By S. Clayton Moore
When software developer Hilton Goldstein decided to get into aviation, he jumped in with both feet. He started flying just nine years ago and quickly earned a whole flight bag full of certifications including his private pilot, instrument, commercial, multi-engine, seaplane, and instructor ratings.
Nearly a decade after Goldstein first took to the sky, he’s even invented his own flight bag. Looking ahead to the popularity of the Pocket PC and its potential for aviation applications, he developed WingX, a dynamic software application designed by pilots for pilots. His goal is to give professional and amateur pilots alike the best tools available at far less than the cost of competing flight applications.
“I wanted to develop a tool that would be really useful for pilots,” Goldstein explained from his office in San Jose, Calif. “We want pilots to have the best experience they can have and have confidence in their WingX software.”
It has been a long journey for him to reach San Jose. Goldstein was born in South Africa and studied at the University Of Natal, Durban, where he earned his PhD in computer science. When he came to visit his brother in California in 1995, he was quickly hired by Silicon Graphics as a software developer.
“It was the perfect time to arrive at Silicon Graphics,” Goldstein added. “I just wanted to create cool software and San Jose was a good place to do it.”
In June, he released version 1.7 of his own cool software program. Priced at just $49.95 for a simplified XL edition or $79.95 for the professional software with all the trimmings, WingX gives pilots a dynamic series of tools that is accurate not just when they leave the house, but that can also be updated on the fly.
It includes a database of useful information on over 400 aircraft. Weight and balance can be calculated right at the airport via a graphical, easy-to-use display. A Dynamic Flight Navigator displays the route and wind information for each leg of a journey while a simple tap on the screen shows information for airports, navaids and fixes along the route. E6B calculations, long the bane of flight instructors everywhere, can be accomplished in minutes with a highly functional E6B conversion page.
Customers of WingX can lose those heavy books full of Federal Aviation Regulations. The software’s document database stores the full range of FAA regs in an easy-to-navigate format. Believe it or not, all of these features come in a software package that takes up just 2.5 megabytes—including the database and application—on a standard pocket PC, making up less than three percent of the memory on most of the handheld computers.
“I kind of looked into the future and figured out that the Palm Pilot simply was not powerful enough to do what I wanted it to do,” Goldstein explained. “That’s why I focused on the Pocket PC. It’s significantly more powerful and lets us carry large databases as well as to download upgrades off the Web. It’s just a really good platform to develop software on.”
While Hilton Software is primarily a one-man operation at this point, it also means that customers get the best service available. Need the stats for an obscure aircraft from the 1960s? A quick call to Hilton on a toll-free number gets the aircraft into the database within 24 hours. He’s even been known to redesign the interface in a pinch.
“I had a military pilot who flies helicopters email me,” Goldstein remembered. “He keeps WingX on board whenever he goes flying and loves it but when he flies, he wears gloves on both hands, so he can’t enter data when he’s in flight. To fix his problem, we added a thumb control that allows the pilot to simply tap buttons with his thumb to enter data into the calculator, something like text messaging.”
That quick turnaround time means a lot to customers, according to Goldstein.
“When we start to integrate new features, we really do take that user feedback into account,” he said. “A lot of the features like our thumb control are totally based on user feedback. If someone really needs a new feature, we try to get it integrated within a month, depending on how big a change it is and how much testing it needs.”
To simplify matters, WingX is written in a common Microsoft compiling code and runs on Microsoft’s .NET Compact Framework. This significantly decreases development time and allows Goldstein to concentrate more on the user experience. By using the Compact Framework, WingX is compatible with all the Dell Axims, iPaqs, and other Pocket PCs on the market.
The response from pilots and computer professionals alike has been positive.
“Great software for a Pocket PC,” said customer Armando Vilches on Palmflying.com. “Hilton Software was very responsive to my questions and even gave me some unsolicited tips. The software is easy to use and it appears that Hilton is serious about listening to their customers in order to design additional useful features.”
Another pilot, Cecil Chapman, gives the software a ringing endorsement.
