ForeFlight Goes Vertical at Heli-Expo

2016 Heli Expo hero rev2

Before the horses come to town, there will be helicopters! For the first time HAI Heli-Expo is coming to Louisville, Kentucky and Team ForeFlight will be on hand in Booth 6736 to demonstrate all the latest features that help your pilots fly safer and your flight department stay in sync.

ForeFlight’s hazard awareness features make it easy to comply with Part 135 obstacle height regulations. Profile view, hazard advisors, and Synthetic Vision allow you to quickly evaluate and plan your route, without any surprises. Make informed decisions with better weather, distribute company documents, manage iPad deployments, and make sure you’re flying with the most up-to-date charts.

Still haven’t taken the plunge to attain EFB approval or need help managing your current program? We are here to help—schedule a time to chat or drop by the booth to learn about our comprehensive EFB solution. We can also provide a majority of the paperwork you will need for your FAA approval package in our EFB Documentation Kit. FAA 8900.1 guidance has come a long way and we have several customers who have shared their experience with EFB deployments. You can check out this valuable insight here.

Also, don’t miss our resident Weather Scientist, Scott Dennstaedt, who will be discussing low-level wind shear and how to identify and avoid this dangerous hazard. This seminar will earn you FAA Wings credit and is part of the Rotor Safety Challenge. Attend six of the scheduled safety sessions and receive a certificate of recognition as well as valuable knowledge.

Minimizing Exposure to Low-Level Wind Shear – Presented by Scott Dennstaedt
Mar. 1, 2016 | 2:15 pm – 3:15 pm | Room C201 | pre-register for FAA WINGS credit
Mar. 2, 2016 | 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm | Room C104 | pre-register for FAA WINGS credit

See you there!

Winds Aloft Forecasts in Graphical Briefing

The ForeFlight Graphical Briefing has a new section under the Forecasts heading: Winds Aloft. This section was added to provide pilots with information about the forecasted winds aloft along their route of flight, an important component of any preflight weather briefing.

Winds aloft forecasts along your route are organized in tables

The section includes forecasts for winds at 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24 hour periods, each contained in its own neatly organized table showing weather stations IDs along your route on the left, and altitudes along the top. Forecasts are provided for altitudes ranging from 3,000 to 53,000 feet, and a toggle switch at the top of the page allows you to restrict the altitudes shown to only those within 4,000 feet of your filed altitude, giving you quick access to the most relevant forecasts for your particular flight. In addition, the column showing winds aloft at your filed altitude is highlighted blue in each table.

You can enable ForeFlight Graphical Briefing at any time by navigating to More > Settings, scrolling down the File & Brief section, and tapping ForeFlight Briefing so the slider turns blue.

Brief Easy with ForeFlight Graphical Briefing

ForeFlight Graphical Briefing is a comprehensive briefing with content derived from approved government sources. It includes all the elements of a standard preflight briefing prescribed by the FAA—adverse conditions, synopsis, current conditions, enroute and destination forecasts, NOTAMs, and more—delivered in a visually elegant design for enhanced readability. With this next generation briefing format, we believe you will enjoy and get more from the preflight briefing.

The Graphical Briefing is seamlessly integrated into the ForeFlight Mobile app and is presented in clearly organized sections, making it simple to tap through each element of the briefing in a logical sequence. Translated and raw text options are available, as well as full-color graphics, which help you better understand and consume briefing information.

ForeFlight Briefing organized into logical sections

Some helpful aspects of the new briefing include color-coding and notations to indicate if an advisory will be active or inactive during or near your passing time:

ForeFlight Briefing with active and inactive AIRMET alertAlso, colored dots used in conjunction with METARs and TAFs give you an at-a-glance view of current and forecast weather. In the first screenshot, green represents VFR, blue is marginal VFR, red is IFR, and magenta is low IFR.

In the TAF view, color-coding is again used to indicate the forecast flight category. Based on your planned departure time and aircraft profile, your passing time at each station is automatically calculated and plotted on the TAF:

ForeFlight Briefing on the iPad and iPhoneThe briefing is mobile and portable—once the briefing is retrieved, you do not need an Internet connection to access it again on the go. You can also view the briefing on any web browser by clicking the link in your confirmation email after you file your flight plan.

In addition, Graphical Briefings are timestamped and stored on your iPad and iPhone, and in the ForeFlight cloud, to record that you obtained weather and pertinent NOTAMs in compliant manner with 14 CFR 91.103(a) preflight action.

