If the engine quits in a small plane, it’s not the end of the world — just glide to the nearest airport and make a dead-stick landing. Simple, right? Sure, if the pilot makes perfect, lightning-quick decisions. Since we’re only human, there’s now an iPad app called Xavion that can connect with a small-plane’s autopilot, find the nearest airport and, if possible, fly you to the runway’s threshold by itself. It’ll even tell you if you can’t make it, so that you can find a nearby farmer’s field instead.
High above rural Arkansas, I’m jammed in the back of a small four-seat airplane. Andrew Barker pilots the aircraft while Austin Meyer sits beside him. Everything is going great—until the engine suddenly quits at 5,000 feet. With a quick tap on his iPad, Meyer, creator of the popular flight simulator X-Plane, summons his app Xavion to rescue us. The program already knows the closest airports that we can successfully glide to. In fact, it’s been tracking our entire flight and plotting a path to them. It also knows what kind of airplane we’re flying in (a Van’s Aircraft RV-10), what the weather is like outside (blues skies, gentle wind from the south), and all of the other data it needs relative to heading, airspeed, altitude, and position.