Flight testing the iPad Mini


Our iPad Mini arrived right on schedule from Apple this morning, and we didn’t waste any time getting out to the airplane to begin testing it out. We were immediately impressed with the overall build-quality of the iPad Mini, and it feels as solid and well-constructed as the larger iPad models. The smaller size means less to weight to lug around in your flight bag and allows for more mounting options than were previously available with the regular iPad. We loaded several of the popular aviation apps, including ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot and WingX Pro, and all functioned exactly as expected.

User Experience & Display

The iPad Mini ships with iOS 6, so you’ll find that all the settings, menus and controls are identical to the other iPads. The primary difference (besides size) is that the iPad Mini uses Apple’s new Lightning connector, so your old 30-pin iPad/iPhone charging cables will not work with this new model. You can purchase a 30-pin to Lightning connector from Apple if you have accessories that require the old style connection. It’s also worth pointing out that the iPad Mini uses the same 5W charger as the iPhone, though you won’t do any damage if you use the 10 or 12W iPad charging brick.

We’ve been flying primarily with the iPad 3 and its high resolution retina display for the past 7 months, but we found that the iPad Mini’s lower resolution screen didn’t detract at all from the readability of the screen. In fact when mounted at normal distance either on a kneeboard or yoke mount, the screen looked nearly as crisp as the iPad 3. The big thing you will notice is that all the buttons and menus are proportionately smaller, so if you have a difficult time pressing touchscreen buttons on the original iPad, you may want to stick with the larger version. With that being said, we found no issues using the device when mounted securely, even in turbulence. IFR approach charts and airport diagrams are easily readable when viewed full screen in portrait mode and do not require any zooming to see the fine print.

The iPad Mini’s side bezel is proportionately smaller than the original iPad, and some may be concerned that they will interfere with on-screen interactions if their thumb is wrapped around the front. Apple has thought about this and adjusted the software accordingly. According to the Apple site:

Rethinking the screen meant we also had to rethink the software behind it. iPad mini intelligently recognizes whether your thumb is simply resting on the display or whether you’re intentionally interacting with it.

You’ll find that the iPad Mini uses the same glass screen, so glare is still an issue for those with well-lit or open cockpits. The key here, just like with the original iPad, is to mount it in a way that you can control the angle at which it faces you to reduce the glare, like with a yoke or suction RAM mount for example. As for battery life, Apple claims 10 hours, so you can expect similar performance to that of the larger iPads. And don’t forget that using an external device like a GPS or ADS-B receiver will use additional power, so 5-7 hours of battery life is more realistic when using it as an in-flight navigator.

Mounting Options

As mentioned earlier, the iPad Mini’s smaller footprint lends to additional mounting options, especially in tight cockpits. We’ve found the RAM mounting system to be the best due to its modular construction and flexibility with positioning. For the iPad Mini you’ll want to start with the 7″ Tablet Cradle, which perfectly holds the device. Next choose one of RAM’s 4 mounting options: yoke mount, suction mount, glareshield mount or Beech yoke mount. With the iPad Mini’s smaller size and weight, the yoke mount becomes a much more practical option. It easily mounted on both a Cessna 172 and Piper Warrior yoke during our tests, and worked well in both portrait and landscape orientations. It also does not block the view of the gauges and switches as much when compared to the original iPad.

We next tried out the glareshield mount in a Cessna 172, and found this to be much more useful than with the larger iPad. In the past we found the glareshield mount difficult for most to use since it blocked important gauges and instruments on the right side of the panel. This is no longer an issue with the iPad Mini; mounting it on the right side of the panel did not block anything from view, though it may be a little further away than some may prefer.

The suction mount works well when fixed to the front window, allowing the iPad to barely hang over the glareshield in the right center section of the panel. We also were able to secure the iPad Mini with the suction mount in the front left window of a Piper Warrior, a spot that was previously too small to mount the larger iPad. This keeps it in close proximity but does not block the view too much out that front side window.

The iPad Mini will not fit in the current models of iPad kneeboards, but it does work well when used with Sporty’s traditional tri-fold kneeboard. The spring-loaded clip will keep it secure in-flight, and you can store the iPad Mini in one of the 2 side zipper pockets.

GPS & ADS-B Accessories

We’ll keep this section short and sweet — all the Bluetooth and WiFi accessories that work with the original iPad work the same with the iPad Mini, including the Stratus ADS-B receiver, Garmin GLO and GDL-39, plus the Dual Bluetooth GPS. If you own the Bad Elf GPS receiver that plugs into the bottom of the iPad, you’ll need Apple’s 30-pin to Lightning adapter. This allows the Bad Elf to function normally, though some may find it a big awkward with the GPS extending out twice as far.


So is the iPad Mini the new standard for aviation? We’re not quite ready to declare that, since the 10″ iPad screen is still hard to beat for large type and easy to hit buttons. If you fly an airplane with a larger cockpit, or if you already use an iPad and have a mounting solution you like, stick with it. We wouldn’t throw out an iPad 2 or 3 just yet.