Graphical Briefing is available to all customers with ForeFlight Mobile 7.4 and beyond on both the iPad and iPhone. You can enable the briefing at any time by going to More > Settings > File & Brief, and tapping the ForeFlight Briefing slider so that it turns blue.

For more information visit foreflight.com/briefing.

Four Things You May Not Know About ForeFlight Lightning

The lightning layer now in ForeFlight has been switched to use a much improved lightning source called the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN). This is the world’s largest lightning detection network with over 1200 sensors worldwide. This is the same lightning network that has been used by the NTSB when investigating aircraft accidents. Here are four facts about the lightning displayed in ForeFlight.

#1 – The lightning depicted in ForeFlight is worldwide

It is estimated by research meteorologists that at any given moment in time, there are nearly 2,000 thunderstorms occurring around the world. This includes about 100 strikes for every second that passes. This is important since the presence of lightning is indicative of dangerous convective turbulence and the potential for low-level wind shear. Ground-based radar such as NEXRAD has a limited range and only covers a small portion of the earth. Lightning detectors, on the other hand, can sense strikes from a thunderstorm that is a thousand miles away providing coverage in regions where ground-based radar does not reach.

#2 – All forms of lightning are included

The Earth Networks lightning sensor is a wideband system. This enables the sensor to not only detect strong cloud-to-ground strikes, but detect weak in-cloud pulses as well. With a detection efficiency of nearly 95 percent, the lightning depicted in the distinct ForeFlight layer includes just about all of the natural lightning that is occurring around the world.

#3 – Radar layer includes lightning

While connected to the Internet, there are two ways to display lightning in the ForeFlight Mobile app. By default, lightning is included as part of the radar layer. So tapping on the radar layer in the dropdown menu will also overlay the latest lightning. However, it is important to understand that this lightning depiction overlaid on the radar has not been upgraded to use the new ENTLN as of yet.

To get the higher density lightning, you must tap on the Map mode button and select Lightning from the dropdown menu. This unique lightning layer is useful when also displaying the color-enhanced satellite layer. Areas of thunderstorms typically have very cold (high) cloud tops. Blue, yellow, orange and red colors on the satellite layer depict regions with cold cloud tops. However, not all cold cloud tops indicate an area of deep, moist convection (thunderstorms). So the lightning layer as an overlay is a good way to confirm where the truly nasty convection is occurring.

#4 – Latest 5 minutes of lightning are depicted

Regardless if you are viewing the lightning overlaid on the radar layer or the separate lightning layer, the age of the strikes depicted typically ranges from 3 to 8 minutes. Then, this lightning continues to age as it is cached in the app for the next five minutes. After this five minute period, the app automatically removes the older strikes and refreshes the display to include the latest strikes.

foreflight-lightning

Garmin Unveils New ForeFlight-Compatible ADS-B Transponders

ForeFlight connectivity with GTX345

Garmin announced today the release of two new options to help you meet the 2020 ADS-B Out mandate. The GTX 345 and GTX 335 all-in-one transponders are compatible with ForeFlight and, depending on the model you choose, wirelessly deliver (via Bluetooth) FIS-B weather, ADS-B traffic, GPS position, and attitude information to your mobile device.

We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Garmin and to offer ForeFlight customers flying with Garmin hardware the opportunity to unlock more value from their avionics investment and gain access to connectivity options that enhance the ForeFlight experience.

Visit foreflight.com/connect to learn about all of the ForeFlight connectivity partnerships.

Pilot Reports Get A Facelift

Pilot weather reports are the eyes of the skies. They are not only consumed by pilots, but they are critical data for meteorologists as discussed in this earlier blog post.  For example, SIGMETs for turbulence and icing often live and die by pilot reports. It’s rare to see a SIGMET issued for severe or extreme turbulence until pilots begin to report those conditions. As such they are an important part of any preflight briefing and are even more valuable as they trickle in over ADS-B while en route. That’s why we’ve given pilot report symbols used in ForeFlight a much needed facelift.

ForeFlight PIREPs

The new ForeFlight pilot weather report symbols help to quickly identify adverse weather along your proposed route of flight.

