If you are contemplating using a PC/PDA in-the-air,
read this brief tutorial!


DO YOU NEED A LAPTOP OR PDA IN FLIGHT? - YES! It is your "low-cost" solution to a "glass cockpit". And the FAA now approves the use of computers as an aviation flightbag (EFB). You can get great flight planning software, E6B calculators, use the computer as a fuel timer, keep flight and fuel logs, get automated warnings about due dates, play MP3 music into your intercom, and, with a GPS attached . . . have a moving map.


DAYTIME VIEWABILITY - During the day, above the clouds, you are in full sunlight. The average Laptop or PDA is UNREADABLE! You CAN cup your hands over the small screen on a PDA to view it. You cannot do so with a Laptop.

Being somewhat frugal, the President of our company (ED/iT) took his trusty Laptop aboard the corporate a/c. He returned to the office frustrated but he had a solution. For his next flight, he found an ideal sized cardboard box that shrouded all sides of the Laptop. Repeating a flight, he returned to the office frustrated but had a new solution. He taped a black cloth to drape over the box. On his next flight, he simply lifted the cloth and could now barely read the display. For his final attempt, he cut a small window two inches high and six inches wide in the cloth. This meant he would not have to lift the cloth and thus no sunlight would reach the screen. In addition, he left the bottom of the cloth untaped so the he could lift it to use the keyboard. Well, it worked . . . sort of! First problem was that his eyes were adapted to full sunlight so peeking his head into the tiny cloth window meant that he had to wait for his eyeballs to adapt to the "darkness". As soon as he lifted the cloth to access the keyboard, enough light leaked in to again make the display barely readable. In addition, just pecking at the keyboard was, in his words, "a real pain".

COCKPIT PLACEMENT - The above also assumes your right seat is unoccupied! Most folks cannot rest the laptop, with or without some silly cardboard box, on their lap and still have room for yoke or stick travel. Imagine asking your right seat passenger to keep a one foot cube on their lap.

The good news is that your PDA can sit on your Kneeboard or lap. Even better, you can find a Yoke mount that will work with any PDA. No yoke, there are also a variety of suction cup mounts that you can stick on your side window.

You will still have to cup your hands over the screen to read it! If you are flying under cloud cover, the situation improves a bit.

NIGHTTIME VIEWABILITY - Works great! Do much night flying?

USABILITY - Ok, skip the topic on viewability. Did you miss the point about access to the Laptop keyboard. If the laptop is on the right seat, you are now working in an uncomfortable position. It gets really difficult to find those keys. We're certain you're not using a mouse but instead either a pointer stick or touch screen. The bad news is that there is just enought a/c vibration (forget turbulance) to make moving the cursor totally frustrating.

On the other hand, if you have room for a Laptop on your lap (L-a-p...t-o-p), and you think you have room to type or fiddle with the cursor, think again (or better try it). Your arms or elbows will bump into something or you'll look up and find that you are in a steep dive, grab the Yoke, pull up, and smash the Yoke into the laptop.


THE SOLUTIONS - Start reading the aviation catalogs and you will find a variety of highly specialized "units' designed for in-flight use. Most have screens that are readable in sunlight. Many of the GPS units unfortunately have very tiny screens. Most "units" come with good software. But note that these are dedicated, lacking the full functionality of a PDA or Laptop. Prices range, as a minimum in the $700 range up to just under $3,000. Most units stick on your instrument panel shelf or can be Yoke mounted. However, note for those big $$$, you are getting an expensive, dedicated piece of hardware. You should consider alternatives.

Is there a better way to spend a grand or two? First you need something that can be used in full sunlight. Panasonic makes a TabletPC for about $3000 but it's the size a full notebook. Motion Computing makes a 7x9 inch TabletPC, the LS800, for about $2000, also daylight readable. But it has two major problems. First, it requires a stylus. Second, it gets very hot and can overheat and turn itself off. (The LS800's are now a discontinued product. But you can find them on eBay for about $500.) Samsung has just released a new product called the Samsung Q1U series. It's the most affordable compromise. It is not quite readable in direct sunlight but we have found that it is readable in the cockpit. It is full touch screen and also about 7x9 inches (and does not get hot).Fujitsu also offers the 1620D and a new U810.

Both the Motion and Samsung fit nicely on your Yoke!

THE BEST SOLUTION - For $1000, the Samsung Q1U is a honey. And Samsung offers a solid state drive version for about $1600. We are both a Samsung and Fujitsu reseller. But you should also do some pricing on the Internet. We're sure you can find these units at a lower cost than we can provide them.

NEW NEW NEW - We have found the ULTIMATE SOLUTION especially if you already have a Notebook/Laptop. Instead of spending $1000 for a new TabletPC, we have a special DISPLAY ADAPTER that converts your Laptop into a "TabletPC". And it's under $400. Our ADAPTER is TWICE AS BRIGHT as ordinary TabletPC's, comes with both 110VAC and 12VDC power supplies. It is about 7 3/4 by 4 1/2 inches (like most Tablets) and includes a master cable that connects to your Laptop external monitor port AND a USB port. By doing so, the ADAPTER is now a "remote" display and a TOUCHSCREEN (via the USB port). We will be posting this unit on our web site in June 09.

Click to read our Q1 VERSUS LS800 Review.

In addition, if you are a wise shopper with a lean budget, consider that the fantastic new Garmin 496 ($2,795) does not cut it when you compare it to full function Windows TabletPC. The PC has a bigger screen, can work with any number of Route Software products (Jepp, Golden Eagle Flight Prep, and many others), can work with a GPS to give you moving maps, can hold a full EFB full of all types of goodies, maintain your business software, and even play music, at the same time, in-flight. Hey, if you have the money, buy one of each.