We get a lot of questions from pilots looking to get the best size iPad for their cockpit. It’s a difficult thing to visualize without actually getting the device inside the plane; on top of that, you want to compare one size device to the next. There are over a dozen different sizes of iPads and iPhones that you could be using for your EFB app. In this article, we’re taking a look at the most commonly asked-about sizes. With that in mind, we didn’t examine some of the older generation iPads that might still be hanging on. If that’s your iPad, well it might be time to upgrade to a newer, faster, more capable unit and this article should help you decide.
Let’s consider seven different size devices in the same Cessna 172 cockpit to see what fits best. We mounted the iPads and iPhone in two ways: with a suction cup and with a yoke mount. We were able to mount nearly every device to the yoke with the exception of the new 12.9” iPad Pro 3rd Gen. Not only would it be too big but there isn’t yet a cradle capable of holding it.
For the suction cup mount, we tried to use our favorite mounting spot – the bottom of the windscreen that wraps around to the left-hand side. This spot sort of extends the glare shield if you line it up right and helps you keep the iPad in your natural instrument scan. A few of these iPads proved to be too big for this location, so we opted to move the suction cup mount to the right-hand side of the plane by the copilot. With the iPad angled toward your view and out of the way of the yoke, it was definitely a good option for those flying with big iPads.
We wanted to give you a reference for the size and potential placement of these devices in the cockpit. Some of these pictures are to prove that it’s not feasible to mount the pictured device as we have. Remember that the final decision to mount your iPad or iPhone is up to the pilot in command, who must consider the safety risks associated with adding gear to the flight deck. Always be sure that you mount your devices with flying in mind first – the last thing you want is to flare on final and find your mount is in the way.
Here are the devices we mounted in our C172.
- iPhone XS Max
- iPad Mini 4
- iPad Air (same size as the Air 2, Pro 9.7 and 2017 iPad)
- iPad Pro 10.5
- iPad Pro 12.9 (First Generation)
- iPad Pro 11 (Newest Model)
- iPad Pro 12.9 (3rd Generation, Newest Model)
Which iPad do I have?
If you’re not sure which iPad you have, it’s okay, you’re not alone. Please note that we loathe the naming convention Apple has chosen for the iPads as much as you do. It’s difficult to be sure which iPad you have but if you need to look that information up here’s how you do so.
First, identify your iPad’s Model Number. Go to Settings > General > About. You’ll see it listed here on the Model line. If you see a different format of the model number (something like MTFL2LL/A), tap on it once to view it in the format below.
Then, reference this chart.
|Name||Year Introduced||Model Number|
|iPad (original)||2010||A1219 (WiFi) or A1337 (cellular)|
|iPad 2||2011||A1395 (WiFi) or A1396 / A1397 (cellular)|
|iPad (3rd generation)||2012||A1416 (WiFi) or A1430 / A1403 (cellular)|
|iPad (4th generation)||2012||A1458 (WiFi) or A1459 / A1460 (cellular)|
|iPad (5th generation)||2017||A1822 (WiFi) or A1823 (cellular)|
|iPad (6th generation)||2018||A1893 (WiFi) or A1954 (cellular)|
|iPad Air||2013||A1474 (WiFi) or A1475 / A1476 (cellular)|
|iPad Air 2||2014||A1566 (WiFi) or A1567 (cellular)|
|iPad Air 3||2019||A2152 (WiFi) or A2123, A2153, A2154 (cellular)|
|iPad Mini (original)||2012||A1432 (WiFi) or A1454 / A1455 (cellular)|
|iPad Mini 2||2013||A1489 (WiFi) or A1490 / A1491 (cellular)|
|iPad Mini 3||2014||A1599 (WiFi) or A1600 (cellular)|
|iPad Mini 4||2015||A1538 (WiFi) or A1550 (cellular)|
|iPad Mini 5||2019||A2133 (WiFi) or A2124, A2126, A2125 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 9.7″||2016||A1673 (WiFi) or A1675 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 10.5″||2017||A1701 (WiFi) or A1709 / A1852 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 11″||2018||A1980 (WiFi) or A2013 / 11934 / A1979 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 12.9″ (original)||2016||A1584 (WiFi) or A1652 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 12.9″ (2nd generation)||2017||A1670 (WiFi) or A1671 / A1821 (cellular)|
|iPad Pro 12.9″ (3rd generation)||2018||A1876 (WiFi) or A2014 / A1895 / A1983|
Now that you’ve got your barrings on which iPad you have here is the head to head comparison of one iPad to the next.