The hunt is over

In ForeFlight Mobile 7.5.2, we’ve significantly enhanced the way you see pilot weather reports displayed in the Map view. Prior to this release, pilot reports were loosely organized into three types, namely, turbulence, icing and sky & weather – each represented by a single pilot report symbol (chevron, snowflake and eyeball, respectively). However, this required you to tap on each and every PIREP marker to see important details such as altitude and intensity. Moreover, routine (UA) and urgent (UUA) pilot reports looked exactly the same. Now, standard pilot report symbology used in this release makes it clear as to the type of report, intensity, altitude (when known) and whether or not it’s an urgent pilot report without the need to tap on the pilot report symbol. So the hunt is over; with the added glance value, the truly nasty weather conditions reported by pilots jumps right out of the glass.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Pilots can include all sorts of things in a report, like seeing a flock of geese or even critters camping out on the runway. But reports of adverse weather (or lack thereof) of turbulence and icing are typically made through a subjective estimate of intensity. In order to enhance the glance value and minimize taps to get information, ForeFlight now uses standard pilot report symbols for turbulence and icing reports. Reports that do not contain turbulence or icing details are defaulted to use the legacy sky & weather “eyeball” symbol. These may contain reports of precipitation, cloud bases and cloud tops as well as outside air temperature and winds aloft (speed and direction).

New Icing PIREP Symbols New Turbulence PIREP Symbols

Each icing and turbulence pilot weather report is shown in the ForeFlight Map view with one of the symbols above that depict the reported intensity.  From left to right, the top row includes icing intensities of null (negative), light, moderate and severe. Also from left to right, the bottom row includes turbulence intensities of null (negative), light, moderate, severe and extreme.

Some intensity reports are “rounded up” to minimize the overall number of icons to remember. For example, you may notice in the symbols above that ForeFlight doesn’t use the official symbol for trace icing. Consequently, a report of trace icing is rounded up to use the light icing symbol. Similarly, we’re not providing a symbol for reports that straddle two intensities such as “moderate to severe.” Therefore, a “light to moderate” turbulence report will be rounded up to use the moderate turbulence symbol; a report of “moderate to severe” turbulence will be rounded up to use the severe turbulence symbol and so on.

Urgent-Report

All urgent pilot reports and reports of a severe nature will be tagged with a red badge to add increased glance value to those reports. For example, shown here is an urgent pilot weather report for severe turbulence at 8,000 ft MSL in the Florida Panhandle.

Above and beyond the different turbulence and icing symbols and to further attract your attention, urgent pilot reports in ForeFlight contain a red badge in the upper-right corner like the turbulence report shown above. These badges will typically be included on a turbulence or icing symbol for a report for severe or extreme turbulence and/or severe icing, respectively.

However, you may also see a red badge included with a weather & sky report like the one shown below. This is typically an urgent pilot report for low-level wind shear (LLWS) or mountain wave activity that did not also include any turbulence or icing details. Also, reports of hail, tornadoes, waterspouts or funnel clouds will be classified and tagged as urgent.

Sky & Weather Urgent

A red badge on a sky & weather (eyeball symbol) pilot report means that the report was tagged as urgent even though no icing or turbulence details were provided. Most of the time this means that low-level wind shear or mountain wave activity was reported by the pilot.

Altitude at a glance

If the pilot report contains a flight level (MSL altitude), this flight level is displayed below the symbol using three digits. For example, from the icing pilot report shown below, 057 is added below the symbol which identifies the reported altitude of 5,700 feet MSL.

PIREP Altitude

A light icing pilot weather report at 5,700 feet MSL (FL057).

On the other hand, when the flight level is unknown (FLUNKN) as it is in the icing pilot report below, we will just show the appropriate symbol (turbulence, icing or sky & weather) without an altitude. Even so, there may be specific altitudes reported, but you’ll have to tap on the pilot report marker to examine the raw report for those details. In this case, light rime ice was reported between 6,000 and 4,500 feet MSL, for example.

No Altitude PIREP

Flight level in this light icing report is unknown (FLUNKN). Tapping on the report reveals more details.

I see double

If the pilot reported both icing and turbulence in the same report, you will see a pair of symbols side by side like the ones shown below with the center of the symbol pair representing the actual location of the report. This pair of report symbols indicates light icing and light turbulence at 16,000 feet MSL.

Pair Of Symbols

A pair of reports means that both icing and turbulence details were provided for the altitude shown in the marker.

Spreading the wealth

To keep everything consistent you will also see these standard symbols show up when tapping on the Map with the AIR/SIGMET/CWAs layer displayed. AIRMETs for turbulence and icing are displayed with their respective moderate symbol and SIGMETs for turbulence and icing will be displayed with their respective severe symbol. For example, in the list below, it’s very simple now to see that the last item in the popover is a SIGMET for turbulence.

