Fly/Sail is always the most-fun weekend of the year, and this year it was going to be at Solent Airport and the Hornet Services Sailing Club, Gosport. A handful of fliers and sailors gather at Saturday lunchtime, with the sailors being flown around the local area in the afternoon and then, after a very sociable evening, the sailors accommodating the fliers overnight and taking them for a sail the next morning. All head homewards with huge grins after Sunday lunch.
But, flying from Conington, Peterborough, meant that I had a good hour’s flight to Solent, having to pass by Luton and Heathrow airports amongst a handful of other restricted areas. The aircraft I was to hire was a beautiful-looking and modernised Piper PA-28, with drooping wingtips. I had previously looked carefully at its navigation fit: it had a couple of VOR receivers and an elderly GPS with no graphics.
So I bit the bullet and decided that, as an almost-octogenarian, I would treat myself to an iPad and navigation software. I needed one with GPS, so checked with the experts at the Mac store in Cambridge – yes, all new iPads have GPS they confirmed. I decided to buy it on offer from the largest department store in Cambridge, whose expert also confirmed that the iPad 6th Generation 32GB for £319 ‘has GPS’.
I had also had an offer of free SkyDemon for a month, so I took that up; it works well on the iPad but, sadly, not on my Mac desk- or lap-tops. So I put the track (Conington-Cranfield-Woodley NDB-Solent) directly into the iPad; it was incredibly easy to do and let me play with height to avoid airspace infringements. As well as a very usable chart, it produced an excellent flight-plan, complete with many useful frequencies, for viewing or printing.
By now I had been to AeroExpo and bought a smart knee-pad from Pooley’s to hold the iPad. So, to convince myself that all was working, I tried it in the car, with my wife driving of course. But as soon as I went into SkyDemon navigate mode, I received a warning that I could only undertake a 30-minute flight under the free trial. Wow, thank goodness I had given it a try – had I only read the instructions with the trial I would have known that. But the navigation in the car seemed to work well; the aircraft symbol tracked us around and aligned itself with heading. So I paid £12 for a month of trial that would allow SkyDemon to work as a useful navigator.
On the Saturday morning, with the aircraft full of fuel and overnight kit, we taxied out at Conington. My co-pilot was a lapsed PPL who, between take-off and landing, was happy to hold height and heading, allowing me to devote time to the iPad strapped to my knee. As soon as we headed south, I opened-up the iPad on my knee – to be greeted with the message ‘Current Location Not Available’. The beast obviously had no intention of navigating, so I threw it onto the back seat and scrambled for my chart and printed pilot-log. Thankfully, I had prepared a 250k chart with the track and timing marks and the flight continued as an unexpected and sweaty map-reading exercise. Thankfully, we made it to Solent with no infringements, thanks in part to a very helpful Farnborough Lower Airspace Radar Service (LARS).
It turns out that the iPad that I had bought, in spite of assurances from Mac and department store staff, has no GPS (or any other GNSS). I can only assume that it worked during my car trial by using the car’s Bluetooth and inbuilt navigation. I spoke to a handful of fliers at Solent, who confirmed what I had just discovered about my iPad; a couple showed me their small Bluetooth GNSS receivers which, at around £90, had resolved the problem for them completely by pairing with the iPad and allowing it to navigate.
So a lesson or two learnt: make sure that free software trials fully do what you need; don’t glibly believe what sales staff assure you about iPads; and, most importantly, ensure that you have a properly-prepared paper chart and hard-copy flight-plan at your fingertips... and brush-up by reading the Institute’s booklet on ‘Infringement Avoidance’.