ForeFlight traffic

Our top 16 tips for flying with the iPad

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9 min read

Most pilots have a favorite tip or two when it comes to flying with the iPad, and we always learn something when we fly with another pilot. So we asked four Sporty’s pilots who regularly fly with the iPad to share their top tips. Read what they had to say, then add a comment with your own at the bottom.

Bret Koebbe

Senior Vice President – Sporty’s
ATP, Flight Instructor
Favorite aircraft: Piper Aztec

1. Take advantage of home screen aviation widgets. One of the most underused iOS features is app “widgets.” These are data blocks displayed on your home screen, alongside your app icons, showing relevant data from apps that support this feature. While many of the popular EFB apps don’t currently offer widgets, there a handful of niche aviation apps specifically designed for this purpose. These allow you view the current METAR for your home airport on your home screen, or the latest radar imagery. Check out METAR Widgets and StationWeather to get started.

2. Configure the screen brightness setting to extend battery life and save your night vision. When using your iPad with a GPS source in flight, you can expect approximately 4 – 6 hours of battery life. Most pilots like to turn the screen brightness all the way up in the airplane during the day, but I’ve found that lowering the screen brightness by as little as 25% can add an extra hour of useful life. And don’t forget too that when flying at night, many apps include a dark mode theme to reduce eye strain and distractions from unnecessary screen brightness.

3. Use two apps at the same time with split-screen multitasking. iPad app multitasking has been around for many years now and is a great way to run and use two apps simultaneously on the iPad’s larger screen. Apple made this feature much easier several years ago by adding a dedicated 3-button controller at the top of the screen, which can be used to launch a second app. You’ll find this very useful in the airplane to keep your primary navigation app front and center, while simultaneously using a secondary app like Sporty’s E6B.

4. Fly with datalink weather. I won’t takeoff on a cross-country without some form of datalink weather and traffic onboard. Being able to keep an eye on both text and graphical weather updates in ForeFlight while en route has added a new degree of safety and comfort to my trips. While several of the planes I fly have Garmin ADS-B receivers built-in to the panel, I still always carry a portable Sentry ADS-B receiver for several reasons. In addition to being a backup to the system in the panel, it includes a CO detector and AHRS, that drives a backup attitude indicator in ForeFlight.

John Zimmerman

John ZimmermanPresident – Sporty’s
ATP, Helicopter
Favorite aircraft: Cirrus SR-22

1. (Digitally) pack for your trip. Most pilots have made the mistake once: you viewed charts when connected to the internet at home, but once in the airplane they disappeared because you forgot to download them. I make it a regular habit to check my chart database downloads before every trip. Even if you’re an old pro and you know to download charts, your route may take you somewhere that is beyond your usual coverage area. For example, I usually have charts on my iPad for the 4 or 5 states around my home base. So for a trip to Texas, I would have to download numerous additional states. Sounds simple, but a lot of pilots forget to check this until it’s too late. Both ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot make it easy to check with the Pack feature.

2. Use a home flight simulator to practice with your EFB. Flight simulators are popular for having fun and for instrument proficiency, but most pilots overlook how valuable they can be for learning how to use an electronic flight bag (EFB) app. Once you connect your app to your simulator software, you can practice all your in-flight tasks, including flight plan editing, chart viewing, and even track logging. Train like you fly, and fly like you train—with X-Plane or Microsoft Flight Simulator, it’s easier than ever for iPad pilots to follow that advice.

3. Use the control center. If you’re turning off cellular data before every flight (as you should be), it can be a pain to find your Settings app and toggle each switch. Apple has an easier option built in with its control center. Just swipe up from the top right corner of the screen and you’ll see quick-access options for Airplane Mode, WiFi, Bluetooth and more. This is also a great way to quickly adjust the screen brightness, and you never have to leave your aviation app to do it.

4. Use the Route Advisor in ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot. When I’m planning a trip to a new airport, it’s hard to decide what route to file. Instead of guessing, I like to use the built-in route advisor tools in ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot. In ForeFlight, go to the Maps page, then tap the Edit button (from the drop down window at the top of the screen). From here, you can enter your departure and destination airports and tap Route. This will show you the last 5-10 routes between those airports that ATC cleared pilots to fly. It takes all the guessing out of it, and you can make one of these suggestions your active flight plan with just one tap.

Doug Ranly

Doug RanlyCatalog Manager – Sporty’s
Private Pilot, Instrument Rating
Favorite aircraft: Ercoupe

1.  Keep it cool. While flying in the summer, I’ve had the iPad overheat a few times. Low wing, direct sunlight, thick case… all increase the probability for overheating. To help keep the iPad cool, try to stay away from thick, leather cases. Further, charging the iPad causes heat to build up inside. Have it fully charged prior to takeoff so you don’t have to worry about giving it juice while en route. Finally, try to mount it in the shade, or direct an air vent towards it. If you’re still having problems, it might be time to consider a cooling case.

2.  Use screen shots. Buy pressing both the home button and the power button at the same time (up volume and power button on iPad Pros), you can take a picture of the screen. Anything that you are looking at online that you want to take with you, just take a screen shot of it. Want quick access to your online flight plan? Screen shot it. I really like using Google Earth to look at destination airports so I have an idea of the layout prior to my arrival. A quick screen shot of the airport means I’ll have it with me when I really need it.