AIRMET/SIGMET Icons

Standard symbology is also used in the display of AIRMETs and SIGMETs for icing and turbulence.

Even though there’s now more information available at first glance, you will still want to examine the details of any relevant pilot reports by tapping on the specific markers. Like anything new, it may take a little while to get used to the new pilot report icons. But we feel that the use of standard symbology is critical for flight safety and these changes will provide less taps and a much higher glance value for determining the location and altitude of the most nasty weather being reported by pilots. Lastly, keep those pilot weather reports coming; they are important for all stakeholders in aviation safety.

 

Logbook Enhancements, Improved PIREP Markers in ForeFlight 7.5.2

Our first release of 2016, ForeFlight 7.5.2, brings refinements to Logbook and improved PIREP markers on the Maps view.

Access & Print Logbook Experience Reports From the App

You can now view, print, or email your flight experience summaries right from the app. From the Logbook view, select the desired period of time from the Entries section (last 7 days, 30 days, 90 days, 6 months, or 12 months) and then tap the Send To button in the upper-right corner.

tap Send To to generate an experience report for the selected time interval

Tap the Send To button in the upper right corner to view the selected report summary.

Tap Send To again to AirPrint the report or email it as a PDF attachment. Also added is a flight time summary for the last 90 days, giving you another option in viewing or sharing your flight totals with others.

Tap Send To again to print or email the experience report

ForeFlight Logbook web exportIn case you missed it, you can also export your logbook data to a spreadsheet file from
ForeFlight Web. Log in to plan.foreflight.com/logbook and click the Export tab.

At-A-Glance Pilot Reports

The Pilot Weather Report (PIREP) layer on the ForeFlight Maps view received a facelift, and the newly styled markers can now convey important information even before you tap on them. Icons representing icing, turbulence, and general sky and weather reports change their appearances based on the severity of the hazard, and also indicate the altitude at which the report was made, if available. The icons you see when viewing AIR/SIGMET summaries have also been updated to match the new PIREP markers. Check out Scott Dennstaedt’s article for an in-depth look at the marker enhancements.

ForeFlight PIREP markers

Select PIREPs from the Map layer selector to view the newly styled PIREP markers.

Got Echo Tops?

While not rare, it is a pleasant surprise to see a fairly quiet radar mosaic stretching from coast to coast. Unless you are specifically looking for nasty weather, a tranquil radar usually means decent flying weather, outside of cold clouds, in most locations that are not reporting low ceilings and reduced visibility due to a radiation fog event. This also means you may not see some of the other familiar markers you’d normally expect to be displayed on the Map with the radar layer on. One of these markers that is often missing is the echo top heights.

Benign Radar

Overall, a fairly benign radar with the most significant returns in southern California.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way; echo tops are not the same as cloud tops. Cloud tops are always higher. Second, echo tops represent the mean sea level (MSL) height of the highest radar echo of 18 dBZ or greater. Third, echo tops heights are added to the NEXRAD mosaic in ForeFlight only when the echo tops consistently exceed 20,000 feet MSL. In other words, you won’t see an echo tops report of 15,000 feet, for example. So it’s understandable for customers to believe echo tops may be “missing” from the radar mosaic when the radar is fairly benign. Moreover, there may be some intense-looking echoes in various locations, even some with storm tracks and mesoscale circulations shown, but no echo top heights anywhere to be found. Let’s take a look at a recent example.

In the image above, notice that most of the U.S. is enjoying an early evening free of any significant weather. A few light echoes in southeast Arizona, some light snow in Montana and Idaho, showery precipitation in western Washington and probably the most intense area of weather in southern California. Zooming in on that area below, there are some areas with reflectivity values greater than 40 dBZ (yellow and orange) indicating moderate precipitation. But there’s not a single echo top height displayed even though there are several storm tracks identified. The storm tracks are there since the cellular structure and the relative high reflectivity of the echoes has triggered the NEXRAD algorithms to generate one. However, this algorithm is completely independent of the echo top height.

Southern-CA

Cellular returns indicate showery precipitation. A few cells have storm tracks defined, but despite their intensity, no echo tops are shown.

Despite the intensity of these cells in southern California, the echo top heights are likely below 20,000 feet. Since cloud tops are higher than echo tops, let’s examine the cloud top height in this area. The best way to determine the height of cloud tops is to examine the satellite imagery in ForeFlight like the color-enhanced infrared satellite image shown below. This satellite image shows the cloud top temperature. Notice the pale green colors within the black circle where the most significant returns are located. Using the color bar at the top of the image, these solid pale green colors equate to a cloud top temperature of about -20 degrees Celsius.

