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5 Apps (Mac & iPhone) for pilots


People who fly airplanes, either professionally or for fun, are an interesting bunch. When they're not flying, they are usually doing something to keep their skills sharp or to learn something new. This selection of five Mac and iPhone applications is a sampling of what's available for Apple platforms for the very frequent fliers who read TUAW.

1) X-Plane from Laminar Research is not just one application, but a collection of flight simulation programs for Mac and iPhone as well as "those other platforms." If you're just curious about what it takes to fly an airplane, the X-Plane mobile apps for iPhone and iPod touch are a fairly low-cost way to see if you have what it takes to be a pilot. You can actually start for free with X-Plane Trainer [App Store], which provides your iPhone or touch with a Cessna 172 in which you can learn to take off, fly, navigate, and land. X-Plane Trainer also provides you with constant tips, somewhat akin to having your own flight instructor sitting next to you correcting your mistakes.

The original X-Plane app for iPhone / iPod touch was X-Plane 9 [App Store, US$9.99], which has six different aircraft and configurable weather and daylight features. Laminar Research has also added X-Plane Airliner [App Store, US$9.99, see screenshot below] for budding airline pilots, X-Plane Extreme [App Store, US$9.99], X-Plane Racing [App Store, multiplayer, US$9.99], and X-Plane Helicopter [App Store, US$9.99]. To make life interesting, Laminar also came out with X-Plane Space Shuttle [App Store, US$1.99] so you can learn how to land an orbiter.

As they say in those infomercials on TV, "but wait, there's more!" Once you've mastered the mobile applications, you can load up your machine with the US$29 X-Plane Version 9 for Mac (also available for Linux and Windows on the same DVD set). There's so much scenery available for this program that it fills six dual-layer DVDs. You can simulate long-distance, real-time flights between any two airports in the world.

If this isn't enough for you, or if you want to set up your own FAA-certified flight simulator in your home, you can spend another US$500 - US$1000 to unlock special pro features of X-Plane Version 9, plus spend another US$5,000 - $500,000 on special simulator hardware. What for? Well, if you make this investment in FAA-certified software and hardware, you can actually log flight training hours with your setup. That's much less expensive than renting an airplane for practice.

2) Yes, X-Plane is a great flight simulator application for Mac, iPhone, and iPod touch, but there are other needs for pilots. For any pilot, one of the most important pieces of information you need is the current and forecasted weather along your route. World Aviation Weather [App Store, US$2.99] displays current and forecasted weather at more than 7,000 locations worldwide.

Although this is going to add a few more than five apps to the list, there are a number of other aviation information apps available, most notably AirWX Aviation Weather [App Store, US$6.99], and the incredible ForeFlight Mobile 2.3 [App Store, US$74.99]. The latter app not only gives you information about more than 27,000 airports around the world, but provides great real-time data like current weather and airports in the vicinity based on your location from the iPhone's GPS. You can file flight plans with air traffic control from the app, and from a quick glance at the developer's website, it appears that general aviation and professional pilots alike are in love with ForeFlight Mobile. The screenshot below shows an airport information screen approach plate for CLT, just one of many displays available with this app.

3) For General Aviation pilots who would like to assemble a flight plan on their Macs, Mac Flight Planner [US$20] is an inexpensive tool. Rather than including a complete waypoint database in the application, Mac Flight Planner requires that the pilot build his or her own database of local waypoints, and then add to that database when flying to new destinations.
Once the waypoints, weather, and departure/arrival time has been entered, the application produces a set of printouts displaying the information for each leg of the flight as well as a radio frequency list for each waypoint.

4) The next app is not an app, but a website. If you want to listen in on tower chatter at some of the busiest airports in the US, visit LiveATC Radio with your favorite browser. You can choose from many different airport feeds, and listen to the live stream using iTunes.

For pilots who want to listen in from their iPhones or iPod touch devices, there's a LiveATC Radio app [App Store, US$2.99] for that!

5) Finally, one requirement of being a pilot is that you keep a logbook of all your flights. Coradine Aviation Systems has a wonderful piece of Mac software called LogTen Pro [US$99.99]. It's more than just a logbook; LogTen Pro (screenshot below) also comes with a database of over 15,000 airports and 8,000 aircraft types, tracks your certificates, ratings, currency and duty limits, endorsements, medicals, and flight reviews, and even has a journal feature that you can upload photographs to. Want to visualize a flight in Google Earth? You can export flights from LogTen Pro and do just that. Coradine makes LogTen Pro available to student pilots free for their first 40 flight hours. For archival purposes, you can print out beautiful logbook pages.

If you don't feel like lugging that heavy MacBook Air with you all over the world as you pilot your Airbus A-380, don't worry. Coradine has you covered with an iPhone version! LogTen Mobile [App Store, US$39.99] syncs with LogTen Pro and allows you to enter or retrieve your information from your pocket device.

OK, Apple pilots! I'm sure we've missed more than a few Mac and iPhone aviation apps, so fire up that keyboard and let us know about your favorites.

A tip of the pilot's cap to Bob for suggesting that we put together five apps for pilots.

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