Marine Corps aviators depend on iPad

F/A-18 Hornet (Navy, not Marines, but very pretty photo)

Aviators for the United States Marine Corps (USMC) in Afghanistan have ejected heavy stacks of paper charts and grid reference graphics from their cockpits and replaced them with the iPad according to a report by Tony Osborne for The Shephard Group. The popularity of the iPad among marine flight crews took off last November when one Cobra pilot figured out how to load digital maps onto the device.

In Afghanistan, identifying compounds and landmarks from the air can be difficult. To eliminate guesswork and better coordinate missions with international ground forces, USMC pilots arm themselves with a plethora of maps of the region. Prior to digitization, paper charts and grids would fill cramped cockpits and require additional training and attention to read correctly. The iPad saves space and allows pilots to search for locations with a few quick taps of their fingers, making it significantly easier for aviators to identify compounds and quickly offer air support.

"It's a game changer," Capt. John Belsha told The Shephard Group. "It's all about sharing situational awareness and using the iPad is much better than using a paper chart."

Work is reportedly underway to integrate the iPad into aircraft in the US to allow Marine aviators to receive flight training with digital maps.

USMC pilots aren't the only group embracing iPads in the cockpit. Earlier this month, Alaska Airlines announced plans to replace various flight, systems, and performance manuals (and eventually paper aeronautical charts) with digital copies on the iPad. Apple's tablet would eliminate up to 50 pounds of paper that its pilots must lug onto every flight.