Extended Review of CloudAhoy Software

Flying magazine asked me to write an article about CloudAhoy software for a post on their website. This was a fun article to write. Before contacting CloudAhoy developer Chuck Shavit about this software, I reviewed several videos posted on the CloudAhoy website to get a good feel for what the software would do, and I was impressed. I won’t repeat the details that are expressed both in the article and on the website, but suffice to say that any data you capture during the flight using onboard GPS, altitude / heading reference system (AHRS), and/or accelerometer can be displayed in graphical and visual playback.  Cool!

Chuck and I had a pleasant chat about CloudAhoy, which he started developing in 2010 when he was working on his instrument rating and wanted a visual way to debrief his approaches. The iOS apps have been available since 2011, and he started charging for the subscription in 2013. To me, $65 per year is very reasonable to be able to play back your flights with the data graphically and visually represented, if you’re so inclined to play them back.

I can certainly see this tool being useful for pilots in any kind of flight training—new, working on an instrument rating, or even transitioning to a new aircraft (especially a tricycle gear pilot working on their tailwheel endorsement). But I’m not sure that the everyday pilot will take the time to play back a flight… until they need to!

And that’s where I think the real power of CloudAhoy comes to play for “seasoned” pilots. In the article I used Chuck’s quote about using CloudAhoy to prove that a pilot didn’t bust Class Bravo airspace. But he also mentioned CloudAhoy being used to defend noise abatement accusations, analyze non-stabilized approaches, and even for post-accident flight analysis.

We talked quite a bit about stabilized approaches in taildraggers since my husband flies a Waco Classic and a T-6 Texan, and there have been a few times when it would be nice to look back at a playback of the flight and pinpoint exactly what inputs turned those approaches into hairy landings. Unfortunately, unless you remember exactly what day each flight occurred, it can take a while to load each flight, review the landing and trying to visualize what actually occurred.

I used data from Foreflight on an iOS device to review the software, get screen captures, and write the article. There may be an easier way to do this, but I essentially exported one flight at a time out of Foreflight to a KML file, and then imported the KML file into CloudAhoy. Altogether each flight took just a few minutes to import and convert to graphical data.

But I never did find the unstabilized approach I was looking for. Even though I was pretty sure I had the right date and the right flight, there are a few foibles to using altitude and attitude data from a smart device rather than from an aviation-calibrated instrument. On more than one flight, CloudAhoy put the aircraft into and below ground based on the inaccuracy of the smart device’s GPS. This is why any pilot who is seriously interested in using CloudAhoy’s capabilities for debriefing flights should get data off of an aviation-approved device (their FMS if they have one, or a standalone GPS / AHRS device). Chuck mentioned the Stratus, and we have one but haven’t really flown with it because we haven’t taken the time to strap it down in either aircraft.

Chuck also mentioned that they’re working on upgrading the software to be able to accurately present aerobatic maneuvers despite intermittent GPS signals (no signal when the aircraft is upside down!). They’re working on contract with the U.S. Air Force, so no details can be given out yet, but Chuck says that he hopes to release this capability in 2019.