I've been working the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) for about a year. I used one of the available POHs as a starting point, and copied most of the format from the typical Cessna POH. I originally was using OpenOffice (an open-source office suite - sort of a MS Office clone), as the POH I used as a starting point was in MS Word format, but I don't own Word at home. I wanted a freely available word processor that could open Word documents, and was available on both Mac OS X (home computer) and Windows (work laptop, which goes with me when I travel). It worked well enough, but I was having trouble getting it to put the diagrams where I wanted.

So I looked around some more, and decided to try LaTeX. LaTeX is a set of programs that is commonly used in the academic community to produce technical documents, papers, text books, etc. It produces great output, and is perfectly suited to a POH, but there is a fairly steep learning curve. The software is freely available, but it is almost essential to purchase some reference books. I ended up with "LaTeX: A Document Preparation System", Leslie Lamport (the main author of LaTeX) and "The LaTeX Companion", 2nd Edition" - two excellent, almost essential references.

It was a fair bit of work to convert from OpenOffice to LaTeX format, but I'm glad I made the change. LaTeX handles diagrams extremely well, and it can be integrated with gnuplot to produce the graphs for the performance section. Gnuplot is a command-line driven program, which was a bit of a stretch for me, as a long-time Mac user, but the documentation is very good. And there are some advantages to the command line - it is easy to set up one file with formatting commands that will be used in all the graphs, and then have each file that creates a graph call that set of common commands. This ensures that all graphs look alike. I also set up one master file that calls each file that creates the graphs. So I issue one command in gnuplot, and it remakes all the graphs using the latest set of data files. I've put in some "dummy" performance data for now, but it will be an easy task to insert the correct data files once I've done the flight testing.

The current, draft POH (very large file - 1.6 MB) is looking pretty good. There is lots of red text, which represents stuff that needs to be completed, or needs to be reviewed. Some of the page breaks are in strange places, but I won't worry about those until I have finished editing the text. I'll put the LaTeX and gnuplot files on this site once the POH is complete, just in case anyone is interested. They are available on request in the meantime.

Update - 21 Dec 2012 - The latest version of the LaTeX and gnuplot files needed to create my POH is now available via my POH repository at GitHub. You can either grab it using git, or click the "ZIP" button to download via Zip.

Update - 16 Mar 2015 - The latest version of the POH is available in PDF format on the Downloads section of this web site.