3.  Use it every day to keep current. I’ve heard people say that their iPad is only for aviation. While you may think you’re flying the flag of safety or dedicated hardware, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Much like how kids originally learn to use a computer by playing games, we too have to learn how to properly and efficiently use the iPad. The first time I handed my iPad to my mom, I thought she was going to poke a hole through the screen. A few games of solitaire later, and she was good to go. Yes, Candy Crush should not be open while on final approach, but a few of your favorite games/apps might help you notice new features quicker when operating system updates come out.

4.  Copy machine. The camera on the iPad is pretty good. Want a copy of your favorite fly-in restaurant’s menu? Take a picture of it. Want an important page of your POH in your iPad? Take a picture of it. Your mother’s homemade apple dumpling recipe? I find myself using the iPad as a copy machine at least once a week. You can even scan documents with the Notes app.

Chris Clarke

Aviation Course Developer – Sporty’s
Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor
Favorite aircraft: Straight-tail Cessna 172

1. Mind your battery. An iPad is worthless without a battery to power it, so follow a few rules to keep it in top condition. First, keep your device at room temperature and plugged in when possible—it does not harm the battery to leave it on charge for days at a time and it ensures you’ll always have a full battery. Next, always have a backup plan, whether it’s a cigarette lighter plug or a portable battery pack (and don’t forget about spare cables). Finally, listen when your battery speaks. Batteries have a life limit, so when your battery’s endurance has noticeably decreased, it may be time for a replacement. But as long as these batteries typically last (at least a couple of years), just go ahead and buy the latest tablet version instead of replacing a battery. If you fall too far behind the technology curve, you will regret it.

2. Update your apps. Developers fix bugs and provide access to newer, better features and/or content all the time—for free. If you’re not regularly updating your apps, you’re missing out. In fact, Apple opted for a red badge to help underscore the importance of maintaining your apps. Similar to scores of unread email, pages of apps requiring updates is indicative of lack of interest. As pilots, let’s do better. But don’t just update blindly—scan the developer’s notes for good insight on what may be new and helpful.

3. Protect your investment. iPads and the apps that make them functional are an investment, so it only makes sense to keep them safe. First, consider investing in a screen protector. It will really help with fingerprints, preventing scratches, and may also help with glare. Next, invest in a durable case. The aviation environment is unforgiving and you may not get a second chance if you drop your device. Finally, keep it clean. Treat your iPad as any other critically important piece of equipment: treat it well and keep it clean and it will serve you well for a long time.

4. Navigate your iPad faster with multitasking gestures. You can do almost everything on your iPad without touching a button—in fact, all the new models have removed the home button completely. Whether it’s closing an app, switching apps, opening the control center, or searching for something, iOS has multiple gestures that can save time or unlock additional features. Once you get proficient with them, they can really save time in the cockpit.

3 replies
  1. Art Bridge
    Art Bridge says:

    Was the advice to turn off cellular data (John Zimmerman, item 3 above) while in flight to preserve iPad battery? First time I have heard this advice, and it sounds sensible to me. Thank you, John.

  2. T Boyle
    T Boyle says:

    1. If you want a page of your POH on the iPad, and you’re using Foreflight, you can save it (or, as needed, the whole POH) in a Documents folder in the app. That way you can always find it, instead of having to search through your photos.
    2. If you have a good navigator and MFD on the panel, you can treat the iPad like a magical version of an old-school paper chart – and put it down! In this case there’s no need for an iPad mount – and if you have a control stick rather than a yoke, a knee mount won’t really work anyway. Pick up the iPad to refer to it when needed – as a chart, or POH, or AIM, or whatever it is you need (I also use it to photograph the starting and ending tach). Putting it down (and getting in the habit of clicking the power button as you do) will protect the battery and – especially with a low wing in a sunny climate – avoid overheating the iPad. Of course, if you’re in severe turbulence you’ll need to secure the iPad so it doesn’t fly around the cabin. Tuck it under your thigh, where you can still reach it easily when you need it. If turbulence is this bad, you won’t want it on a suction cup mount either!
    3. Your iPad’s memory is big enough that you can download the entire United States. Just do that, and set it to auto-update. Now you don’t have to remember to download new states if/when you travel (or remember how to download them!); they’re just there. If your iPad says it’s out of memory, find your other big memory uses and get rid of them: what’s important, flying or your kids’ video games?
    4. If you fly IFR or you fly a low-wing airplane in a sunny place with the iPad on a mount where it might get hot, or you’re flying a checkride, carry a second iPad. All the EFB apps will let you download copies on multiple devices. Keep both updated. Keep the second one somewhere easy to reach – door pocket or between your hip and the sidewall (if there’s no gap for it to fall into) or similar. And if you’re using your iPad (rather than one of the ship’s displays) as your approach plate, then when you open the plate on your primary iPad, take a moment to open it on the second one too; if the first one fails during the approach you won’t want to be messing about trying to find the plate on the second one. If that’s too much money to spend, download an EFB app on your phone so you can at least fall back on that.
    5. iPads with mobile phone capability also have internal GPS receivers, which will work whether or not you activate a mobile phone account for the iPad. Ones without, don’t. If your ship GPS goes down (total electrical failure, say) the iPad can use its internal receiver, if it has one. It’s a lot better than nothing.
    6. EFB apps have build-in flight loggers. You can trigger them to start right before you taxi and stop when you park. Now you’ll have a complete record of your flight – time out, time in, and a complete GPS track log – right on your iPad.
    7. The newer Garmin GPS units – including the Aera portables – will import and export flight plans to/from the Garmin Pilot and Foreflight apps, and maybe other apps too. So, plan your flight at home on the iPad, then upload the plan to the ship’s GPS with a few clicks, saving yourself several minutes of preflight on board the airplane – and reducing the risk of a data entry error.

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