Home > Uncategorized > AvPlan review (revisited) – Putting it through the paces

AvPlan review (revisited) – Putting it through the paces

December 28, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m writing this following my first ‘proper’ use of AvSoft’s AvPlan. When I say ‘proper’, what I mean is that I stepped back from playing with the cool features, and actually read the manual. This then gave me an understanding of how to actually use it… and then, I actually used it, for a VFR plan from the Sydney area down the coast towards Batemans’ Bay, and back.

Rather than writing a full review, which I’ve done previously, these are simply some notes of omissions and issues that I observed during full use of the app in-flight. I’m going to be asking the publisher about these for clarification, and perhaps discussing this in forums, and it’s far easier for me to write this once here, than many times everywhere. So – AvPlan has many cool features, and many positives, but by nature we’re going to be pretty much just listing issues and bugs here. Please don’t take this the wrong way. Try it for yourself.

 

Google Map View

This is no-one’s fault but Apple’s, and it took me a second to figure this out; The Google Map view is now, of course, the Apple Maps View, for iOS6 devices only. If using the local iPad mapping API, then with iOS6 this would automatically have reverted to Apple’s ‘dangerous’ maps. Since Google have now launched their own iOS Maps Application, and the APIs for it, hopefully AvPlan will go back to good old trusty Google Maps in the future.

 

Actual Time of Departure

The ATD is filled in automatically on the plan sidebar as you progress through the flight. However, I came across a couple of issues with this (I initially thought it was a bug, as I note in the screenshot, before I realized):

 

ATD is filled out automatically, and you might not want it to be

In the screenshot above, I was trying to figure out why, if I set a departure of 26 2200, why was my first leg of 19 minutes ETA’d at 0119, and not 2219? I then realized it was ATD, not ETA, and so AvPlan thought I had already flown this route (whereas I hadn’t left the ground yet).

It seemed, while checking my plan, I had gone into Fly mode, and it had assumed I had flown all these legs, and autopopulated all the legs with ideal ATD’s. I’m still not sure what it did, but I then misread them at ETAs. This may actually be a bug after all – I’m not quite sure.

As my flight started, and progressed, I found I sometimes missed a new leg, or accidentally activated a new one early. In those cases, the ATD was auto-populated, and once done, I couldn’t wipe it – you can only wipe the entire set (NOT something I want to do while still in the flight). It would be handy to be able to clear a selection of times, if you’ve been practicing/accidentally advanced the plan.

 

If you catch up on your ATAs, they’ll all be wrong

Whilst busy, I found I had missed clicking ‘Next Leg’ a few times, and the plan was behind. So I clicked Next Leg a few times to catch up. What then happened, was that it wrote the current time as the ATDs for those legs – ie. All the same, at the current time. That’s fair enough logic, I guess, even if impossible in a Foxbat to hit 3 waypoints in the same minute.

The problem was that I then couldn’t edit those ATAs to correct them for times I had observed; they were stuck.

 

Overall, whereas with a paper plan, you would keep your planning sheet as a current and archive record of the flight, with AvPlan I found my record was nothing like fact, due in equal measure to my own lax record keeping (which then couldn’t be created), and also the consequence of any crash or bug. There are also the manual fixes, and the aircraft track, but it would be good to be able to manually edit the flight plan log.

 

Problems with other fields in the flight plan

My frustration was not only with the ATD’s being autofilled for me:

  • Tapping on the Yellow ALT / LSALT windows could be tricky. Sometimes I wanted to modify them in-flight, and in those cases, it was excellent to be able to do so directly. And sometimes I was just tapping the leg, and by tapping accidentally on the yellow box, I wiped my previous ALT / LSALT. And then guess what – it’s gone! It should be possible to undo an accidental change, at least (and not by the ‘shake to undo’ iPad action – imagine that in a crowded cockpit 😉 ). So after mis-tapping on my destination leg to check the ERSA, I’ve suddenly gone to trying to remember the LSALT, and re-enter it into the plan
  • It didn’t seem possible to update fuel observations in-flight. You can update the FOB at the start of a sector, in the Weight and Balance section, but not while flying. It does actually show you the auto-calculated FOB, but you can’t edit it, if you see from your gauges that you used more/less than expected. Again, something easily done with a paper plan.

