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US Air Force Buys iPads To Replace Flight Bags 348

Posted by samzenpus
from the brand-new-bag dept.
redletterdave writes "Following the precedent set by commercial airliners, the U.S. Air Force plans to buy up to 18,000 iPads for its Air Mobility Command (AMC), replacing heavy flight bags with light and efficient Apple iPad 2s for the crews that fly cargo aircraft. The devices will reportedly be used by the crews on the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster aircraft. There are several benefits to using electronic flight bags instead of physical versions. For one, the iPad can instantly update charts electronically, while the AMC would require flying charts get reprinted every 28 days to stay up-to-date. By cutting publication printing and distribution costs, and exchanging 70 pounds of paper for a 1.3-pound iPad, the Air Force can save some serious cash, including more than $1.2 million worth of fuel per year."
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US Air Force Buys iPads To Replace Flight Bags

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  • Battery (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Picardo85 (1408929) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:34PM (#38974391)
    But printed charts and manuals don't have an 8-10 hour battery time ...
    • Re:Battery (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:36PM (#38974431)

      It's OK man - they can spend $1.2 million recharging them!

    • Re:Battery (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:39PM (#38974483)

      If you don't have electrical power in your plane you got much more serious problems than to worry about a dead iPad battery I believe.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by idontgno (624372)

        Well, I'm not an aircraft engineer (either ground or flight), but I really don't remember 120v 60hz AC service routinely available on most military aircraft I've flown in. The stuff I've seen is 120 Vac at 400hz or 28 Vdc.

        I suppose a multi-billion dollar program to retrofit all these AMC aircraft to include US household current on the flight decks of the current transport aircraft inventory wouldn't be all bad...

        • Well, I'm not an aircraft engineer (either ground or flight), but I really don't remember 120v 60hz AC service routinely available on most military aircraft I've flown in. The stuff I've seen is 120 Vac at 400hz or 28 Vdc. I suppose a multi-billion dollar program to retrofit all these AMC aircraft to include US household current on the flight decks of the current transport aircraft inventory wouldn't be all bad...

          Like most other gadgets, the iPad can charge off of a USB port. That would be 5 Vdc.

          • by yakatz (1176317)

            Like most other gadgets, the iPad can charge off of a USB port. That would be 5 Vdc.

            Actually, the iPad can not be charged off a standard USB port while it is powered on. It draws 1.5 amps (more than the .5 amps of USB 2.0).
            There are USB ports that will charge the iPad (if they support the Battery Charging v1.1 [usb.org] spec), but having those on a device is rare.

            The iPad can charge slowly when it is asleep from a standard USB 2.0 port if there is nothing else drawing power.

            • by perpenso (1613749)

              Like most other gadgets, the iPad can charge off of a USB port. That would be 5 Vdc.

              Actually, the iPad can not be charged off a standard USB port while it is powered on. It draws 1.5 amps (more than the .5 amps of USB 2.0). There are USB ports that will charge the iPad (if they support the Battery Charging v1.1 [usb.org] spec), but having those on a device is rare. The iPad can charge slowly when it is asleep from a standard USB 2.0 port if there is nothing else drawing power.

              There seems to be existing aviation oriented adapters that can deliver 2 amps. http://www.lonestaraviation.com/Power-Adapter-USB-Socket.html [lonestaraviation.com]

        • by dwywit (1109409)

          S'funny - I thought ipads charged at USB current and voltage.
           
          I'd have thought even the USAF wouldn't be stupid enough NOT to take mid-air charging into account when they were considering this, although a mil-spec 120VAC/400Hz or 28Vdc to USB plugpack will probably cost $40,000 each when the supply contracts are signed.

        • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by MikeMo (521697) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:44PM (#38975505)
          Really? Slashdot is going to argue over whether the military can figure out how to charge an iPad on a C-17? Really?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by bongey (974911)
            The C-17 already has AC power adapters. Had many times been deployed and plugged a laptop right in. The C-17 also already has a computer on board toughbook I think.
        • Re:Battery (Score:5, Informative)

          by Loadmaster (720754) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @09:47PM (#38976133) Homepage

          The C-17 has plenty of standard outlets on-board. There are two at the Load station and outlets every couple of feet above the sidewall seats. Plenty of outlets to be had.

          I know, because I was a C-17 Load.

          You know what it didn't have? A fucking microwave. Had a convection oven but no microwave.

    • The iPad 2 has a battery life of around 10 hours continuous use. I don't think they plan on using them continuously.

    • I can't help but think that if the goal is to have electronic versions of the manuals and charting there are better choices available, but the iPad gets picked because everybody wants one. I would have hoped that the US Military would look to open source solutions . . . .
      • Re:Battery (Score:4, Informative)

        by narcc (412956) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:05PM (#38974907) Journal

        I'd be happy if they looked at a secure solution!

