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I’d Fly with an iFly700

Aviation Information Technology – For the 21st Century

While Jeppesen and others have started to develop sectional charts to compete with those published by the FAA, a GPS company in Texas loves them just the way they are. The iFly700 is a portable aviation GPS that uses enhanced sectional charts as its base map.

That is only one unique feature of this unit. In order for users to adopt a new technology, it must be better than what it replaces. The found- ers of iFly understand this and have improved on the GPS user interface. Gone are plastic buttons and dials in favor of a total touch-screen experi- ence. This unit is very easy to use. It measures approximately 4 by 7 inches and weighs just over half a pound. It comes in Henry Ford black and the touch-screen has a mat finish which eliminates glare. The menu button system appears on-screen, but fades away a few second after use. Real-time virtual instrument output reflecting speed, course, bearing, and altitude information is displayed onscreen. These and other instruments can be resized and positioned according to user preference. The user’s finger performs all mouse type functions. To scroll around the moving map, a finger is used to pan the map up, down, left and right.

After the unit is turned on and satel- lite coverage is confirmed, the user’s current location is displayed by way of a small green airplane icon. The icon sits on a current sectional. To create a flight plan using just the touch screen, simply scroll to a destination and hold a finger on it for about two seconds. A menu will appear where the user can choose to Fly Direct. A route line is automatically drawn from the current location to the “fingered” destination. A GPS route is now active. The system also allows for a flight plan to be en- tered through a menu system and vir- tual keyboard, thus allowing the user to design and save a plan before arriv- ing at the point of departure. Once a straight route line is drawn, the user can change the path by dragging segments of the line to interim waypoints. This allows routing around airspace like Class B and Prohibited areas or just interim routing to airports for fuel, food or a bio break. The map can be set for either north up or track up at the touch of a button. A nice feature not seen on other units is a look-a-head feature. When the green airplane tracks along the planned route, it uses as much of the screen as possible to show the route in front of the aircraft. So if track is set to up, the green plane will appear at the bottom of the screen and the track will extend from it to the top of the screen. This allows the user to see as much of the route ahead, left and right as possible even when zooming in or out.

The unit is stylish and balances easily on the user’s thigh, although tradition- al mounting options are available. The unit did not lose the satellite signal dur- ing a 170 mile round trip from Austin, Texas to Hilltop Lakes, Texas during my test. The unit utilizes a GPS chipset manufactured by CSR in the UK. The chipset, SIRFstar III, is aimed at con- sumer products and has had a great history of reliability. Its superior signal acquisition rate and processing power also makes it the choice of Garmin for their products. This short trip drew my course across two Sectional Charts –San Antonio and Houston. The transi- tion was seamless. The system comes loaded with every sectional chart. The system dynamically “switches and stitch- es” each sectional together at the touch of a button.

The system comes equipped with all sectional charts, IFR low en-route charts, and an airport facilities direc- tory. The base system is delivered with a two month subscription for all charts and the ability to download TFR and METAR information before each flight. A remote control, power supply, protective carrying case and a suction cup mount are included. The back of the unit has a keyhole type receiver to allow connection to the supplied mounting device or just about any oth- er commercially available mount. The unit can also be connected to a video source or play downloaded audio and video files directly.

So are there any downsides? A few, but they are manageable. The screen can get washed out in bright sunlight. I fly using several different Garmin GPS units regularly. These include the 430, 496 and the 96C. All of these also have problems with readability in bright sunlight. It is fairly easy to tilt this unit out of direct sunlight to rem- edy what I consider a nuisance, not a deal breaker. The display and sec- tional can get busy depending upon the chosen route. The developers have included a Mode button. This al- lows the sectional map to be toggled on and off, leaving just a vector map showing major airports and airspace diagrams in which the route line be- comes clearly visible against a con- trasting background. Units made by Garmin have a “nearest” key on their interface. The iFly700 has a “near- est” function for airports and AWOS information. It is located under the Menu button. For safety, the Nearest Airport button should appear on the main screen and not two clicks away. The system does not include real- time weather from a source like XM. The company states that they will release a WX option if there is sufficient consumer demand.

The GPS chipset is WAAS capable, but the unit is not implemented for it nor is it certified for any IFR operations. There is no warning information displayed about terrain via the system software. Only the base map and static elements like radio tower or terrain contour diagrams warn of hazards along the route. A thorough preflight review and eyes outside the cockpit during the flight remain a must for any pilot using the unit as a pri- mary navigation device.

The system does not come with an internal recharge- able or disposable battery as a power source. An optional external battery is available. While the system comes with cigarette lighter adapter cable, the optional battery pack is expensive. The internal GPS antenna seems to work fine; however, the system does come with an input for an optional external antenna. The user must supply a 2MB USB device to download the system updates and daily TFR and METAR information. This device can also be purchased as an option with the iFly700.

Today only US charts are available for the system. The company has no plan to add Canada, the Bahamas or other parts of the world.

The base system is priced at $549, which includes two months of updates. A twelve month subscription is $69 and this includes all US charts. As an aside, the four traditional FAA paper sectional charts I fly with around Texas cost me $80 a year to keep current. The optional battery pack lists for $100 and a GPS external antenna sells for $25. The reusable 2 MB USB device needed to download updates is an additional $15.

I like the intuitive user interface and the brilliant use of the base sectionals so much; I would buy this unit as a backup to my Garmin 430 and my own pilotage and dead reckoning. During testing, it performed flawlessly and feels solid. My hope is that real-time weather and hazard warnings are added to a future release of the system. A Nearest Airport button on the main screen would intro- duce a higher level of risk abatement. A long lasting lithi- um ion internal battery would make the unit ultra easy to carry around and move from airplane to airplane.

Adventure Pilot, the company which created the iFly700, has been offering discounts at venues like Sun n’ Fun and through email promotions. It is worth asking about discounts when contacting the company. They can be reached at www.iflygps.com or by telephone on 1-888-200-5129.

John S. Craparo, Information Technology Editor