The rate of change is exponential


As I was contemplating what to write about this month I was fiddling with a new smartphone I recently acquired. It has a compass app built in and I was marveling at how well it worked. It is more readable, stable and accurate than the old floating eyeball compass in my Cherokee.

It even has a setting to switch between magnetic and true and the magnetic variation it is using is right on for my location. In fact it looks like it might even be a good substitute for my directional gyro too.

I’ve been using a smartphone for five years but it is one of the business variety on which I had a number of apps for tracking contacts, working with spreadsheets and documents and of course handling email. But after dropping it for the hundredth time it finally surrendered and the back of the case broke.

I decided to take the plunge and replace it with one of the more consumer oriented varieties. You know the type that seems to be designed for photos, videos, playing music, sending text messages, and for which you can purchase a million apps for everything from balancing you checkbook to baking a cake.

Oh yes, you can also use them for making phone calls. The term smartphone is seriously inadequate. These devices are really pocket computers with built-in phones.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been casually searching for apps that are applicable to flying and, of course, finding lots. It appears for a small price and the touch of an icon this device can provide weather with radar on demand, flight planning, GPS navigation with sectionals and terrain data, standard flight instruments and more. With its built-in motion sensing and GPS receiver it can virtually replace half the panel in my Cherokee.

That might be stretching a bit but the point is the incredible advances in electronics with sophisticated programming capabilities have not only changed the way we live our lives but also the way we fly. The rate of change is exponential.

How many of you turn the GPS off once in awhile and go back to the VNC and E6B? It’s painful to clear the cobwebs and get back to basics, but a good refresher. The cockpit in my Cherokee is not very sophisticated compared to newer glass cockpit machines but I find it a good exercise now and then to pretend I am back in 1964, when my aircraft was manufactured, and fly the way we did then.

I have to admit I get tired of it pretty quickly and am quite happy to switch on the gizmos when I’m done pretending.

The many new electronic devices available to us give us more good information in the cockpit and generally make flying safer, although the learning curve can sometimes be a bit steep. The redundancy of features across platforms is amazing and a great benefit. I plan to buy a holder for my new pocket-computer/ phone to mount it somewhere on the panel, just in case.

Meanwhile, keep your prop spinning.