Pilot Assist Pro is a unique product in the world of Flight Simulation. It has been designed for both the real-world pilot community, but also enables those who use a PC flight simulator to enjoy it also. Although we are a flight simulation resource, we are lucky enough to have a mix of people on the team – including pilots and those going through their PPL exams and tests.
Because of this, we felt it would be good to review the product from the perspective of both. Down below you’ll find reviews from both Dmitri and Daan. Dmitri will be focusing his review from his experience as someone who recently attained their PPL, whereas Daan will be talking to you simmer-to-simmer.
Enjoy. [Written by Calum]
For the Real-World Pilot – By Dmitri
Pilot Assist Pro (PAP) is an electronic flight bag for flight simulators that you can use to do a whole slew of things to aid you on your flight, and to set yourself up to have the most amount of information available at your fingertips. There are multiple EFBs for flight sim, but we think this may be a firm contender for the perfect application for flight sim.
When it comes to using apps, tools, or anything on a mobile device in an active environment, like a cockpit, it’s important that the user interface be easy to navigate and figure out. We all love complexity and manuals and realism, but when to comes to the tools we use, we don’t want to be poking through endless menus and pages to get information we need. And I think PAP has done this really well with its modern and sleek interface. There are no drop down menus and all the pages are clearly tagged and have nice icons that quickly tell you what you can do within the page.
In the real world while I fly, I like to keep track of the frequencies I will be assigned as I go along my route so in the situation that I can’t reach someone, or I have issues with a controller, I can go back to the previous frequency I was on. And instead of writing down every number and having to keep track of a small piece of paper, I can simply swipe to the right in the app and enter in frequencies in the list.
Remember this is a flight bag. It comes with many tools and options to aid you in your flight, some you may rely on, others you may not use because you got the information somewhere else. Either way this tool is for you to put in and retrieve information at your leisure.
Weather in aviation is immense and can be the driving factor in how you will conduct a flight. When I fly, I like to have a complete image of the weather in my area. For example, if I am operating out of my home airport in Northern California, KCCR, I want to know what it looks like in surrounding cities like Napa to the north, and San Francisco to the west. In PAP you can make a list of the airports you’d like to check out, and it will lay out all of the airports and show the current METAR and TAF reports decoded (and raw at the bottom) and have little symbols depicting the decoded report. It’s quick and allows you to get a good sense in what is going on.
Now when it comes to tools when flying an airplane, checklists are the poster child. Checklists are a must in every plane you fly, and during every flight you conduct. Checklists must be easy to access and easy to read and interact with, and PAP’s checklist interface is just that. You have the option to load a checklist from their database of premade lists, add it to your hangar (to have quick access to it again), or to just use it that one time. There are multiple broad categories (like ‘PreFlight’ ‘Start Up’ ‘Taxi’ and so on) and you can customize and edit every entry tailoring it to your plane. Personally, I like to use the physical checklist in the real world, but it’s nice to have customizability when jumping between model types.
The charts feature is (in my opinion) the one tool I don’t find very useful. In my other flying app, ForeFlight, charts are loaded up in the app and are connected together to make massive sectionals on the screen that you can zoom in on and interact with. But in PAP it’s basically a link to a dropbox account where you can load up documents. And unless you can find a way to load entire sectionals into a PDF, this feature won’t be as much use. You can load up a scanned copy of a real world checklist and read it like you do a physical checklist. That’s a good use for it if you don’t like tapping to go to the next item with the Charts feature.
Now be warned, the NOTAM window’s are small for each entry, and for a large airport like San Francisco International, there are 50 some odd NOTAMS. So if you want to check each and every one, you need to swipe through 50 slides. Also, the NOTAMS are not decoded into normal text; that’s okay if you don’t know how to read them yet, it’s easy to work it out.
For real world flights I use ForeFlight again, and in the flight plan dispatch package there is a section for NOTAMS and it’s very similar to Pilot Assist Pro, but they do decode it. NOTAMS are a hassle in general, just be advised that they are hard to read in PAP.
The Time Logs feature in the app I think was made for the Virtual Airlines and for people who are trying to build a simulated company. Many of us don’t sit down and log each and every flight we do, but some people (like myself) have a small VA, or are a part of an FSEconomy or Air Hauler company. This tool can help with flight time and logging who has been flying what. It’s not a mandatory thing to do in the sim, but if you are trying to have a professional environment, this tool is for you. All you do is enter who the PIC, SIC, and any other flight crew there were on a flight, and then enter all of the subsequent times as far as the flight.
In real life I use a similar feature on ForeFlight. ForeFlight has a flight tracker option that will track and log your flight, and at the end you have the choice to log that time in your virtual logbook. I’m a huge fan of that feature since it’s always smart to have a digital backup of your logged time.
All in all Pilot Assist Pro is a pretty modest tool. Its interface is simple and easy to navigate, and it has many features that I like to use both in the sim and in the cockpit. Although it doesn’t have any advanced capabilities like weight and balance and onboard charts, it does offer the basic tools that both simulator pilots and real world pilots use on a flight to flight basis, like weather and checklists. Many professional tools like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot can cost up to $200 a year to have, while Pilot Assist Pro is a one-time fee of $28.99. That’s very impressive for an application that has many of the same features.
