs, graphical TFRs, FBOs, and flight plan filing.  ForeFlight users are part of a passionate community of aviators that enjoy the benefits of real-time support, quick fixes, frequent updates, and personable service. ForeFlight Mobile 3 builds upon this legacy of excellence, bringing more data, brilliant HD NEXRAD, and visual airport intelligence to pilots around the world.

ForeFlight Mobile 3 is available immediately in the iPhone App Store as a free download and includes the first 30 days of a ForeFlight Mobile Subscription. Subscription prices range from $49.99 for the first year for existing ForeFlight customers to $74.99 for the first year for new customers.

ForeFlight Mobile v2.4 Launches in the iPhone App Store

Routes and METARs in ForeFlight Mobile v2.4

We’re proud to announce ForeFlight Mobile v2.4, now available in the iPhone App Store.  This is the latest update to our flagship app, and it’s a big one!

  • Newly designed METAR view that makes viewing encoded, decoded, and nearby METARs easier; METARs are now viewable when offline.
  • Newly designed TAF view that elegantly organizes translations and highlights the current forecast period.  TAFs are now viewable when offline.
  • Newly designed Winds Aloft view that elegantly organizes wind and temperature data and highlights the current forecast.  Winds Aloft are now viewable when offline.
  • New personal preference settings that lets you select units for wind speed, temperature, pressure, and visibility.  Great for international customers or customers that prefer viewing temperature in Fahrenheit.
  • New personal preference setting to hide old TAF translations.
  • New feature that saves the last airport displayed and reloads that airport the next time you restart ForeFlight.
  • Weather for your recently viewed and favorite airports is downloaded and stored on device automatically.
  • New trip estimator that accepts airport identifiers, ground speed, and fuel burn and computes ETE, burn, total distance, leg distance, leg ETE, and leg fuel burn; displays leg and trip details in a flight log view that includes current flight rules for each stop.
  • Enhanced search interface that accepts airport identifiers, ground speed, and fuel burn and estimates trip details.
  • New routes view that provides access to previously estimated trips when offline.
  • Updated recents and favorites views to show the current altimeter setting and temperature/dewpoint for each airport, when available.
  • New TFR imagery collection in the Images catalog
  • New “help bubbles” that show how to use the Search view
  • DUATS account settings (optional) – use your own DUATS account for filing flight plans
  • Greatly improved performance
  • Many bug fixes, including a common flight plan filing form crash bug

Already a user?  Like all v2.x releases, this is a free update.  Learn how to update the app on your iPhone.

Ready to come on board?  ForeFlight Mobile v2.4 is available in the iPhone App Store for $74.99.

We couldn’t be more proud of ForeFlight Mobile!  It took months of development and testing to get every detail right, but we’re confident our users will enjoy the new standard in Preflight Intelligence™.

TAFs and Winds Aloft in ForeFlight Mobile v2.4

Announcing ForeFlight File: iPhone Flight Plan Filing

Today we’re proud to unveil ForeFlight File, our latest iPhone aviation app. If you haven’t been ready to take the plunge into our more full-featured iPhone aviation application, ForeFlight File is a great way to get an inexpensive peek at one of the many features available in the ForeFlight Mobile suite.

iPhone Aviation

ForeFlight File is a simple flight plan filing utility for pilots designed for iPhone and iPod touch. File can submit flight plans without any special setup requirements, or you can file plans using your DUATS Access Code and get the extra assurance some pilots prefer. File was designed with the same attention to detail that ForeFlight customers expect, including such user interface gems as our Intelligent Aircraft Color Picker, altitude corrections for VFR and IFR flight plans, detailed email confirmations, detailed status messages when a flight plan fails to file for any reason, and a Fix feature for correcting flight plans that could not be filed for any reason.

Finally, a simple iPhone flight plan filing utility designed for pilots, by pilots!

Other features include:

  • Intelligent Altitude Selector sets the proper altitudes based on type of flight plan filed
  • iPhone-style pickers for time en route, fuel aboard, departure time, and cruise altitude
  • Previous and Next buttons to quickly progress from field to field
  • Complete history of all flight plans filed
  • A copy function to file a new flight plan from an existing flight plan
  • A delete function to remove old flight plans
  • Email confirmations that include a flight plan summary, flight plan details, current and forecast weather observations, and ForeFlight confirmation codes

ForeFlight File is available for purchase in the iPhone App Store for $4.99. All of the functionality in ForeFlight File can be found in the Flight Plans tab inside ForeFlight Mobile, so existing customers of ForeFlight Mobile need not purchase ForeFlight File.

Visit our web site to explore features and learn more about the latest addition to the ForeFlight family.

Night Flights & Sunny Runways: Developing iPhone Aviation Apps

By Adam Houghton, Principal Developer

Mobile applications are powerful because they are so portable. Devoted iPhone and Blackberry owners carry their devices everywhere. I’ve been known to forget my keys and I accidentally drove most of September without a license, but I never leave home without my iPhone. The emergence of location-aware, carry-everywhere mobile devices is ushering in the next great computing platform. The Internet on my desk is occasionally useful; the Internet in my pocket is always useful.

