Having GPS information on your iPad allows you to view a moving map display on popular apps like ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot. You can watch yourself fly right across the sectional chart or down the final approach fix on an approach plate. It’s one of the best features of the iPad. But how do you get the GPS information in the first place? Many pilots are confused by this, so let’s keep it simple.
First, does the iPad have a GPS already? If it’s a 3G or 4G model, the answer is yes–there is a built-in GPS receiver. And the GPS is completely separate from the 3G/4G service, so you don’t even have to have an active data plan for the GPS to work. You could buy a 3G/4G model iPad, never activate your Verizon or AT&T service, and still have GPS data. (WiFi only iPads do not have a GPS).
But while the on-board GPS does work with all popular aviation apps, the reality is it was made for ground use and it’s not always reliable in the air. It has a tendency to drop offline, especially when switching between apps or when the iPad goes to sleep. It’s not necessarily a question of accuracy, but of reliability. You don’t want the GPS to lose its signal right at the final approach fix in the clouds. For this reason, most iPad pilots–even those with a 3G or 4G iPad–opt for an external GPS. At under $150, it’s cheap insurance.
So which external iPad GPS to buy? There are four options currently available:
- Bad Elf Plug-in GPS 30-pin – $99.95, works only with iPad and iPhone with the 30-pin dock connector
- Bad Elf Plug-in GPS with Lightning Connector – $99.95, works with iPad 4/Mini/Air, and iPhone 5 or newer.
- Bad Elf Pro Bluetooth GPS – $149.95, works with all iPad and iPhone models
- Garmin GLO Bluetooth GPS – $129.95, works with all iPad and iPhone models
- Dual XGPS150 Bluetooth GPS – $99.95, works with all iPad and iPhone models
So which one should you buy? With the exception of the Bad Elf Pro, they are all similarly priced and offer the same performance. The Bad Elf Pro offers premium features such as an LCD display and can connect to up to 5 devices. In the end the choice is really personal preference–do you want to plug in the GPS directly to your iPad or do you want to put the GPS on the glareshield and connect wirelessly? The advantage to the Bad Elf plug-in version is that you don’t have to charge its battery, as it runs off the iPad. The advantage to the wireless models is that you can place them out of the way, but you do have to charge a battery.
For those interested in a portable ADS-B receiver, the good news here is that all the versions currently on the market also contain an integrated GPS receiver. All 3 wireless models —Stratus for ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin GDL 39 for Garmin Pilot, and the Dual XGPS170 for WingX–supply precise navigation information along with subscription-free weather to your iPad. And there’s nothing else to do once you connect them to your iPad via WiFi or Bluetooth–simply run your app and go flying.
Whatever you decide, we think an external GPS is a must-have accessory for any pilot.