Tablets are becoming a standard item in a growing number of general aviation cockpits. And of the tablets available for purchase, none has found greater use than the iPad. Its general ease of use has made it the “go to” electronic flight bag (EFB) for pilots transitioning to the technology.
There’s no shortage of things to learn about an iPad as an EFB. To start with: which model of iPad is the one that will suit you best while flying? Any iPad will work for pilots, so there’s no wrong choice to be made. The latter stated, forums that really take iPad cockpit applications seriously recommend the 64GB iPad Air 2 as the best current option for pilots.
To start with, the iPad versus iPad Mini conundrum seems to favour the former. Its larger screen size, such as the iPad Air 2 has, is better suited for zooming functionality. With an iPad Mini, you’ll be zooming in or out more frequently than with a larger screen, which some pilots mildly admit to being a minor nuisance, but a nuisance all the same. The iPad Air 2 also has an antireflective screen coating that appreciably cuts down on sun glare that has rendered earlier iPads impractical to view under certain conditions of light.
64GB storage capacity is ideal for any and all VFR and IFR charts that you may want to take with you when you fly. The latter may only take up 8GB of your iPad’s storage, but you’ll quickly reach the base model iPad’s 16GB storage capacity if you’re regularly downloading new charts. Of course, you’ll also be using your iPad for other things too, (such as videos, photos, and other applications). So don’t cut yourself short: go with the larger storage capacity.
Once you’ve bought in to being an iPad pilot, you’ll need to select the Apps to make use of your tablet as an EFB. There’s no shortage of options: ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot, WingX Pro7, FltPlan Go, Xavion, etc. Each has its own strengths. Some provide comprehensive features that may include moving maps, approach charts, terrain awareness, weather graphics, weight and balance, flight planning, glass-cockpit style displays, synthetic vision, E6B calculations, checklists, fuel management assistance, flight logging, etc. Others focus entirely on only one, or a small subset, of these latter features, but they do so in a very effective way.
Ready to go flying with your new iPad EFB? Rule 1 before climbing into the cockpit: pre-flight your iPad. Make sure that your battery is fully charged, and charge it well in advance of your flight. (It takes up to 6 hours to fully charge a drained battery, so don’t leave it to the last minute.) Bring along back-up power or charging cables: if your battery dies in flight, you’ll be glad you have a plan B.
Prior to flight as well, run your Apps, especially if you’ve just updated them: while aloft is not when you want to learn that your updated Apps will crash your tablet. Also, make sure that the latest charts that you thought you were downloading actually made it into your iPad. Pilots will often view a new chart on their iPad, then make the mistake of thinking it’s been downloaded when, in fact, all they’ve done is viewed it through their iPad’s Internet connection.
An iPad’s battery will last for 4 to 6 hours (when using it with a GPS and active App) before it requires a recharge. Its lithium-ion polymer (LiPo) battery will last well-beyond 1,000 charge cycles. Practically speaking, that’s a lifespan of several years, and probably beyond the point when you’d be upgrading to any newer iPad introduced into the market.
Temperature extremes will affect your iPad. Simply stating it: if it overheats it will intentionally shut off to protect the battery. An iPad’s black screen absorbs heat rapidly: don’t leave it too exposed to the sun. Tablet batteries don’t like cold either, though once they’ve warmed up, they’ll go back to working normally without your intervention. iPads work best between 0C and 35C.
Get the most out of your battery’s charge by reducing the screen’s brightness. Bright screens can significantly use up battery life, as can Apps that are open, but which you don’t need for your flight. Every iPad has Wifi and Bluetooth, and some have cellular capability. If you don’t need these in the cockpit, turn them off. They, too, will unnecessarily drain your battery if you have no reason to have them on. (Note: Wifi-only iPads have no internal GPS. On such models, to interface with a remote GPS, you need Bluetooth to be active. Cellular models do have built-in GPS.)
Secure your iPad for safety and functionality. A multitude of clever mounts exist: suction cup, yoke mount, kneedboard. Whichever option you choose, make it the one that doesn’t cover your line-of-sight of other instruments, or that one place you should never forget to be looking: outside your cockpit windows.