Airplanista Blog Editor
People who know me and follow my writing career know I spend a good piece of every day and night communicating with #Avgeeks on Twitter. To me, that popular social platform represents the most effective and efficient way to stay close to the aviation family in real time.
A lot of things can be accomplished while on Twitter, but recently, the fantastic way this platform brings #Avgeeks together was on full display. Let me explain:
As an instrument-rated pilot, one of the pieces of the WX puzzle I Iike to see while planning a flight is cloud tops. Before I punch holes in them with the nose of my Cherokee 235, I really want to know how long I'll be in the soup before punching out on top into the clear blue. I know cloud tops are available online and in my Foreflight WX briefings, but what I've been looking for was an app that quickly gave me the tops available in the Area Forecast without entering a flight plan, picking up the phone, or trying to read tiny website text on my iPhone. But when I went and looked for such an app, it simply did not exist.Wait...what? I thought there was an app for that...and for everything else too. When a search came up empty, I of course jumped on Twitter and asked my 5,700(ish) followers if they knew of an app that could simply bring up the Area Forecast, or FA. What I got back was zip, zilch, nada. Until I heard from @thedigitalpilot aka Steve Knodl, a private pilot and app developer in Austin, TX.
Knodl did not know of "an app for that" but the idea intrigued him. Maybe it was the fact that where no such app existed, he saw opportunity. So after a few emails with me to lay out what I thought this simple app could/should do, Knodl went to work, and working in his spare time, put in "about 3-4 weeks of full-time work" developed the aptly-named...Area Forecast app.
This little free app is no frills, light on GUI and freakin' brilliant in its operation. It does only one thing - brings up any of the FAs in the system - and offers only a few settings to make the user experience better, like an adjustment for font face and size, and the option to tap the screen to toggle between UTC times and local times with the $4.99 "in-app" upgrade. This one feature alone keeps me coming back to the app several times a day, even when I am not flying.
Here's Steve's take on how this whole thing came to fruition:
"When I saw Dan's tweet," Knodl said, "I was surprised that nobody had already noticed this gap in the Area Forecast product availability and fixed it, but then realized that none of the tools I used as a pilot had a straightforward capability get this info. I was also intrigued by the piece of information Dan was looking for, forecast cloud tops, for which there is no other source in a quick app. I've used the Area Forecast before and could appreciate how difficult it is to get a hold of, the difficulty reading the cryptic language and then translating the Zulu time to the time zone where the flight was taking place in order to make it useful. So I decided to develop a app to try to attack an interesting problem, solved an actual user need, and build something that I could use. I'm sure the Area Forecast is overlooked by many pilots due to it inaccessibility, and I hope that this app will allow them to easily add it to their pre-flight process and improve their flying safety."Knodl was not on Twitter much before the exchange with me. But he was impressed with the way the platform connected us:
"This is the first real connection I've made on Twitter," he said, "and I think it was a defining moment for me. A lot of noise is generated by people tweeting away selling something, or shaming someone into better customer service, but it's nice to make a connection with someone you can help and really fill a need for. There's a lot of noise out there so I'm surprised I even saw Dan's tweet about this missing aviation weather forecast data, but I sure am glad I did. I'll definitely be doing a better job 'listening' out there on Twitter as that's more likely where the action is in the #avgeek community."This app will not replace anything in your current electronic flight bag. You cannot file a flight plan, see the pretty colors of a NEXRAD return, or determine the distance between two airports. There are no bells, and just the tiniest subset of whistles needed to do the job. And that job is to bring you the Area forecast, corrected for local time, with one click. Period. No crapola, no bull. Yes, the feature to translate UTC to local time is part of a $4.99 "in-app" purchase, but if you are like me, that is chump change for an app that delivers what I feel is critical information.
I am not affiliated in any way with Steve or his app, except to say I guess it was my idea initially. But the way he took this ball and ran with it with almost no input from me is noteworthy, because development of an app is usually not this easy. If you want to be able to access the Area Forecast without thinking about it, in what seems like nanoseconds, get this app and spring for the premium feature bundle. Help this guy out a little, he's devoted an enormous amount of what I assume was spare time to developing this app, and for that he deserves to get some press, and make a few sales. You can email him here, or visit his website here...or most imporantly, go here and download the app and immediatly throw down the 499 pennies for the upgrade.
Because when you want to go punching it out with clouds, I assure you, knowing where the top of that fight ends is information that's golden. But even if you plan to go walk the dog tomorrow morning, just tap, tap and BOOM, you can get a VERY good look at what the aviation WX guessers think the sky will look like when Fido drags you out the door.