Top 10 apps for the aircraft builder
“There’s an app for that.” This overused cliché becomes more and more apropos every day. Even for the aircraft builder, we now have a virtual toolbox in our pocket that has become indispensable. We have reached the point in technology where it is now the norm for an aircraft manufacturer to publish maintenance manuals, parts manuals, and all other documentation, for that matter, in a digital format. If you’ve grown up on paper, the transition to digital can sometimes be difficult, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
#1 The PDF Reader App:(Figure: 1) The Rotax manuals, for example, consists of literally thousands of pages spanning more than a dozen different manuals. The ability to use a search function on a 500-page manual can really speed up the process of locating the information that you’re looking for. In our shop, we have a library of aircraft maintenance manuals accumulated over the last 40 years.
#2 Sport Aviation Magazine App:(Figure: 2) Although we can’t wait for our big glossy Sport Aviation magazine to show up every month, we often don’t have time, right then and there, to read through each of the articles. For example, if you travel like we do on a fairly regular basis, there’s nothing better than having your copy of Sport Aviation magazine ready to read while you’re sitting in the terminal waiting for your aircraft to arrive. You can even download all of the past issues and easily have enough reading material for that 10-hour flight that you’re so looking forward to.
#3 Camera App:(Figure: 3) Another one of the most frequently used apps which we find invaluable is, of course, the camera app. The ability to take high quality pictures or video has completely change the way that our shop operates. We are able to work virtually with a customer hundreds of miles away keeping them up-to-date with progress reports and visual aids to help them understand what’s happening with their aircraft. Creating a visual diary through pictures of your aircraft build not only provides a great memento but also serves the dual purpose of providing the builder’s log to substantiate the 51% rule when applying for your airworthiness certificate on your amateur built aircraft.
If you’re planning on restoring an old aircraft, the camera is your best friend. Taking pictures along the way as you disassemble the aircraft will be of great assistance when it comes time to put it back together. This is especially true with some of the older aircraft where manuals or drawings are sparse. We would never consider an engine change without first creating a visual record of the entire engine compartment. If you’ve ever put an engine back into an airplane, but it was two years later, you’ll be amazed at the usefulness of this simple tool. We can also attest to this fact: you will never have enough pictures of the right spot. The quality of many phone cameras now days is so great that we use the camera as an inspection aid during annual inspection. You can’t get your head up into an inspection panel access hole but you can fit your camera. In the video camera mode, with the LED light turned on, it’s amazing what you can see on the inside of the wing or fuselage. The clarity in the high definition video is far superior to the many borescopes that we possess. You can take the video back to your desktop and scrutinize even the smallest of details.
#6 Vendor apps. More and more vendors are putting a lot of effort into their websites to make them mobile friendly. Websites like Aircraft Spruce (Figure: 6) are probably among the favorites with aircraft builders. Using the Aircraft Spruce website with a mobile device is nearly as easy as working off of your desktop. Not only ordering, but tracking your purchases and shipping. It is becoming more and more common that vendors create mobile device apps specifically to improve the shopping experience. One of our favorite suppliers is McMaster Carr. (Figure: 7) They have a mobile device specific app which is so seamless and friendly that we will often just pull out the phone to order parts rather than walk back to the office to place an order. We have the 3,952-page catalog from McMaster Carr. We’ve never cracked the cover.
#8 Smart Tools app: This app contains a suite of different types of tools including rulers, angle measuring devices, bubble levels, tape measures, sound meters, compass, lights, mirrors, etc. The most useful of the tools in this app is the visual protractor. (Figure: 9) It utilizes the camera overlay on a plumb bob. You can use the camera to align with a specific surface and even capture the relationship with the built-in camera feature directly on the screen.
#9 Machinist apps: There are literally dozens of extremely useful applications for the average builder up through the professional machinist. One of the favorites among the students in our Light Sport Repairman Maintenance classes is the Thread Pitch app. (Figure: 10) If you’re new to identifying hardware, you can simply hold a screw or bolt up against the screen and match it to the bolt to identify the thread pitch. There are a multitude of screens that allow you to not only check standard and metric threads, but tapered pipe threads as well. There are several dozen hardware apps to go along with this one. Providing a myriad of information on both SAE as well as metric hardware. The drill and tap chart app also comes in handy on a regular basis.
#10 Vibration apps: (Figure: 11) Some of the most intriguing new apps, which we’ve recently been playing with, are a selection of different vibration analysis apps. The accelerometers built into the new phones are highly sensitive and extremely accurate. They are capable of measuring acceleration in all 3 axis. We can watch the vibration in real time as well as capture data over a given period of time and analyze the data later. There are several graphical output formats depending on which app you’re using. We have been conducting tests to see if we can utilize the vibration app mounted in a selfie stick holder attached to the Rotax 912 during carb synchronization to supplement and validate proper carburetor synchronization. These apps promised to have very wide application in the aviation world. It will be interesting to see what other creative applications we can use the vibration analysis for.
Well, we’ve covered a pretty broad spectrum of different applications that we use in the aviation environment. The amazing thing is that we’re just scratching the surface of what exists today. With this kind of powerhouse in our pocket, our productivity skyrockets. We encourage you to check out some of these very useful tools and see if you don’t agree with our assessment. If we’ve come this far in the recent few years, since smart phones have been developed, imagine what we will see in the future.