Friday, May 24, 2013

Cockpit Organization

The last post was for fun, but we'll get serious now.

As the title in the last post, cockpit organization is a science and art. It's a fundamental subject to look at and analize so we can set our material in the cockpit where everything's reachable and efficiently positioned for quick reference. Organizing the cockpit can get to a point where the amount of stuff you have is just too much, or on the contrary, insufficient. The goal of cockpit organization is to have all the information needed for the flight within reach and for quick reference, to avoid task overloads and without falling behind the curve.

What's needed for a particular flight depends on the type of flight. VFR or IFR, local or cross-country, VFR and then IFR, or viceversa, and day or night. Flying VFR requires the least amount of stuff in the cockpit, increasing when flying IFR or knowing you'll fly VFR and the weather will deteriorate.
As we can see, the first and most important factor in determining what to put in the flight bag is weather. That's why checking the weather before leaving home will be always a good thing to do. Especially when not instrument rated. There are many variables of how a pilot can arrange everything in the cockpit. It can be by using only an iPad; a mix of a kneeboard with sheets to write on, an iPad for the terminal procedure charts and an en-route paper chart; or using only paper charts. There's always an option of using Jeppesen paper charts (which are unbounded), or using the AeroNav paper charts bounded or unbounded.

Another good thing to think of, is backups. Regardless of the airplane, its instruments and equipment (FMS, GPS, integrated EFB, etc.), or when using a tablet as EFB, having backup (paper) charts and other navigation material is always a good idea.
We must understand airplanes and equipment fail. Think about this scenario for a moment: You're flying a state-of-the-art Cirrus SR-22 IFR at night with only an iPad on your upper leg. You then get a total electrical failure and your iPad battery is low, because you were showing funny youtube vids to your friends in the dinner restaurant. You were charging it with the airplane's electrical power, but now it's out. You were only relying on your iPad as your information reference tool. You didn't bring a backup (paper charts, for example). It's IMC. What now?
That might have been too exagerating, but as a wise saying: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Bringing only an iPad without backups is also not a good idea. By the way, if your examiner sees you're using only an iPad, he asks you whether you have paper backups, and you say "no", your checkride will be over.

What I do is to bring and arrange the stuff I need for the flight to achieve a good level of efficiency and optimization, without compromising backup stuff, and without spending too much. It's a science and art, you know.

So, let's begin with what I put in my flight bag. First, I decide what bag to take. I have a backpack and a Jeppesen Navigator flight bag. I normally use the flightbag for long cross-countries, and the backpack for local flights and short cross-countries. That also makes me think: What about when flying with passengers and not being able to put my bag on the back seats? My instructor has a handbag-like bag with enough space for headsets, a fuel tester, flashlights, a logbook, charts and other stuff. it looks handy, and it would be great if you can put it on the floor, below your legs, in front of the seat. that would be totally cool. Since I'm instrument rated, I bring both VFR and IFR enroute and terminal charts. As I wrote, you can always find yourself departing VFR or IFR, and arriving VFR or IFR. That's why it's good to bring your VFR and IFR stuff. I also use a digital wrist watch. Here's the list:

The Airport/Facility Directory.*
The IFR low en-route and the VFR sectional charts for the route to be flown.*
The terminal procedures booklet.*
My iPad mini.
The airplane's information manual.*
My IFR and VFR kneeboards (Yes, both) with the route's navlog in, a small IFR and VFR plotter, my custom-made briefings checklist, a pen and two pencils in them. And last but not least, my E6-B flight computer.
A small notebook for the sheets I use to write on the kneeboard.
Documentation I might need.
My logbook.*
A water bottle.
My headsets.
My sunglasses and my 'must have available glasses for flight'.
My camera.
In the front pocket: The normal-size VFR plotter, pens and pencils, a flashlight, a timer, my small scanner, a fuel tester, post-it notes, and that's basically it.
In one of the back pockets: Napkins to clean stuff. Usually from fast-food restaurants or restrooms.

Now, how do I actually arrange everything in the cockpit? I call it "the nest". Let's start with an IFR flight in the night, which is also the set-up I use for an IFR flight with predominant IFR conditions.

First, with my flashlight attached to my ear, and seated on the co-pilot seat (in case it's a Piper), I take my headsets, kneeboards and the en-route charts from the bag I put on the right seat in the rear. After strapping myself in, I put the IFR kneeboard on my left upper leg, the VFR kneeboard on my right upper leg, I fold the VFR sectional chart for the area I'll be flying over and put it between the 'wall' and the seat. I fold the IFR en-route chart and secure it on the IFR kneeboard. I usually have another chart that I might use in the space between the fabric and the metal tablet of the kneeboard.

