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The perfect paperless IFR bag: we used to haul around a binder that skewed aircraft weight and balance. Now it's a headset, an iPad and a flashlight to carry the dead batteries. What's the right bag for today's IFR?

There were enough iPads on the grounds of Oshkosh this year that it would have been easy to mistake it for an open-air Apple Store. The pilots that didn't have the Cupertino chart reader probably had Anywhere Maps or Garmin GPSMAP 696s. I know FBOs that aren't ordering charts any more because not enough people are buying them.

But every cockpit system acquires its own detritus. The iPad wants a charger and, probably, an external GPS. Some folks are hooking up ADS-B or XM weather receivers. That's more boxes and more cables. Even before the iPad (remember way back then?) a portable GPS was still a smart move for any serious IFR pilot. A flashlight, headset, spare batteries for the headset, and maybe even, you know, some paper and a pen for, I dunno, doodling on long legs might be handy.

So what's a good choice for an IFR flight bag in this digital age? I wandered the halls of Oshkosh this year, toting iPad, headset, kneeboard and a bunch of cables, to see which bags made the most sense.

Brightline's Sweet Spot

I've thought for some time that the best all-around bag out there is the Bright-line. My extensive walk of Oshkosh vendors didn't change that opinion. It hits the perfect sweet spot of just enough organizational options; combined with a big enough main pocket for the "toss it in" mindset. That big pocket was designed for a headset and a portable GPS (there's even a removable divider for them), or two headsets. The iPad slides in there fine as well. The Brightline also has a pocket on the back that fits the iPad like it was made for it. A kneeboard (sometimes paper is still the best tool) fits in either of those places as well.


While other pilots might snigger when you walk past because of all the zippered pockets on the Brightline, it actually works well for digital flying because there are two larger pockets on the side: one for all the cables and one for all the other miscellaneous junk like a headband flashlight. The Brightline has some specialty pockets; I use one for a Leatherman tool. It also has a zip-on additional section for extra headsets or gear. The back pocket that fits the iPad then becomes a center pocket that's now protected on both sides.

The Brightline isn't the cheapest option at $119, but if you like to carry a moderate amount of other stuff with your digital gear, it works well. My only beef with my own Brightline is that the zipper pull-tabs broke after regular use. I challenged the Brightline guys about this at Oshkosh and they nodded knowingly. The new bags have redesigned pull-tabs.

Sky High and Simplicity

Truth be told, if I'm flying with another pilot who has his own gear, I usually just grab my kneeboard with a headset and iPad (in its case) under the elastic knee strap. The Brightline stays home because it's redundant. But if you keep headsets in your own plane and just need a comfortable, well-made bag for the iPad, notepad, pens and some cables, check out the Sky High Gear Freedom VII.

Its just one main pocket, but it's a great fit for the iPad and a few other items, including a headset, GPS and a moderate-sized kneeboard. The bag is well padded and has a pocket for keeping the small stuff of cables and chargers together. There's a flip-down front section that I think is a bit over-organized--just give me an extra pocket rather than a bunch of pen holders--but it still can be put to good use. Sky High stuff is well made and looks good. At $35, it's not a bank-bender, either. You can order online from several dealers. I like the guys over at Neil Glazer, of PilotMall, was kind enough to let me borrow bags, headsets and other gear to put in and out of bags right out of his Oshkosh display.

Glazer also said he's seeing interest in the Voltaire Spark Tablet Case. This is a padded pack that's a perfect fit for an iPad or similar-sized tablet. It's got a photovoltaic system and battery that supply enough current to charge the iPad. I'm not sure that option justifies the $300 price tag, but maybe if you're using an iPad in a Cub or glider with no electrical system to draw on, it would be just the ticket.

Big Bag Thinking

Sporty s recently released their answer to the Brightline with their $57 Mission Bag. It's just a bit bigger, and sports a design that lets you open the whole thing up or just unzip the top to load and unload it grocery-bag style. While it's not quite as versatile as the Brightline, it's much of the capability for half the price.

Like the Brightline, it wasn't designed with the iPad in mind, but it works well for that purpose and is a good fit. It would be even better if they tweaked it to put a sleeve inside the main bag to hold the iPad. There are two, big, zip pockets on the front for cables and sundries. I've seen mixed quality on the new line of bags from Sporty's--failed zippers, unraveling threads--but the company makes no fuss about returns for defects. I don't have qualms about recommending the bag. Just be a squeaky wheel if yours turns up an issue.


More Than iPads

Where I say iPad in this article, most other tablets will fit. There are other options out there. What is clear, though, is books of approach charts are becoming a thing of the past. Some pilots still prefer them--and that's fine--but the numbers are dwindling. Everyone I know who travels beyond the area covered by one book has gone at least mostly paperless. By "mostly" 1 mean that some still print charts for the airports they plan to use, with digitals on some device in case of a diversion.

Not that there are no charts anywhere. Backup systems, like the big I en route chart books that Howie Keefe made famous, are still finding homes in the seat back. But these live in the airplane, not the flight bag, and even these will vanish in time. Ask several of these iPad-toting pilots where their backup for their electronic charts is and they'll just pull out their phone. That backup doesn't need a flight bag at all--and it doubles as a pretty good flashlight.



To get an iPad to charge in flight, you must read the fine print on the charger and see that it puts out 2.1 amps. Lesser chargers will fit, but the iPad will say "not charging." This means the iPad is getting power and won't deplete as fast (or at all if the amperage is close), but it won't charge back up unless you turn it completely off.--JVW

Jeff Van West hates the thought of being another me-too on anything, but he admits to loving the iPad for en route and approach charts.
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Title Annotation:GADGET WATCH
Author:West, Jeff Van
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2011
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