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Aviation Information Technology – For the 21st Century

A Review of Flitesoft

If you are looking for flight planning software which goes far beyond anything offered as part of your EAA or AOPA membership, Flitesoft is a sure bet. I had a chance to use the software to plan a cross country flight to deliver a Beech Sundowner to the San Diego, CA area. The flight was to Ramona Airport (KRNM) from my home at Marshall Field (07TS) in Georgetown, TX.

The software arrived on a CD Rom and the installation on my Windows 7 laptop running at 1.9 Ghz took less than five minutes. Once loaded, the software will prompt you for locations of things like digitized sectional charts. The add-ons which the program prompts you to point to are not needed to take advantage of 90% of its features. I installed the professional version which costs a bit less than $200 and it includes VFR and IFR planning. The subscription for the update service runs $120 a year. A personal version with fewer features is $125 and a commercial version for corporate and charter operations is $398. For the general aviation pilot, I recommend starting with the professional version if the extra $75 is not a big issue.

  

 

The system, as it arrives, might better be described as an Electronic Flight Bag. Aside from basic flight planning, the software connects to the internet providing updates on TFR and NOTAM activity which can affect a planned flight. Weather and winds are shown for a desired flight plan showing predicted weather across the plan. The list of airplanes to choose from is comprehensive and the profile of each can be modified.

This allows for leg by leg weight and balance calculations. The only complaint I have about the interface is it looks a bit dated by Apple iPad standards. The icons and frames are reminiscent of Windows 98, but the speed of calculations and screen updates is fast and crisp. The interface is very intuitive. I started using the program the moment I started it up on my computer. While the user manual shows you every-thing you need to know, video clips are available which walk the user through the use of features. These are helpful and I have to admit, I was using some of the features in awkward ways. Once I went and looked as some of the videos, I found better ways to do some things.

A very nice feature of the program is called “Snap.” It allows the software license owner to make a backup copy of the software for use on a USB key. This gives the user the ability to do planning on the road. There have been many times I get to a hotel to find out I do not have internet access in my room. That has caused me to go down to the lobby to use a single shared computer with internet connectivity in order to read my email.  Flitesoft on a USB would allow me to do flight planning from that lobby computer without sacrificing the ability to pull weather and TFR data from the internet.

I started planning my flight to California using the flight planning worksheet which appears in a frame on the right side of the user interface.  Here I was able to enter all the airports I wanted to visit on my trip. My choices were displayed on a map on the right side of the screen. In some cases I merely typed in the city and state I wanted to visit and a vector chart appeared on the right side of the chart. This allowed me to click on an airport which automatically updated my worksheet. You can also drag a course-line across the vector map.

This will update the worksheet which then creates real-time flight plans, flight logs and pilot logs with complete tracks and magnetic correction, fuel burn and suggested altitudes and flight time for each leg. The bottom of the user interface shows a profile view of the flight path which includes airspace. When using the Auto Route feature of the program, this profile showed where I needed to either fly over Class C airspace or where I could fly under it. It is a nice idea and provides a richer situational awareness of what to expect and when.  For instance you can instantly see what to expect while flying in cruise at 6,500 agl as winds aloft, cloud bases, obstructions like towers and smoke stacks are displayed. Weather is also shown in this view.

Each time I use a flight planning tool, I end up with the same wish. It holds true here also. After I get my flight plan prepared and all the reports it creates printed, I usually send for the current printed sectional charts for reference in the plane during my flight. It would be nice if Flitesoft generated the list of charts by title that I need. The first time I flew to AirVenture, I completed my flight plans on the EAA online tool and then sent for the sectional to find I forgot one at about the halfway point in my plan. I had to send out again for that chart before my trip. A small point, but a list would be nice.

It was nice to see that on the night before our flight west, a presidential TFR appeared on the Flitesoft plan as I prepared an update.  Barack Obama was making a fundraising stop in San Antonio and while it would not affect my plan and I had already received a FAAST update via email, it was nice to see that my EFB was on top of the situation.

