A pilot named Heather H recently asked a great question on Ask a Flight Instructor about whether she should use a handheld GPS or her iPhone as a navigation backup. Specifically, Heather will be transitioning from a G1000 aircraft into an older plane with only a single VOR for navigation and she wrote that:
Aside from the radio and looking out the window, I’d like to have a more solid backup plan for assuring I’m on the right path.
I have an iPhone but I honestly don’t know much about iPhone apps and aviation, are there any simple apps that don’t cost a fortune in subscription fees to just verify my position or should I buy a used, handheld GPS? (It wouldn’t need to even display a sectional, weather, etc…)
Heather added that the handheld GPS or iPhone would be for backup purposes and piece of mind. In addition, she would be flying VFR with paper charts and is just looking for a simple iPhone solution for backup purposes.
Bob Watson responded by writing that he has flown 20 years without a GPS and has always managed to find the airport. Bob also thought the iPhone should stay turned off in Heather’s pocket because he knows what its like to transition from a well-equipped aircraft to a more basic one. However, he added that once she gets used to the more basic aircraft, it will be “a lot more fun.” Otherwise, Bob wrote that a handheld GPS that’s an aviation model would be easier and safer to use than an iPhone or a non-aviation GPS model.
John D. Collins then wrote that he uses the ForeFlight APP ($75 per year) in lieu of carrying paper charts but he will still carry some – including his primary and alternate approach charts. John had also recently flew from Charlotte to Oshkosh and was forced to divert to Lexington Kentucky for fuel on the way back because of bad weather. Since he did not have a copy of the approach charts on board, he used the approach charts from ForeFlight.
Finally, Jim Post wrote that he has flown for 50 years without a GPS and he has always managed to get where he was going. Jim has even used road atlases and a pair of binoculars to read water towers but he has started to learn how to use a GPS and he likes what he sees. He also added that having a redundant navigation aid does not hurt from a safety standpoint.