Pilots track their lives by the number of hours in the air, as if any other kind of time isn't worth noting.— Michael Parfit, "The Corn was Two Feet Below the Wheels", Smithsonian Magazine (May 2000)
A logbook is the most important thing in a pilot's life. Not only does it contain the required information in "a manner acceptable to the Administrator" to prove that you're eligible for your pilot's certificate, it also contains a treasure trove of memories.
...That first time taking up a passenger after the big checkride...
...That trip around Tampa Bay and up the beaches on the Gulf on the honeymoon...
...The ferry flight to Florida the day after Thanksgiving where the 182 picked up more unforecast ice than I have yet seen on the Dash-8 in months of Northeast winter flying...
...That sunset on a day so clear and perfectly calm where the sun happened to align perfectly, silhouetting the buildings of downtown Toledo a hundred miles to the west...
...That foggy approach into Galveston where ATC's vectors misled you and the pilot you were with into confusing the FAF for the IAF so you saw the lights of the airport slide underneath you through a break in the fog several miles ahead of where you expected them to be, leading to your first real missed approach in actual IMC....
There is an old, anonymous aviation adage that goes, "You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck." Your logbook is that transaction ledger. The triumphs, the stressful moments, the sublime, the scary: every time you take a withdrawal out of the bag of luck and convert it into a deposit into the bag of experience is summed up in a short line in a logbook.
If you're here because you've decided that now is the time to start preserving those precious hours electronically and are just looking for advice on which one to choose, you can skip the next few paragraphs and scroll down to just below the second picture.
When you first start learning to fly, your logbook is as simple as it will ever be. You have one kind of airplane, you're puttering around the practice area, and you're recording the hours of training required to meet the requirements necessary to take your checkride. If you are learning to fly just for the pleasure or the challenge of it, a paper logbook might suit your needs for the rest of your life. (Even so, backing it up with a spreadsheet version in Excel, Google Drive, or something quick and easy like that is a very good idea.)
However, if you're planning on flying for a living, an electronic logbook is too handy to not have one. It will prove worth the price once you take the first step into the professional aviation world: the time-consuming, detailed AirlineApps application. This website is used by many of the companies you'd be likely to apply at for your first airline job, so chances are you'll find yourself filling this out at some point or another.
The general application itself isn't particularly daunting; it's basically the same material you'd fill out for any job anywhere. That is, until you get to the experience grid, and that's where an e-logbook will save you (and I'm not exaggerating) a day or two of your life. Even if your chosen company doesn't use AirlineApps, whatever company you do apply at will have a similar experience grid to fill out.
I know the pain of losing two days to this "tiny" little hurdle, as I didn't keep an electronic form of my logbook until after I filled the application out, and my application took two days to complete: an hour for the general items, and the rest going through my logbooks trying to sort out what times I had in what aircraft. After a little bit of trying to add up 172 time vs. Diamond time (what should I do about DA20 time vs. DA40 time since they're both fixed, non-complex, non-high-performance?) vs. Cirrus time (the SR20 isn't high-performance but the SR22 is... @#$%!), and several different ways of sorting aircraft into lumps, I decided that single-engine Diamond time is not different in any substantial way from 172, Saratoga, SR22, and the other 27 (yes, I had 30 different single-engine aircraft types in my logbook—although I only know that because I used my e-logbook to tell me as I wrote this) kinds of single-engine time I had. So I decided to sort them into two buckets: fixed-gear single and retractable-gear single. Each multi-engine aircraft, however, got its own entry, which meant I now had a few more totals to break out and add up separately.
|The items along the left are standard application fare until you get to the dreaded experience grid. It's easily tamed if you have an electronic logbook to add it all up for you, however. That alone makes one worth the money.|
Problem solved after only a few hours, right? Not quite. AirlineApps asks you to separate your "normal" PIC time from your instructor PIC time. On seeing that new monkey in the wrench, I threw up my hands and went to bed. I spent almost the entire next day working on that little wrinkle.
However, with my e-logbook, just for fun I went and totalled all that up right now. Instead of the entire day, it took me less than 60 seconds. Not only that, I got a more precise answer than I got when I was filling out the original application. (As it turns out, I actually had over 30 more hours than I put on the application, which means I probably accidentally skipped a page while going through the 120+ pages of logbook entries to add up.)
While I was on AirlineApps to grab that screenshot, I decided to add my Dash-8 time for no other reason than because it is there. Since the 200 weighs 36,300 pounds and the 300 is 43,000 pounds, they need to be broken out separately because they straddle the 12,500-41,000 pound line. No problem this time—the electronic logbook keeps track of such details automatically! No reason to break out the calculator to find out that as of this very second I have 152.68 hours in the 200 and 82.40 in the 300. I don't even need to add up the two to figure out how much total Dash time I have: all I do is click the box next to them and it tells me I have 235.08 hours.