The software is updated every 28 days and under the terms of the optional update service mentioned earlier, users may visit the site as often as they wish to obtain software updates and new charts.

The system boasts a bargain fuel locater which I found to be accurate for central Texas. While I did not use this feature for the Ramona trip, in the past I have landed at airports to be frustrated by the fact the Sectional information on fuel availability is out of date.  When Flitesoft indicated fuel would be available, it was available. I like the pilot logbook feature. It made it very easy to track flight time. I usually record my engine start and stop on my kneeboard. There have been many times, once I get home or to a motel that I cannot find the notation and then must guess at my times.

Flitesoft allowed me to go into the cockpit with kneeboard ready information sheets that made record keeping much easier.  The software is very comprehensive and useful in a market sector filled with products overlapping its target.

If I were in charge of the company, I would start looking at updating the interface to give it a fresh look and feel.  Airport directory information including radio frequencies and taxiway diagrams would improve the product.  There is an active group of users that meet in a company sponsored forum.

This group provides great product support outside an already excellent customer service group employed by the company. As the product continues to evolve it will show it is ahead of many of its competitors who are producing products for the iPad with far fewer features but a fancier interface.

Flitesoft is the steak, while many of the other products I have used are mainly sizzle and smoke. Flitesoft can also supply a true Electronic Flight Bag that includes a computer, integrated GPS and moving map software that extends the flight planning program into the cockpit for real-time changes and navigation.

More information of Flitesoft and the rest of the product line can be found at www.rmstek.com.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Craparo is a seasoned information technology executive, university professor, writer and pilot.  For nearly thirty years he worked in information technology as a programmer, manager and senior executive at Dun & Bradstreet Corporation, General Electric, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard Company. He recently retired from Hewlett-Packard where he was the senior vice president of global information technology. His areas of expertise include financial systems, engineering, telecommunications, sourcing and operations.  Mr. Craparo is credited with major consolidations of data centers at GE, Dell and HP.

His financial and sourcing expertise allowed the technology budgets of these three entities to shrink by 50% while the businesses experienced record revenue growth during his tenure as part of these senior management teams.

John’s outside business interests include partnerships in a professional football team, a federally chartered bank, and venture capital work  bringing new business ideas to the market.  John’s board experience includes several charities including the American Red Cross of Central Texas, Junior Achievement of Central Texas and was elected a life fellow and US Trustee of the Royal Society for the Arts in the United Kingdom. He was a torch bearer during the 2002 Winter Olympics held at Salt Lake City.

His articles about general aviation, restoration and maintenance have appeared regularly in EAA Sport Aviation, Midwest Flyer and Aviator’s Hot Line. He holds a private pilot certificate and flies hot air balloons, gliders, airplanes and seaplanes. He is also an FAA certificated light sport repairman with a maintenance rating for airplanes, weight-shift control, and powered parachutes. He is an advanced

ground instructor and is scheduled to complete his CFI next year. He lives in an airpark community in central Texas where he flies his fully restored 1946 Ercoupe 415C and 1946 Piper J3 Cub float plane. As an executive, he “logged” nearly 1,000 hours of passenger time on the Gulfstream IV and V aircraft.

Information systems used by the aviation departments at GE and HP were under his development and management for 12 years. John holds a baccalaureate from Iona College and a master of science in management from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. John is a past member of the Pace University advisory board and, for 11 years, an adjunct associate professor of Information Systems.

John is a life member of the EAA where he also serves on the president’s circle, the National Aviation Hall of Fame and the Commemorative Air Force. He is a captain in the Civil Air Patrol and a member of the Explorers  Club. He is the founder of the International Aeronauts League and the American Civil Wings Society. He is a painter avid collector of books and ephemera about aeronautics and aviation.

July 2011 Light Aviation Edition

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