When I first used a flight computer it enabled a liberating change in my ability to soar. Now I could concentrate on flying while the computer would continually calculate in real time which airports I could make and which were out of distance, all based in my current altitude, speed and even the calculated wind speeds and directions at the various altitudes in my flights. In a glider knowing your landing options is essential to a safe flight. Now I could concentrate on being a better pilot and let the computer keep track of some of the details.
The “In-Flight” use of flight computers as a powerful tool has gotten better over time. The current computers are more powerful and use less power, thus last longer than previous generations. One change has had a negative side though. The color screens unfortunately are NOT as readable in the bright light of day while soaring at altitude. It is necessary to run the screen with as much contrast as possible and as bright as possible to make sure it’s visible. I’ve also used a PDA with a 640x480 resolution to help get as much detail as possible. The various TFT technologies just don’t give as much contrast as the former black and white versions did. I’m optimistic that color screens will continue to improve because cell phone users face these same issues and cell phones are getting better now. As Transreflective, Transmissive and other TFT technologies evolve I am sure one will work well in bright daylight. Here’s what my current setup looks like in shade on the left and bright light on the right.
If you want to read about the latest PDAs, how they work with the various soaring packages and see what might work for you I recommend reading Paul Remde at http://www.cumulus-soaring.com/
For the last few years I have been using a program called SeeYou Mobile on my PDA for in-flight flight assistance and safety. I have grown to love this software and the freedom it enables. It’s very important to always fly the plane, to keep your head up and looking out for traffic, conditions and so forth but when a click glance at the computer tells me I have many safe options and how close I am to making it back “home”, it’s a very rewarding thing that used to take more heads down time with a map, pencil and more.
SeeYou Mobile is written by a talented team of developers from Slovenia and can be found here: http://www.naviter.si/products/seeyou-mobile.php?Itemid=61 I met the developers in person at SSA conventions, they are great people and I am proud to support them by paying for and using their products.
They are working on an update which will run on the newer Personal Navigation devices build for use in cars which also come with build in GPS. This step gets the tools closer and closer to full MID support which will eventually enable glass cockpits in gliders.