IR-Image

The color-enhanced infrared satellite image shows the temperature of the surface of the earth or temperature of the cloud tops. In this case, clouds in southern California have cloud top temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius.

Once the cloud top temperatures are known, it’s a simple process to compare this cloud top temperature against the temperatures aloft using ForeFlight. Below are the Winds and Temperatures aloft for Bakersfield near one of the more intense cells at this same time. This clearly shows at 18,000 feet MSL the temperatures were -6 degrees Fahrenheit or -21 degrees Celsius. So cloud tops in this region were definitely below 20,000 feet.

Temperature Aloft

The ForeFlight Winds and Temperatures aloft show a temperature of -6 degrees Fahrenheit (-21 degrees Celsius) at 18,000 feet MSL over Bakersfield.

If you were paying close attention to the radar loop, you may have noticed that one lone echo top height marker appears (pointed to by the red arrow below) of 201 indicating an echo top height of 20,100 feet in this cell. So when you see a lack of echo tops reported, it just may be that those tops are below 20,000 feet.

One Lone Echo Top

A single echo top height of 20,100 feet MSL did pop up on the radar loop bolstering the idea that most echo tops were below 20,000 feet.

Getting Into The Forecaster’s Head

With ForeFlight 7.5 you’ll have the ability to peer into the minds of forecasters. Yeah, I know… scary thought! No, we haven’t developed a method for mental telepathy within the app; but, we now provide access to the forecaster’s thinking about the latest set of Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts (TAFs) they recently issued. These are referred to as Area Forecast Discussions or AFDs. Let’s take a look at how these can be used in your routine flight planning.

Let’s say you are planning to fly into Charlotte Douglas International Airport (KCLT) arriving in the early afternoon around 1800 UTC and the latest terminal forecast issued at 1140 UTC shows good visibility (P6SM) with showers in the vicinity (VCSH) and a broken ceiling at 7,000 feet (BKN070) at the time of your proposed arrival. Does this worry you even a little bit? After all, high-base rain showers in the vicinity of the airport appears to be fairly harmless even for a pilot flying VFR? Actually, this should concern you – this may just be a forecast for thunder.

CLT-Terminal-Area

The red circle annotated here on the Charlotte TAC represents the 5 statute mile radius of the Charlotte Douglas Airport (KCLT) terminal area. This is the tiny region that forecasters consider when issuing a Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF).

Just because you don’t see a forecast for TS, TSRA or VCTS in a TAF, doesn’t that mean you won’t see thunderstorms arriving or departing that airport. What it could mean is that the forecaster wasn’t confident enough at the time he/she issued the forecast that a thunderstorm would develop within or roll through the region referred to as the terminal area. The terminal area is the region of airspace within a 5 statute mile radius from the center of the airport’s runway complex like the one shown above for the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (KCLT). So it is common for meteorologists to use showers in the vicinity (VCSH) or rain showers (SHRA) as a placeholder for thunder when forecaster confidence is low.

Here’s the problem

The forecaster doesn’t have an obvious way to quantify his/her uncertainty in the actual body of the coded TAF. Quantifying uncertainty is paramount when constructing any forecast (especially one for thunderstorms) and is usually done with a probabilistic approach – you know, a chance of this or a chance of that.

What about the PROB group that you may have seen in a TAF? Sure, that would work, but NWS directives state that a PROB30 group can’t appear within the first nine hours of the terminal forecast. By the way, the NWS only uses PROB30 groups; although you may see PROB40 in TAFs when flying to other countries. So back to the issue – how does a pilot know that showers in the vicinity is a placeholder for thunder in the TAF issued for Charlotte Douglas International Airport?

AFDs to the rescue

First, AFD doesn’t stand for Airport/Facility Directory as you may have thought. It’s called an Area Forecast Discussion. Second, it’s not a discussion about the aviation Area Forecast (FA) issued by meteorologists at the Aviation Weather Center. Are you thoroughly confused yet? The AFD is one of the most commonly accessed products on NWS Web sites, however, very few pilots have even heard of them. Now they are available for you to read beginning to end in the ForeFlight Mobile app!

County Warning Areas

A map of the County Warning Areas (CWAs) across the United States. There is an Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) generated for each one of these CWAs.

