Don’t let your iPad overheat – and crash

7
Your iPad will display this message and stop functioning if the internal temperature gets too warm.
Your iPad will display this message and stop functioning if the internal temperature gets too warm.

We love the iPad because it’s probably the most versatile gadget we own. And for many, it has become a required item for every flight. After flying with the iPad for more than six years, we’ve also learned that it’s also extremely reliable, provided you follow a few important preflight steps. Ultimately, as long as you have a fully-charged battery and current charts downloaded in your app, the odds of the iPad failing in flight is extremely low. There is one thing though that will get your every time if you’re not careful, and that’s the potential for overheating.

Apple lists the normal temperature operating range for the iPad as 32° – 95° F. While using the device below the freezing point may cause the screen to lag a bit, it will still function. However, if you’re using the iPad at the other temperature extreme, it will eventually resort to a thermal protection mode and become completely unusable until the internal temperature of the device is reduced. The primary reason for this is to protect the internal lithium-polymer battery (bad things can happen if they get too hot).

There are a couple of ways on a typical flight that this can happen and both will catch you off guard if you’re not paying attention. The first scenario can happen when you’re flying in a low-wing airplane en route at altitude with the iPad secured in a kneeboard on your lap. You’re in VFR conditions in sunny weather, but the iPad is out of direct sunlight. Then you make a turn over a waypoint, and the sun begins to shine directly on your iPad’s dark screen without you noticing. Even though the ambient temperature may be well below the 95° F limit, the iPad’s internal temperature will quickly elevate and soon display the overheat warning.

The other likely scenario in which your iPad can unexpectedly overheat is after shutting the engine down on the ramp on a hot summer day. Prior to the iPad, many pilots would throw their paper charts or kneeboard on the glareshield to get them out of the way. New iPad useres might inadvertently do the same thing out of habit. As we all know, the temperature inside the cabin will quickly rise after you shut the door, again putting the iPad in a vulnerable state for potential overheating. Make it a habit to take your iPad with you after shutdown, or store it in a protected part of the airplane to ensure a timely departure when you return to the airplane.

Your iPad becomes completely unusable when it overheats and will display a temperature warning on the screen. At this point, your only option is to get it to a cooler environment and lower the internal temperature. Remove it from direct sunlight and aim a few air vents over if possible. If you had it in a kneeboard or case, remove these to aid the cooling process. Once the iPad’s temperature lowers it will automatically switch back on–there’s nothing else for you to do at that point, except to keep it out of the sun.

If you fly an airplane that has large windows and lets in a good deal of sunlight to the cabin, your best bet is to consider a yoke or suction cup RAM mount. These provide plenty of flexibility to pivot the iPad screen away from direct sunlight, and expose more of the front and rear surfaces of the iPad to ambient air for continuous cooling.

07/27/16 UPDATE: There’s a new iPad cooling case available that incorporates active cooling fans. Learn more about the X-Naut Active Cooling Mount in our product review.

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. I flown a Bonanza with an iPad 2 in a Ram mount between the yokes for 5 years and never had an over heating issue even in TX. I run the screen in full brightness mode but turn off all other applications while running ForeFlight. If sunlight is imposed directly on the screen sometimes for an extended time I’ll take it out of the mount an either lay it on the copilots seat or she’ll hold it in the shade, that doesn’t seem to have to happen very often.

  2. I was caught completely by surprise with this one day. The day was cool but the sun was directly on the iPad. Fortunately turning it and directing air cooled it down.

  3. I had my iPad go blank on a flight from Alamogordo, NM to Lakeway, Austin,TX. I had to stop to refuel in Andrews TX and left the iPad on the seat of my RV-6. I returned to a blank iPad. I quickly solved the problem of the blank screen by going back into the airport lounge and put it in the refrigerator where the honor system drinks were stored. It only took a few minutes to cool enough to return to life.

  4. The first time my iPad overheated, I was descending from sunny VFR-on-top conditions through a layer of stratified clouds on final approach into an airport where it was raining. The iPad overheated and it shut down just as I broke out under the cloud deck on final on the ILS approach. I was NOT a happy camper, even though since I had briefed the approach I had all the altitudes, frequencies, and missed approach procedures memorized and so was able to land as planned. I bought an iPad mini as a backup as soon as I got back home from that weekend trip. The mini is usually handed over to whomever is in the right seat, who is then under orders to keep it out of the sun but readily at hand if needed and to accept all flight plan transfers from the other iPad as soon as I send them over. The bigger iPad has only overheated one other time since then. But I did have to give up on its hard-covered kneeboard and use just a strap for it, which lets it slide around some and doesn’t seem as secure (the mini also has just a kneestrap). This happened even though I specifically got a white rather than a black iPad hoping to avoid overheating problems (the mini, though, is black).

  5. Bring a first aid ice pack and keep it handy. It will cool a iPad that is getting warm. It comes in handy for FR’s and IPC’s. Keeps the pilot cool too!

  6. Mine overheats constantly as the best place for it in my 210 is suction cup to the window below and to my left. I found this page looking for an insulator. Any ideas on how to make it stay cool in direct sun?

  7. This issue of the iPad or mini iPad overheating and shutting down without warning is a real safety issue for GA pilots.
    I flew for 2 hours today on an IFR flight plan with a mini iPad on the control column going west with the sun on it from the south. Thank goodness it was VFR and I was given a VFR approach. When I looked at the iPad after landing it had shut down on me. It was totally black. I didn’t think it was hot enough for it to shut down.
    This could also have been an iPad malfunction as I can’t seem to get the iPad started up again so there is a Lesson to be Learned here. (And yes, I put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.)
    Regardless, when it is cloudy overheating probably isn’t a high risk but I am glad I had photocopies of my approaches and airport diagram in the side pocket. The lesson is don’t rely on the iPad and have a backup plan for your charts if it fails.

Comments are closed.