 

State was not maintained after a crash

During the 4 hour flight, I had to restart AvPlan 3 times, for various reasons. (Generally it was pretty stable – one reason was my iPad itself died, one was when the heading bug locked the screen, and one was what I thought was a bug (and wasn’t, and thought a restart might help). When I restarted, I was surprised to find:

  • The active plan was not automatically reloaded. On restart, I had to again find the Flight Plan from the list in the sidebar, then find the current leg, hold-select it, and Activate that Leg. This was an unwanted distraction – AvPlan should detect that it was quit during navigation, and ask if I want to resume at the last plan/leg. Heck, all my car satnav apps do this!
  • I also saw some ETA weirdness. On re-activating a leg, it took my ATD as the time that I re-activated it, after reloading the app. Of course, I was actually somewhere in the middle – in fact, only 5 miles from the next waypoint – but since AvPlan didn’t let me ‘resume navigation’, it took the last waypoint from ‘now’, and then gave me an ETA to the next waypoint of 20 minutes… despite it only being 5 miles away.

 

Icons are nonstandard

 

OK – so which of these icons are the ‘Edit plan’ icon?

 

It turns out, it’s the left one. Now – for me, in most iOS apps – particularly Mail, this is the ‘Move to Folder’ icon. In fact, the Apple style guide describes this icon as below:

 

So – tapping this icon to see the red ‘delete’ and stippled ‘move’ icons appear, is a surprise.

However – it was also a surprise to discover that in the Apple guidelines, these is no Edit icon. I always thought it was a pencil symbol – I’ve seen this around – but looking at my favourite apps, such as Spotify, I do see that in fact, they use the word ‘Edit’ in a button. This wouldn’t be pretty in an icon bar, but to be fair, at least it wouldn’t be as confusing as using a ‘Move’ icon.

 

Another one:

 

Now – this icon to me, is or used to be, ‘Centre on my location’ in a few apps. However, here, it’s used for ‘Show Map settings’. Again…. Unintuitive!

 

 

You can’t hide the aircraft location

You could argue this defies the point of an aviation Nav app, but, well, I sometimes quite like the challenge of navigating myself. In this case, I use AvPlan as an electronic chart, but want to draw the fixes on myself. Unfortunately, it seems the Current Aircraft Position is always displayed – you can turn off the track, and the predicted track, but not the actual a/c position itself! It’s a shame, as it would allow me to hone my skills (and avoid getting lazy in GPS use).

Yes, there is a Show Position menu option on the Map Menu, but again… it’s confusingly named. It actually doesn’t show your position (really! None of the fields displayed is anything to do with current location) – it’s more a ‘Current leg’ or ‘HUD’ view.

Oh, and while we’re at it – the plan looks great in landscape as a sidebar, but doesn’t really work in Portrait!

 

 

Usability Issues

I found a few other less obvious issues around usability and intuitiveness, such as:

  • On a round-trip where return legs are overlaid on outbound legs, the active leg may not change colour. Ie. If you’re flying the outbound leg, which is colour-coded Orange, you actually won’t see this colour, because this leg is hidden underneath the red-coloured return leg, which was obviously drawn afterwards and therefore is laid on top. See the first leg active, below.

  • You can swipe left on a leg information screen to see the ERSA, etc for that airport! This is how iPad apps should work, and really usable (it even remembers your position if you step out of the screen)… but really-well hidden! I had to read the manual to discover this – a little hint (perhaps an arrow off the right side), would help. How the new Google Maps app hints at the different map options, is a good example.
  • However – you cannot pinch-to-zoom on an ERSA. Which means, particularly in landscape mode, possibly holding a rather small-text display up to your eyes while in the circuit around an aerodrome; definitely NOT ideal! I like the ability to pinch-to-zoom on my PDFs, and it’s a hard habit to get out of!

 

  • You’ll occasioanlly find spots of hidden text as well – such as the PRD info panes like the one below. I believe NO… is the first two letters of NOTAM, but it’s not possible to select or expand that text out to check.

 

 

Entering Fuel

As I mentioned before – it’s frustrating to see what AvPlan thinks if your current fuel so tantalizingly close… but being unable to edit it….

The same is true for the default Aircraft settings

 

Of course – where you can edit it, is in the Weights and Balance for that plan (as FOB).

 

Restricted Areas / PRDs

I never did quite figure out how to use this reliably. I’m used to entering the area codes in NAIPS, and it showing me a status for that area. I love the way AvPlan automatically picks up the D/R areas from the plan, but… shouldn’t it then be able to check the status?

 

After refreshing several times, I eventually did something – I think it was tapping the arrow to view the area on a map (again, excellent!), then double-tapping the area to show the status… which then also appeared on this screen. But why it didn’t simply list all the area statuses at the outset on this screen?… I don’t know.