But for a mobile software developer, portability brings a new set of challenges. Traditional desktop applications like Quicken or iPhoto are run on big screens in homes and offices with a user’s undivided attention. iPhone users don’t sit at desks – they’re more likely to launch apps while waiting for a taxi on a rainy street corner. And whether it’s powered by RIM, Apple, or Android, a phone’s screen is highly reflective and usually smaller than a deck of cards.

Case Study: ForeFlight Checklist

At ForeFlight, we develop iPhone aviation apps. Pilots use ForeFlight Mobile, our flagship app, to check the weather report for the day’s flight during breakfast or file a flight plan from the airport terminal. In September, we introduced our second iPhone application: ForeFlight Checklist – Intelligent Aviation Checklists for Pilots.

Before releasing Checklist, we took it on quite a few test runs, constantly redesigning and tweaking the user interface to make it a natural fit in a pilot’s workflow. ForeFlight Checklist 1.0 received a fantastic reception, and as pilots have started using it out in the field, we’ve heard some great suggestions for new features. Two items in particular kept coming up, and illustrate the wide variety of environments and usage scenarios for mobile applications.

Scenario 1: Sunny Runways

The common use case for ForeFlight Checklist is running through a preflight checklist out on the runway. Each aircraft type has a customized list with dozens of items to check, such as verifying the tires are inflated and the fuel vent is unobstructed. Here is a preflight checklist for a Cessna 152 as seen in ForeFlight Checklist 1.0:

Preflight checklist for Cessna 152 in ForeFlight Checklist 1.0

ForeFlight Checklist 1.0: Cessna 152 preflight checklist

You can check an item by tapping it directly, or by tapping the green ‘Check’ button on the bottom. Pilots can consciously skip an item by tapping the yellow ‘Skip’ button. The table automatically scrolls the active item to the center and highlights it with a yellow background (“Fuel shutoff valve”). This, along with clearly defined indicators once a list is complete, keeps you from accidentally missing an item on the list.

After using Checklist out on the runway, a few pilots emailed us with an observation: the selected item was hard to see on a sunny day because the yellow background got drowned out. If you were wearing polarized sunglasses (a common scenario for pilots), it was even harder to see.

The solution for this was easy: change the background of the selected item to provide better contrast. We already had written code to special-case the background color, so we changed the color to blue (the standard iPhone color for indicating selections) and lightened the text color. Here is the same screen in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1, with a better contrasting background on the selected item, “Fuel shutoff valve”:

Cessna 152 preflight  checklist

ForeFlight Checklist 1.1: Cessna 152 preflight checklist

Scenario 2: Night Flight

Another handful of pilots emailed us with feedback on an opposite problem: when using Checklist in the evening, the app’s white background shone super brightly and was hard on the eyes. Even with the iPhone’s brightness setting turned all the way down, it was too bright.

To help out these pilots, we created “night mode“, a new color scheme available in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1. Inspired by the excellent Bloomberg iPhone app, night mode uses a black background with orange, gray, and white text. To ensure it’s easy on the eyes, while writing the code for this feature we actually turned off all the lights in the office and worked in the dark! Here’s a screenshot of the same Cessna 152 preflight checklist under night mode:

Night Mode in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1

Night Mode in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1

To toggle between night mode and the classic look (now called “day mode”), we added a new sun/moon icon on the bottom-right of the main screen:

Day mode vs night mode

Day Mode vs Night Mode in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1

If a checklist item has additional notes, a right arrow indicator is shown (e.g. “Rudder gust lock” and “Control surfaces” in the screenshots above). Tapping the arrow brings up the item detail screen, as shown below. Unfortunately, when creating night mode, this screen presented a challenge. Under day mode, the screen uses the iPhone’s “Grouped Table View” style, with floating white cells on a blue background. (This is familiar to anyone who has used the iPhone’s Contact app.) Unfortunately, this can’t be styled with a black background – it has to be white on blue. Instead, we created a new screen using the iPhone’s “Plain Table View” style, which doesn’t have floating cells and allows for a great deal more customization. (This style is used by Apple’s Mail app and Phone app, and is also the primary table view used elsewhere in Checklist.)

Here is the detail view under day and night mode for checking the Cessna’s RPM lever:

Detail view in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1

Detail view in ForeFlight Checklist 1.1

Creating night mode took quite a bit of work, but we’re very pleased with the outcome. Everyone on the ForeFlight team now uses it as their primary interface for Checklist – even during the day!

Know the Environment

When creating mobile applications, it is important to know your users. Whether it’s a sunny runway or a foggy afternoon, an iPhone app should feel at home in any environment.

ForeFlight is off to WWDC!

The ForeFlight team is heading off to Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) this weekend!  It is a must-attend event for software companies interested in building and marketing native applications for the iPhone.  The rumors are flying about what new products and services Apple will announce. We’ll be in the audience during the keynote speech to hear first hand!

Whether GPS or a fancy new 3G chipset find their way into a new phone, it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll have something new for pilots that will make flying more fun and pre-flight planning more productive.

So, what features would you like to see in a native iPhone application that you can take with you everywhere, including the cockpit?

Videos are Worth a Thousand Words

Explaining how a software application works is a challenge.  So often, the core differences between one application and another can only be revealed by experiencing both applications. We were craving a way to help pilots experience ForeFlight, and one of the most talented crews in aviation video production helped us out.  So, sit back, relax and enjoy our first ForeFlight commercial!

 Thanks to Jason Miller and the OnTheFlightLine crew!