Essential iPad accessories: our annual gear roundup

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The iPad makes a great, all-in-one cockpit tool, combining maps, flight planning, in-flight weather, documents and so much more. That doesn’t mean it stands on its own, though. A few carefully chosen accessories can make it so much more powerful and easy-to-use. Here’s our list of the accessories you should consider, and our top recommendations.

ADS-B

Stratus 2S
Portable ADS-B receivers are all-in-one accessories.

Practically an essential for iPad pilots who fly cross country or IFR, these all-in-one portable receivers deliver a wealth of data to your iPad: subscription-free weather, traffic, GPS, backup attitude, flight data recording and pressure altitude sensor. Best of all, they’re battery-powered and require just a single button push to operate. Like a good ANR headset, an ADS-B receiver quickly pays back the initial investment.

Top Choice: Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver for ForeFlight

Why it’s the best: The Stratus line of ADS-B receivers were designed to exclusively work with ForeFlight, aviation’s most widely use iPad app. The top-of-the-line Stratus 2S model contains all the bells and whistles, including ADS-B weather replay, dual-band traffic, remote-mount capability, pressure altitude monitoring, flight data recorder and a built-in AHRS to drive ForeFlight’s synthetic vision.

On a budget: Stratus 1S, Garmin GDL 39

Want to learn more? Check out our portable ADS-B receiver buyer’s guide

GPS

Bad Elf Pro+ GPS
The Bad Elf Pro+ is our top pick for deluxe GPSs.

If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of an ADS-B receiver, a standalone GPS is a great value. It will drive the moving maps in your aviation app and give you essential navigation data like groundspeed, track across the ground and time to destination.

Top Choice: Bad Elf Pro+

Why it’s the best: Bad Elf’s flagship GPS is very well made and has a number of great features: an incredible 35 hour battery life, handy built-in screen, altimeter and connection to multiple devices.

On a budget: Dual XGPS150A

Want to learn more? Check out our iPad GPS buyer’s guide

Flight Bag

Flight Outfitters Lift Bag
The new Flight Outfitters Lift Bag is made for the iPad, and has quickly become a popular choice for pilots.

Flight bags have evolved considerably over the past 5 years, featuring a smaller footprint with well-thought out pockets to keep your electronic gadgets organized and secure. They’re also more stylish. A good one can protect and organize your iPad, mount/kneeboard, charging cords, headset and more.

Top Choice: Flight Outfitters Lift

Why it’s the best: This compact, square-shaped bag features a padded center pocket for your iPad, surrounded by additional side pockets for a headset or smaller iPad accessories. The fold-out style is handy in the airplane, especially if you’re flying single pilot and have the flight bag on the right seat – you can open only the pocket you need, and grab your gear with one hand.

On a budget: Flight Gear HP iPad Bag

Kneeboard

Securing your iPad in the cockpit is important for safety and for ease of use. There are two main options for this: a kneeboard or a mounting system. Kneeboards are generally more affordable, and offer additional storage pockets. They’re ideal for renters or flying club members.

Top Choice: Flight Gear HP Kneeboard – iPad Mini and iPad Air options

Why it’s the best: The latest generation of this popular kneeboard is just the right size, with enough room for your iPad, some cords, and a cleaning cloth, but without being too big or cumbersome. The iPad panel can tilt and rotate so you find just the right position for your airplane. For smaller cockpits, we like how the kneeboard can fold in half so it’s only a single panel.

On a budget: iPad Rotating Kneeboard – iPad Mini and iPad Air options

Mount

If a kneeboard doesn’t work in your airplane, a mount is a great alternative. There are lots of options here, from suction cup mounts for side windows to yoke mounts. There are plenty of brands offering mounts, and most of them are quite good, but there are significant differences between them to consider.

Top Choice: PIVOT Case and Mount – iPad Mini and iPad Air options

Why it’s the best: This deluxe system, used by Southwest Airlines pilots every day, is a protective case and suction cup mount in one. It’s well-made, easy-to-use and doesn’t take up too much space in the cockpit. When you’re done flying, it quickly removes from the suction cup and becomes a good, everyday case.

On a budget: RAM Mounts (numerous options)

Backup Power

Battery pack
A good battery pack makes a valuable backup tool.

Most of the (very rare) issues we’ve had with the iPad have been due to running out of battery. So it’s only smart to have a backup for those days when you fly longer than expected or forget to charge your iPad. Fortunately, there are more options than ever. Just be sure to get something with a 2 amp charging port.

Top Choice: Professional Battery Pack

Why it’s the best: A standalone battery pack is an essential backup, and it works anywhere – even in airplanes without an electrical system. This model is the best one we’ve seen: it has dual 2 amp USB ports for tablets, dual 1 amp USB ports for phones and a huge, 20,800 mAh battery. We’ve charged an iPad, Stratus and two iPhones at the same time. Even with all that power, it’s surprisingly small and portable.

On a budget: Dual 2 amp USB cigarette lighter charger

Screen Protector

ArmorGlas on iPad
ArmorGlas is made from tempered glass.

Not everyone likes screen protectors, since they can distort the screen slightly. But for pilots who use their iPads hard, it makes sense to give that big chunk of glass a little extra protection from scratches, drops and fingerprints. Some will cut down on screen glare too.

Top Choice: MyGoFlight ArmorGlas – iPad Mini and iPad Air options

Why it’s the best: These screen protectors aren’t flimsy sheets of plastic that are impossible to put on; instead, they’re made from tempered glass. They are much easier to apply, they don’t affect the touchscreen performance and they even reduce screen glare by a bit.

On a budget: Bubble-free Screen Protector

What else is on your list for iPad accessories? Add a comment below.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I do love tempered glass screen protectors, but a problem I have encountered with them is when they go to the absolute edge of the screen. The corners of them tend to get lifted by the armored type ipad covers I use. Really there is no reason for them to go to the extreme edge. If they could be just a couple mm from the edge, the problem would be solved.

    I finally did find a good tempered glass screen protector from a company who ‘gets it’ for my iPhone 6, and I have been very pleased with it. No more lifted screen protector corners! Now I just need to find one for my iPads. No way I am spending $50 and dealing with the same problem.

  2. John, I’ve used both the thin vinyl and ArmorGlas products and both cut down on glare tho’ neither eliminates it. The thin vinyl is what it is (soft surface, bubble prone), so it didn’t have a long lifespan. I found the ArmorGlas product so difficult to mount that, after a short period and due to the poor mounting, I returned it. I think there’s something to be said for not putting anything on the screen and instead handling it carefully. That’s been my approach with my iPhone and 2 iPads. KISS approach, I guess. My 4 year old iPad still has a very presentable display, so perhaps your solution is to simply develop several location options to help deal with the glare, plus a routine for handling it that keeps it protected when not in actual use. Good luck!

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