“It is a well-crafted product with a most crisp and intuitive interface,” Chapman said. “You can start using it from the ‘get-go’ and you won’t have to hunt for a manual to use it. The addition of the FARs adds not only the ‘icing’ to the cake but adds the ‘cherry on top’ to make WingX a generously featured Pocket PC application.”
Goldstein finds his own Dynamic Flight Navigator particularly useful at night.
“It will actually walk you through your entire flight from your point of departure to your destination,” Goldstein said. “If an airport is towered, it will tell you. We have every airport navaid and intersection in the United States included. As far as the VORs are concerned, it will give you the frequencies and the Morse code, which is almost impossible to find at night in a sectional.”
Another feature that is unique to WingX is the software’s tracking system for expiration dates. Pilots can simply enter the date of a medical or other recency requirement and WingX will automatically calculate the expiration date.
“It was just something I had to have and the feedback has been that pilots really like it,” Goldstein said. “You have to go up and get current to take passengers. You have to fly at night to be current. Your medical, flight review and instrument rating all have to be current. The list just goes on and on. We pulled about 40 different expirations that are very common for pilots to deal with. With WingX, which sorts the list chronologically, you can take one quick look and see when your currency expires.”
Goldstein, who moonlights as a flight instructor, recently had the calculation portion of his software put to the test as he was preparing a student for a lesson.
“My student was going on a long cross-country flight and I quickly entered all the route planning information only to find that the calculations were ten percent off,” Goldstein remembered. “I just couldn’t figure it out. When I dug a little more into his calculations, it turned out the student had used statute miles instead of nautical miles. It was a real eye-opener for me because it really justified the use of this software in the flight instructor community.”
Another customer, Matthew Massey, uses the software while evaluating more than 180 student pilots at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill.
“There is so much in WingX that I really can’t believe it is all in one program,” Massey said. “WingX allows me to very quickly and accurately check a student’s flight planning to see if it was done properly. It takes me only a few seconds to enter the data and afterward I know whether the student actually understands proper flight planning. I look forward to every new release to see if there’s something else that I can use in there to better evaluate students.”
New advances in technology, such as the supplementary phone features now standard on many Pocket PC computers, are adding to the benefits.
“The advantage is that you can be at the airport and update your new database right there,” Goldstein said. “You can literally be hundreds of miles away from your home, update the databases, and do the calculations at the hangar. There are some companies that provide similar software but that information is only right once—as you leave your house. We know things change a lot when you go flying so we focus on having all these resources right there in your flight bag and being able to dynamically update your data on the fly.”
The databases are also updated every 56 days in accordance with FAA updates, just like Jeppesen charts. Unlike its competitors, however, the software company’s updates have remained free of charge. Even pilots that bought the original Version 1.1 can now download and install the latest Version 1.7 for free.
The expansion of the WingX software capabilities is adding to its popularity as well, according to its creator.
“Primarily, our customers come from general aviation, but what I am finding with this new version is that we’re seeing pilots who are flying aircraft with much higher rates of performance, meaning Citations and even military aircraft,” Goldstein said. “As we’ve been adding new features, we’re starting to creep into the commercial side of things as well. As this new market of people flying very light jets expands, we’ll be adding those aircraft to our database.”
The developer will also be launching two new products by the end of the year. The first will be a new weather service that will not only be folded into the WingX software, but will also be available as a separate, free download called the WingX Browser for all Pocket PC and Pocket PC Phone Edition users. Users with an Internet connection will have the added advantage of being able to get the latest weather while traveling by using their cell phone connection or WiFi connection. The service will be free, no subscription or registration.
A second product remains in the patent stage, but Goldstein expects to announce it at this year’s AOPA Expo to be held in November in Tampa, Fla. In the meantime, this “Flightbag Powerhouse,” as Goldstein has named it, remains one of the best deals in general aviation. Get it while it’s hot.
For more information on WingX, contact Hilton Software LLC at 1-866-42-WINGX, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit [http://www.hiltonsoftware.com].