Navy pilot develops Palm app

Navy pilot develops Palm app

Officer seeks funding for program that would speed up post-flight paperwork

By Bill Murray

GCN Staff

NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif.'Petty Officer 2nd Class William F. Ragatz wants to help helicopter pilots get home a little faster.

Petty Officer William F. Ragatz says he is developing software because 'you don't want to be hanging around for a long time.'

If they could complete post-flight reports while cooling their heels for an hour at the Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 49 fueling station, pilots wouldn't have to spend as much time at the office after a hard day's work, he reasoned.

But first, Ragatz must convince Navy officials that the software he's developing will work and its benefits will be great enough to justify the service footing the bill for handheld computers to run the software.

And Ragatz has his own schedule crunch: He plans to leave the service in 18 months for a private-sector job.

'If you just got off a seven-hour flight at midnight, you don't want to be hanging around for a long time,' said Ragatz, a pilot who has worked in network administration and software development.

Since early last year, Ragatz has been developing a Microsoft Visual Basic aviation scheduling application to run under Palm OS 3.2 and 3.5 from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

He has mastered Visual Basic and Palm OS programming, as well as Pendragon Forms 3.0 software from Pendragon Software Corp. of Libertyville, Ill., which synchronizes Microsoft Access databases with Palm handhelds.

At home, Ragatz works on the project using a notebook PC running Microsoft Windows 98. At the base, his PC runs Windows NT Workstation 4.0.

Ragatz said his application, Palm SHARP Updater 1.0, lets pilots synchronize data they enter into a handheld unit later with the Navy's basic aviation flight scheduler, the Sierra Hotel Aviation Readiness Program (SHARP), running on a PC [GCN, Aug. 30, 1999, Page 58].

Entering the data in a handheld unit can be done during a pit stop, which would speed the process when pilots return to the office to complete reports, he said.

Ragatz is developing a SHARP interface that would let users make two-way transfers of flight data, including pilots' Social Security numbers, the aircraft they are flying, takeoff and landing times, crew names and other information.

He's adding other applications, including a compact pilot grading system and performance charts.

Ragatz has an eager crew of software testers.

'About every other week, pilots come to me with new features they want to add,' he said.

Despite the demand for handheld units among Navy aviators, the service lacks funding for Palms, he said. Navy officials said in February that they had purchased 2,000 Palms for use by the Atlantic Fleet Surface Force at Norfolk, Va., but those units aren't being used in Ragatz's project.

To get funding, he must show proof of concept, including releasing a beta version of his app with two-way data transfer capabilities, and show that it is secure and stable, he said.

Palm V's come with 2M of RAM; Ragatz's applications take 300K, so memory will not be a problem, he said.

Palms are rugged enough for pilots, and with night vision goggles, they can use the devices' gray-scale screens easily, he said.

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