For pilots using a tablet as their primary chart reference, keeping an iPad charged isn’t just a convenience – it’s a safety of flight issue. Fortunately, there are a whole host of solutions that can keep your battery topped off; unfortunately, many were developed for cars and not airplanes. As we’ve learned the hard way, not all of these “good deals” work in the demanding environment of an airplane cockpit.
Aviation-specific products (like those from Appareo and True Blue Power) have started to appear over the last few years, and are excellent performers. The only drawback is that they typically require installation and often cost well over $200. Now there’s a new option that is made for aviation but is both inexpensive and portable.
The Flight Gear Dual USB Charger is a compact cigarette lighter plug, shaped like many other charging plugs. There are three key differences, though, that make this our new favorite charging accessory.
It’s universal. Most airplanes have 12V cigarette lighter plugs (even those with 28V electrical systems), but some put out 24V. This automatically disqualifies most car chargers. Conveniently, the Flight Gear model will accommodate both 12V or 24V plugs. No more thinking – just plug it in and go.
Dual 2.4 amp plugs. Here’s another handy feature that eliminates thinking. While iPhones are happy to charge off a 1 amp plug, iPads and ADS-B receivers all need 2.1 or 2.4 amps to charge properly. Again, inexpensive car chargers often have either no high amp plugs or only 1, so you’re constantly searching for the one labeled “2 amps.” Both USB ports on the Flight Gear USB Charger are 2.4 amps, so you can easily charge an iPad and a Stratus at the same time.
Built-in screen. This is something we haven’t seen before – a built-in screen right on the front of the charging plug that shows real time system status. When you plug in the charger and the airplane’s electrical system is on, you’ll see the current voltage being put out by your cigarette lighter. This is a good way to monitor the status of your battery, or at least your plug. You’ll hear an audio alert if it drops below 12V (for 12-14V airplanes) or is between 18 and 24 volts (for 24-28V systems).
Once you plug into the USB ports, the screen switches over to showing the amps being drawn by your devices. This is a great way to confirm that your iPad is getting its 2+ amps, and you’ll notice it automatically charges an iPhone at the lower rate of about 1.3 to 1.5 amps (see picture).
We’ve flown over a dozen trips with this charger, in aircraft ranging from a Cessna 172 to a Pilatus PC-12 to a Robinson helicopter. So far it has worked in every aircraft and with a slew of portable devices, including iPad Pros, an older iPad 3, Stratus ADS-B receivers, Garmin VIRB video cameras, and inReach Messengers. We now consider it an essential item for any flight outside the traffic pattern.
The Flight Gear Dual USB Charger is now shipping, and is available for $18.95.