Tips for charging your iPad before flight and in the cockpit

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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 ten years of flying with the iPad.

Using the included wall charger

18W iPad charger
Make sure you’re charging your iPad with at least a 10 or 12-watt charger.

One of the few accessories included with the iPad is a USB power adapter, which will charge the device from a wall outlet. It’s worth taking close look at the adapter and noting the specs to understand what they mean. The power output of these adapters (measured in watts) has steadily increased over the years so it can quickly get confusing.

Here’s a quick rundown of what is included with each iPad model:

5 watts (1 amp): almost all iPhones

10 watts (2.1 amps): iPad Air, Air 2, mini 2-4, iPad 2

12 watts (2.4 amps): iPad Pro 9.7″, 10.5″, 12.9″ (1st and 2nd gen), iPad Air (3rd gen), iPad mini 5, iPad 5-7,

18 watts (3 amps): iPad Pro 11″ (1st and 2nd gen), iPad Pro 12.9″ (3rd and 4th gen), iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max. Note that this power adapter uses a USB-C connector on the plug instead of the typical USB-A plug on the lower watt models.

20 watts (3 amps): iPad 8. Also a USB-C connection.

Understanding your power adapter’s specs is important since most iPhone, iPod Touch, and other replacement USB power adapters are typically rated at 5 watts and 1 amp. The higher 2.1/2.4/3 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 5 watt/1 amp USB power adapter, but it will take longer than 5 hours to fully charge. This is really a last resort.
  • A 12/18/20 watt charger is still safe to use with your other USB devices (iPhone, iPod, etc.) and will not damage them.
  • You can even use your laptop’s higher-wattage power adapter (some are rated up to 96W) to charge your devices if needed.
  • For additional convenience when charging multiple devices on the go, consider a model with dual 3 amp charging ports.

Fast Charging Options

Newer Apple devices support a technology called fast charging, which is designed to charge your device up to 50% in just 30 minutes. The iPad Pro and iPhone Pro 11 support this right out of the box with the included 18W USB-C power adapter. Fast charging is also supported on a wide variety of iPhones and iPads released in the past few years. You just need one of Apple’s 18-watt (or higher) USB-C power adapters, or a third-party charger that supports USB Power Delivery, and a USB-C to lightning cable. The following devices support fast charging:

iPad Air (3rd gen)
iPad mini 5
iPad Pro 10.5″
iPad Pro 11″ (all generations)
iPad Pro 12.9″ (all generations)

iPhone 8 and later

Charging in the airplane with a cigarette lighter adapter

Flight Gear USB charger
A dual 3-amp USB charger is an essential cockpit accessory.

You can also use a 12-24V cigarette lighter charger in your airplane to charge your iPad, and this is often the most convenient and affordable option. We carry two of these pretty much every time we fly. Pay close attention before just buying any USB charger though, as you’ll want to make sure it provides at least 2.1 amps for optimum charging. This model offers two USB ports, both rated at 3 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 much more expensive than portable options, but they are also more reliable than portable devices since they don’t rely on a touchy cigarette lighter charger. We like the Stratus Power from Appareo and Garmin’s GSB 15 USB Charger, which are both TSO’d and include dual USB ports. The Stratus Power ports are rated at 2.5 amps, while both ports on the Garmin are rated for 3 amps. A newer option is the Stratus Power Pro, which includes one 3 amp USB-A port and one 3 amp USB-C port—ideal if you’re using an iPad Pro and have a charging cable with the newer USB-C plug on it.

Charging from a computer

A fourth charging option is to connect your iPad to a computer that has a high-power USB  (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.

iPad battery backups

You can also charge the iPad when on the go with a portable backup battery. We like the Flight Gear models, which were designed for pilots and feature both USB-A and USB-C charging ports. There are two sizes available, the Small Flight Gear Battery Pack (10,000 mAh) and the Large Flight Gear Battery Pack (20,000 mAh). The larger size will last for multiple flights and can be recharged with a micro-USB, USB-C, or Lightning plug. It’s our electronic Swiss Army knife. These are also great for airplanes without an electrical system or a cigarette lighter plug, and they can also be useful outside the cockpit too (campers love them.

“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.

1 COMMENT

  1. I often “tack” down a different path concerning many issues, and charging iPads and Phones is no different. For a really inexpensive alternative to “power bricks”, the Harbor Freight USB Power Source Battery Adapter seems to fit the bill. It is designed to mount to the line of Bauer batteries sold by this company. The adapter is $17, and the largest amp battery is $60 — no bad by comparison to those “aviation dedicated” power sources.

    I “tested” this device using my iPad Pro 12.9. The only drawback I could determine for this setup at this point was the rather “measly” amp delivery — 2 — which took the setup a whopping 8 hours to bring my iPad from 8% to 100%. I suspect the reason for the low amperage is the need to keep the temps low — which it did, barely registering a “burp” of increase in the temp of the USB-A attachment. And no “humming or buzzing” of the associated radio set.

    A word of caution: I would recommend a containment bad for this device while in flight, since (to my knowledge) it hasn’t been tested in an aero environment or application. Other than that, I’d give it a “9” for utility and durability, with it’s only drawback being the “throttled” 2-amp delivery.

    https://www.harborfreight.com/usb-power-source-battery-adapter-tool-only-57352.html

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