Pilot Assist Pro is a very use tool for flights in flight simulator (and some parts for real world flights as well). It offers features that both sim pilots and real world pilots need in order to conduct a flight safely. Although it does not offer as many features or the complexity as other professional apps, the app does have every tool we need as simulator pilots in our sims with complete interactive interfaces and customizability.
For the Simmer – By Daan
Pilot Assist Pro is an app that is aimed at being your Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) in the cockpit. It’s trying to do all those nifty little things that a real EFB does, from displaying charts to showing you the weather at relevant stations as well as having incorporated checklists. The tool is (for now) only available on iOS for both iPhone and iPad.
While Dmitri has been looking at the app from a real-world pilot’s perspective, I have been looking at it from a simmer focused perspective. Furthermore, I work as a mobile developer in real life so that offers me some insights into apps that I have considered.
So, why I didn’t like to use the app? Not because of its feature set per se. It has many features and by the sound of it they are all pretty good and useful. Who doesn’t want a single place to store their charts and checklists while at the same time making notes about their flight?
The main reason I don’t like this app and my experience was so negative is because the app is incredibly unclear to use. The navigation is a mess, its interface is incredibly far from standard and the app is seemingly incredibly good at hiding all its features and how they are supposed to work.
I already mentioned it above: the interface seems a mess to me. The interface is built up of all custom components that app users may not immediately recognize. Because of some obfuscating icons, as well as no clear distinction between the apparent ‘menu’ and ‘dashboard’ functionality in the app, you’re often left wondering where some features have gone. Other features clearly lack feedback that will make you wonder whether the button you just clicked actually did something, and yet other interface items work in non-platform standard ways that will leave you confused on how something actually works. Because of the messy navigation, you’re always left wondering how you can get to another functionality in the app the quickest way.
Weather in the app is displayed in two ways. After adding a station to your app, it will give you the weather data in both visualised METAR and TAF reports. As many issues as I have with the interface of the app, the weather report cards look quite nice. They have some slight layout and discoverability issues, but nothing major. What is a rather major issue is that my METAR data was constantly expired, with no way to update the data. Some data also seemed to have some issues loading at all, often resulting in data in the card not being displayed (such as altimeter/pressure). Furthermore, the app also gives you NOTAM reports. Some NOTAM reports are more easy to read than others, and often they don’t apply to the sim anyway so I did not spent too much time with these.
The checklists are really confusing to me. There is a hangar, where you can add the aircrafts you fly, and then display the checklists for these aircraft. There is a difference between the ‘online’ and ‘personal’ hangar, but I have yet to figure out what the significant difference between the two is. There are a lot of aircraft available in the online hangar, and so far, I have yet to find one that I can fly in the sim and not use through this app. Unfortunately, there is no ‘search’ feature for the online hangar, though there is a very basic filter. The checklists are divided into sections with the relevant flight phases, and one checklist item takes over the entirety of your screen which felt like a huge waste of screen real estate. The checklists are also very basic, and though you can customize them, makes me wonder who is the target audience for this app. Clearly, it’s too basic for a real Boeing 737 pilot, but some features are a bit too advanced for a simulator or simply don’t apply to us. There is no way to override checklists or quickly skip to a different part of the checklist, which is quite a downside as well. ‘Unchecking’ is also not supported without resetting the entire checklist.
One of the most brilliant marketing features of this app is making you believe it has charts in it. It doesn’t. Instead, you need to add the charts manually through your linked Dropbox account (I’ll get back to that). After adding a screenshot of a chart manually, this app had the laziest implementation for showing charts I’ve seen yet. It simply displays your charts in a standard viewer with zoom gestures. No additional functionality, such as making notes (drawing) on your chart, and certainly not a replacement for e.g. Navigraph’s interactive charts. That’s particularly bad when you remember this app is trying to be your one place to do it all.
This feature allows you to log all notable event data from your flights. But again, it makes me wonder who this app is aimed at. Some of these features are clearly not meant and/or suitable for simulator pilots. This feature also struggles with a lot of interface issues. The time management particularly has a very confusing interface. Most of the log items however are just fields you need to fill in, but are not very interesting or relevant for simulator pilots, such as the tachometer time and Hobbs time. There are also fuel and oil level, which may or may not be interesting depending on how realistic you make your flights and how advanced your aircraft is in simulating things.
You’d imagine a feature like a scratchpad, which is essentially just a place to write/scribble notes could do hardly anything wrong, but even this feature is plagued by a bit of an unclear interface with unclear features. However, making notes works quite well.
Another feature of this app is its ability to upload everything to your Dropbox account, should you choose to link the app to it. It can only be linked to a Dropbox account and does not make use of iOS native iCloud Drive, or another storage place you might prefer (such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive). The data is stored in raw format, which makes it somewhat hard to read, and I have yet to find what the intent of this Cloud feature is. The only thing I’ve found it “useful” for is to add screenshots of my third party charts to my Dropbox account so that the PAP app could read them. Beyond that, the functionality of uploading everything (such as individual METAR reports) to my Dropbox is lost on me.