A Suggestion for an In-Flight GPS Data Logger

Foreflight on an iPad is all you need.

The other day, I got an email from a blog visitor who’d apparently read my 2009 post titled “My Geotagging Workflow.” This post discusses the rather convoluted process I used to add GPS coordinates to photos using a GPS data logger and some software on my Mac. (That was six years ago; I have a different process now.)

But the email I got the other day wasn’t about photography. It was about in-flight GPS logging:

Hey. I came across your post on data loggers.

What have you found in your search. I am looking for a great option as well– but something that does alt. Speed. Position. Specifically downloadable in 3D in google earth through kml. I am looking for something that we can use for training stabalized approaches. Set it up to record during flight. And then download and make points or a line that showed speed and altitude. Showing later students speed and altitude errors that they might now have noticed during actuall approaches distracted by actual flight.

Have you came across anything like this?

My answer: Yeah. Foreflight.

Foreflight is my application of choice for flight planning and navigation. I run it on an iPad Air and have it mounted securely beside the instrument panel in my helicopter. Not only has the FAA approved my mounting of this device, but it has also approved Foreflight as an electronic flight bag (EFB). Indeed, it has been added to my Part 135 OpSpecs and it is not legal for me to conduct a Part 135 flight without it onboard.

I cannot say enough positive things about Foreflight. Not only does it do everything I need it to do — and more — for the VFR flights I’m limited to, but it has a wealth of features designed for IFR flights, including the instrument approaches the reader is referring to. With the right subscription, it can even place a marker for an aircraft in flight on an instrument procedure chart. Who could ask for more?

As far as GPS data logging is concerned, Foreflight has him covered, too. You can set up Foreflight to create a track log of any flight. Once saved, you can access it on the Foreflight website, where you can view it on a map and download it in KML, GPX, and CSV formats. That’s exactly what the reader is looking for.

Example Track Log on a Map
I remember this pleasure flight. I’d gone up the Columbia and Methow to check out the fire damage and then came straight back.

Frankly, I’m surprised that this CFI hadn’t thought of Foreflight. In this day and age, I’m surprised that any professional pilot doesn’t have Foreflight or a competing product on a tablet in the cockpit. For a relatively low investment — $500 or so for the tablet (which can be used for a host of other things and will last at least 5 years) plus $75/year for Foreflight Basic, it’s a must-have tool for any professional pilot who is serious about his career.

Do you fly? Are you using Foreflight or a competitor? Either way, how about sharing some of your experiences in the comments on this post? I’m sure other pilots can learn from them.

9 thoughts on “A Suggestion for an In-Flight GPS Data Logger

  1. I fly. But strictly VFR and not for reward.
    I still make written flight plans on a proforma of my own design and calculate headings by hand. I take a judiciously-folded quarter mil chart clipped to an A4 board and carry an ICOM for back-up if the radio or VOR receiver fails in the A/C. When I fly in the US or Canada GPS is often standard on many small singles but I like to look out of the cockpit if possible.
    That said, I can see the great advantages of the foreflight system you describe. A superb 3D training aid for IFR and a useful supplementary log for professional record keeping.
    I suppose the airlines have all this in the ‘black box’ but it is usually only downloaded after an ‘incident’?
    Sometimes being able to show an early hours student that they are tending to ‘over-control’ would be useful too.

    One can have too much info. A ragged approach in a gusty cross-wind could mean that the pilot is incompetent or it could mean that the wind was more challenging than forecast. If the last 20′ looks smooth and coherent then a ‘greaser’ will likely follow. Helicopter pilots don’t often need to land in a crosswind.
    Over to the professionals….

    • I really LOVE Foreflight for flight planning and navigation. I’ve done it the old fashioned way and it’s time-consuming and not always as accurate as I like. There’s nothing to compare to showing the actual position of my aircraft on a familiar, resizable, scrollable aeronautical chart.

      I don’t use the tracklog feature very often and never as a training aid. But I can see how it might be used that way.

      Most major airlines now have some version of an EFB. Some are Foreflight based, other use the Garmin solution. Garmin always rubbed me the wrong way for charging so much for GPS updates — $350/year — and requiring special hardware to update the cards. Foreflight saves me money and you can’t beat their tech support.

  2. Foreflight certainly seems good value cf the Garmin version.
    Are you still required to carry charts or has your EFB been signed-off as a suitable replacement for all printed information?

    • The jury is out on that one. I was originally told by my Arizona FAA Primary Operations Inspector (POI) that I wouldn’t need any paper, as long as I had a backup system on board. That’s Foreflight on my iPhone. But my Washington POI thinks I should always have a current paper sectional chart for where I’m flying. Those are updated twice a year and are not available locally, so I’d have to subscribe to a mail service. I don’t fly Part 135 regularly, so I’m not really worried about having a slightly outdated chart on board.

    • Thanks, I like a chart at hand, even in familiar airspace.
      But a chart in an open cockpit gyro needs to be well secured.
      Once made a fool of myself using an out of date chart for flight planning. The ‘distinctive’ 400′ chimney that was to have beeen my second way-point had been demolished five months earlier. Had to make the loser’s call:
      “.. Temporarily unaware of exact position”, as visibility was at the margins.

      Air tragic tried not to laugh as they told me I was exactly over where it once had been.

    • I nearly witnessed a head-on collision when two planes at Wickenburg airport landed at the same time on opposite ends of the runway. One of the pilots was using an old chart with the wrong radio frequency on it. I got on the radio to warn the pilot on the right frequency and he aborted the landing on final approach.

      I don’t like dealing with paper charts simply because they’re too big to handle with one hand. I can’t release the cyclic in flight so dealing with a lot of paper is tough. For that reason, something like ForeFlight is a real godsend for helicopter pilots.

    • Yikes!
      Agreed, one-handed map folding is an impossibility.
      As you say, awful things happen very quickly if a helicopter pilot removes a hand from the cyclic. Little Cessnas are more forgiving in that respect.

    • Would having an iPhone with fore flight count as a back up to you iPad with fore Flight?

What do you think?