iPad charging tips for pilots—on the ground and in the air

5 min read

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 an ADS-B receiver 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.

1. Using the included wall charger

18W iPad charger

Make sure you’re charging your iPad with at least a 10- or 12-watt charger, and preferably more.

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 a 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. Note that newer iPhones do not come with a wall charger anymore, just the cord.
  • 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 older USB-A plug on the lower watt models.
  • 20 watts (3 amps): iPad mini 6, iPad 8-9, iPad Air 4-5, iPad Pro 11″ (3rd gen), iPad Pro 12.9″ (5th gen), iPhone 12-14 Pro Max. Also a USB-C connection.

Understanding your power adapter’s specs is important since most iPhone, Apple Watch, 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, AirPods, etc.) and will not damage them.
  • You can even use your laptop’s higher-wattage power adapter (some are rated up to 140W) to charge your devices if needed.
  • For additional convenience when charging multiple devices on the go, consider a wall plug with 3 charging ports—this one has a total output of 65 watts.

Sidebar: fast charging options

Wall plug

Not all chargers are created equal.

Newer Apple devices support a technology called fast charging, which is designed to charge your device up to 50% in just 30 minutes. Newer iPad Pro and iPhone models support this right out of the box with the included 18/20W USB-C power adapter. 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-5th gen)
  • iPad mini 5-6
  • iPad Pro 10.5″
  • iPad Pro 11″ (all generations)
  • iPad Pro 12.9″ (all generations)
  • iPhone 8 and later

2. 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 and amp draw—a handy backup. There’s a version with one USB-A port (the standard, larger plug) and one USB-C port (the newer style found on the latest Apple wall chargers), or one with dual USB-A ports.

3. Charging from 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 Pro from Appareo and Garmin’s GSB 15 USB Charger, both of which are TSO’d and include dual 3 amp USB ports. You can choose from USB-A or USB-C plugs.

4. 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.

5. iPad battery backups

Battery pack

Portable battery packs are ideal for backup power in flight.

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—so you don’t have to bring a rare cable just to keep it charged. It’s our electronic Swiss Army knife, and we never travel without it. 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).

Note: “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 or USB-C port on your device. Sometimes dust or other debris can interrupt the connection. Also, try restarting your device.

2 replies
  1. Terry
    Terry says:

    Sorry I don’t remember which site it was on but I read an article on a tech website that advised not to use your Apple device while the battery was charging. Their premise was that using the device while it was on charge shortened the battery life. From reading your articles it seems you have been doing this without problem. Your thoughts?

    Reply

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