Charging your iPad: what you need to know

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One of the standout features of the iPad is its long battery life – a fully charged battery should last you about 9 – 10 hours (more like 4 – 6 when using a wireless accessory and when the screen is on full bright). Even though most general aviation flights rarely last that long, it’s always a good idea to charge the iPad the night before your flight and start with a full battery. In fact, running out of battery power is about the only problem we’ve had in eight years of flying with the iPad.

Apple charger
Make sure you’re charging your iPad with a 10 or 12 watt charger.

Using the included wall charger

One of the few accessories included with the iPad is a USB Power Adapter, which will charge the device from a 110V wall outlet. If you look closely at the specs on the adapter, you’ll see that it’s a 12 watt/2.4 amp charger (or 10 watts/2.1 amps for older models). This is important to take note of since the iPhone, iPod Touch and other replacement USB power adapters are typically rated at 5 watts and 1 amp. The higher 2.1/2.4 amp charger allows the large battery in the iPad to charge more quickly than when using the traditional 1 amp adapter (it will take around 4 – 5 hours to charge a completely drained iPad battery).

A couple notes here:

  • You can still charge an iPad with a 1 amp USB power adapter, but it will take longer than 5 hours to fully charge.
  • The iPad’s 12 watt charger is still safe to use with your other USB devices (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and will not damage them. In fact, it will charge your iPhone faster.
Flight Gear dual USB charger
A dual 2.4 amp USB cigarette lighter charger is a must-have accessory in the cockpit.

Charging in the airplane with a cigarette lighter adapter

You can also use a 12-24V cigarette lighter charger in your airplane to charge your iPad. Pay close attention before just buying any USB charger though, as you’ll want to make sure it provides 2.1 amps for optimum charging. This model offers 2 USB ports, both rated at 2.4 amps, and works on both 12V and 24V electrical systems. It also has a built-in screen that displays battery voltage – a handy backup.

Charging in the airplane with an installed USB port

If you own your airplane, you should consider a permanently installed, certified charging port. These are generally more reliable than portable devices, since they don’t rely on a touchy cigarette lighter charger. We like the Stratus Power from Appareo, which is TSO’d and includes dual 2.5 amp USB ports.

Charging from a computer

A fourth charging option is to connect your iPad to a computer that has a high-power USB 2.0 or 3.0 port (most newer Macs and PCs have this). This will not charge as quickly as when using the wall power adapter, but can often be more convenient. If you see the note “Not Charging” in the iPad battery status, your computer most likely does not have a high-power USB port.

Backup iPad battery
A portable battery pack is a great backup option.

iPad battery backups

You can also charge the iPad when on the go with a portable backup battery. This model includes 2.4 amp USB ports and a large, 12,000 mAh battery. These are great for airplanes without an electrical system or a cigarette lighter plug, and they can also be useful outside the cockpit. We keep on in our flight bag at all times as a backup.

“Accessory not supported”

If you see this notification on your iPad or iPhone, it usually means the charging device isn’t putting out enough juice to charge the iOS device’s battery. If you’ve double checked that it’s the right charging plug (and cable), try cleaning out the Lightning port on your device. Sometimes dust or other debris can interrupt the connection. Also try restarting your device.

7 COMMENTS

  1. One short comment: if a cigarette lighter adapter is used to charge devices in the aircraft, be aware that these often contain electronics which man cause interference with avionics. So, when encountering strange noise somewhere, first disconnect the adapter. Also, there are many cheap adapter on the market and some of them are known to blow and burn occasionally – beware of cheap china ware! Last but not least, disconnect the cig lighter adapter before starting or stoping the engine, the voltage spike may do harm to them.

    • Thanks for this tip! I just had this happen on a Hughes 500C w/Garmin 430 radio. Couldn’t figure out why there were errant transmissions and squelch wasn’t staying stable. I had a cigarette adapter charging the iPad as it was a 16 hour ferry flight. I noticed a few times when I touched the lightning cable the radio transmitted/static. I eventually unplugged the cord during flight and it stopped, so plugged/unplugged a few times and sure enough that was it. I was ready to take to the avionics shop, so saved some $$$$$ on that one!

  2. This article omitted a few features of Sporty’s cigarette lighter adapter. It indicates aircraft system voltage along with a low voltage beeping alarm, and it indicates accessory charging amps.

    My his and her iPads would not charge when using the usual suspect adapters. The iPad(s) would slowly discharge with those. This Sporty’s version charges and keeps the battery at 100%.

    I considered adding an Appareo USB power supply when I did my panel, but this Sporty’s adapter worked so well that I changed my mind. Great product.

  3. Sporty’s product is a good one. I used it in one of my friends planes.

    Airplane Mode Tip ) One thing to keep in mind on your way to the airport. Plug up your phone/ipad to this in the car on your way to the FBO. If you put your device in Airplane Mode (Make sure WiFi and Bluetooth are off) you can double your charge rate while you drive there. ( You shouldn’t be looking at it anyway while you are diving )

  4. Charge while in flight. You should be able to keep your iPad at close to full charge at all times, and thus if you lose charging or get a power failure in the aircraft system you have a fully charged iPad operatiing. Also, while charging the iPad may get warm if the back is not open to the air and if the cockpit is warm or it is in the sun it may shut down. Annoying when that happens just when you are about to select an approach plate. I carry a backup, older iPad- Foreflight allows 3 devices on one contract.

  5. Another option that has worked for me is using a small inexpensive cigarette lighter inverter. It converts my 12V cigarette lighter to 110V power source to plug-in my Apple iPad wall adapter. It keeps my iPad and Dual ADS-B/AHRS device fully charged while navigating.

  6. I have a question… I have an iPad 4th gen, and am in need of a replacement wall charger as well as Lightning Cable (the originals both died 🙁 ). The power adapter I know should ideally be 12W/5V/2.4A, but what about the lightning cable? One I’m looking at says “maximum charging speed up to 2.1A” – will this affect the charging speed? Does anyone know the amperage of the original Apple cable? I can’t seem to find that info anywhere… Thanks!! 🙂

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