What Is It?
I must admit to being curious as to what exactly an electronic flight bag was. As someone with VERY limited real world piloting experience, I didn’t even appreciate what a flight bag was, let alone an electronic one. Further still, why did I need it for Flight Simming?
In a nutshell, the Electronic Flight Bag 2004 (EFB04) is a standalone process that allows you to view the type of information you need as a pilot within FS9. Because it is a separate programme running within FS and not a gauge, there is no impact on frame rates. As the blurb on the fswidgets website states, “EFB will provide you with a paperless cockpit with access to PDF approach charts, PDF aircraft manuals, audio/standard checklists, NAV log, internet and real-time weather links plus a moving map display. Now, I can already hear some of you say “So what, I can do this without EFB?” And, of course, you’d be right. However, it’s the intelligent and organised way that EFB does this that makes it useful.
How Do I Get It?
Getting a hold of this product could not be any easier short of someone coming to your house and installing it for you. Simply visit the fswidgets site, download the product and the manual and install it.
The only choice you need to make is whether or not to install the standard version or, if your using a networked setup, the network version. There are a few additional considerations when installing the networked version (which I didn’t use) but they are clearly explained as an appendix to the manual. The minimum requirements are not by any means excessive, although you will need an Adobe Acrobat reader (the free version will suffice) and Windows XP. If you plan on using this with a laptop, ensure you have at least a 1024x768 resolution as I’ll explain later.
That all said, too often I read reviews that cover in great depth the installation process for a product. This needs no elaboration, it really is that simple. At the end of the process you’ll be asked for a registration key to unlock the package. “But hold on just a minute, you mentioned nothing about payment yet!” No I didn’t, because you can use this product in Demo mode for 20 minutes without the need to register. If you choose this option, you can simply register at any time. Rest assured, this is the better of the two options, as I’ll explain.
Is It Of Any Use To Me?
On activating the EFB04, you are presented with a number of options:
This is the one feature which may attract you to this product and is indeed very handy. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I currently have to flick between FS in windowed mode and Acrobat. This is cause for slow down if you have FS in full screen mode (at least on my system anyway) so the ability to have your pdf charts in front of you while still being able to see what’s going on in FS is quite valuable.
I found this aspect of EFB04 very useful. Not only can you view charts in pdf but also in bmp form as well. If this product did nothing other than charts, it would still be a handy tool to have. Now that’s quite a bold statement to make about something like this. However, most of you will appreciate the importance of having charts to land, particularly when approaching busy airports and airspace with which we are unfamiliar. This is especially the case when those areas are controlled online.
This area of the EFB allows you to point it in the direction of your charts folder (or use the default folder within EFB) and from that point on you can call up any of the charts you have stored and view them using Adobe Acrobat, all within the frame of the EFB.
Those of you that use FSMap will know that FS9 pauses while you use it, not good if you're online. This feature of the EFB gives you a perfectly reasonable zooming, moving map display complete with navaids and even prohibited areas, something you don’t see with the default map. It’s generally intended to act as an aid to your situational awareness and not as a means of navigation in its own right and is a useful tool.
Currently, this only supports the default FS navlog format. As I never use the default flight planner, I found this to be of little use initially. If however, you use FS Build or another tool which can convert your own flight plans to FS format, then you can display it on this page. I subsequently found this is most handy if you are flying GA aircraft, both in IFR and VFR conditions.
The open architecture of EFB allows you to make a folder for storing pdf manuals in, and you can use this feature to view those. I found that particularly useful on the LDS 767 and PMDG 744 when requiring use of the abnormal checklist. In short, this function means no more switching between windows.
As you would expect from an Electronic Flight Bag, all your heavy, bulky paper manuals can now be stored in pdf format and held in the memory of your EFB, cutting down the amount of gear you take into the cockpit. The end result in FS is a neater, tidier way of organising your manuals and charts and having them at your fingertips when you need them.
CHECKLISTS – Allows you to read or listen to aircraft checklists
Another useful feature is the checklist items which come in two guises. There is the standard checklist which you go through step by step, ticking each box as you go, and then there is a spoken checklist which almost acts as a co-pilot.
I found the standard checklists for the LDS 767 and a few other add-ons at the EFB website along with instructions on how to make your own. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a handy feature, especially for the more complex aircraft. There exists massive scope for someone with the time, knowledge and talent to create a great many checklists for download for this product. Failing that, you can always make them yourself.
WX – Enables you to view weather maps of particular regions
I like this feature of EFB which, via a drop down menu, allows you to call up weather charts from the internet. You can get a look at the North Atlantic winds or jetstream before you plan that oceanic crossing or even see the chance of a thunderstorm in your local area.
In fact, any online jpg can be viewed by inserting the web address in the "Settings" page. Again, this is a useful tool from a realism point of view as commercial airliners get this kind of info either from their ops department or the weather radars. Until now, few FS addon aircraft have had weather radar, so it’s a nice addition.
The options it currently has as default are extensive but predominantly in the US. If however, you can find a weather site which has images of your chosen area. It's easy enough to add these in. How much use you will make of it is up to you, as I personally use ActiveSky which can find certain weather patterns for me.
With the advent of Wireless everything now-a-days, the EFB incorporates the ability to connect to the internet (assuming you are actually connected in the first place) and view web pages using the EFB. A handy feature on a REAL EFB I’m sure, but I didn’t find much use for it here.
SETTINGS – Allows the configuration of EFB to be altered
This does pretty much what it says on the tin - it allows you to alter the configuration of EFB. It’s not difficult to use and you are not overwhelmed with lots of different options.
Each of these options are easily navigated given the straightforward nature of this product and you’ll be using it in no time at all. The manual is a 31 page pdf that you can download from here and is really only required to ensure that you get the most from the EFB and not necessarily required reading for basic operation.
Should I Go And Buy It?
The above is not an easy question to answer. This is definitely a handy utility, clever and useful, well thought out, and easy to use. The one big ‘BUT’ you sense coming is down to the fact that we, as flight simmers, have managed without it thus far.
We still view pdf charts on approach without needing EFB. If you want to view online weather images you can do so without EFB, ditto your aircraft manuals and checklists and especially so for a moving map and webpages.
In short, EFB offers little that is new, other than the fact it bundles it altogether in one neat package. Now that is good, don’t get me wrong, I’m just less than convinced that it’s that good, that you ought to go and spend money on it. The unit itself is big, it has to be to view the information, but this means it takes up half the screen. However, if you have a mult- monitor setup then this won’t be a problem. In fact, this would be decidedly advantageous, as you could have the EFB running constantly.
Finishing with a recommendation I would say this: Go and download the manual, flick through it and if you like what you see, download the demo. Use the demo for the 20 minutes you get free and if you like it, buy it and unlock the time limit.
I’m going to sit on the fence on this one. The product is good in everything it does, I just wouldn’t necessarily spend money on it. That, however, is like all reviews, largely my personal opinion and you can find out for yourself by using the demo. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you can make good use of EFB04 for 20 minutes, then you should buy it.
|What I Like About the Electronic Flight Bag|
|What I Don't Like About the Electronic Flight Bag|
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