Starting off with the yoke mounts and moving from smallest to largest.
iPhone XS Max – Shown with the X-Grip for Phablet. You can use either the Phone X-Grip or the Phablet X-Grip. Buy Here
iPad Mini – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Note that we mounted the iPad upside down because that allows the cradle to be better centered over the yoke with less obtrusion over the instrument panel. This works well because the iPad’s screen will auto-rotate to right side up. Buy here.
iPad Air – Shown with Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 10.5 – Shown with Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 12.9 First Generation – Shown with Perfect Fit cradle. The yoke is not visible with this iPad and mount. If you want to mount this iPad on exposed tubing, the yoke mount will work well for that application too. Buy here.
iPad Pro 11 – Shown with the X-Grip for 10″ tablets. It’s a snug fit but this will work for the Pro 11. Buy here.
iPad Pro 12.9 (3rd Generation) – Simply laying this iPad against the panel demonstrates how enormous it is compared to the instruments. We don’t recommend you fly like this.
Suction Cup Mounts
Here are the suction cup mounts on the pilot’s side window.
iPhone XS Max – Shown with the X-Grip mount. It will work with the X-Grip for phone or the Phablet X-Grip. Buy here.
iPad Mini 4 – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Air – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 10.5 – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. This iPad is just on the edge of being too big to use on the pilot’s side. Copilot’s side is shown below. Buy here.
iPad Pro 11 – Shown with the X-Grip for 10″ Tablets. It’s a snug fit but the iPad Pro 11 will work well with this setup. With how large this iPad is, we would not recommend using it in this position. Buy here.
For larger iPads where it’s just not feasible to mount on the pilot’s side, we switched to the copilot’s side. Each of these mounts was placed as low as possible without interfering with the yoke.
iPad Air – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 10.5 – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 12.9 1st Generation – Shown with the Perfect Fit cradle. Buy here.
iPad Pro 11 – Shown with the X-Grip for 10″ Tablets. It’s a snug fit but the iPad Pro 11 will work well with this setup. Buy here.
After seeing each of these devices in the plane we’ve found some favorites and some disqualifiers. Keeping in mind that the whole point of the iPad or iPhone is to act as your chart or backup attitude indicator, remember that it needs to be useful but most importantly not get in the way of your flying.
iPad Mini – The iPad mini seems to be ideally sized for the yoke or the suction cup mount. With a screen big enough to utilize split screen features in a form factor that fits in nicely with the instruments, it is our favorite for the plane. There are rumors of a new iPad Mini coming this year so we’ll be anxiously awaiting the announcement by Apple to see what they will have for us.
iPad Air, iPad Pro 9.7, or the 2017 iPad – This unit comes in second. It gives you just a bit more screen space to see everything while still being manageable on a yoke or the suction cup. It may be too large for some to consider mounting on the pilot’s side window, but the co-pilot’s window is a nice alternative. This size iPad also is more useful outside the plane with everyday tasks and traveling than the iPad Mini is.
iPhone XS Max – This is the largest iPhone to date in terms of screen size. Its physical footprint is almost identical to the older Plus size models like the 6+, 7+ and 8+ but with the all-screen design, it makes a very nice cockpit companion for yoke or suction cup mounting. The only drawback is you can’t do split screen on the phone with ForeFlight. I’ve been living with this iPhone XS Max for about two months now, upgraded from an iPhone 6. The size difference is nothing you won’t get used to after 24 hrs. If you’re looking to go from two devices to one, I’d highly recommend the XS Max.
What about my larger iPad?
Well if you have the iPad Pro 10.5, you might find it doable in less cramped cockpits. It’s not actually that much bigger than the iPad Air, which we find to be a solid option. So if the 10.5 sounds like the one you want, go for it. On a kneeboard, it can work quite well.
iPad Pro 12.9 1st or 3rd Generation – These big boys are simply oversized for use in the plane in any sort of mounted solution, in my opinion. Maybe with the right kneeboard, you’ll find it usable but remember that what’s most important is that your iPad doesn’t interfere with you while you’re flying. For that reason, I’d say these iPads are better as a reference device that you can lay on the floor the majority of the time and only grab when you want to check on something. This limitation is huge for smaller GA pilots but if you’re flying a big turboprop or a jet and you’ve got the space to reach back in the cabin then you might be alright.
Note that we snapped a picture of the iPad Pro 12.9 3rd Generation laying against the panel of our C172 just for reference. This way you can really see how massive this iPad is. When the day comes that we can replace all our steam gauges with one of these big iPads I’m all for it. The 12.9 1st Generation mounted on the yoke is so large that you can’t even see (or grab) the yoke. Do not mount your iPad this way – it just ain’t right.
iPad Pro 11 – I love this 11 inch iPad. It’s a great computer and wonderful for flight planning. It is, unfortunately, too big to mount on the yoke and must either be used with a suction cup or a kneeboard. If that’s what you want then it’s a great option for pilots.
Ready to buy a mount?
We used RAM Mounts for this comparison test. These are sturdy and customizable to the situation and device. You can shop for RAM Mounts here.