What are the differences between the models of iPads currently available from Apple?

Apple currently offers 5 models of iPad: the iPad Mini 2 and iPad Mini 4, the iPad Air and iPad Air 2, and the iPad Pro. The iPad Air and Air 2 are 10″ tablets, and pilots will find that both work very well with nearly every aviation app available. The iPad Air models improves on the design of earlier-generation iPads by including a much faster processor, slimmer size and reduced weight. The iPad Air 2 is unique in that it includes a barometer, glare-reducing screen and TouchID, Apple’s fingerprint-scanning technology for passwords. The older Air model works fine and is a good buy for $100 less than the newer generation, but there’s no doubt the iPad Air 2 is the most powerful iPad you can buy.

If you’re looking for an iPad with a smaller footprint consider the iPad mini. This version measures 7.87″ by 5.3″ and will be a better fit in cockpits with tighter constraints. It runs at the exact same resolution as the full size iPad Air models, so all the iPad apps currently available will run seamlessly on it. The entry-level iPad Mini 2 is a great deal at $269, and includes the high-resolution retina display. The iPad Mini 4 improves on the Mini 2 by adding a faster processor, glare-reducing screen, barometer and the TouchID fingerprint-scanning feature.

If you’re using an iPad 1 -4, or the original iPad Mini, it may be time to consider an upgrade. While most apps will still run on these models, the processor is noticeably slower. You may find map redraws and other higher end features to be frustrating. Plus, the latest version of Apple’s iOS platform won’t run on the iPad 1, so you’ll be stuck on an older version.

Full iPad specifications are available from Apple. If we had to pick one iPad for flying, we would choose the iPad Air 2, WiFi-only, 64GB. Read on to see why…

What are the internal storage options and how much do I really need?

Apple offers 3 versions of internal memory options for all iPads: 16GB, 64GB and 128GB. Downloading all the VFR & IFR charts for the entire United States takes up about 8GB of storage—so the 16GB model will work for most people. One thing to keep in mind is that many apps like ForeFlight allow you to download the next cycle’s charts approximately 4 days in advance (the app automatically displays the new charts when they’re valid). If you plan to keep charts for the entire U.S. on your iPad, you’ll need and additional 8GB of free space during this transition period each month, and should go with the 64GB iPad.

Also consider that you may use the iPad for more than just aviation (e.g., pictures, videos, other apps), so you’ll want to leave open some free space for those items. The iPad’s memory is not upgradeable, so you have to commit to a size up front. If in doubt, buy more, although we think the 128GB model is overkill for all but the most die-hard video fans. 64GB is our preference.

What is the difference between the Wifi-only iPad and the iPad with LTE?

All iPad models offer Wifi connectivity to the Internet, so you can connect to your home network, your office network, a local coffee shop, etc. But you can also buy an upgraded LTE model that receives wireless data from AT&T or Verizon (for a monthly fee). The benefit to pilots with the LTE model is that it also contains an internal GPS receiver, which is useful for showing your aircraft’s position on aviation map applications (although it has some limitations). The LTE model also allows you to download weather and file flight plans on the go (although it does not work in the air). But again, either model is fine for aviation use. Just consider whether you’re willing to pay that additional monthly fee for the LTE service.

What is the difference between 3G and LTE?

Both the 3G and LTE model iPads include cellular data connectivity (think of a cell phone but with no ability to make calls). LTE represents the latest generation technology, and provides download speeds that are, on average, 5 times faster than 3G. This really makes a difference when you’re downloading larger files, like chart updates or videos. One caution: most wireless providers put a limit on the amount of data you can use per month. Make sure you know what the limit is and how much you pay if you exceed it.

I have iPad LTE (which has an internal GPS) – do I still need an external GPS?

The internal GPS should work fine for most pilots, but it does not offer as precise of a navigation fix as when using an external iPad GPS and the GPS may drop out. When using the iPad with only the internal GPS in your lap in the cockpit, we’ve found that the GPS tended to lose signal reception intermittently. Sometimes the iPad will not lock onto GPS again until you reboot your iPad. If you plan on using the internal GPS, make sure the iPad has a clear view of the sky for best performance. Read more

I bought an iPad LTE – do I need to activate the wireless service for the internal GPS to work?

The internal GPS on an iPad LTEis completely independent from the cellular antenna, and does not require LTE service to be activated from AT&T or Verizon to work properly. You could buy an LTE iPad and use the GPS without ever activating your service.