        The only tablets with FIPS certification right now are the Blackberry Playbook (which it had ages ago) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (which just got certified last month).

        Apple said they were working on getting FIPS certification back in 2010, but that never materialized.

    • 28 day shelf life versus 8-10 hour battery that can be charged trivially with one of the most standardized interfaces in the world.
      • by icebike (68054) *

        The shelf life is much longer than 28 days for the paper. Not ALL of it gets updated, just some pages.

    • Re:Battery (Score:5, Interesting)

      by limaxray (1292094) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:34PM (#38975355) Homepage
      1) EFBs typically run on ship power during flight
      2) An aircraft will have at least 2 EFBs in operation at a time - pilot and copilot. Some aircraft have a 3rd EFB for a center screen.
      3) Many of the dedicated EFB tablets that have been in use for years are powered by NiMh batteries (out of fear of Li-Ion) and last less than an hour on a charge. Since they rarely run on batteries, this has not been much of an issue to the best of my knowledge.
  • by Nittle (1356899) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:35PM (#38974413)
    What about when they have to turn them off when the flight door is closed?
  • by Barbara, not Barbie (721478) <barbara.hudsonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:35PM (#38974415) Journal

    The people who have been sniffing around Apple's supply chain say that the iPad3 will have a 2048x1572 screen, etc ... so why not get the iPad2 cheaper, or get the iPad3 for its better display, etc.?

  • Hrmm.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mirix (1649853)

    They should probably keep paper around, even if it isn't updated as often, as a backup.

    It's going to suck to have nothing when your batteries die or the software fails.

    $1.2M of fuel seems like a drop in the bucket for the amount of birds they keep in the air, and one falling out of it is worth far more.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tompaulco (629533)
      The FAAs position with other carriers has been that there has to be an alternate source of the information, and at least one company has gotten by with a second ipad as that source. So, I imagine that the Air Force will have to either continue to lug around the paper, or the will have to have two ipads. Personally, i wouldn't find it worth the hassle and would just use the paper charts.
      Alternatively, they could buy an actual piece of equipment designed from the ground up and rigorously tested for exactly t
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Something designed for this is going to cost a hell of a lot more than $500. Paper charts are far less convenient. Try doing a search on a paper book, for a term not in the index.

        This seems like win win. Taxpayers save by using COTS tech and crews get ipads.

        • by narcc (412956)

          Try doing a search on a paper book, for a term not in the index.

          Try using a search in place of a proper index. I guaranteed you'll take the well-designed index every time.

      • by timeOday (582209)

        Alternatively, they could buy an actual piece of equipment designed from the ground up and rigorously tested for exactly this purpose and which is permanently in the cockpit and can also be updated via subscription services. But then they wouldn't have toy ipads to play with at taxpayers expense.

        Are you referring to an existing device that's cheaper than an iPad, or just taking a pot-shot?

        • Re:Hrmm.. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by tompaulco (629533) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:09PM (#38974973) Homepage Journal
          They are not cheaper than an ipad. In fact they are much more expensive. However, they are designed for use in flight environments, they have input methods specifically designed for use in flight, they are rigorously tested for interference with other devices and certified for cockpit use by the FAA. They also have larger, easier to read displays that are designed to be used in cockpits where it can be either very dark, or the sun can be shining directly on it. They are also wired into the electronics system, can integrate with the autopilot and other aircraft devices, and are not loose in the cockpit. Finally, another plus is that many and possibly all C-5 and C-17 aircraft in operation already have them.
          • Re:Hrmm.. (Score:4, Informative)

            by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:44PM (#38975507)

            They are also wired into the electronics system, can integrate with the autopilot and other aircraft devices, and are not loose in the cockpit. Finally, another plus is that many and possibly all C-5 and C-17 aircraft in operation already have them.

            Which means that the iPad is replacing the paper copies as a backup system to start with. So, if the main system breaks, the iPad needs to work only long enough to find a reasonable field to land at, and not necessarily provide a full-flight's worth of operation. Considering that both pilots will have one, there will be two backups.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Alternate source: So when the captain's iPad batteries go dead, you discover that the First Officer has been playing Angry Birds since departure.

      • So, I imagine that the Air Force will have to either continue to lug around the paper, or the will have to have two ipads.

        Contact [wikipedia.org]: S.R. Hadden: First rule in government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?

    • by xs650 (741277)
      There is enough excess electrical power on aircraft to run an iPad or 50 so batteries aren't a problem. If the pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster have ipads, then 1 or 2 of them failing wouldn't endanger the mission.
      • by mirix (1649853)

        I was thinking of a situation when you've lost power, perhaps some sort of EMP has taken out your iPads too.

        Might want a paper map to find somewhere nice to put 'er down, no..?

