Autopilots Are No Longer Fantastic Future Technology
Single-axis wing-leveling technology of the 1960s gave pilots a revolutionary peace of mind and in many cases, a significant cost savings when insuring their aircraft. The advent of mechanical, straight-and-level error-correction gave way to integrated FMS. The legacy FMS was cumbersome by today’s standards but offered an incredibly sophisticated means to streamline the workload of flight, managing navigation, fuel management, the autopilot and even the throttle inputs.
It was only a matter of time before every portion of the flight- which in autopilot speak is called “total envelope protection”- would be handled without a flesh-and-blood human at the controls. The advent of a self-landing aircraft is known by the charmingly retro moniker of “autoland”, first developed for GA aircraft by Garmin. This demo video of autoland (officially known as Garmin Autonomi) on a Cirrus Vision Jet is below.
Signs of the Times- Apps
All of these features are married to the airplane, but we cannot fail to mention ForeFlight. ForeFlight Mobile is software technology that came to the market in 2007. The initial concept was a mobile-based product for pilots, but it has grown and developed in many useful ways. Individual pilots, professional crews and even military pilots refer to the incredibly-user-friendly app to plan, route and file, access charts and flight publications (or pubs), and use an enroute moving navigation aid.
The Leader in the Palm of Your Hand
Acquired by Boeing in 2019, the technology is growing in a myriad of methods and platforms. But perhaps the most noteworthy achievement is Foreflight giving pilots access to a cutting-edge information product and placing this literally in the palm of a pilot’s hand- for roughly $100 annually (for the Basic, United States version). There have been other similar products, but ForeFlight has flown ahead of the others in terms of its intuitive interface. The Checklist feature expands the paperless-revolution one step further with Checklist Speak. This offers customizable features including audible call-outs and pacing that syncs to the pilot’s ideal workflow.
GA Has Never Been Safer
One can “geek-out” from the sheer cool-factor of all this tech, but really, it makes all aspects of flight safer. One short article cannot encompass the myriad of options the GA pilot can now appreciate- even the budget aviator. Perhaps we are presently living in the very best of times, given our accessibility to tools that have traditionally been available only to the most sophisticated aircraft.