I also don’t know why it reported two areas as active, when NAIPS reported them as inactive. True… they are active unless deactivated by NOTAM, and the NOTAM said nothing… but how come the NAIPS website knew, and AvPlan didn’t?

 

Refreshing TAFs

A similar issue applies to TAFs – I was staring at the TAF for one of the terminals that was four hours old. I assume that I could update it somewhere – I tried refreshing winds, for example – but remained stubbornly the same. A refresh button next to the TAF would be very welcome.

 

Plan Management / Copying

Again – a bit of weirdness here. In most apps, you can select and copy the plan/playlist/file/whatever. However, in AvPlan, you’re supposed to create a new, empty plan, and then go into your old plan, and duplicate the waypoints/etc into your empty plan.

OK… so I tried this. The problem was that if I created an empty plan, AvPlan seemed to get confused on its name and status. This plan named as ‘Moruya test’, came up as From X to Y below – apparently filed with NAIPS! This then made me nervous about copying the rest of the other plan into it.

 

 

The Sketch Pad – and Map Annotations

Seriously? Both OzRunways and AvPlan have this, and I have no idea why?!?!?

 

It’s bitmap. It’s a ‘spray can’ pen rather than solid (Why??? So I can draw clouds???). You can’t edit, or add a page, or anything else – just write and delete.

 

What we REALLY need is Map Annotations! The ability to zoom in, and draw on a map – as you would on a real paper map, with pencil or wipeable marker – is invaluable. Whether you’re making fixes, writing enroute reminders, highlighting danger areas, or even sketching a diversion – the ability to draw on a layer, and turn that layer on/off (and save/print it), would be fantastic.

I currently find Notability excellent for my in-flight notes – see my following post.

 

Plan Printing

Again, this is a fantastic feature, being able to automatically incorporate all relevant ERSAs, etc into a Backup plan. For me, this offered a great opportunity to have a more flexible backup plan, since I use Notability for making general notes, and it accepts PDF imports from other apps like AvPlan.

The opportunity was offered – but not realized… because unfortunately, AvPlan defaults all the supplementary (Weather, ERSA FAC, etc) to Landscape – which means it’s in the wrong orientation, and very small, in Notability.

 

 

Summary

I have to emphasise – these are all niggles. AvPlan (and OzRunways) are fantastic tools with a host of amazing features that I couldn’t be without. Principally, the ability to draw up a flight plan in under 10 minutes, then go and preflight the aircraft, while my co-pilot slaved away at the NAIPS website, charts, protractor, E6B, and ruler for almost 2 hours to come up with more or less the same plan. Since we were doing both, we arrived at the airfield at 9.30am, and a few changes of plan on the airfield meant we spent 2 hours on the ground re-planning. That was the downgrade from a leisurely trip into town for lunch, to a snatched bread roll from the kitchen to offset low blood sugar, at Moruya.

 

Don’t rely on the EFB – fallback to iPhone

We flew with 3 levels of redundancy; I used AvPlan as a joint primary navigation method, while my co-pilot used paper charts as above, and we planned independently. My first fallback was the printed AvPlan plan in Notability. The second fallback, should the iPad have problems, was AvPlan on my iPhone 4s. The last level of fallback (should we lose both iPad, iPhone, and the paper charts), were some larger-area charts I had.

I was using the iPad for over 2 hours, when suddenly, the screen went black, and it gave a warning: “Temperature!”. In the glorious flying weather, resting on my lap in the sun, it had overheated!! It automatically shut down, and I was relegated to my iPhone as backup (whilst my co-pilot’s maps stayed operating perfectly well in the bright sunlight).

While AvPlan can sync plans to the iPhone if you use a cloud account, this does NOT mean you can just continue on. I found that:

  • The plan wasn’t synced to my iPhone (you have to tap it manually)
  • The current leg wasn’t updated
  • I couldn’t see my GPS position on the app

Hence, I just used it as a dumb chart, and practiced going through lost procedures to see whether I could navigate using the phone. I got there pretty quick – although the inability to select local charts automatically was a pain. I could add fixes by tapping, and keep going to my next destination.

Process

I’ve yet to establish a reliable process for using EFB’s, but I think it would be:

  • Plan in the app
  • Email a copy to myself at the club before departure to print on Real Paper
  • (Ideally) export a copy to Notability for Annotations / Markup
  • Use the app in-flight, but keep tracking notes and fixes on your paper
  • Carry backup charts
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