        • by peragrin (659227)

          if you lost power like that? you have lost control of 90%of the plane anyways, and your going to be landing really quickly. whether you want to or not.

          besides the ipad has a battery. If it is plugged in when the power goes out you still have 8 hours to land which is probably 2 times longer than the pilots are capable of handling one of those cargo planes for manually.

          think about it.

    • Re:Hrmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:59PM (#38974827) Homepage

      I have to say, it reminds me of the comment an ex-Signals guy doing his amateur radio licence at the local club made, along the lines of "a map with a bullethole in it is a map that's still mostly accurate, but a laptop with a bullethole in it is really just too big to be a useful paperweight"

    • by couchslug (175151)

      Pubs don't cause aircraft to "fall out of the air" unless you beat the shit out of the pilot with the pub bag.

  • Oh (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So that is what "Airplane Mode" does.

  • E-paper (Score:5, Informative)

    by jader3rd (2222716) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:41PM (#38974505)
    Wouldn't a device with e-paper (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader, etc) be a better replacement for books? Those devices have no glare, have all of the benefits listed, and all have a longer battery life.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You're missing the point, which is to plug Apple.

    • Yeah, but then we wouldn't be dumping so much money into the Chinese economy.
      • Of the devices mentioned, they're all manufactured in China or Taiwan, except for the Sony Reader, for which I can't find good references as to where it is manufactured. It probably was manufactured in Japan, but I read that manufacturing was moved to China after the earthquake.

        • by swonkdog (70409)

          I have one of last year's versions of Sony's Reader (PRS-650), it's stamped 'Made in China'. I have no reason to doubt that the others are any different.

    • Not books (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:49PM (#38974653)
      These are more for diagrams and maps. e-paper is best for text only.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Well actually the article which TFA refers to points out, "AMC said in a notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website Thursday that it planned to buy "a minimum of 63 and a maximum of 18,000, iPad 2, Brand Name or Equal devices" for the crews that fly cargo aircraft such as the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster. Lt. Col. Glen Roberts, AMC public affairs director, said the command "is looking for a tablet device, not necessarily an iPad."

      So it's not a done deal for Apple, yet.

      • by tompaulco (629533)
        I found a reference that indicates the number of C-5 And C-17s that the Air Force operates to be 316 (as of 2009). It seems odd that they would consider purchasing up to 600 tablet devices per airplane for the fleet.
    • The real purpose of this is an angry birds style app for launching the bombs. You can't do that with the kindle.
    • Name one e-paper device which is at least semi-rugged. Gorilla glass and aluminum bodied. Go ahead, name one. *Dislcaimer: I am an Apple hater, but they do some things right.
  • by ackthpt (218170) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:45PM (#38974585) Homepage Journal

    Data entry device.

    Yuck. Going back and forth between number and alpha keyboards on screen nearly caused a riot. I had to code custom on-screen touch-keypads to allow speedy, painless data entry. Nice as a readout device and OK with some interation, but be wary of using one for data capture.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      I only have an android tablet, but isn't it just long press on certain letters to get numbers? That is what my android tablet does.

  • Tablet, not iPad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by clickforfreepizza (2465094) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:45PM (#38974591)

    TFA specifies once that in truth, they are looking at tablets, not just iPads. Than it's back to Apple this and iPad that. If it indeed is a forgone conclusion, they should have explained why. That's some mighty fine journalism, there. Also, they mention iOS isn't certified yet; don't know if any tablet is.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      If they go for iPads they go for a closed source system from a single provider. I don't think that sort of thing should be legal for a publicly funded organization when a multi-supplier, open source alternative exists.

  • I guess $1.2 million could be considered serious cash. I mean, if you multiply that by a factor of about five thousand, you're up to 1% of the US military budget. </sarcasm>
  • by bongey (974911) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:48PM (#38974635)
    iPad != tablet

    Lt. Col. Glen Roberts, clarified the report, stating the commend "is looking for a tablet device, not necessarily an iPad"

    Seeing that there is custom DoD Android edition and clearances, where iOS has not . http://www.bgr.com/2011/12/28/pentagon-approves-android-device-for-department-of-defense-apple-still-awaits-clearance/ [bgr.com] . There is even a DoD SDK.

    But one thing about the Air Force there are different commands and they all make different decisions . ASFOC will make one decision, AMC another and the ANG another, and they never cooperate, costing tax payers millions.

    • by idontgno (624372)

      ASFOC will make one decision, AMC another and the ANG another, and they never cooperate, costing tax payers millions.

      In theory (i.e., the Federal Acquisition Regulations [acquisition.gov]), they're supposed to. But the links in the story do make it look like a direct acquisition through the operational command, and not through an Air Force Materiel Command acquisition agency. I guess the cost of even thousands of overpriced iPads isn't enough money to warrant that.