The reason for securing everything in two kneeboards is because I don't want to be moving around when flying in IMC manually. It's much better to have everything accesible right in front of you, or somewhere where you need little arm and head movement, than having everything spreaded in the whole cabin.

When not using the iPad mini, I use the AeroNav terminal charts. When using the unbounded AeroNav or Jeppesen charts, I take the departure airport charts out and attach them to the yoke clip. Those would be: the airport diagram, the departure procedure and the approach chart. When cruising, I put them back in and take the arrival airport charts: Approach chart and airport diagram. It's also a good idea to use unbounded charts to get used to airline operations. Many are using iPads nowadays, though.

Set-up of an IFR flight with predominant IFR conditions
When flying IFR in the day and the weather is mostly VFR, I use the VFR kneeboard to write. I fold and put the IFR en-route chart on my left upper-leg and put the bounded charts on it. The checklist is in the small bag of the Piper's 'wall' next to my left knee and the VFR sectional chart is between my left leg and the 'wall' of the airplane.

Set-up of an IFR flight with predominant VFR conditions
I decide whether to use the bounded or unbounded AeroNav charts based on the predominant weather conditions. If it's IMC in the en-route part and in the destination or arrival airport, I use the unbounded charts and attach them on the yoke clip. The reason for that is because I like to have the charts just below the instrument six-pack, instead of having them on my left upper-leg, requiring more head movement to read the chart. It's relative, but when flying without autopilot in IMC it is very important to concentrate on flying and navigating. The less head movement, the better.
When flying IFR and it's VMC, I use the bounded charts and put them on the IFR en-route chart, which is on my left upper-leg.

Why do I take the VFR sectional chart out when flying IFR? In case I cancel IFR and continue visual, and in case I have an engine failure or total electrical failure at night, I have the VFR sectional ready to look where the mountainous area is to avoid it and fly to VMC, and/or to find a good field or airport for an emergency landing.

When using the iPad mini, I put it either in the middle of the yoke by attaching it to a RAM mount, or I put it on the IFR kneeboard. What's it for? For the terminal procedures charts and other documents.
What about the checklist? I put it in the side pocket of the plane and take it out when needed.

What about a VFR flight? If it's a local 'for-the-fun-of-it' or a training flight, I use my VFR kneeboard on my right upper leg and put the terminal/sectional chart of the area I'm going to fly in on my left upper leg. For a cross country flight, I fold the navigation log in a way that shows the most important information and allows me to write on it comfortably.

VFR cross-country flight from Henderson (Las Vegas) to Montgomery Field (San Diego). When flying solo, I secure the chart on the right seat.
Here's the issue I find on using the iPad with ForeFlight (to mention a flight app):

The wifi-only, 16Gb iPad costs $360 with taxes included. That's a one-time investment, though. The ForeFlight Basic subscription is $74.99 per year. That, plus the paper backup charts you'll have to buy.  In a year you'll need 6 A/FDs ($25.5), 6 TPPs ($28.5), 2 VFR sectional charts ($14.4), 6 IFR low en-route charts ($25.2), and 6 VFR terminal charts, depending on location, ($29.7). That would be about $124 plus taxes per year for paper charts in only on state.
Personally, I'm an old-school kind of guy, so I prefer using paper charts. They don't need battery, you can use them as sun covers, you can write stuff on them, but if you're thinking about saving paper and being more environmental friendly, then the iPad is a great tool. I think the best thing a pilot can do is finding the balance between paper charts and using an iPad, without investing too much money.

Would I fly using only the iPad? No. I'd feel naked if I did that. Is the iPad reliable? Yes. It's not FAA-approved for nothing. I'm someone who is strongly aware of what could happen if the power goes out and it brings a peace of mind when knowing you bring paper charts with you. I know it's not cost-efficient to buy paper charts, but I prefer thinking on the safe side. So, for me the solution is to download a custom-made bundle from of the A/FD and TERPs, and open it in eBooks. That way I can do a pretty good mix of paper and electronics, without having to buy a $74.99 suscription every year.
Now check the list items marked with an asterisk. All of that can be in an electronical format in the iPad and it would save you energy to carry all that extra weight and you would also save fuel (relatively).

I've read some pilots are using only the iPad, or doing a mix as I do. Some pilots don't bring anything at all for local flights or aerobatics. If they have to write something, they write it on the bare skin of the upper leg! Everybody has to find their own system of organizing their nest. As I wrote, there are many variables that one can think of, but the goal is clear: It's all about being organized and having all available information concerning that flight, as Part 91.103 states:

Preflight action.

Each pilot in command shall, before beginning the flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.

And of course, having it with you in the flight!

It's still something good to talk about in the hangar.

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