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A Netbook for Aircraft Navigation

There is apparently some MS-Windows software for navigating light aircraft in Australia. It takes input from a GPS device and knows the rules for certain types of common tasks (such as which direction to use when approaching an airport). My first question when I heard of this was “so if the Windows laptop crashes does your plane crash?“. But I’ve been assured that paper maps will always be available.

The requirement is for a touch-screen device because a regular laptop in the open position won’t leave enough room for the control stick. So the question is, what is the best touch-screen Windows laptop? It must be relatively rugged spinning media for storage is unacceptable due to the risk of damage in turbulence, it should be relatively cheap (less than $1000), and can apparently have a somewhat low resolution for the screen.

The pilot who asked me for advice on this matter is currently thinking of the ASUS Eee T91 which runs Windows XP home, has 16G of solid-state storage and a 1024*600 screen. I am concerned about the reliability of that system as the rotatable screen design seems inherently weak.

The Smartbook concept sounds appealing, I don’t expect that you would want to wait for a typical OS to boot while flying a plane. But those devices mostly use ARM CPUs and thus can’t run MS-Windows. One particularly interesting device is the Always Innovating Touchbook [1] which has a detachable keyboard – which would be handy for non-airline use. Unfortunately it seems that Always Innovating aren’t doing production at the moment, they say “The current Touch Book production is in stand-by and will resume in the summer when we will release our newest and craziest innovation” – well summer is almost over in the northern hemisphere so I guess that means there won’t be anything from them for another 9 months.

A device such as an iPad would also be a good option for looking at static documents. The pilot is considering using a MS-Windows PC to generate images and then viewing them on such a device. But he’s not really enthusiastic about it.

Are there any good and cheap touch-screen devices that run MS-Windows? Are there any particularly noteworthy PDF reader devices which would be better than an iPad for viewing maps while flying a plane? Is it possible to run a MS-Windows application that uses a GPS under Wine on a Netbook?

4 comments to A Netbook for Aircraft Navigation

  • Catherine Allen

    My 14-year-old niece bought a T91 about a month ago and takes it everywhere in her bag. It seems to be holding up well so far. No idea how it’d go in a plane tho’.

  • Hi,
    A vert short answer to the very last question is “probably”.
    I have a GPS logger (Holux M-241) which can be connected to a computer via USB, and it comes up as a USB serial device. The windows application that comes with the logger simply opens a serial port (e.g. COM1) to talk to the it. The only trick I had to do was creating a symlink for /dev/ttyUSB0 to say /dev/ttyS4, so that it is accessible via COM5 under wine.
    Mind you this logger is quite well supported (unofficially) under Linux too.

  • Hi,

    Jeppessen Mobile TC (terminal charthing) might be applicable in that case. A slight nuisance might be that in order to use that application (Electronic IFR / VFR Charts on iPad) you must have JeppView or NavSuite subscription.

    http://www.jeppesen.com/microsites/jeppesen-mobile-tc/
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/jeppesen-mobile-tc/id382536356?mt=8

  • wim de vries

    I have a prototype EFIS/navigation system currently running on a MSI Wind u135.
    I did choose this one for its excellent screen, even in sun light (I fly a Sky Arrow: like a glider, there is no shade in the cockpit).
    I also attached a pressure/humidity/temp sensor. Basically for alt warnings (you define your max and min alt for each leg).
    Runs under Linux/ubuntu (64 bits). Not windows because it was too unstable regarding the sensor (USB/serial). Also for security: minimizing the risk of viruses etc. in the cockpit. It is a dual boot: if you want to game or so, you can still boot the original Win7.
    The maps I use are scanned (ICAO) or downloaded (approach charts) from various public sites and converted and to png by a separate app.
    If you are interested to be a ‘test pilot’ of the apps. Please let me know.