But having said that, the iPad Mini is a compelling product for pilots–probably more so for pilots than for the general public, actually. It finally makes the iPad usable on a yoke mount, and all of the aviation apps that run on the larger iPad will work perfectly on the Mini out of the box. On top of that, it’s less expensive than the 10″ iPad (it would make an excellent backup for the full-size iPad, if nothing else). If you’ve been holding off buying an iPad, or if you fly an airplane with a smaller cockpit, the iPad Mini could be a game changer.


  1. I have owned the first two versions of the iPad, and currently own the third generation. I think the iPad Mini was something that they should have introduced awhile ago. I’m not sure I would have purchased it over the third generation (if given the opportunity), I do believe that if this is something you’d use for flying regularly, then the iPad Mini would make a better companion than the larger model.

    As the author wrote, if you fly in large cockpits and can have it mounted comfortably and out your way, then the larger iPad would be suitable and more advantageous. If you fly in a small cockpit, as I normally do, the iPad Mini would make things much easier. As pictured, flying with the iPad mounted on the yoke seems so much more effortless than mounting the large-scale model on the yoke or on your kneeboard.

    As far as performance, I’ve seen the specs, its above-average processor will be more than enough to power your apps.

    But as the author said, if you already have an iPad (2nd generation or better), I wouldn’t run out and buy this at all, unless size is everything for you. I just think it’s funny that they have also released the 4th generation model of the regular iPad as well, even though I just bought their third in March. Once again, I’m not running out and buying anymore iPads until they’ve released something that is something far better than what I’ve got now. I don’t think that will happen for a few more years.

  2. A quick PIREP on iPad mini battery life…I flew a 4 hour trip yesterday with the mini connected to a Stratus over WiFi, and it used exactly 50% of the battery. This seems to be on par with the other iPads, if not a little better. I had the screen brightness set about in the middle, which I think is key to maximizing the battery life. I also noticed that it didn’t get warm at all, most likely attributed to the fact that the iPad mini battery is less than half the size of the new iPads.

    • RE: battery life. Has anyone been able to compare the mini battery life using WiFi and an external GPS, vs. the onboard GPS with WiFi off (if you have the Verizon / Sprint / AT&T version of the Mini). I’m curious which is more of a drain on the battery.

  3. I use the big iPad with ForeFlight and the only complaint is there was no lock on the map screen like on the Plates screen. Since I fly with it on my lap, RH Seat or Floor, when I pick it up for a closer look or change routing, I sometimes accidentally hit one of the buttons on the bottom of the screen and the map disappears.

    With the mini software mentioned in the article to complement the smaller bezel, the mini looks more attractive.

    I have sent a note to ForeFlight to see about putting a lock button on the Maps screen like the plates screen and hope they include that in future update or maybe Apple will add it to the iPad iOS.

  4. GPS ANTENANNE?? After speaking to several people at Apple, Garmin and the people who developed the Garmin app, they all arrived at the conclusion that none of the Ipads have a separate internal GPS antennae. What they said was GPS is only avaliable with the GPRS/WiFi pad/phone. I find that to be inaccurate as my Ipad will recognize GPS signals without a sim card installed on the road. Anybody have thoughts on this issue?

    • If you have a WiFi only iPad, and if “recognize current location” is turned on in your settings, then the iPad will triangulate your position using the WiFi signals. Not very accurate in a flight sense, but accurate enough for general use. The GPRS/WiFi iPad’s have a built in internal GPS. It is also possible to connect an external GPS to a WiFi only iPad using bluetooth or WiFi.

    • Steve, the internal GPS feature in the 3G/4G iPad models uses a real GPS chip, and does not require a sim card or data service to function properly. In fact many buy that iPad model with no intention of ever activating the Verizon or AT&T service just to get the GPS functionality. With that being said, I’d still recommend adding an external GPS for the best reliability and performance.

      There are two downsides with using the internal GPS: it loses the GPS position when switching been apps or coming back up from sleep mode, and it tends to have poor reception unless it has a perfectly clear view of the sky (the external models work better when positioned in a cockpit with obstructed views).

      • One very important and almost ever underestimated thing to consider with the iPads GPS is the time to First Fix, as the device does not remember its last known position. A common standalone GPS does remember where it was and estimates its position based on that until a Full Fix is ready. If the iPad does have a SIM card installed it starts the assisted GPS with triangulation of the GSM cell data and then ramps up to Full Fix. If not it takes quite a long time for the First Fix as no Position is delivered until a Full Fix is reached. So, whenever somebody is complaining on iPads needing soo long to get a fix or have sluggish GPS performance – ask if they use it without SIM card. My advice, stick a card in it even if you’ll never use it.

    • I use 2 of the iPad 1st gen and 1 of the iPad 3 units in our flight department. All are 3G models, with the built-in GPS. Have had 0 issues, and encourage you to always get the 3G models or the latest mini with cellular, which has the built-in GPS. My iPad mini/cel model has arrived today, though I have not had time setting it up. From the reviews, I expect the same perf however.

