One of the best surprises I found at AirVenture 2012 in Oshkosh this summer was FlightLink, an iPhone/iPad app for the Lightspeed Zulu.2 ANR headset. I was surprised, as I couldn’t imagine what kind of app one might create for a headset. Fortunately the people at Lightspeed were more imaginative than I and they created FlightLink, an app for recording cockpit audio on your iPhone or iPad.
FlightLink is free from iTunes, though after you start the app, you need to register your headset serial number. Set-up is easy. Just connect the Zulu.2 headset to your iPhone with one of the cables that comes with the headset.
FlightLink has a simple user interface, making it easy to use. Three icons let you choose the recording page, the library page for playback of older recordings, or the settings page. I needed to go to the settings page to set the Recording Volume to the maximum. Otherwise my recordings were low in volume. From the settings page you can also choose to limit the number of minutes for each recording, if you’re trying to conserve memory space in your iPhone or iPad.
I’ve found FlightLink useful in a several ways. Recently, when flying with a client working on his Private certificate, I made a series of short recordings as I demonstrated each of the maneuvers required for the Private checkride. Each recording was less than two minutes, resulting in individual files that were less than 10 MB in size that I emailed to the client afterwards. He found them useful in reviewing the steps required for each maneuver prior to flying with another instructor for a pre-solo phase check.
FlightLink also does a great job of letting you play back a recent transmission, while it continues to record new audio. A VU meter graph continually displays the past two minutes of audio. To start the playback, just drag your finger on the iPhone screen to the desired starting point on the VU meter graph and remove your finger.
FlightLink also works as a digital voice recorder, even when you’re not using the Zulu.2 headset. So for example, anytime you want to record audio, such as an idea you don’t want to forget, start the FlightLink app and talk into your iPhone.
I also recorded an hour-long flight of a San Francisco Bay Tour with a newly minted Private pilot. Since much of his training was conducted out of state, I figured the recording would be a good way to review procedures for flying in the Class B and also remind him of the various landmarks that I pointed out along the way. The recorded file was 312 MB in size, but I was able to easily shrink it to a 21 MB MP3 file using Audacity, a free audio editor for Macs and PCs. That made it small enough to email.
Lightspeed tells me that an hour of audio can be as large as 500 MB if you have on background music or there’s continual chatter on the radio. File sizes are large since FlightLink records using the .caf format, one of the few formats permitted for Apple iPhone/iPad apps. I’m guessing Apple doesn’t want people recording music on their iPhones in popular formats like MP3 files. If you’re worried about memory space on your iPhone, you may want to start and stop FlightLink to record just important parts of a flight.
If you’re a heavy user of your iPhone in flight to play music or make phone calls (yes, the FCC does prohibit that), you may want to use FlightLink on a separate device like an iPad. For example, if you were to listen to music with your Zulu.2 headset via the Bluetooth interface to your iPhone and you plug in the cable for FlightLink, music and cell phone via Bluetooth is lost.
There is one DIP switch setting you’ll want to check. Open up the battery door of the headset’s controller and remove the battery to find the switches. Switch 6, labeled “Leave Off” in current models, needs to be in the ON position if you want to record everything you hear including the radio and other passengers. In the OFF position, just the headset microphone is connected to the recorder and it’s unsquelched, meaning you’ll hear plenty of background noise when you’re not talking. But with the switch ON, recordings are excellent and identical to what you hear in your headset.
I’ve been a Lightspeed user for more than ten years, and have continually traded in my older headsets for newer versions under the Trade Up program. If you have the original Zulu headset as I did, you’ll need to trade-up to the Zulu.2 headset. And if you owned a Zulu.2 headset prior to the FlightLink app launch in late July, you’ll need to pay $69 to get your headset upgraded to a newer version of the Zulu.2 that works with the app.
Overall, FlightLink is a winner! Have fun recording your flight.