How to keep your iPad from overheating in flight

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Your iPad will display this message and stop functioning if the internal temperature gets too warm.
Your iPad will display this message and stop functioning if the internal temperature gets too warm.

Based on an iPad Pilot News reader survey we conducted, over 70% of respondents reported that they have had the iPad shut down on them at least once in flight due to overheating. This is by far the most common problem reported by pilots when flying with an iPad, but it can be prevented with a little bit of planning and preparation.

Apple lists the normal temperature operating range for the iPad as 32° – 95° F. While using the device below the freezing point may cause the screen to lag a bit, it will still function. However, if you’re using the iPad at the other temperature extreme, it will eventually resort to a thermal protection mode and become completely unusable until the internal temperature of the device is reduced. The primary reason for this is to protect the internal lithium-polymer battery (bad things can happen if they get too hot).

There are a couple of ways on a typical flight that this can happen and both will catch you off guard if you’re not paying attention. The first scenario can happen when you’re flying in a low-wing airplane en route at altitude with the iPad secured in a kneeboard on your lap. You’re in VFR conditions in sunny weather, but the iPad is out of direct sunlight. Then you make a turn over a waypoint, and the sun begins to shine directly on your iPad’s dark screen without you noticing. Even though the ambient temperature may be well below the 95° F limit, the iPad’s internal temperature will quickly elevate and soon display the overheat warning.

Charging your iPad and/or mounting it on a kneeboard will increase the internal temperature of the device.

There are several factors that may increase the potential for an overheat situation like this in flight. First, if you’re using the iPad with a fully-enclosed case or kneeboard, you will be restricting airflow around the rear of the iPad, limiting its ability to dissipate heat. Also, charging the iPad from a USB port in the airplane or a backup battery will also increase the internal temperature of the device, increasing the risk for an overheat situation in a hot airplane or near direct sunlight.

The other likely scenario in which your iPad can unexpectedly overheat is after shutting the engine down on the ramp on a hot summer day. Prior to the iPad, many pilots would set their paper charts or kneeboard on the glareshield to get them out of the way. New iPad users might inadvertently do the same thing out of habit. As we all know, the temperature inside the cabin will quickly rise after you shut the door, again putting the iPad in a vulnerable state for potential overheating. Make it a habit to take your iPad with you after shutdown, or store it in a protected part of the airplane to ensure a timely departure when you return.

Your iPad becomes completely unusable when it overheats and will display a temperature warning on the screen. At this point, your only option is to get it to a cooler environment and lower the internal temperature. Remove it from direct sunlight and aim a few air vents over if possible. If you had it in a kneeboard or case, remove these to aid the cooling process, and remove it from any charging sources. Once the iPad’s temperature lowers it will automatically switch back on–there’s nothing else for you to do at that point, except to keep it out of the sun.

If you fly an airplane that has large windows and lets in a good deal of sunlight to the cabin, your best bet is to consider a yoke or suction cup RAM or Robust mount. These provide plenty of flexibility to pivot the iPad screen away from direct sunlight, and expose more of the front and rear surfaces of the iPad to ambient air for continuous cooling.

The X-Naut mount has built-in fans to keep the iPad cool.

Another option is to use the X-Naut Cooling Case along with your iPad. This mounting system features built-in fans to circulate cool air, specifically targeted at the iPad’s main hot spots to prevent it from overheating. The mount can be powered off of typical alkaline batteries or USB with a power bank or backup battery. In addition to working with the RAM mount system, you can also turn it into a kneeboard with this accessory kit – perfect for cockpits with a bubble canopy where the iPad is exposed to direct sunlight. The X-Naut is available for the iPad Mini 1-5, the iPad Air 1-2 and 9.7″, and the iPad Pro 10.5″ / iPad Air 2019 models.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. The MyClip iPad Kneeboard is $140 cheaper than the X-Naut device, and does a pretty good job just by keeping the metal back of the iPad open to circulating air. Lots of people must have discovered this, since I note the MyClip is out of stock for now, and the price has, I think, doubled since I bought mine. Or, for free, place a piece of paper over the iPad when it’s in the sun and you’re not looking at it. (How much time do you actually spend looking at it during a flight on a sunny day?)

  2. “While using the device below the freezing point may cause the screen to lag a bit, it will still function. ”
    My experience has been different. I have had the iPad shutdown multiple times at low temperatures, for instance 15 degrees F or below. Quite annoying. Ideas to help this behavior include buying a new iPad so you have a battery with fewer discharge cycles on it, plugging in a charger or external battery, or stick on hand/skin warming pads on the back of the case. If anyone has any more ideas, I am interested in learning…

  3. For $15.00 at Amazon you can get a Cellet suction cup mount for the iPad Mini 2. This works well if flying a Cessna positioning the wing root vent down to direct ram air on the iPad. It doesn’t work if flying a Piper or other low wing type aircraft due to no air vent to direct cooling air toward the iPad. My iPad did exactly what is depicted in this article in a Piper.

  4. I live in the super hot desert and overheating can happen very easily on every flight. The most common reason is the sun hitting the screen directly in flight. I have since put a row of velcro under the top edge, and cut a piece of black felt just a little bigger than the screen and enough to wrap around the bottom and stick to the velcro. For over a year it has worked wonderfully. Just have to remember to flip the felt over the top when the sun is hitting the screen. This solution cost me about $5 for both my iPad and iPad Mini!! Oh and I have also found that keeping it plugged into a power source heightens the odds of overheating significantly.

  5. I have been known to stick a couple pencils between the iPad and the knee board to increase air flow between them on very hot and sunny days. I also find the slap on sun shades handy to shield the sunlight. They are easily relocated as the direction of the sun changes. The shade also improves readability slightly. Haven’t had to use the pencils since using the sun shades on the canopy. Ipad has not overheated since using either system.

  6. At least four times my iPad has overheated. And three of the four was at a critical point in the flight. I do have a back up iPad. Mooney being low wing. Allows the sun exposure. I now have portable sun tint and shade to place on interior window. And turning iPad off between heavy usage. Also covering iPad up with white rag when I think of it. These things have helped. No overheating yet. However I have lost some confidence in my iPad. Aviation deserves a better solution.

  7. A far easier and dirt cheap method that works 100% of the time is to simply buy one of those “screen” type of sunshades from Sporty’s for $7 and just put it between the sun and your iPad. Sometimes you’ll put it on a side window and sometimes you’ll drape it over the glare shield, but it is 100% effective in my experience. Move it where it’s needed, curl it up and stow it when it’s not.

    https://www.sportys.com/pilotshop/collapsible-aircraft-sunshade.html

    Others have them, too. Heck, they hand them out for free at Oshkosh!

  8. As mentioned at the end of the article, the X-Naut cooling case (better described as a fan back for the iPad) works well in my well-fenestrated airplane. Since my windows approximate a bubble canopy, the iPad is often in direct sunlight. While I had a few overtemp shutdowns early in my iPad use, I have had none since I started using the X-Naut. The one downside – it is an expensive item; however, it’s well built and effective.

  9. Flying a Cherokee 6 I had problems with the iPad overheating in the sun. I found a simple solution. Since you aren’t looking at it all the time, (at least I hope you aren’t) with a kneeboard, I simply roll it to the side of my leg when I’m not using it and roll it back up when I need it whenever it’s in direct sunlight.

  10. I use a paper chart as a shade over my lap when my iPad is on, then if it does quit on me, I am prepared with an alternative. Our state DOT gives out free composite Sectionals for the whole state every two years, so it is not the most current chart, but works well enough in an emergency. I also use it as a windshield shade when the plane is parked temporarily, say for lunch.

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