Plane & Pilot
Monday, October 26, 2009

FlightPrep ChartBook


A digital replacement for most cockpit paper (but keep your clearance pad!)


Both vector and (in most cases) raster charts show the aircraft position as reported by a wireless GPS that’s included with ChartBook. Another button press takes you to instrument procedures, which are cleverly selected using an on-screen display (pan to the area around your destination and zoom in to limit the number of airports; the list of procedures will match the airports on the display). Just like the raster charts, most instrument procedures are georeferenced, so you’ll actually “see” the airplane flying down an ILS localizer, and on airport diagrams, you can see exactly where you are with respect to taxiways.

ChartBook’s in-flight mode even includes a highway in the sky (HITS) function that offers synthetic vision–like features, showing terrain ahead of the aircraft and a “tunnel” illustrating the flight plan. Add an optional WxWorx satellite weather receiver and/or a Zaon XRX traffic receiver, and the moving map display can show weather and traffic, much like a glass-panel MFD.

Having said all that, it may be worth pointing out a few limitations: ChartBook isn’t TSO’d, so it can’t be used on Part 135 or Part 121 revenue flights. It legally can replace paper charts on Part 91 GA flights, but can’t be used as a primary navigation source. According to FAA AC 91-78, Class 1 commercial off-the-shelf EFBs like ChartBook are supposed to be stowed during critical phases of flight. FlightPrep offers several mounting options, including a $27.95 Velcro strap for the pilot’s leg that turns ChartBook into a Class 2 device that can be legally used during any phase of flight. I tried that, and it worked fine (or you can spend more money for a yoke mount).

I tested ChartBook on a local VFR flight, and simulated quite a few IFR flights (weather in my area was stubbornly VFR) and came away quite impressed—it takes some time to learn, but once you understand the two operating modes and how to use the route list, ChartBook can replace almost all paper except a clearance pad in a typical GA cockpit. While the 8.9-inch display is slightly smaller than a physical instrument approach plate, the size difference is negligible, and ChartBook’s display is so clear that my 51-year-old eyes had no trouble reading fine detail.

I fly regularly into Class B airspace and frequently have to switch on autopilot and dig out my IFR chart atlas to figure out an amended ATC clearance. While ChartBook can show all the charts in my atlas, the small display forces you to either zoom out (at which point the text gets hard to read) or pan around small sections of the chart at higher magnification. I have reservations about using ChartBook at night: Even with the display brightness at the minimum setting, a full-screen instrument procedure can ruin your night vision. In fairness, this is true of just about every other EFB, and ChartBook has a nice trip-kit function that lets you print the charts you expect to use—stow ChartBook and use those with your flashlight as you would conventional charts.

Finally, like most of its competitors, FlightPrep doesn’t come with the full printed manual (though a Quick Start manual is included). To be fair, the 232-page Help Manual is loaded on ChartBook as a PDF and also is available online; it appears comprehensive, and the TOC is nicely bookmarked, so clicking on any header jumps directly to your desired section.

Pricing for ChartBook is a little complicated: It starts at $1,795, but that doesn’t include the $200 outdoor-viewable “flight definition display” or lap strap. Keeping ChartBook’s various raster and vector charts up to date requires a subscription, and FlightPrep offers a wide array of update options. An IFR+VFR subscription including sectional, TAC, low-altitude en route charts and instrument procedures for the lower 48 costs $357. Visit www.flightprep.com.



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