One of the most common questions we receive here at iPad Pilot News is which model iPad is best for pilots, and particularly what size is needed to store all the charts in the aviation apps for use in the air. To help shed some light on this, we ran more tests on our iPads to determine exactly how much space each set of charts require in ForeFlight Mobile, Garmin Pilot and WingX Pro.
To keep the data sets comparable, we downloaded all the charts for the entire US in different groups based on flying type:
- VFR flying: sectionals, TACs, A/FD and airport diagrams
- IFR low altitude flying: all the VFR charts plus IFR low altitude en route charts and terminal procedures
- IFR high altitude flying: all the VFR and low altitude IFR charts plus high altitude en route charts
We started by listing the initial app sizes, which includes required downloads like airport databases and facility directories. We also listed sizes for optional features, like terrain, synthetic vision and international charts. The sizes listed here are in gigabytes (GB), and represent how much space the app will actually take up on your iPad with each option selected.
We really like the flexibility that ForeFlight offers with chart downloads, allowing you to pick exactly which chart type and state you need for your flying needs. One thing worth pointing out is that size listed for chart downloads next to each state on the downloads page in the app doesn’t always reflect how much space it’ll take once installed on your iPad. Rather, this number is the size of the physical download across the internet, and since ForeFlight incorporates file compression into these downloads, the amount of space required to store and install this is often 2 or 3 times bigger than the number listed on the download screen. But again the numbers listed here are what is required in terms of storage on the iPad.
- ForeFlight App & initial database download: 1.2 GB
- US VFR Flying: 5.8 GB
- US VFR/IFR low altitude flying: 8.8 GB
- US VFR/IFR low/high altitude flying: 9.0 GB
- US high-resolution terrain: 2.0 GB (additional)
- US synthetic vision: 0.6 GB (additional)
Here is the storage requirement for Canadian charts:
- Canadian VFR Flying: 6.7 GB
- Canadian VFR/IFR low altitude flying: 8.2 GB
- Canadian VFR/IFR low/high altitude flying: 8.6 GB
- Canadian high-resolution terrain: 1.1 GB (additional)
- Canadian synthetic vision: 0.6 GB (additional)
Additional download options:
- US World Aeronautical Charts: 3.1 GB
- US IFR Planning/Ocean charts: 0.2 GB
- US Helicopter charts: 0.7 GB
- Caribbean, Mexico and Central America charts and terrain: 2.0 GB
So to summarize this, a pilot wanting to download all the charts and databases for flying in the US would need about 15 GB of free space. If you want to install all the data that ForeFlight offers for US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, you would need about 27 GB. ForeFlight also offers a wide selection of FAA handbooks and manuals in its documents section of the app. These require about 1 GB of storage if you download them all.
To help speed up the monthly chart update routine, ForeFlight incorporates a clever feature called Delta Downloads. This automated process only downloads the data that changed from the previous cycle, resulting in a 70% to 90% reduction in download time without compromising chart quality. Delta Downloads includes terminal procedures, taxi charts, IFR and VFR charts, FAA A/FD, and Canada Flight Supplement data. This all happens behind-the-scenes, so there’s nothing you have to do to take advantage of this.
Garmin Pilot also offers plenty of flexibility in choosing exactly which states, charts and databases you want to download, making it easy to customize for your type of flying. Garmin includes a unique feature that shows a visual depiction of how much space Garmin charts are occupying on your iPad, along with free space still available to help you plan your downloads.
- Garmin App & initial database download: 0.2 GB
- US VFR Flying: 6.1 GB (this also includes WAC charts)
- US VFR/IFR low altitude flying: 7.7 GB
- US VFR/IFR low/high altitude flying: 8.5 GB
- US high-resolution terrain: 0.6 GB (additional)
The total amount of space required to download all of the Garmin charts and databases for the US is about 9 GB.
WingX presents their download options a bit differently than the first 2 apps. In order to view sectionals or en route charts you must first download them for the entire country, since the app doesn’t give the option for individual states or regions. And then for approach charts and airport diagrams, WingX presents the option to download these for only 1 state, 1/3 of the country or the entire US. On the plus side WingX uses increased compression in their chart images which allows the download sizes to be a bit smaller. Unfortunately you can’t customize your download options to the level that Garmin or ForeFlight allows, and it forces you to download more charts than are typically needed for local flights. The terrain database is a mandatory download as well.
- WingX Pro App & initial database download: 0.6 GB (this includes the terrain)
- US VFR Flying: 2.6 GB
- US VFR/IFR low altitude flying: 4.1 GB
- US VFR/IFR low/high altitude flying: 4.9 GB
The total amount of space required to download all of the WingX charts and databases for the US is about 4.9 GB.
Tips for downloading charts
In these tests we downloaded charts for the entire US, which most pilots will rarely need. As a rule of thumb you can plan about 100 – 200MB for most states in Garmin and ForeFlight, and you can save 2GB alone by leaving off Alaska. Remember too that Garmin and ForeFlight allow you to download future cycles about 4 to 5 days in advance, and they’ll automatically switch over to showing the new chart at the published date/time. So during those overlap days you will need double the space if you want to update early.
Based on these tests, our advice for most pilots is to go with the midsize 64 GB iPad to ensure you have adequate room. Remember too that you’ll need room for your other apps and media, and you’ll want to have some space available for future feature updates from these apps that may add additional storage requirements.
If you’re on a budget but still want to store charts for the entire US, consider WingX Pro, which requires the least amount of space. Garmin and ForeFlight will easily store all the US charts on the 16GB iPad as well, but you’ll need to delete old charts first when the updates are available and then install the new ones.
It’s also worth mentioning why some of these sizes differ so much between apps. Each app makes its own choice about the tradeoff between resolution and storage size. ForeFlight, for example, appears to be storing a lot of different zoom levels so the maps stay high resolution as you zoom in. WingX, on the other hand, has prioritized download size. Their databases are faster to update, but the app doesn’t offer quite as many zoom levels. It’s not a big difference in practice.