    • if your using the ipad as a general location gps then the internal Receiver will kind of work most of the time. If you really plan on using it to navigate, in my area there is allot of restricted airspace, you need an external gps receiver, I’ve had allot of old farts try to tell me the internal gps works fine, iIl disprove that every time I go up and put mine side by side with theirs in reference to vfr charts in some cases they were over a mile off were mine within 100 feet if not less than 10ft. We have restricted airspace on 3 sides so a mile off is unacceptable. Items like the Bad elf are not antennas, they are gps receivers that relay position data to your ipad.

  5. Well, I want one, to complement my big iPad, and to mount on the yoke for approach plate reference, mostly. But I’m going to hold out for the Retina display, and I’d love to see Bad Elf make a compatible unit that has the Lightning plug.

    I’d probably use them both, all the time, as I like the bigger image and type for a lot of purposes.

  6. I’ve wanted a smaller iPad for the cockpit since my first one (iPad 2) and have been following iPad mini rumors since the iPad 2 release. After seeing what foreflight could do I gladly sold my Garmin 696 to buy one. I fly a Piper Cherokee and until recently also flew Robinson R22s and Schweizer 300 Helicopters. For Helicopter use the full size iPad just doesnt work. It not only sucks in any kneeboard configuration, but interferes with the cyclic control in non Robinson Helicopters. In my cherokee I tried everything to mount it, and the only thing I could see that could work was a chair rail mount but then theres the flap handle… I really wanted to yoke mount like I did my 696, but its just too big. It blocks everything. When The third gen iPad was released I was waiting to see a mini with the rest of theworld but we didn’t get one. But I upgraded for the Retina display and passed my iPad 2 on to my kids.

    Now I’m stuck with a dilemma… I really want the mini, for the cockpit, but I’ve also been spoiled by my retina display. I want to down-SIZE my iPad, not down-GRADE it. so I’m stuck. Is it worth giving up the retina for the compact size, or should I hold out in the hopes that iPad mini will see a retina display in the next generation? Or could foreflight save us all the trouble and just release an android version of their terrific app? I have tried wingX and garmin apps, but really loved the interface of foreflight the most, so I’m sticking with them wherever they go, but I just hate the giant ipad for flying. Apple seriously needs to update their hardware tech and give us a sunlight friendly screen too…

    • Tom, Yes the iPad mini has the same resolution as an iPad 2. But being a smaller screen those pixels are much much closer then before, so things will look a lot more crisp then an iPad 2, although not quite as much as the retna.

  7. I have a iPad 1 and an iPod with the retina display and can tell a small difference. When I checked the mini at the Apple Store against a Retina iPad, the difference was not that big to my eyes.

  8. I been using iPad 2 for 2years piper Cherokee on the yoke it is big but ok, lost GPS signal maybe 2 or 3 times using Wingx pro 7, the best and fore flight for weather only, the best weather and FAA certify.
    I had almost all apps and wingx is the best choice for me, only one complain I have is no wx overlay on route.
    Bough iPad mini and it is fantastic fit for general aviation, small perfect fit on the yoke has double gps (glasnost ) GPS ready I. 3 seconds.
    I flown last weekend with small big and mini and after about 1 hr trying mini back to big one and after 2 years of flying with ipad2 I have to say mini is big winner, I love it big one goes on eBay.

  9. I have the cellular service on the Ipad 2 but would rather not add a new phone line as I demote the Ipad 2 to backup with the mini Ipad as primary for Foreflight. Is the only option an external GPS or has anyone had success getting a cellular provider to allow 2 Ipads to share a number provided they are not on at the same time?

    • Note that you can buy a 3G/4G iPad Mini and use the on-board GPS, but not activate the cell service. This might be a good option for you. Other than that, the ADS-B receivers out there (Stratus, GDL 39) allow for two devices to connect simultaneously.

  10. […] The best way for any new iPad pilot to start out is by watching the Flying with the iPad seminar video. This 50 minute presentation covers a lit bit of everything, including iPad 101, preflight tips, EFB regulations and advisory circulars, apps, accessories, tips and tricks. We’ll point out that this was recorded before the iPad Mini was announced; check out this post for more information on flying with the iPad Mini. […]

  11. Rick, check out the new kneeboard (iPro Aviator/M) and clipboard mount (iPro Navigator) at http:www.ForPilotsOnly.com. Lots of pictures there for you to peruse.

  12. Has anyone discovered or know of panel mounts with integrated power supply for the ipad mini.. we want to install this on the aircraft panel above the radio stack (landscape mode)
    Also. does it need to be the 3G version for the built in GPS receiver to work?

    • You do need the 3G version to use the built-in GPS, although again, you can use external GPSs with any model iPad. There are some mounts with an integrated power supply, but that makes the iPad a more serious EFB (class 2 or 3), and may require some paperwork. Do some research before you go down that path.

  13. I’ve used the iPad mini with Foreflight and a Stratus 2 for several recent flights. The iPad mini is at 100% charge at the beginning of each flight but only lasts 4 hours. Any recommendations on settings?

    • Allen, have you tried turning off the wifi in settings? That will save it from constantly searching which uses power. Only other way to save power I know of is reduce screen brightness. Does anyone know if power is saved by fully turning off un-used apps?

  14. With a 32 gb iPad mini Retina with WiFi,does one need cellular for ForeFlight? I’m new at this and just learning. Thanks

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