This will get even more useful in the next couple of years once I upgrade, because then not only will I have times to sort out between the 200 and 300, I'll have to break out how much of each of those times are PIC time vs. SIC time. Right now, as a First Officer I'm logging SIC time, but once I move into the left seat it changes to the all-important turbine PIC time. But when that time comes, it will be a matter of a couple of minutes to figure out instead of hours.
If I've sold you on the idea that if you're looking at an aviation career getting an electronic logbook is a necessity and not a luxury, here are the factors I considered when picking out the one I went with.
Safety: Does it come with an online backup service or am I hosed if the iPad or phone breaks or my computer crashes?
Convenience: I have an iPad, an Android phone, and a Linux PC. Which of these can I use it on?
Company's reputation: I plan to be flying for several more decades. Will the company still be around then?
Price: Again, I plan to be flying for several more decades. Do I have to pay for this thing every month/year for the rest of my life?
Features: This is actually the last on the list because all of the logbooks I looked at do basically the same slicing and dicing. The only "must-have" feature is the ability to export my logbook to a file just in case the vendor went out of business.
I played with and evaluated three of the electronic logbooks that are most popular today: LogTen Pro, Logbook Pro, and Safelog. As you can see from the screenshot above, I went with Safelog. I don't have any connection with Dauntless Software (in fact, a long time ago I sent in an application to be a partner for them in order to make a small commission on all of the Private Pilot study software I was selling for them and I never received any reply from them at all, so I should actually be a little less likely to recommend them), and your needs/desires may differ from mine, but here are my reasons for selecting them for a big decision like this:
Safety: Safelog is basically a cloud-based server system whose app is just a front-end to interface to that cloud. In other words, not only is it included in the price, there's not really a way to not have it backed up.
Convenience: This is huge. I have an Android phone and LogTen Pro doesn't run on anything except Apple. Logbook Pro is tied to the desktop, although it has apps to interface with it. With Safelog I log the day's flights while I'm in the van on the way to the hotel and they're backed up immediately. Safelog also has a web interface, which was immensely convenient while converting the old paper logbook to e-format.
Company's reputation: I've used their GroundSchool written prep software for all my writtens from the Commercial level on (and I would have used them for the Private and Instrument too had I known about them back then) and found it easy to use, always up to date, and quite reasonably priced. They've been around for even longer than I've been flying, and will probably still be around once I'm forcibly retired in 25 years.
Price: LogTen Pro has no lifetime subscription option unless you're using a Mac, so if they want to jack up the price from $49.99/year to $99.99/year, you either pay it or go through the pain of converting to a different company. Logbook Pro was rejected outright at this stage (in other words, I didn't even bother to install it after looking at their price sheet) because their add-on pricing for things that should be included is insanely overpriced and practically incomprehensible (I mean, what is this APDL thing? Do I need it? Is it something I want? How would I know if you don't even explain it on your order form?! For all I know it just makes my iPad say "PC Load Letter". And you want HOW MUCH extra for cloud backup, schedule importing, a mobile version, that mysterious APDL doohickey, and other features that everyone else just includes? Is there a checked-bag fee thrown in there, too?) I've read aircraft performance charts that were easier to understand than their order form. Next. Safelog has a subscription model but also has a lifetime option of a flat $299 and you never get a bill from them again. After 6 years of LogTen Pro, I've broken even at that price, which means 19 more years of professional flight logging for free.
Features: Safelog exports everything you've put in it in a format that is easily converted to a spreadsheet. It does pretty much everything the other apps do, too, and even creates a map in Google Earth or Google Maps of where you've flown if you ask it to:
No matter which electronic logbook you decide fits your needs best, the sooner you start using one the better. I had approximately 1200 entries to convert, and it took a month to do. Fortunately there's not much else to do in hotel rooms during the winter, but it still wasn't a fun month or one I'd like to repeat any time soon. Or ever. Logbook Pro will do that work for you at the bargain price of only $200 for 500 entries, meaning that it would have cost me only $500 to have someone else do the boring work. (Which may seem like a lot, but considering that it takes approximately a minute per entry, that works out to $24/hour, which isn't actually all that high a price.) Incidentally, while converting to e-format I was able to polish up and correct some minor errors along the way (things like accidentally putting night hours in the cross-country column next to it, forgetting to include cross-country hours for a flight or having a night landing but nothing in the night hours column, etc.) which a paid transcriber wouldn't notice or be able to correct. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by getting started with one before you accumulate all those hours in the first place!