Friday, 11 January 2013

Finally free of my PC (!)

In a recent post I extolled the virtues of the Garmin AERA 795, and its synergies with my free email-based flight nav planning app, iNavCalc which now supports importing and exporting of Garmin-format routes  (".fpl" files).

So far, so good. But I was still left with the nagging problem of having to

  1. only program the Garmin SD card when at home (using my desktop PC with its built-in SD card reader); or 
  2. lug my laptop around just to be able to program the Garmin on-the-go (at the airfield, in the cockpit before departing, etc) via the laptop's SD card-reader.

THOSE DAYS ARE HAPPILY BEHIND ME, and I just thought I'd share with you my excitement at being finally free of my PC (at least when it comes to flight planning). For no more than a few pounds/dollars/euros, here's how I have freed myself:

First, here's a reminder of  my essential  kit for flight nav planning and navigation:

  1. Garmin AERA 795 for in-flight navigation (in my humble opinion, blows away my iPad in terms of usability, robustness, stability, and performance in the busy cockpit environment -- pricey, yes, but you get what you pay for).
  2. Samsung Galaxy S2 Android smartphone for planning my routes via iNavCalc and nothing more than a 3G connection (to receive email on the phone).

Next, I recently purchased the following pieces of kit to complement the above:

  1. A simple portable USB SD card reader (from Kingston)
  2. USB OTG (On -The-Go) cable for connecting the USB SD card reader to the Galaxy S2. Quite possibly the best £1.69 I've ever spent. 
  3. The Gmail Attachment Download app for Android
  4. The ES File Explorer app for Android
...and here's how all that kit hangs together, completely freeing me from my PC:
  1. I use the Galaxy S2 smartphone with  iNavCalc to plan my route (literally using only one hand / one thumb) via email. When done, I automatically receive an email with an attached ".fpl" file containing my desired route.
  2. I open the ".fpl" attachment on the smartphone, and save it to the local micro SD card ('permanently' installed in the phone). This is where the  Gmail Attachment Download app does its thing: it enables files of any format -- such as the relatively obscure ".fpl" format --  to be downloaded and saved (without this app, the Galaxy S2 would not allow me to download an unrecognized file format such as ".fpl").
  3. I plug the OTG cable into the Galaxy S2, and connect the portable USB Card reader to the other end of the cable. I then insert the SD card from my Garmin AERA 795.
  4.  Using the ES File Explorer app, I copy the ".fpl" file from the phone's internal micro SD card to the Garmin SD card in the external reader [note: I did, of course, try copying directly from the email attachment on to the mounted Garmin SD card. The file-copy worked fine: but then the Garmin somehow couldn't import the file. Odd. I will take a closer look if/when I have time. Meanwhile, 'bouncing' via the internal micro SD card works fine, adding only  a few seconds to the task].
  5. I then slot the SD card back in to the Garmin, and "import" the ".fpl" file to create a route (aka a Flight Plan) in the AERA 795.
The whole process takes a matter of minutes. Also, I can just as easily go the other way: export route(s) from the Garmin into my phone and then on to wherever...e.g., Google Drive (for my own later re-use), or iNavCalc's routes database (for sharing with anyone)...

Of course, all of the above would be unnecessary if I could communicate between the Galaxy and the  Garmin via Bluetooth and utilise some file-sharing protocol....maybe that will come in time, but for now, I am happy (and free).

Final note: all of the above is avoidable if I simply use my iPad for everything. That has certain appeal: I can use iNavCalc  to generate/share routes via email, and seamlessly import them to SkyDemon or AirNavPro etc., on the iPad for navigating. In fact, this is what I used to do -- until the iPad let me down once too often in the cockpit, and I went the Garmin 795 route (and haven't looked back since).

Related: this experience exemplifies one enormous advantage of Android over iOS: the ability to configure your devices to do what you want to do with them, not being restricted to do only what Apple allows you to do with them. Try reading an ".fpl" file via the iPad camera kit's SD card-reader, for example. Impossible. Forbidden by the Apple software (unless you jailbreak your iPad, which is not an ideal scenario -- especially on a device you may then go on to use for navigation !)