How to keep your iPad from overheating in flight

15
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 there are reports of the iPad shutting down when operating in environments well below freezing, the most likely result will be lagging as you interact with the touchscreen (tip – when operating in cold environments, plug it into a charger and use a case to help generate and retain heat).

The more likely scenario when operating at the extreme ends of the temperature operating range is overheating, which will lead to the iPad entering a thermal protection mode where it will become completely unusable until the internal temperature of the device is reduced. The primary reason for this is to protect the enclosed 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.

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.

If a kneeboard is your only option and overheating is a concern, try raising the iPad slightly above the bottom of the kneeboard to create an open layer of air between it and the backside of the iPad. Many pilots report that adding a few pencils to accomplish this works well. It might be the most polished solution, but it works! For a simpler kneeboard solution that does not restrict airflow, check out the MyClip kneeboard, which does not rely on a traditional rigid base to keep the iPad secure on your lap and allows for more airflow around the device.

You may also want to consider using small sunshades on your windows in flight to help reduce the intensity of the sunlight reaching your iPad. Good options here are the collapsible aircraft sunshades, which attached with suction cups, or slap on sun-visors that cling to the windows on their own.

Another consideration 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″, the iPad Pro 11″ and the iPad Pro 10.5”/10.2″/iPad Air 2019/iPad (7th Gen).

15 COMMENTS

  1. I had my mini-iPad plugged in and on a typical yoke mounted plastic holder. It worked for a two hour VFR sunny day trip. I shut it down and disconnected it from power but left it on the yoke mount while getting fuel. For the flight back it would not turn on. It never turned on again even when the Apple Genius’ tested it. I had to get it exchanged as it was still under warranty but it still cost me 50% because they said I had not removed it from the airplane and let it cool down properly. An expensive lesson I hope others can avoid.

  2. The X-Naut is quite an impressive piece of engineering, but it reminds me a little of NASA’s multimillion-dollar project to design a ballpoint pen that worked perfectly in zero-gravity. They teamed up with the Soviets for the Apollo-Soyuz missions and discovered that Soviet cosmonauts were using two-cent pencils. MyClip holds an iPad just as securely on my lap as expensive kneeboards and leaves the entire metal back of the iPad open to cooling air. My airplane has a bubble canopy, so if the sun is shining directly on it I still place a piece of paper over the screen when I don’t need to study it.

  3. I bought Ram’s mount for mine a way’s back and initially it would overheat in the SoCal desert. The black plastic mount that attaches to the articulating arms that clamp to the yoke is solid. I took a saber saw and cut out as much of the mount as possible to increase airflow it looks like a skeleton with just enough material to clamp the iPad to the frame. Now, unless I leave it in direct sunlight with no air, I have ample airflow to keep the iPad cool in flight.

  4. I used the X-Naut on a recent cross-country trip in a Cessna 195 that has a “green house” plexiglass roof. The iPad still over-heated (:-((! From the comments in this article, in the future I will not power the iPad from the USB port until the unit is significantly discharged. Perhaps that will minimize the overheating. Prior to purchasing the X-Naut I covered the iPad with a light-colored cloth; it was an effective means to prevent overheating

  5. I agree with Bob, I find it interesting that Apple can tell you what the battery level is but not the temp so that you can be proactive and do something to prevent it from shutting down.

  6. As an Arizona pilot subject to summer temperatures reaching or exceeding 113 degrees F, I can attest to this problem. As a result I recommend holding on to and using that portable GPS that hopefully you still have and is still lying at the bottom of your flight bag along with fresh batteries. It gives me an out if my iPad, permanently installed avionics or entire electrical system say “Adios Baby”

  7. Although I fly a low wing aircraft with bubble canopy, in Arizona heat, I’ve never experienced an overheat shutdown. I wonder if it’s because I never have a charger plugged in during flight. It seems logical to me, charging might add considerably to the iPad’s internal heat… just my 2-cents.

  8. I had an iPad overheat in winter. I was above the clouds VFR on top, just as I descended into a snow squall it overheated, I passed it to my wife and told her to hold it over a vent, then I pulled out a second iOS’s, fired it up, opened ForeFlight, pulled up the approach plate, just as I was breaking out of the squall. In hindsight I should have discontinued the approach and gone back to VFR Conditions first. We lived, and we learned.

  9. I also had heat issues in my Mooney. I have the Ram mount that holds it well, but if the sun shines on it you’re going to have it shut down. I solved it with static plastic film that is tinted. Just unfold it and stick it to the plexiglass where ever the sun is coming in. I did this 4-5 years ago and have not had a single shutdown for heat issues. Even when we flew out west to see the Grand Canyon in the summertime.

  10. The other consideration is the angle of the device to the sun. Think about your device like a solar panel…except you want the opposite result…minimum solar gain. If you keep your device edge on to the sun, it will absorb minimum energy (and resulting heat), a vertical mount will help with this (or shade as discussed)…any mount or accidental positioning that puts screen or back full on to sun will accelerate the heating/shutdown. My iPhone in vertical mount on glareshield in full sun, canopy aircraft, hot summer, recharging, has never overheated, 5 minutes in the same environment sitting flat on that same glare shield is a different story!

  11. X-Naut sounds good, but it doesn’t work. I have my iPad mounted on the yoke on my C182 with a visor I made to shade the unit. In fairly warm weather it will shut down fairly quickly. Even before I get airborne. The tinted plastic film sounds like the best and cheaper option.

LEAVE A REPLY