The AFD is a discussion that is written by the same forecasters that issue the TAFs. Every NWS local Weather Forecast Office (WFO) throughout the United States issues terminal forecasts for airports that appear within their County Warning Area (CWA), hence the term Area Forecast Discussion. After TAF issuance, meteorologists are required to update the AFD with a plain english discussion explaining their thoughts behind the forecast which allows them a plethora of ways to quantify their uncertainty. AFDs were originally designed as technical discussions to enhance collaboration among NWS forecast offices and to convey uncertainty to a specialized audience. So the language can be quite technical at times, but still highly useful to pilots. Let’s get back to your flight into Charlotte.

The GSP AFD has some clues

For example, the AFD associated with this TAF for the Charlotte Douglas Airport is written by a forecaster located at the Greenville-Spartanburg WFO (GSP) in Greer, South Carolina. Here’s the pertinent part of the discussion that morning:

AVIATION /16Z TUESDAY THROUGH SATURDAY/…

AT KCLT…LITTLE CHANGE FROM 06 UTC PACKAGE AS A WEST WIND LESS THAN 8 KTS UNDER MOSTLY CLEAR SKIES WILL CONTINUE THROUGH MID-MORNING. EXPECT INCREASING WSW WINDS WITH LOW AMPLITUDE GUST POTENTIAL BY MIDDAY AND PERHAPS PERIODS OF VFR CEILINGS THROUGH THE AFTERNOON. SCATTERED SHOWERS AND A PERHAPS A THUNDERSTORM…ARE EXPECTED ACROSS THE NORTH CAROLINA PIEDMONT FROM THE AFTERNOON UNTIL EARLY EVENING AND WILL CARRY VCSH FOR NOW TO COVER THAT THREAT. DEEP CONVECTIVE ACTIVITY WILL DIMINISH BY MID-EVENING WHEN A WIND SHIFT TO NORTHWEST IS EXPECTED.

As stated in this AFD text that is highlighted above, the forecaster opted to use showers in the vicinity (VCSH) to cover the threat for thunder in the North Carolina Piedmont region where KCLT is located. Most pilots don’t realize or appreciate that showery precipitation is actually a convective process. So forecasters will often use showers as a placeholder when confidence of thunder is low. This is not to say that every forecast for showers is used in this way, but that is a common way the forecaster quantifies his/her uncertainty for convective events such as this.

For whatever reason, the forecaster wasn’t quite confident enough to impart a little meteorological risk and add thunderstorms to the Charlotte TAF. This is in part due to the relatively small size of the terminal area. If the thunderstorms in the area are anticipated to be of a scattered nature (as it was on this day), they will often omit a forecast for thunder until they are more certain thunderstorms will indeed impact the terminal area. In some situations they may use showers to hint that convection will be in the area without adding TSRA or VCTS to the forecast. As the convective weather event evolves and certainty increases, they will issue an amended forecast to add thunder. But these details are not part of the official forecast. For better or for worse, they are buried in the AFD. The AFD is the place where the forecaster can freely quantify his/her uncertainty and provide some background on why the forecast is constructed the way it is.

Moreover, meteorologists at the local weather forecast offices that issue forecasts for high impact terminal areas such as Charlotte Douglas have a fair amount of outside pressure from the airlines to avoid adding thunder to the forecast unless convection is fairly certain. A forecast for thunder at the proposed time of arrival means the airlines must file an alternate and carry extra fuel to get to that alternate.

So what actually occurred at Charlotte Douglas?

Did thunder ever affect the Charlotte terminal area? Yes, at 1813 UTC the observation (METAR) included a report for a thunderstorm at the airport as shown below.

KCLT 271813Z 07003KT 10SM TS SCT040CB BKN090 BKN200 16/09 A2956
RMK AO2 TSB13 OCNL LTGIC TS SE-SW-W MOVG E CB NW-N MOVG E

But, it wasn’t until 1739 UTC (a mere 34 minutes earlier) that the forecaster amended the TAF to include a forecast for light rain and thunder as shown below.  Some pilots might opine that the TAF issued at 1140 UTC was a bad forecast. However, given the scattered nature of the convection on this day (read uncertainty) the placeholder of showers in the vicinity was the method used to indicate the risk of thunder. The AFD was the place the forecaster documented this important piece of information.