What are my options for adding an external GPS?

Wireless GPS

  • The Dual XGPS 150 has self-contained rechargeable battery that lasts up to 8.5 hours.
  • The Dual XGPS 160 can connect to 5 devices at once and features a 10 hour battery life.
  • The Garmin GLO GPS can connect to 4 devices at once and includes a 12 hour rechargeable battery.
  • The Bad Elf Pro GPS uses Bluetooth to connect to 5 devices simultaneously, and is the only GPS to include an LCD status screen.
Plug-in GPS
  • The Bad Elf GPS plugs into the bottom of your iPad and relies on the iPad battery. Models are available to fit both 30-pin plug devices (iPad 1-3, iPhone 4/4S) and Lightning plug devices (iPad 4, iPad Air 1 & 2, all iPad Minis, iPhone 5 or newer).

All of these units have the same basic performance, and are about the same price. The decision comes down to personal preference, and whether you prefer a wireless GPS (but with a battery to charge) or a plugged-in GPS. Note that both the Dual XGPS 150 is limited to connecting to one device, while all the others allow you to connect one GPS to multiple iPads.

Another option is to use an ADS-B receiver containing an integrated GPS. You have three options: Stratus (works with ForeFlight), Garmin GDL-39 (works with the Garmin Pilot app) and the Dual XGPS170 (works with WingX Pro). See below more information on wireless iPad ADS-B weather receivers.

What wireless connection type does the Dual GPS, Garmin GLO and Bad Elf Pro use to connect to the iPad?

These wireless GPS receivers use Bluetooth to connect to the iPad. They must be configured via the iPad settings page, and the devices must be “paired” together. Reference the Dual GPS User’s Guide (PDF) for more information on how to wirelessly connect the devices.

Do I need an LTE model to get Bluetooth?

No. All iPads have Bluetooth built-in, and all iPads work with the Dual GPS and the Bad Elf GPS.

What is the difference between WiFi and Bluetooth?

Both allow you to connect your iPad wirelessly. Bluetooth is shorter range, and allows for one connection (like the Dual GPS). Wifi is longer range and allows multiple iPads/iPhones to connect to a wireless network for internet access. Wifi is also a common way to connect wireless accessories to the iPad (like the Stratus weather receiver).

When I put the iPad in Airplane Mode before flight, I cannot get the internal GPS to work, and the Dual Bluetooth GPS or Garmin GLO GPS will not connect to the iPad. What’s wrong?

Airplane Mode disables most of the wireless connection points on the iPad, including, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular data (the internal GPS found on certain iPads will still function in Airplane Mode). If you’re using an external GPS, go ahead and turn Airplane Mode ON, but then manually go back in to the settings and turn on either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to allow your third-party accessory to connect. This will ensure all other non-essential wireless radios are turned off, which will increase battery life and reduce the possibility of interference with panel-mount avionics.

For specifics on how to configure the iPad for each type of accessory during preflight, check out this post: iPad Wireless Settings.

Do the external GPS receivers work on iPhone and iPod Touch as well?

Yes, the Bad Elf, Dual GPS, Garmin GLO and Stratus are certified to work on all iOS devices.

How do I know the external GPS is providing me location information?

Two of the GPS-only receivers have free apps available in the app store that offer some additional resources:

When using Stratus you can view the satellite reception status in the Devices section of ForeFlight; when using the GDL 39, you can view satellite status from the Settings menu.

Do the external GPS receivers decrease iPad battery life when in use?

Yes – the GPS receivers can decrease battery iPad life by nearly 40 to 60% during continuous use.

The Bad Elf sticks out the bottom in my lap – any solution here?

By simply rotating the iPad 180 degrees, you can position it so that the Bad Elf GPS plug is at the top, and GPS antenna is away from your lap. The screen will automatically re-orient to the proper display angle. This 180 degree orientation tip works great too when using the Bad Elf/iPad combo in a kneeboard.

Can I add in-flight weather to the iPad?

ADS-B: subscription-free and ground-based. Requires portable Stratus weather receiver and the ForeFlight iPad app, the Garmin GDL 39 weather receiver and the Garmin Pilot app, or the Dual XGPS170 weather receiver with the WingX Pro app (the Dual receiver will work with additional apps down the road). Learn more with our ADS-B Receiver Comparison Guide.

Can I legally use the iPad as a replacement for paper charts for VFR or IFR flight?

