Learn to Fly with an EFB (iPad)

Surprisingly there are a large number of CFIs who are still not including the use of EFB’s into primary flight instruction.  I am happy to see that more and more are starting to do so.  Although I agree that every pilot should be taught to fly without an EFB and fully understand the skills required to aviate, navigate, communicate without an iPad helping them, EFB’s are here today and will be staying for a long time.

What is an EFB?

ElectForeFlight EFBronic Flight Bags (EFB) is a software application that you bring into the cockpit with you.  They turn your entire flying experience into an easy paperless flight.   They will give you access to VFR & IFR charts and to airport information such as frequencies and runway information.   Most EFB’s will combine GPS functionality to take the guesswork out of exactly where you are.

Some of the most popular EFB’s on the market are:

 When to Start with an EFB?

Talk to your CFI about when you will start to introduce an EFB into your  primary training.   Some FAA examiners are even allowing EFB’s during your checkride now.  Find out if the DPE you are using will allow it.

Make sure you and your CFI work together to ensure you have the skills to fly an airplane the old fashioned way and with an EFB, but learning the EFB from your CFI is best.

What if your CFI never taught you about an EFB during training and you want to start using one?

How to learn with an EFB

Learning to fly with an EFB starts at home, away from an airplane.   Before you even select which EFB software you want to use.  Of course be sure you know how to use your mobile device.  Most pilots choose an iPad, but some like Android better.   For the rest of the article, I will focus on iPads/iPhones because I know them better.

Learn your Device

ipad_on_couch_thumbIf you have a hard time navigating the iPad and accessing the basic settings, features, etc.   You need to learn that first.  Learning the basics from the inside of a bouncy cockpit while on final approach is a very bad idea.  Some of the core skills you will need to know on your iPad are:

  • How do you turn Wifi On and Off?
  • Be comfortable with scrolling and zooming
  • Practice clicking on buttons.  Using an EFB often requires a level of precision with your finger that people are not born with

One suggestion, visit the Pilot Partner blog on your iPad and read all of our articles on your iPad.  Doing that will force you to click around and get used to the iPad (and you might learn something else new in the process).

Learn your EFB Basics

Install your EFB of choice, or install multiple of them and try them out.   All EFB’s offer a free trial so that you can try before you buy.  Sit on your couch and click every button and get used to how it works.

You took the time to read the POH of your airplane, find and read the manual for the EFB.   You don’t have to read every word written in the manual, but take a look at the different topics.  Most EFBs have a lot of features that are hidden or hard to find.  By skimming the manual you will get a better idea of what features are available and you can start learning them as you need them later.

Here is a check list of things you should do with your EFB before you ever bring it into the cockpit:

  • Enter Aircraft Performance Data.   EFB’s will help you with estimating time and fuel burn, but you will need to enter the performance data for your aircraft so it can be accurate.
  • Learn how to enter simple routes such as KAUS to KHYI
  • Learn how to read the navigation details of your EFB.  How far away are you from your destination in miles and in time?
  • Learn how to locate important airport frequencies.   Most EFB’s allow you to tap an airport to get more information.  Learn how to access the pages and be comfortable with where it is located
  • Pretend you’re flying a mission while sitting on your couch holding your iPad.  Look up all the frequencies that you need (Ground, Tower, Approach, etc).

First Flight with an EFB

For the first time you enter the cockpit with an EFB, find a friend who will take you flying.  You should sit right seat with your iPad and let your friend act as Pilot in Command.  No matter how much practice you did at home, it will feel different in the flight environment.   Flying an airplane and learning the EFB at the same time is not the best method.

The other way to ensure you safely transition to using an EFB is to hire a CFI to fly with you as you learn to use it.  Either way, I can not emphasize enough… Just jumping in the plane with a new iPad is a bad idea.

The first time I flew with an iPad (ForeFlight), I had done everything I talked about in the “Learn at Home section.”    I then scheduled a CFI to perform my Flight Review in an aircraft I hadn’t flown before.   That flight was busy and I was flying behind the airplane the whole time because I bit off more than I could chew in one flight.   The good news is I had a CFI sitting in the right seat there to help me (and laugh at me a little bit).

Be prepared to back yourself up for the first couple of flights with a method of navigation that you are already comfortable with.   Do not be afraid to bring the paper charts with you and have them ready.

Learn the Advanced Features

ForeFlight Synthetic VisionAs you get more comfortable flying with the EFB, start to plan specific missions that will teach you more advanced features.  Try pairing your EFB with an ADS-B source such as as Stratus (Learn More) or Bad Elf (Learn More).

One of the best features of the EFB is the ability to get weather in flight.  You can start checking the winds at your destination airport long before ATIS/AWOS is in range.   Don’t forget that the weather you get on the iPad may be old, so trust what you hear on the radio more than what you read on the iPad.   Also pay attention to the age of the weather report on the iPad (all EFB’s should clearly show you the age).

Preflight planning completely changes when using an EFB.  Tools like ForeFlight give you a lot of information at your fingertips.  Preflight planning with an EFB is a subject of its own blog post, so I will not go into much detail here,  but you should slowly learn how to use it and make sure you transition from your existing preflight procedures in a smart and effective way.  The EFB makes everything from weather to NOTAMs available.   Word of warning, I have missed more than 1 important NOTAM in my career because I FAILED to check them on my EFB.   Do not hesitate to call Flight Service before every flight still.   Had I done that, I would not have tried to arrive at a closed airport like I did last 4th of July.

Plan a Backup

17303b_1It is very important to ask yourself the question:  If my EFB fails, then what am I going to do?  Ask and answer this question before your 1st flight with the EFB.   For me, I keep ForeFlight loaded on my iPad and my iPhone.  I have practiced flying with both devices.   If both my iPhone and iPad fail on the same flight, I think it is time to land anyways.

I also keep multiple ways to keep my batteries charged.   I wrote an article a while back about it at: ForeFlight is Required Equipment For Me

EFB’s Are Great

Despite all of the warnings of taking it slow with an EFB, they are amazing devices that no pilot should ignore.  Personally, I won’t fly without mine.  If you are on the fence about using an EFB, it is time to hop off that fence.  Just have a good plan in place for when you hop off that fence.


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