Pilots are always looking for innovations that bring increased situational awareness to the cockpit without compromising safety or breaking the bank. Features like GPS navigation, digital maps, IFR approach plates, and satellite weather are now standard in most avionics suites, which is great if you're flying a new aircraft. For the rest of us, we look to Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) or even our cell phones to give us this information.
When the iPad was announced, many pilots wondered if it would be the ultimate aviation tool, a consumer device with amazing pricing that would kill off dedicated aviation EFBs. The reality is that the iPad isn't perfect - it can overheat when left in the sun, it has no physical controls, no satellite weather, lots of glare, and the internal GPS on the 3G+WiFi can't compete with a dedicated GPS receiver. Having said that, it's an extremely functional platform, the price is right, and I won't fly without it!
Others have done in-depth comparisons of leading iPad aviation apps, so I'll just discuss my current favorite: ForeFlight Mobile HD. As a VFR-only pilot, having electronic copies of the sectionals, terminal diagrams, and frequencies all just a touch away is very handy. I still carry paper copies of everything, but I haven't had to pull them out yet. With a Wi-Fi connection on the ground, I can quickly pull up METARs, weather, NOTAMs, and file a flight plan.
In the air, I plug the Bad Elf GPS into my iPad Wi-Fi and I get moving (cached) maps, my current position/heading, along with groundspeed, altitude, and track. Simply awesome! And by the time I start working on my IFR ticket, I'm sure ForeFlight will have geo-referenced approach plates. Sure, none of this is certified for primary use in the cockpit -- but it's nice to know the iPad will be there waiting if (or when) the panel goes dark.
Here are some photos from a recent flight from Phoenix to Tucson...