Yes, under FAR Part 91 flying (majority of General Aviation), you can legally use an iPad that has current charts installed for both VFR and IFR flights. For technical info, refer to the iPad Legal Briefing for Pilots for additional guidance on Electronic Flight Bags.

On a more practical note, is the iPad a reliable paper chart replacement?

At Sporty’s we have been flying with the iPad since the day it came out in 2010, and have found it to been very reliable for displaying electronic charts and aviation data in the cockpit. We use it as our main source of charts in all our flight operations, from local flight-training missions to cross-country trips in our Piper Aztec – and it hasn’t let us down once. We still recommend carrying some type of backup, whether a local VFR Sectional or a backup approach chart or two for IFR pilots (or even a second iPad or iPhone with current data installed).

How do I update my apps?

When an update is available for any of your installed applications, you’ll see a red badge on the App Store icon on the iPad home screen. Open the App Store program, and you’ll then see the Updates tab at the lower right of the screen. Beginning with iOS 7, app updates can be set to download automatically (from the Settings App, iTunes and App Store page). Most updates are free.

What options do I have for getting charts outside the US?

If you’re looking for Canada or the Caribbean ForeFlight Mobile offers subscription options for these regions. For a larger collection of international charts, including VFR and IFR charts for many European countries, check out the international subscription options in the Garmin Pilot app.

What is the typical iPad battery life?

Out of the box you can expect about 10 hours of battery life when using it for everyday tasks like surfing the web or reading an e-book. When using it in the airplane with a GPS and a moving-map application, expect the battery to last in the 4 to 6 hour range. Check out this article for information on getting the most out of the battery.

Can I charge the iPad from my airplane’s 12v-24v plug?

Yes, you can purchase a USB 12-24V Charger. This is specially designed for the iPad’s higher 2.1 amp power requirement (not all chargers will work on iPad).

I don’t have a power source in my airplane – what other options are there for supplying backup power to an iPad?

For extended flights without access to charging, Sporty’s offers a compact Backup Battery system. This portable power supply will provide up to an additional 15 hours of battery life.

What are the main ways people are mounting iPads in the cockpit?

The easiest and most portable way to secure the iPad in the cockpit is with an iPad kneeboard (Sporty’s sells many of these). For more secure and flexible options you can use the Ram Mount System, which offers the option of using a yoke mount, glareshield clamp mount, or a suction cup mount. MyGoFlight also offers a collection of premium mounts that attach to your yoke or side window.

Recommended mounting options for:

All of these mounts are available for the original iPad 1-4, the iPad Air 1-2 and the iPad Mini 1-4. Shop all mounts here.

What are my options for securing an iPad in my lap in the cockpit?

Most of these kneeboards are available for the original iPad 1-4, the iPad Air 1-2 and the iPad Mini 1-4.

I want to use the RAM Cradle – do I have to remove my iPad’s protective cover each time?

There are two RAM Mount cradle options. The EZ-Roll’R design is the standard (for the original iPad 1-4, the iPad Air 1-2 and the iPad Mini 1-3) and will securely hold the iPad, but you must remove any cover or case before using. The RAM X-Grip provides more flexibility, and allows you to secure the iPad without removing a protective case.

The screen gets dirty quickly – what cleaning options are available?

  • Armor Wipes – Specialized moistened cloth for cleaning sensitive screens
  • Cloth only – Microfiber cloth with valuable aviation reference data

What options are available for reducing screen glare in the cockpit?

There are no options currently available that completely eliminate screen glare (don’t believe it if you read it), but this is the best one we’ve ever seen.

What about Android apps?

Google’s Android system is a competitor to Apple’s iPad and iPhone. Sporty’s offers numerous apps for Android to get you started. If you’re looking for a comprehensive flight planning and in-flight chart & navigation app, check out Garmin Pilot for Android.

Sporty’s kneeboards and the Spring-loaded RAM Mount (10″ class and 7″ class both available) will work with most Android tablets, including the Nexus line.

Where can I find more information on flying with the iPad?

You can view a Beginner’s Guide to the iPad here: Flying with the iPad – a beginner’s guide.

This site has dozens of great tips and tricks.

Sporty’s hosted a webinar that covers a lot of material, and the video can be found here: iPad 101 Webinar.

Looking for seminar covering advanced iPad topics? Check it out here: Advanced iPad Flying Webinar.

Sporty’s also has a biweekly newsletter on Flying with the iPad. Sign up here: iPad Newsletter.