Tuesday, October 6, 2009
PilotPlates & Reader Plates
Approach plates meet electronic books
The PRS-505 doesn’t use a touch screen; instead, it has physical buttons down the right side and on the bottom of the unit’s display bezel. I prefer those, as I’ve found touch-screen devices difficult to use in the cockpit (especially in turbulence), but I’m aware that some pilots disagree.
Now that we understand the PRS-505, let’s consider two products that put FAA/NACO-standard instrument approach plates on it. PilotPlates from Flight Level Publishing (www.pilotplates.com) is designed to fit on a standard PRS-505 without requiring an external memory card. To do that, it divides plates into eight regional downloads covering from three to 14 states. Within a volume, plates are organized by airport identifier, with shortcuts available through the PRS-505’s table of contents, allowing you to search by city or airport name. This can lead to a lot of button pushing. Finding Modesto, for instance, requires either 19 button presses to page directly from the table of contents, or 10 button pushes from the “Airports by Name” page. Either way, you get to a list of available pages including alternate minimums, take-off minimums, airport diagrams, approach procedures and any SIDs or STARs.
When you find the chart you want, it appears on the PRS-505’s 4.3x3.5-inch display in considerably less than life size. It’s readable, but can be difficult for those of us with older eyes. Pressing the PRS-505’s Enter button (a round button on the lower right) zooms in to a slightly enlarged view of the approach minimums on most charts, but cuts off the briefing strip at the top of the chart. Some pages, including chart legends, are best viewed in landscape (sideways) orientation, which can be done by holding down the PRS-505’s Zoom button (on the lower left side) for five seconds; in these cases, you can view only half the chart at a time.
Reader Plates from Reader Plates LLC (www.readerplates.com) takes a slightly different approach to presenting the same information. A single download contains NACO approach plates for the entire United States. That’s too much to fit in the PRS-505’s 128 MB internal memory, so you’ll need a compact flash card, which fits in a slot on the PRS-505. This costs a bit more (around $20 for a 2 GB card), but lets you bring a complete set of plates with you and leaves internal memory free for other documents (you might want a book to read in case weather doesn’t cooperate en route). Reader Plates uses the PRS-505 Collections function (available from the main menu) to organize plates by state, which gets to Modesto with just five button presses. It offers the same basic set of charts as the competition, but has a different strategy for zooming: Pressing the Enter button toggles between the regular portrait-mode view and enlarged landscape-mode view of the top and bottom halves of the chart. This requires you to turn the unit, but I found the larger text much more readable when zoomed in.
Both products are sold on a subscription basis. PilotPlates costs $249 per year, and Reader Plates costs $9.99 per month. In each case, a subscription covers the entire United States. At this writing, I’ve learned that Reader Plates now are available for Amazon’s Kindle DX—more on that in “Readback” and in a future edition of Tech Talk.
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