KCLT 271739Z 2718/2818 26008G18KT 6SM -TSRA BR BKN045 OVC070CB
TEMPO 2718/2720 25010G20KT 5SM -TSRA BR SCT030 OVC050CB…

The AFD format

The raw AFD doesn’t have a rigid syntactical or semantic format that forecasters must follow. Moreover, that format may differ from one forecast office to the next. That’s both good and bad. At ForeFlight we do make an attempt to visually separate the discussion into sections with a header where it is possible. Although you may find that some WFOs do a better job than others sticking to a common format as described below; so don’t count on perfection with the AFDs.

AFD Synopsis

Most Area Forecast Discussions (AFDs) will contain a synopsis section followed by a near-, short-, and long-term discussion. Simply scroll the window down with your finger or stylus to see the rest.

Each AFD will typically start out with a SYNOPSIS section (as shown above) followed by a NEAR TERM, SHORT TERM and LONG TERM discussion. This is the accepted format for the NWS Eastern Region. In other regions you may just see one big DISCUSSION section. While not specific to aviation, these sections are important to read and often may describe the “big picture” and point out many clues and trends as to what adverse weather might occur over the next several hours or even several days. Of the most interest to pilots, every AFD will also include an AVIATION section like the one shown below. This is the section where the forecaster discusses the TAFs and aviation-specific concerns. Lastly, in some parts of the country you may find a separate section that discusses fire dangers and marine weather.

AFD Aviation

Every AFD should have an aviation section. The AFD is automatically scrolled to this section when first viewed. Also notice that key words or phrases may be highlighted in red to point out the discussion of various adverse weather elements.

While most of the sections in the AFD are word-wrapped, you may see some tabular sections like the confidence table shown below. In order to preserve the columnar format within this section, you can scroll these sections left and right with your finger or stylus (notice the horizontal scroll bar below this table).

AFD Tabular

Some sections in the Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) are tabular. In these cases, the section can be scrolled to the right to see the remaining part of the table.

Finding the AFD in ForeFlight

The AFD is available to all ForeFlight subscribers and to locate it in the app is as simple as finding a METAR or TAF. On the Map, bring up any airport-specific layer such as Flight Category and tap on the airport marker. Next, tap the Forecast tab at the bottom of the pop-over window then tap on the new Discussion button at the top to reveal the AFD for that airport’s CWA as shown below. The Discussion button will be located to the right of the MOS button.

AFD Location

The Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) is located under the Forecast tab on the station popover right next to the MOS button.

You can also view AFDs in the Airports view. With the airport of interest displayed, tap on the Weather tab, then tap on Forecast Discussion as shown below. However, be careful not to confuse this with the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) tab.

AFD Airports view

The Area Forecast Discussion (AFD) can be shown within the Airports view similar to the way METARs, TAFs and MOS are displayed.

The Fine Print

When tapping on the Discussion button in the pop-over window, the AFD is auto-scrolled to the Aviation section. From there you can scroll up or down to read the rest of the forecast discussion. Similarly in the Airports view, the Aviation section is also displayed first by tapping on Forecast Discussion under the Weather tab. Tapping on Forecast Discussion again, will position it to the beginning of the discussion text.

While most of the discussion is in plain english, there will be times where abbreviations and acronyms will rear their ugly head. We’ve made an honest attempt to decode most (but not all) of these within the text. Moreover, you will see some words and phrases highlighted in red. Hopefully these will grab your attention since they sometimes point out discussion that includes more extreme adverse weather.

Mind the limitations

AFDs are only available for airports within the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska). So selecting any airport within the U.S. should result in retrieving the latest AFD based on the CWA that airport is located within. Consequently, airports outside of the U.S. won’t have a Discussion button on the pop-over or under the weather tab on the Airports view. Occasionally, the latest AFD may not be available and you’ll see a “No forecast discussion” response. This is a very rare occurrence, but it may happen from time to time.

While some forecasters put a fair amount of time and detail describing their thoughts, not all AFDs will have details you might be hoping to learn. The AFD isn’t their highest priority; when the weather is busy the AFDs will often get the short end of the stick. That same forecaster may have to help with radar and issuing severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings on a busy convective day, for example.

In the end, expect the AFDs to provide a complementary product to the TAFs. If you are not reading the AFDs, you are only getting half the story.

New Graphical Preflight Briefing, Track Log and Weather Upgrades in ForeFlight 7.4

For years, pilots have endured a cryptic, wall-of-text preflight briefing. With ForeFlight Mobile 7.4, we are thrilled to introduce ForeFlight Briefing—a graphical, translated, interactive briefing that helps you better visualize weather and related flight information along your proposed route. This release also delivers an enhanced AIR/SIGMETs map layer and new Track Log capabilities that allow you to automatically record your flights.

