Preflighting in the Electronic Age

Gas in the tank – Check.  Tires round, top and bottom – Check. Two wings, two tail surfaces, one rudder – Check.  Correct number of propeller blades – Check.  Looks like we are ready to go.

Well, I hope that your preflight checklist covers more than this.  I hope that it covers everything that the POH says that it should cover.  And then you add into that the various FAA FlySafe acronyms that remind you to check the weather and your own physical and mental health.  And just when you thought that there was nothing more that could possibly be checked, here I am to suggest another area – electronics.

aircraft preflight

Oh, I know that your current pre-takeoff checklist probably states "Nav and Comm – set and checked". But just because you went all-electronic with your maps at Christmas this year, don't think that that you can ignore all of those pesky map requirements.  In fact, it is probably a bit harder to comply than it was before.

Back in the day when you carried paper in flight bag, you checked the expiration date on your sectional or IFR charts and on your approach plate books. If they had expired, you just made yourself a note to pick up current charts and plates when you went to the airport.  Then, when you settled yourself in the plane, you got out all of your paper charts, all neatly folded and ready to go.  And you put your neatly printed flight log on your kneeboard, and you were set.  Well, there is more now.  Here are some of the things you might want to keep in mind if you are an electronic sort of pilot. (And thanks to Sporty's for helping me remember some of these items.)

The night before your flight, check to see that your batteries in all of your hand-held devices are fully charged.  Are you carrying a backup handheld radio?  Do you have a flashlight? Better make sure that all of those items have fresh batteries.  Over the past year or so, I have traded out all of my battery-operated devises for new, and now everything runs on either a rechargeable battery or a AA.  Gone are the days of carrying four five different sized batteries for my various flashlights, portable GPS units, and backup radios.

Are carrying a handheld GPS or ADS-B receiver? Make sure they are powered up and ready to go as well. And if you think that you are immune to this battery thing because you plug into the utility outlet / lighter, think again.  When the aircraft power dies, so does the ability to recharge these items.

And another night-before task that you did not have before – Do you have current charts on your tablet?  Check to make sure that you have of your complete flying area covered, and that the charts have not expired.  Click on "download" if you need to.  And of course, if you are using an IFR certified GPS in the plane, make sure that that database is up to date as well.  You are not going to be able to pick up a new one at the airport.


Load all of your routes and most-likely airports.  Sure, every app lets you download the airport info as you go, but take it from one who has been there -  Life is a lot easier if you have already put all of the airports in a folder that you can reach with one click.  And life is doubly easier if you have already plotted your course on the pad in the comfort of your living room, and not in a cramped aircraft cabin. 

So, let's get in the plane and get organized. Probably the most common comment I get from students after their first cross-country flight is, "Wow, I wish I had been more organized."

So where does all of this stuff go?  Most of us have wrestled with the question of tablet size – large to read easily, or small to hold comfortably.  I finally came down to the larger size because I opted for readability.  And that works for me in aircraft like Cessnas and Bonanzas.  It does not work well in the Grumman Tiger.  In any case, if you are planning to use the tablet as a primary navigation tool, you would really like to be able to hold it vertically somewhere and not in your passenger's lap.  Drop into your favorite airplane "stuff" website and look at the options regarding mounts.  There are mounts that you can suction cup to a window or instrument panel. And there are mounts that attach to the yoke.  Borrow one if you can before you buy and find out what works best for you. I will tell you now – you will not find the perfect solution.  So, live with the best compromise.

So, now we have all the data loaded, we have fresh, fully charged batteries, and we have found the perfect (ok, an acceptable) location. Ready to go.  Right?  Well, almost.

I tried out all of the various software packages before I settled on the one I like and I found that they all have one thing in common – they are power hogs.  I find that I can fly about three hours with my app up and running, showing my course and displaying approach plates. And then I start to see my power-remaining indicator dropping down toward the bottom.  It makes me almost as nervous as watching the fuel gauges drop down.  I have used that much power already?

You have several options for making the tablet last all day.  First, carry a recharging cable that you can plug into the aircraft power.  As long as you have a working electrical system, you have a working tablet.  Second, carry a small backup battery that you can plug into. (And, of course, that is one more thing that you need to recharge before you fly.)

But in addition to adding more electrons to your device while you fly, there are some tricks to using less electrons in flight.  Turn off all features that you do not need while you fly.  Some big power users are the Wi-Fi, 4G/5G and Bluetooth connections. Turn these off.  And turn off any other apps that you are not using.  Also, use the lowest brightness setting that is comfortable for you.  And finally, click the unit into "standby" when you are not actually looking at it.



Don't Practice Until You Get It Right - Practice Until You Don't Get It Wrong


Comments, questions, or just want to chat about anything aviation?  Drop me a note or call: 816-763-5205

updated August, 2020