Simply put, the iPad will change how you fly.
If it hasn’t already, that is.
This review is for anyone who’s wondering if they should bother with bringing an iPad loaded with ForeFlight into the cockpit — or if adding a Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver to your flight bag is worth the cost.
It would be impossible to do a full-featured review on these two products. They’re incredibly feature-rich. Instead, I want to touch on the five things that make ForeFlight paired with Stratus a smart move for any pilot, especially those who are still using paper charts.
Let’s get right down to it.
1. Amazing Pre-Flight Planning
ForeFlight rules the roost when it comes to pre-flight planning. Back when I first got my private pilot certificate, planning a cross country was a major task. It meant spreading sectional charts across the dining room table and drawing lines to connect waypoints, filling out cross country logs, and lots of erasing.
With ForeFlight, you can plan a detail (and very long) cross country in a matter of minutes. As an IFR pilot, you can also load ATC-preferred routing instantly, and see what approaches look like right on the enroute chart.
Lots of paper chart pilots may see ForeFlight as cheating, but it’s really not. I do think that it’s important for student pilots to understand how to plan a flight by hand, “the old fashioned way”. But the beauty of ForeFlight isn’t that it takes the decision making away from the pilot. Instead, ForeFlight shines because it takes care of the tedious parts of flight planning that a baboon could do (like drawing lines and measuring distances), and aggregates all the information you need (like weather, charts, weight and balance, and routes) in a single app.
That leaves pilots in a much better place to make a go/no-go decision quickly and with more accurate information.
And that’s only getting better as ForeFlight’s web-based planning tool comes out of beta.
2. No Paper
Cutting the paper out of your flight bag is a huge benefit. Not only are paper charts unwieldy to use in the cockpit, but they’re often a pain to keep current, requiring a visit to the local pilot shop (where the charts you need may or may not be in stock), or waiting for an online order to ship.
If you’re an instrument-rated pilot, at a minimum you’ll need to carry current sectionals, IFR enroute charts, and approach plate books. Those can take up significant room in a flight bag.
Meanwhile, ForeFlight users simply download all of those publications — as well as additional layers of data like high-resolution terrain and synthetic vision. It’s a no-brainer.
3. Situational Awareness in the Cockpit
The ForeFlight + Stratus combo provides situational awareness that you just won’t get otherwise, even if you have the nicest panel at the airport.
ForeFlight provides georeferenced approach plates that can be placed right on any sort of chart you want. Plus, the relatively new procedure advisor enables an entire approach to be loaded into your flight plan in the app. (Even holds, like in the screenshot above.)
Add Stratus, and you can overlay ADS-B traffic and weather to the equation, providing an outstanding suite of situational awareness tools with no ongoing subscription costs.
A few months back I was flying with a friend on a cross country with a line of thunderstorms approaching. While we were IFR and talking to ATC, the weather display from the Stratus gave us an important tool to make a divert decision that we probably wouldn’t have made otherwise if we’d only been listening to the information the controllers had available. While the weather resolution of ADS-B isn’t quite as high as with products like Sirius XM WX satellite weather, it’s good enough to make strategic decisions on the go.
4. Backup Everything
I’d been on the fence about buying a Stratus 2S — after all, my club’s plane is equipped with a Garmin 530W that displays traffic and XM WX weather already. But the thing that pushed me over the edge was the unit’s built-in AHRS. After experiencing an artificial horizon failure (in VMC, thankfully), I really liked the idea of having a backup source of attitude information.
The Stratus 2S provides that with an awesome synthetic vision screen:
That backup attitude could be a major tool to get out of the clouds in the event of a real failure in hard IMC.
Likewise, ForeFlight provides some nice backup features through its license. ForeFlight allows a subscription to be active on an iPad, an iPhone, and a backup iPad. So, while I do carry a backup sectional just in case (usually an expired one), my real backup charts are on the copy of ForeFlight running on the iPhone 6 in my pocket. Even though the iPad has proven to be a reliable platform, the redundancy of being able to have a second (or third) device with current charts should make even the most paranoid pilot feel comfortable about dealing with an iPad failure.
5. Review Your Flight
Finally, one nice post-flight feature of the Stratus 2S is the ability to review your flights. The Stratus can automatically record flight data and store it for later analysis on your iPad or PC. That’s a nice perk for student pilots or anyone doing any sort of training. It’s pretty valuable to be able to see if your Eights on Pylons or instrument holds look like they should.
Most impressively of all, ForeFlight is constantly improving their app, adding new features and better functionality than most of us could have imagined just a few short years ago. I’m excited to see what they have in store for us next.
In my flight bag, space is at a premium. But an iPad loaded with ForeFlight and my Stratus are must-have tools that make flying smarter, safer, and more enjoyable.