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Air Force set to replace paper manuals with iPads

March 06, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Capt. Brett Pierson refers to a computer tablet during preflight checks aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft bound for a refueling mission in Afghanistan.
Capt. Brett Pierson refers to a computer tablet during preflight checks… (Master Sgt. William Greer…)

The iPad is about to reach new heights. Literally.

The U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command signed a $9.36-million contract to buy as many as 18,000 iPad 2s for use by pilots, navigators and trainers, Bloomberg reports.

The iPads will replace the traditional flight bags -- cumbersome bags of paper manuals and navigation charts -- that are currently carried by pilots and navigators.

As a story about electronic flight bags (EFBs) on the Air Mobility Command's website explains, the Mobility fleet requires flying charts to be updated every 28 days. That means that every month, a team of people has to go through 70 pounds of paper per aircraft -- sorting it, accounting for it and updating it.

There's also the issue of how much space those paper flight bags take up in a cockpit, and how much weight they add to the aircraft, which can have an effect on fuel efficiency.

"With limited space in the cockpit and the amount of paper that each crew has to manage, it can quickly become controlled chaos," said Maj. Pete Brichenough, who heads AMC's EFB test. "An electronic flight bag could solve this issue by putting all information in one place to be recalled and updated almost immediately."

The Air Force awarded the contract to Executive Technology Inc., a Phoenix computer services company that has agreed to sell the iPad 2s for $520 per device. In the store, the same iPad would sell for $599.

Air Mobility Command did not respond to a Times request for comment, but Captain Kathleen Ferrero, a military spokeswoman, told Bloomberg News that the Air Force has already purchased 63 iPad 2s from Executive Technology. She said the contract allows the Air Force to buy as many as 18,000 devices at the $520 price within a year, but added that it is not clear that the Air Force will purchase all 18,000.

"It's contingent upon funding requests and approval," she said.

One question we would have liked answered: Will these iPads have Angry Birds loaded on it?

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