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Accessorizing Your iPad

by Lorin Kaney

The iPad, or any other tablet, can be an incredible tool for a pilot. It makes checking the weather, filing flight plans, and getting charts very easy. By itself, it’s a great tool, but with the right accessories, it can be even more potent. We will look at several different accessories, including external GPS receivers, ADS-B receivers, XM Satellite receivers, and backup batteries.

Most pilots are aware that Wi-Fi-only iPads don’t have built-in GPS capability. I bought my iPad with 3G just to have the GPS built in, and it has done very well. I have lost signal a few times, but I have been generally pleased with the reception and accuracy of mounting the onboard GPS. If you have a Wi-Fi-only iPad or want the extra reliability and accuracy, it is very easy to add an external GPS. The Bad Elf GPS is the simplest to use, as it plugs into the connector on the iPad (it doesn’t fit the new connector on the iPad 4/Mini/iPhone 5). The iPad charges it, so you don’t have to worry about a separate battery. It retails for $99. The more common type is an external with its own battery that connects via Bluetooth. Some of the newer ones have the ability to support multiple devices and even provide GPS WAAS accuracy.

dual-150-gpsThey vary in price from $99 for the Dual 150 model to $149 for the Bad Elf Pro model. They have a battery life of around eight hours and can be charged in-flight from any 12V plug. From the customer reviews on Sporty’s, the Dual 150 model seems to be the huge favorite.

The iPad also has several options to provide the current weather in the cockpit. For $900, you can get an XM Satellite receiver that will transmit that info to the iPad, but a monthly subscription is required. The more popular option has become ADS-B receivers. They connect to the growing network of ground stations for free broadcasts of radar and text weather. When it comes to the receivers, they tend to be very app specific.

gdl-39-stratusThe Stratus works with ForeFlight, the Dual XGPS170 works with WingX Pro, and the Garmin GDL 39 works with Garmin Pilot. Each of these devices runs around $800. This is the new, big thing in aviation weather products, and the playing field is changing with new receivers hitting the market all the time. The system does have its limitations; coverage is not available on the ground and in some areas of western USA. Some of the newer devices advertise traffic depictions on the apps, but that comes with a big disclaimer. The ADS-B system only broadcasts the traffic info when an aircraft equipped with ADS-B OUT triggers it. These devices are all ADS-B IN. They will receive the information, but only if another aircraft is in the area with the right equipment.

If you are flying a lot and using the iPad extensively in the cockpit, especially with the added drain of the internal GPS, a backup battery pack may be a good investment. Most battery backs have about half the capacity of the battery on the iPad 3 or 4. The packs connect with the normal charging cable to a USB port on the battery. It makes a great back up, as it can charge basically any device, be it a cell phone, tablet, etc.

Hopefully, this makes things a little more clear. If you have any questions about a specific piece of hardware, just let me know, and I will be happy to answer them.

Lorin Kaney

Certified Flight Instructor

Lorin grew up in Northwest Indiana and has long had a passion for flying. He started flying at the International ALERT Academy in Big Sandy, Texas, in 2003. Over the next several years, he obtained his private pilot license, his instrument rating, and his Airframe and Powerplant license. After finishing up his CFI and CFII, he continued on as an instructor at ALERT. He and his wife met at the school there and were married in 2011. In June of 2012, he moved to the Fort Wayne area and began working as an instructor at Sweet Aviation. He really enjoys sharing the joy of flying with his students and guiding them to become safe and proficient pilots.