Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Flight Templates

MyFlightbook has over 640 different "flight properties" (with new ones added all the time!), which are attributes that you can add to a flight, describing everything from Aircraft Carrier landings to Zero-visibility Takeoffs.  The idea is that any given pilot, on any given flight, uses only a tiny subset of these properties.  This, of course, presents a clutter problem: how do you manage such a large set of potential options?  Historically, I've done this automatically, showing you those properties that you've used before, with an option to explicitly exclude ones you no longer need.

Today, I'm adding new "template" functionality.  The idea is that you can define templates for various sorts of flights, and choose the template that is appropriate for a given entry.  E.g., if you fly for the airlines during the week, but fly gliders on the weekend, you can load up one template for each kind of flight, optimized with the fields you need most of the time.

A template is really nothing more than a collection of flight properties.  You can define your own templates, or choose from a library of templates authored by other pilots.  There are also a few "automatic" templates that the system makes available and applies automatically (discussed below):

Creating Templates

You can define templates by going to "Preferences" under the Profile tab on the website and expanding the "Flight Properties" section.  You'll see a list of your current templates:

Possibly the easiest way to get going with templates is to choose one from a library of templates shared by other pilots.  If you click "Brows available templates", you can browse this library and copy any that you like into your account.

If nothing in the library suits your needs, you can create a new template:

You can give your template a name, a description, and a category.  Then you'll see two lists.  On the left are the set of available properties; on the right are the properties in your template.  Drag-and-drop from left to right to select the properties you want (or from right to left to remove a property you no longer want).  You can also type in the search box to quickly filter properties by name.

The "Category" of a template is just a grouping mechanism.  At the moment, there are 5 categories, though I may add more over time if it makes sense.  Current categories are:
  • Automatic - These are implemented by the system; you can't create these.
  • Training - Flights where you are honing specific skills, such as performing aerobatic maneuvers or instrument approaches, go here.
  • Lesson Plans - Use for flights that are following a specific lesson of a syllabus.
  • Checkrides and Reviews - checkrides and other periodic flights to ensure proficiency like a regulatory/company/club-mandated periodic review of flight skills
  • Missions - Specific purposes for a flight might go here.  E.g., fire fighting, search-and-rescue, charity flights, and so forth.
  • Roles - These are for templates that vary based on your role in a given flight - e.g., are you PIC or SIC? Instructor or student?

Once you save the template, it is available for use.
The two checkboxes in the image above warrant additional explanation:
  • Checking the "Shared" checkbox makes the template available for other pilots; unchecking it removes it from the library of templates.  If you have made a template that works well for your scenario and might work for others, then I strongly encourage you to please check this box!
  • "Use by default" tells the system that you want that template's properties to appear by default for new flights.

Using Templates

Great, you've defined some templates.  So how do you use them?

On the website, you'll see a downward-facing arrow to the right of where you can select properties today:

When you click that arrow, you'll see the set of templates from which you can choose.  As you turn templates on or off, you'll see the set of properties displayed for editing change accordingly.  (Note: if you have any property that has a non-empty value, it will always be displayed, regardless of template selection.

You can choose from the set of templates that you've defined, plus the automatic templates I mentioned earlier.  At the moment, there are three of these:
  • Previously Used - This matches the pre-template functionality.  It contains all of the properties that you've used on prior flights, minus the ones you've explicitly excluded (in Preferences).  This is what is used if you don't check the "Use by default" box for any other templates.
  • Simulator / Training Device (Basic) - this is automatically selected whenever you choose a simulator as the aircraft for a flight.  It (currently) adds two properties ("Ground Instruction Received" and "Simulator/Training Device Identifier") to whatever other properties you are using.
  • Anonymous Aircraft (Basic) - this is automatically selected whenever you choose an anonymous aircraft, and adds a property ("Aircraft Registration") where you can record the specific aircraft used for a flight.
The iOS and Android apps are now updated as well to include template functionality.  On the iOS app, tap the information icon on the right side of the Properties header to view available templates (you may need to refresh your property list for this).  On Android, there is a "View Flight Templates" menu item.  The apps respect default templates, but to create/edit templates you do need to use the website.

"Power template tips"

  • Templates are not mutually exclusive - you can use more than one at a time, or specify that more than one should be used by default.  E.g., if you're a CFII, you might create an "Instrument Flight" template and an "Instructor" template and use them both at the same time.
  • You can attach a template to an aircraft.  Tap on the downward-facing arrow to the right of the aircraft (on the website) and you'll see any templates you've defined.  Whenever you select that aircraft for a flight, the specified template(s) will be used.  For example, if you fly aerobatics in one plane, but not in others, you might define an aerobatic template and use it for flights in that aircraft, but not clutter up flights with aerobatic maneuvers you won't perform in other aircraft:

  • The mobile apps refresh templates from the website when they download properties, which happens periodically.  You can force a refresh, though, by doing pull-to-refresh (try to scroll past the top of the screen) while viewing templates or properties.
Please send me any feedback about templates, and please share any useful ones that you create!