How to preflight your iPad in less than 5 minutes

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The iPad is now standard equipment for most pilots’ flying, whether as a primary reference for digital charts or as a performance calculator. Something that important demands a quick pre-flight check, just like the airplane and the pilot. You wouldn’t take off without checking how much fuel you have on board – why would you take off without making sure your iPad is airworthy?

That doesn’t mean the iPad is unreliable; on the contrary, in our experience, it’s been the exact opposite. But you still want to find out about any issues with your iPad while you’re on the ground (and have an internet connection). This shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

You’ll want to create a checklist that works for your apps, accessories and your airplane. Customize it so that you’ll actually use it before every flight. With that in mind, though, here’s a basic checklist to consider that applies to most apps:

  1. Battery charged on iPad. It’s a good habit to always take off with a full charge (it takes 4-6 hours to charge a drained battery). Just because you have a cigarette lighter doesn’t mean it always works. Here are some tips for charging your iPad.
  2. Battery charged on accessories. If you fly with an external GPS or  ADS-B weather receiver, these devices should also start out with 100% battery life. Most of them have about the same life as iPad, so the easiest plan is to simply charge your wireless accessories alongside your iPad.
  3. Backup power plan in place. While your battery should be 100%, it’s always smart to have a plan B. A dead battery (usually pilot-induced) is the most likely failure scenario. Backup battery packs or charging cables are cheap insurance. Make sure they are available and accessible.
  4. Run the application once. Especially if you’ve updated the app, check to make sure it won’t crash or lock up on initial start-up. This is rare, but it has happened in the past. You might even consider turning off automatic app updates in the Settings app.
  5. Load routes, plate binders and favorite airports. Using these features is a big time-saver in flight, but only if you take the time to do this on the ground. You should know your expected route before engine start, so enter that and adjust any other route settings in your navigation app so you are ready to go when you get to the airplane.
  6. Databases installed and current. Almost every pilot makes this mistake once. Just because you were looking at the charts at home with the benefit of an internet connection does not mean they will be saved for offline use in the cockpit. Make sure your chart coverage areas are appropriate for your route and double-check by using the app without an internet connection (see this tip). ForeFlight’s “Pack” feature is another way to verify your charts are downloaded.
  7. Turn off wireless functions that aren’t needed. Every iPad has Bluetooth and WiFi, and some models have LTE cellular radios as well. But unless you’ll need them in flight, we strongly recommend you turn these wireless radios off, as they drain the battery and lead to interference. Only leave on the feature that you need for any accessories (e.g., Bluetooth for a remote GPS).
  8. Clean the screen and adjust the screen brightness. The screen backlight is the #1 user of battery power on the iPad, so set the brightness level to less than 100% if conditions permit. Lowering the screen even to 70 – 80% can add an extra hour or more of battery life. Having a clean screen, as simple as it sounds, can allow you to use a lower brightness setting.

Once you get used to your iPad checklist, you’ll find that this process takes just a few minutes. Customize it to your own flying, but make sure you’re doing some type of regular pre-flight before you blast off on your next flight.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Awesome app, indispensable tool for flying. Add one more step to the process. I use a RAM Mount to put my iPad Mini to my left mounted to the side of the windshield, then once the engine is started and Avionics switch in on, open Settings, Bluetooth, connect to the Garmin GTX345 to get ADSB traffic & weather. I have Foreflight set to hide distant traffic so I just see the closeby traffic.

  2. Add one more step, close all open applications EXCEPT the app’s used/required for flight! Open apps via for what little internet bandwidth and Bluetooth capabilities that are available while in-flight AND can create conflicts. Eliminate the chance by closing ALL non essential applications.

  3. On my iPad Mini, I go to Airplane Mode, and then turn on WiFi for my Stratus connection, and Bluetooth for my Bose headset connection. This disables the cellular and prevents seeking.

  4. What nobody seems to realize, or they are just ignoring the regulations figuring they do not have to comply, is the FCC, and not the FAA, requires cellular data to be turned off on airborne aircraft per 47 CFR § 22.925:

    Prohibition on airborne operation of cellular telephones.
    Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off. The following notice must be posted on or near each cellular telephone installed in any aircraft:

    “The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a fine. The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the ground is subject to FAA regulations.”

    The reason this rule is in place is once airborne, the cellular device becomes within range of multiple cell sites which can cause interference. The higher in altitude the more cell sites become “visible”, i.e. Line of sight.

    The FCC ruled that turning Cellular Data off, if that is an option, complies with the scope of the rule.

    • Have been using cell phones since Operator Assist in my airplane and never ever had problems. All land and sea plus crop dusters that I’m checked out in….no problems. Communist Government

  5. What nobody seems to realize, or they are just ignoring the regulations figuring they do not have to comply, is the FCC, and not the FAA, requires cellular data to be turned off on airborne aircraft per 47 CFR § 22.925:

    I DON’T KNOW ANYBODY THAT DOES THAT ANYMORE. I’VE NEVER BEEN TOLD BY ANY INSTRUCTOR TO DO THAT. I THOUGHT IT’S ALREADY BEEN PROVEN THAT THERE IS NO INTERFERENCE WITH OUR AVIONICS. CAN SOMEONE CONFIRM???

    • @Tom, read Larry’s comment a little closer. It is the FCC that prohibits the use of cellular data, because too many cell towers can “see” the signal from a aircraft at altitude. That must confuse or overload the cell towers. No one is talking about interference with avionics.

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