  • by holophrastic (221104) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @07:48PM (#38974643)

    sure, the ipad is a great way to replace paper. but clearly someone's forgotten what the flight bags are for. there are a few beautiful things about paper -- it's always there, it has zero dependencies, laminated it can withstand more than the human using it, and absolutely nothing can go wrong with it. it just can't break.

    so since these things are consulted when the plane breaks, two engines die, and the power is out, it's nice to have the redundancy be a completely different technology.

    so when the ipad hangs, is there tech support mid-flight? remember, paper has zero tech support requirements.

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:17PM (#38975117) Journal
    In particular, any computer needs to be built in the west, with chips from the west, to be trusted.
  • by limaxray (1292094) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:20PM (#38975151) Homepage
    I work in the corporate aviation side and deal with EFBs on a regular basis, including iPads. EFBs are nothing new, and the iPad certainly isn't the first such device on the market - in the past they have been mostly Windows tablets. The main benefit of iPads is the ease of use and support. Windows based EFBs are a support nightmare just like any other Windows machine (user malfunctions mostly), and the iPads make this much easier as they are fairly idiot-proof.

    And that's where the benefits end. They simply are not designed for the rugged environment of a cockpit and flight crews tend to be about as dainty as gorilla. My biggest complain is the proprietary connector - it's weak, flimsy and breaks easily, and then is a challenge to replace as it is not a standard connector. The screens are decent for 'consumer grade' devices, but sunlight readablitly is not as good as some of dedicated EFB products out there. I'm also not aware of any 'Made for iPad' devices that allow interfacing with a ship's avionics to acquire weather, flight plan and position data as we do with Windows tablets.

    Now I hate Windows EFBs with a burning passion, but I just don't think iPads are appropriate for professional aviators. We've been supporting them in the field for less than a year and they are simply not holding up. IMO a rugged Android tablet with appropriate Android Open Accessory avionics interfacing would be a much better solution, but I don't know what is out there to this end. Everyone wants their iPads and doesn't care to hear about anything else...
  • by jbwolfe (241413) on Wednesday February 08, 2012 @08:20PM (#38975161) Homepage
    In keeping with established tradition, my company has still not provided the promised EFB (electronic flight bag). we have been told literally "any day now" since 2004. Many studies, prototypes and vendors have been examined, but finally, as of October 2011, a commitment was made to procure the iPad. The new promise was November, then mid-December. And still... no device. Current issue is regulatory and infrastructural. At any rate, the advantage is mostly one of convenience. For someone with near vision issues, it will be very helpful. But the real gain will be that the paper won't have any more coffee stains on them. What it will not provide is depiction of aircraft position, but that may actually be good as you'd want one source for that- on-board navigation. Some of the relevant issues: *Who's responsible for equipment (if stolen, broken, not charged, etc.) *Can we use it below 10000' (not trivial to FAA) *How will data be updated (do I provide access to server or company) *can the device be incorporated as "aircraft permanent equipment" *can I watch porn on it or jailbreak/root it (of course not) *can they monitor what they do with it (not unless required by law, but they certainly will...)
  • So what does this tell the enemies of the US airforce? That they can ground cargo operation with directed EMP. The ipad isn't EMP hardened, so a single EMP burst will deprive the pilots of all charting and mission planning. What a great way to shut down US airlift capability! No body would have bothered in the past because US military planes are EMP hardened so you couldn't kill the plane. But now with the advent a consumer electronic device for charts and mission plans you have the ability to shut down all

    • I don't pretend to know much about EMP hardening, I assume the built-in electronics are built to withstand the effects, but I also assume that the whole outer skin of the plane is shielded?

      If that is the case, which I am only suggesting, is it not likely that the tablet inside the cockpit would also be shielded by the fuselage?

  • "Lt. Col. Glen Roberts, clarified the report, stating the commend "is looking for a tablet device, not necessarily an iPad."
  • Missed Opportunity.

    For both BlackBerry and their "professional grade" but too-small PlayBook [blackberry.com] tablet, and for E-Ink [eink.com] and their lack of color devices on the market. To be fair, there is the jetBook Color [ectaco.com] which is targeted at the educational market... but it's the only one and I doubt anyone has made any additional aviation apps for it. Too bad they couldn't have leveraged their branding for the aviation market.

  • by AdamHaun (43173) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @02:27AM (#38978287) Journal

    I had a hard time believing they'd go for an iPad over a more rugged device, but the article says Special Operations Command already did so. iPads are consumer hardware. From Apple's specs: [apple.com]

            * Operating temperature: 32 to 95 F (0 to 35 C)
            * Nonoperating temperature: -4 to 113 F (-20 to 45 C)
            * Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing
            * Maximum operating altitude: 10,000 feet (3000 m)

    Even for a cargo plane, that seems pretty limited. I know they have at least some climate control in flight, but don't they park the planes in arctic and desert environments too? Don't they need the checklists before they start the plane up? Or do they keep them running all the time and only shut down at their home base?

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