Flying with an iPad3: First Impressions

I recently bought an iPad3, primarily to use electronic flight-planning tools and digital charts in the cockpit. As instrument-rated pilots know, a typical trip involves lugging several binders or volumes of instrument procedure charts, plus en route charts, backup sectional charts, and at least one volume of the A/FD. Flights usually cross several chart boundaries, requiring pilots to juggle and refold large maps in crowded cockpits.


Part of a typical low-altitude IFR en route chart published by FAA AeroNav Products.

Apps for the iPad have transformed the cockpit, just has electronic publishing is revolutionizing the way people read books and periodicals. Pilots are rapidly turning to products like ForeFlight and WingX to go paperless and use an electronic flight bag (EFB). Airlines are also getting on board.

A Pilots N Paws flight on March 24 gave me a great chance to try the new gizmo and software under VFR, and as it turned out, the long round-robin flight (KBFI-S78-KBLI-KBFI) proved the value of an EFB when weather over the Cascades argued for change of route.


GPS track of the 900 nm flight as shown in Google Earth. For more information about recording and displaying GPS tracks, see the June 2010 issue of AOPA Flight Training magazine.

My Setup

I fly an A36 Bonanza. It’s equipped with a GNS 530W IFR-approved GPS, and I also carry a Garmin GPSMap396 as a backup and to display weather reports, forecasts, and NEXRAD imagery received via SiriusXM.

imageI’ve now added an iPad3 (64GB with Wi-Fi and 4G), which I use with an ASA iPad Kneeboard that features an easel that tilts the iPad at a handy angle or collapses to allow the tablet to lie flat. The ASA kneeboard also includes a transparent flap that protects the iPad screen while allowing you to control the device with its snazzy touch interface. On this trip, I used the latest version of ForeFlight (I’ll test other products on future flights).

I set up my cockpit as shown below as I cruised en route.


Although from this angle, the transparent flap on the kneeboard seems to exacerbate reflections from the iPad’s glossy screen, a different view shows that the plastic overlay didn’t appreciably interfere with viewing or controlling the display. I even finger-scribbled ATIS reports, transponder codes, and other information on the scratchpad in ForeFlight—a blank page intended for jotting such notes. I like the protection the flap offers, but you can tuck it away if it proves distracting.


The front seats in my Bonanza feature high-density foam, so they’re a bit thicker than those with standard padding and upholstery. But in cruise flight, the iPad didn’t interfere with the yoke, even when it was tilted on the easel. I would, however, fold it flat when maneuvering and during takeoff and landing. I didn’t try flying an instrument approach on this trip, but I suspect I would fold the kneeboard flat during that critical phase of flight, too.

GPS Reception

My subscription to ForeFlight includes real-time tracking of my aircraft’s position on all charts, including instrument procedure charts and airport diagrams. I bought a Dual XGPS150A Bluetooth GPS receiver to supplement the built-in GPS in the iPad3, and that combination worked well. As the battery in the iPad ran down after some 6 hours of constant use, I turned off the XGPS150A to save the drain required for running Bluetooth. Even in the Bonanza, the iPad continued to show my GPS position, based only on the tablet’s internal receiver. I’ll test GPS reception on more flights.

Heat and Cooling

The press is abuzz with reports about the heat generated by the new processor in the iPad3. I checked the tablet periodically during the flight, and it definitely felt warm. The tilt-up easel on the ASA board, however, allows air to flow around the tablet and keeps it above your leg. Ambient temperatures were moderate on the day of this test flight, so I’m not sure if heat will prove an issue on warm summer days. The fabric ASA kneeboard tightly encloses the tablet, which might exacerbate any heating issues. Nevertheless, the iPad never complained or shut down.

A Change of Plan

I had planned to fly the leg from Emmett, ID (S78) to Bellingham, WA (KBLI), via my usual route across the Cascades along V2 between Ellensburg (ELN) and Seattle (SEA).


About 30 minutes after takeoff from S78, however, a check of the NEXRAD display showed rapid buildup of precipitation, including snow over the Cascades east of Seattle. I chose to turn west near Pendleton, OR (PDT) and follow the Columbia River through the gorge to the Portland area, and then turn north to KBLI.


The seamless charts in ForeFlight, which you can zoom in for detail and zoom out for the big picture, made laying out the new route quick and easy. And the flight log immediately reflected the new ETE and ETA and fuel requirements for the longer route. With the new waypoints locked down on the chart, I could easily transfer the information to the GNS 530W and GPSMap396.


The unexpected clouds and showers over the Cascades that prompted the reroute through the Columbia River gorge.

Conclusions So Far

I want to evaluate the iPad/ForeFlight combination on a few simulated instrument flights before I rely on it for actual IFR flying, but even after one test, I’m sold on the potential of electronic charts. On long flying days,  I’ll have to swap among devices that run off the power outlet in the airplane to make sure that they all have sufficient power reserves during approach and landing. And I plan to continue practicing creating and amending routes, switching among chart types and procedure plates, and other essential tasks to make sure that flight operations become second-nature. But even after only one flight, I feel comfortable and reasonably proficient with the iPad and ForeFlight. I expect to become a 95 percent paperless pilot* soon.

*I think I’ll always carry printed copies of a few critical approach charts on IFR flights.

3 Responses to Flying with an iPad3: First Impressions

  1. Phil Boyer says:

    What took you so long to use the iPad in flight?

    • bruceair says:

      Although I’m usually an early adopter of new gizmos, I’ve waited until now to buy a tablet because I wanted to get only one device that could handle aviation charts, ebooks, email, etc. Having decided on the iPad (because it clearly has the most support from developers and the best array of supporting hardware), I then heard about the introduction of the next-generation, so I waited until the iPad3 (as I call it) was available.

  2. Excellent info – thanks Bruce – I’m a student at 51 gleaning from you and other pros as I’ve been learning my Ipad 3 with Garmin Pilot and Wingx. I’m a technology geek by way of my career and love digging deep into what this tool can do for me in the cockpit, and it’s great to see how you’re using it coming from a seasoned CFI perspective. Went flying today – KVNY to KWJF, Van Nuys to Lancaster Round trip, flew right seat with a buddy and learned a ton jumping from Garmin Pilot sectional moving map to Wingx, WOW, now once I have my certificate I want to add a Zaon. The awareness that is possible is incredibly great.
    Thanks for your blog!
    Terry Broadbent

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