Monday, February 13, 2006

Preflight Pro released to rec.aviation.piloting!

Wow, what a great weekend! On Thursday night I officially introduced Preflight Pro to the aviation community, or at least a major part of the aviation community with the following post on the Usenet group rec.aviation.piloting.

The response and positive feedback from the group was overwhelming. I think I was on pins and needles all Thursday night and through Friday morning. Its one thing to THINK you've created something useful and cool, its a completely different story to have those thoughts confirmed by your actual target audience. I felt like a theatre producer/playwright on opening night.

Here are some of the things that came up during the initial release:

1) There was a bug early on in the searches for Sacramento that was caught and reported by a user (thanks Todd). The automatic error logging worked perfectly and sent me an email that pretty much spelled out what exactly went wrong.

2) A number of people noted that all they got was the city of Columbus, OH. Reading between the lines, I realized that the program didn't really do a good job of letting people know that a search was in progress. Therefore a lot of folks assumed (rightfully so) that the was stuck or hung. I plan on fixing that as soon as possible by putting in a animated "please wait" graphic.

3) There was a huge buzz over filtering the NOTAMs. It was a feature I considered before, but I wasn't sure if it was something people really cared about. While only one person initially called for filtering, a lot of other people jumped on the bandwagon in a small legal debate, offering alternatives to simply hiding the filtered NOTAMs etc. Based on the feedback, I plan on incorporating filtering in the next big release of the program.

4) I was worried about server load and performance, but the fact that the application performed 5000 requests over three days (75% of the requests served on Friday) without crashing or any noticeable slow-down, has put my mind at ease. My daily bandwidth consumption was also well below my calculated daily max, so I now know traffic can grow quite a bit without any more financial cost on my part.

All in all, I don't think I could have asked for better. Traffic after the weekend has dropped off, as expected. But I feel like I accomplished the goals I set out to do. My next plans are to continue to develop the features and just keep getting the word out to other pilots.

Finally, I'd like to thank all the posters of rec.aviation.piloting, I couldn't have asked for a better group of users for my little infant program. I will continue to seek your collective input as I work on making Preflight Pro the best NOTAM tool on the Internet!

Preflight Pro is the visual alternative to DUATs for NOTAMs and TFRs on the Internet. See the difference at

Clear Skies!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Preflight Pro: The alternative to DUATs for NOTAMs and TFRs

Flying has been slow recently, with it being winter and all in the mid-west. Mostly my time has been occupied with a personal software project I've called Preflight Pro.

This project came from a need to address a major headache in preflight planning, Notices to Airmen (or NOTAMs for short). Currently there are three ways to retrieve NOTAMs so far:

1) Obtain a preflight briefing by calling 1800-wxbrief
2) Through DUATs
3) Or through the FAA's PilotWeb

Number 1 is hands down the best and most accurate way to get up-to-date NOTAM information before you fly. I'd like to repeat that, getting a preflight briefing from an approved FSS briefer is the best and most accurate way to get up-to-date NOTAM information before you fly.

But what if you're just checking out NOTAMs just to stay informed about the area you currently fly in? Or what if you're planning that dream flight to the Super Bowl this Sunday? You don't want to call up a flight briefer and harrass them if you're not actually going to fly in the next two hours are you?

So the only alternatives to access NOTAMs online are either through DUATs or PilotWeb. Let's be honest here, DUATs is an out-dated system that was designed to present text information on 300x150 monochrome terminal screens, and PilotWeb is nothing more than a screen scrape of that same text dumped out on a webpage.

I'm not denying that DUATs and PilotWeb are not informative; in fact they are excellent resources for information. But this is 2006, if you're going to present information on the web you're going to have to go a step beyond in HOW that information is presented.

That's where I hope Preflight Pro will fill the niche. I'm not going to say anymore except provide you a link to my site, I want you guys to see for yourself and make the call if I'm on the right track.

Preflight Pro: The alternative to DUATs for NOTAMs and TFRs.