You Can Brief Clearly Now With ForeFlight Briefing

ForeFlight Briefing is a standard briefing with content derived from approved government sources. It includes all the elements of a standard preflight briefing prescribed by the FAA—adverse conditions, synopsis, current conditions, enroute and destination forecasts, NOTAMs, and more—delivered in a visually elegant design for enhanced readability. With this next generation briefing format, we believe you will enjoy and get more from the preflight briefing.

ForeFlight Briefing is seamlessly integrated into the ForeFlight Mobile app and is presented in clearly organized sections, making it simple to tap through each element of the briefing in a logical sequence. Translated and raw text options are available, as well as full-color graphics, which help you better understand and consume briefing information.

ForeFlight Briefing organized into logical sections

Some helpful aspects of the new briefing include color-coding and notations to indicate if an advisory will be active or inactive during or near your passing time:

ForeFlight Briefing with active and inactive AIRMET alertAlso, colored dots used in conjunction with METARs and TAFs give you an at-a-glance view of current and forecast weather. In the screen shot above, green represents VFR, blue is marginal VFR, red is IFR, and magenta is low IFR.

In the TAF view, color-coding is again used to indicate the forecast flight category. Based on your planned departure time and aircraft profile, your passing time at each station is automatically calculated and plotted on the TAF:

ForeFlight Briefing on the iPad and iPhoneThe briefing is mobile and portable—once the briefing is retrieved, you do not need an Internet connection to access it again on the go. In addition, after you file your flight plan you can click the link in your confirmation email to view the briefing on any web browser.

In addition, ForeFlight Briefings are timestamped and stored on your iPad and iPhone, and in the ForeFlight cloud, to record that you obtained weather and pertinent NOTAMs in compliant manner with 14 CFR 91.103(a) preflight action.

ForeFlight Briefing is available to all customers with ForeFlight Mobile version 7.4 on both the iPad and iPhone. Customers with 7.4 installed will be automatically given the opportunity to use the new format the next time they brief a planned flight.

For more information visit foreflight.com/briefing/.

Global SIGMETs, New Graphical Center Weather Advisories

The refreshed AIR/SIGMET/CWAs Map layer now includes graphical Center Weather Advisories (CWAs) alongside AIRMETs and SIGMETs, giving you a better picture of current conditions. SIGMETs are also expanded to include global coverage.

Refreshed AIR/SIGMET/CWA map layer

A new interactive filter on this layer helps you single out adverse condition advisories based on type (icing, turbulence, IFR conditions, and thunderstorms), allowing you to declutter and get straight to the information you want to know:

AIR/SIGMET/CWA layer filter

Scott Dennstaedt, our in-house Weather Scientist, has written this blog post and this one to provide more insight on how to use these helpful weather resources in your everyday flight planning.

Capture Every Flight—Automatically

Have you ever been half-an-hour into a flight and realized you forgot to tap the Track Log record button? Now you don’t have to remember! With 7.4, we’ve made it easier than ever to record your flights.

Track Log shown in Google Earth.

Track Log shown in Google Earth.

Track Logs can automatically start recording when you take off and, after touchdown, automatically stop recording—ensuring that every flight is captured for your post-flight debrief. When you get back to Wi-Fi, Track Logs are also automatically uploaded to the ForeFlight cloud for safekeeping and for easy access from your other devices.

The Track Log includes your taxi time so you can have a complete record of your time in the cockpit — on and off the ground.

You can control the auto-record function in the app settings:
Track Log record settings

(Please note that Stratus Track Logs do not currently auto-upload.)

Apple iOS 9 Spotlight Search

ForeFlight Mobile 7.4 supports Spotlight Search, Apple’s smart search feature, which now displays relevant airport results from inside ForeFlight Mobile right on your device’s Home page.

ForeFlight and Apple Spotlight Search

To access Spotlight Search, swipe from left to right on the Home page of your iPad or iPhone. Begin typing an airport name, identifier, or city name and results from ForeFlight Mobile populate the search results list. Tap the desired airport search result and ForeFlight Mobile opens directly to that location in the Airports view. To continue searching, tap “Back to Search” in the upper left corner of the screen to return to the Spotlight Search view. Spotlight Search is available on iPhone 5 and up, all iPad Air models, and iPad Mini 2 and up.

App-Store-icon

ForeFlight Mobile 7.4 is a free update available on the App Store.