AGING IPADS, AND OTHER AVIATION ELECTRONICS
It seems strange to even talk about aging iPads, since they have only been around for as little as 7 years. “Electronics” in aviation go back to before WWII. They were fairly simple systems, such as the “Automatic Direction Finder,” or ADF as we call them. Radios were tube type, and not very good. During WWII, electronics advanced rapidly, but still with tubes, since transistors were still in the future. Make a visit to an aviation museum, like the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson or the Smithsonian in Washington DC, and you will see examples of some of the radios and navigation equipment from those times.
Even 25 years ago, a “glass panel” consisted of CRT displays (Cathode Ray Tube displays…..like Televisions). Today most Televisions are flat screen and the CRT displays are going into the history books. Even if you flew with the latest and greatest panel, you still needed to have a box full of charts and approach books with you. I had a complete set of Jeppesen approach books with a subscription for updates. You needed at least a part time assistant to keep those books up to date and current, since updates came in the mail at least once per week. The leather bound manuals took up a complete shelf in my office book case.
My computer genius friend in Pittsburgh suggested that I load all of my charts and approaches into my lap top computer. Of course, that would have meant scanning every chart and approach, and then downloading it into the laptop computer. Not to mention the fact that the laptop computer required 120 VAC, weighed in at close to 20 pounds, and took up a complete seat in the plane, but I did think that it would be nice to have all of that at my fingertips.
Then in January 2010, the iPad was introduced. Suddenly it was possible to have all of those charts and approaches available in one small portable device. Aviation was not the only one to notice how effective it would be to have all of their information available in a portable “tablet.” These handy devices were put to use for many purposes. The earlier models had some limitations, but those were overcome quickly.
I can remember flying with my iPad 1. The GPS needed some external help. I found that I didn’t know everything there was to know about how to use this new “gee-wizz” tool. I was not the only one that didn’t know. Arizona Pilots Association started sponsoring seminars on iPad use with ForeFlight. Then other suppliers got into the act and other programs (Apps) started coming into use. The airlines were happy to have such a portable device and save weight and space on paper. Then we started doing seminars on “is this thing legal to fly with?” Yes, it is, but research that first.
A back up to the electronics is a good idea. Paper again? Well, maybe not. I actually have two iPads; the iPad 2, and the iPad mini. Should one fail, I have the other as a back up. I always keep them up to date and fully charged before flying. Now I have made 4 long cross country flights with nothing more than the 2 iPads. What happens when they get old? They do get old. After all, these are electronics like computers. If you computer is over 5 years old, just about any supplier will tell you that you need a new one. If you drop your iPad, it could have a cracked screen. Maybe it will still work, but check that out before flying with that alone.
Other electronics getting old too? Sure. The wonderful radios that we loved years ago are now hard to maintain. Getting parts for the King KX170 series is hard. The Narco radios that we loved so much are no longer made at all. Transponders? Sure. “Got mode C?” And now with the advent of ADS-B, even those great transponders may not do the job. I can’t find anyone that will even talk about repairing and older ADF receiver.
Thirty years ago no one had even heard of the name “Garmin.” Now, the earlier Garmin GPS navigation devices are no longer supported by Garmin.
New electronics are coming into the market place faster than the FAA can check them out. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on electronics, only to find that in a few years it is being replaced by a newer and better model, and to replace those
in-panel devices will cost you thousands of dollars more. Your forty year old airplane may look very much like the same model that was delivered only two years ago, but the electronics in the panel will be vastly different. The airframe may out last the electronics 3 or 4 to one!
The old vacuum driven Attitude Indicator (AI) is being replaced with an electronic device that will fit in the same hole and provides much more information at a price of about $2500. No more vacuum pump failures to worry about. And, with battery back up, the electronic device is pretty reliable. How long will that device last? Too soon to tell at this time.
Electronics may be wonderful, but nothing replaces a safe pilot. To stay safe, come to your ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION Safety seminars. And, don’t forget to bring your wingman!