Slimming Down The Flight Bag by Peter Cassidy
AirPlay Second Quarter 2012

One of my small achievements over the past decade has been a major size and weight reduction of my flight bag. Ten years ago it was a hefty 20 to 30 pounder depending on the number of charts I carried. This does not include headsets which I am fortunate to be able to leave in the aircraft. It was a significant addition to the weight and balance and a challenge to store where it would be easily accessible in flight. Today it’s a slim 6 pound folio case that includes a 2 pound iPad.

Getting rid of paper charts has been the biggest contributor to a slimmer flight bag.  Many of my flights cross several states so it was not unusual to carry 10-20 pounds of charts. They started to go away when I got my first tablet PC in 2005. It was not until I got the iPad that I was able to go totally paperless for both terminal charts, enroute charts and sectionals. Enroute charts and sectional are not a big weight contributor, but they can be awkward to handle in the cockpit. Enroute and sectional charts on the iPad are a major improvement. Once you’ve experienced them you won’t want to go back to paper.

Not surprising, the iPad is the centerpiece of my flight bag. It’s fair to ask how dependent do you want to be on a computer? My experience has been very good. In over six years using tablet PCs I have never had a failure. They never froze and always started up. The only challenging area has been the interface to XM satellite weather. Until recently that’s been good but not perfect. Now with XM Wx on the iPad, any issues in that area are resolved. In spite of my good experience, I recognize that computers can and will fail so it is essential to have a backup. My backup is not paper, it’s my iPhone. All the flying information I have on my iPad is also available on my iPhone. It’s the same applications, just a smaller screen.

Let’s look at what’s in my slimmed down flight bag. The bag itself is a simple zipper folio that has an external compartment for small miscellaneous items. In the main compartment I have four items; two letter-size folders, a half-letter size folio, and my iPad.

One letter-size folder is yellow and contains a supply of flight plan forms, both FAA and ICAO. They are actually worksheets used in planning flights. The ICAO form is needed for flight planning in Canada. The worksheet gets handed to my co-pilot who uses it to enter the waypoints for the flight into the Garmin 530. The other folder is blue and contains various pages of miscellaneous information such as: US customs ports of entry information, my Garmin 430 and 530 setup configuration, instructions on how to recover a Bonanza after a gear up landing without causing further damage, quick reference guide for my SafeTest CO monitor, my Airmanship Self-Assessment Log, forms and instructions for doing a GAMI lean test. In front of these documents is a colored sheet of paper which separates trip-related items like fuel receipts, car and hotel reservations, and flight logs. Most of the reference materials in this folder is being converted to electronic format and moved to my iPad.

The half-letter size folio is seven clear plastic holders for my pre-flight checklist, list of inspection due dates, some quick reference notes for GPS operation, Canada and US Customs contacts, a layout of circuit breaker panels, record of VOR accuracy checks, record of GPS database updates, quick reference information for weight and balance calculation, and tables for setting power both LOP and ROP.

On the iPad we have several applications key to flying. ForeFlight, AeroWeather, ADDS, The Weather Channel,, GoodReader, and DropBox. ForeFlight provides terminal charts and maps for the entire continental US and display XM weather in flight. It’s also what I mostly use for filing flight plans. AeroWeather, ADDS, and The Weather Channel and great weather is an alternate flight panning tool I often use and a source of free Canadian terminal charts. Good Reader is a repository of a number of reference documents such as Garmin 430 and 530 user guides, my aircraft insurance policy, pre-flight and emergency checklists, scans of Gwen’s and my passports, scans of my aircraft maintenance log books, a list of Preferred Routs for trips I often take. DropBox is handy way to share documents between computers, iPads and iPhones and a very easy way to get documents loaded into GoodReader.

Like the POH (Pilot Operating Handbook), it’s a regulatory requirement to carry the user guides for the Garmin navigators in the plane. Having them in electronic form on the iPad means two less documents to find a place to store in addition to saving weight and space.

The external compartment of my flight bag is not big but more than adequate for the job. It holds:

- AC adapters for my iPad and iPhone.
- Flash drive for downloading data from my JPI engine monitor. Every 10 hours I download the engine data, take it home and look for any signs of problems. I find a surprising number of sparkplug problems this way.
- Gwen and my passports and my Canadian pilot license. Canadian pilot licenses are passport size and won’t fit in your wallet.
- Club cards for car rental companies, hotels, and airlines. They currently number 16.
- Extra lead for my mechanical pencil. I prefer a pencil for taking notes in flight.

As you can see there is not a lot of stuff in my flight bag and the really important items are in the iPad. What’s nice about information in the iPad is that it’s backed up. If I lose or damage my iPad, no information is lost. On the road, I can use my iPhone. Once back home, all the information can be restored from the iPad backup which is done automatically.

At one time there were many other items in my flight bag. Over time they have been removed because they were not being used. My philosophy is that simpler is better. The fewer things I carry the easier it is to find what I need. What’s not being used is clutter and gets in the way of what is useful.