The iPad makes a great, all-in-one cockpit tool, combining maps, flight planning, in-flight weather, documents and so much more. That doesn’t mean it stands on its own, though. A few carefully chosen accessories can make it so much more powerful and easy-to-use. Here’s our list of the accessories you should consider, and our top recommendations.
1. ADS-B Receiver
Practically an essential for iPad pilots who fly cross country, these all-in-one portable receivers deliver a wealth of data to your iPad: subscription-free weather, traffic, GPS, backup attitude, flight data recording and pressure altitude sensor. Best of all, they’re battery-powered and require just a single button push to operate. Like a good ANR headset, an ADS-B receiver quickly pays back the initial investment.
Top Choice: Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver for ForeFlight
Why it’s the best: The Stratus line of ADS-B receivers were designed to exclusively work with ForeFlight, aviation’s most widely used iPad app. The top-of-the-line Stratus 2S model contains all the bells and whistles, including ADS-B weather replay, dual-band traffic, remote-mount capability, pressure altitude monitoring, flight data recorder and a built-in AHRS to drive ForeFlight’s synthetic vision.
Want to learn more? Check out this portable ADS-B receiver buyer’s guide
2. GPS Receiver
If you don’t need all the bells and whistles of an ADS-B receiver, a standalone GPS is a great value. It will drive the moving maps in your aviation app and give you essential navigation data like groundspeed, track across the ground and time to destination.
Top Choice: Bad Elf Pro+
Why it’s the best: Bad Elf’s flagship GPS is very well made and has a number of great features: an incredible 35 hour battery life, handy built-in screen, altimeter and connection to multiple devices.
On a budget: Dual XGPS150A
Want to learn more? Check out our iPad GPS buyer’s guide
3. Flight Bag
Flight bags have evolved considerably over the past 5 years, featuring a smaller footprint with well-thought out pockets to keep your electronic gadgets organized and secure. They’re also more stylish. A good one can protect and organize your iPad, mount/kneeboard, charging cords, headset and more.
Top Choice: Flight Outfitters Lift
Why it’s the best: This compact, square-shaped bag features a padded center pocket for your iPad, surrounded by additional side pockets for a headset or smaller iPad accessories. The fold-out style is handy in the airplane, especially if you’re flying single pilot and have the flight bag on the right seat – you can open only the pocket you need, and grab your gear with one hand.
On a budget: Flight Gear HP iPad Bag
Securing your iPad in the cockpit is important for safety and for ease of use. There are two main options for this: a kneeboard or a mounting system. Kneeboards are generally more affordable, and offer additional storage pockets. They’re ideal for renters or flying club members.
Top Choice: Flight Gear HP iPad Kneeboard
Why it’s the best: The latest generation of this popular kneeboard is just the right size, with enough room for your iPad, some cords, and a cleaning cloth, but without being too big or cumbersome. The iPad panel can tilt and rotate so you find just the right position for your airplane. For smaller cockpits, we like how the kneeboard can fold in half so it’s only a single panel.
On a budget: iPad Rotating Kneeboard
If a kneeboard doesn’t work in your airplane, a mount is a great alternative. There are lots of options here, from suction cup mounts for side windows to yoke mounts. There are plenty of brands offering mounts, and most of them are quite good, but there are significant differences between them to consider.
Why it’s the best: This deluxe system, used by Southwest Airlines pilots every day, is a protective case and suction cup mount in one. It’s well-made, easy-to-use and doesn’t take up too much space in the cockpit. When you’re done flying, it quickly removes from the suction cup and becomes a good, everyday case.
On a budget: RAM Mounts (numerous options)
6. Backup Power
Most of the (very rare) issues we’ve had with the iPad have been due to running out of battery. So it’s only smart to have a backup for those days when you fly longer than expected or forget to charge your iPad. Fortunately, there are more options than ever. Just be sure to get something with a 2 amp charging port.
Top Choice: Professional Battery Pack
Why it’s the best: A standalone battery pack is an essential backup, and it works anywhere – even in airplanes without an electrical system. This model is the best one we’ve seen: it has dual 2 amp USB ports for tablets, dual 1 amp USB ports for phones and a huge, 20,800 mAh battery. We’ve charged an iPad, Stratus and two iPhones at the same time. Even with all that power, it’s surprisingly small and portable, plus it won’t create noise in your aircraft radios.
On a budget: Flight Gear Dual USB Charger with Screen
7. Screen Protector
Not everyone likes screen protectors, since they can distort the screen slightly. But for pilots who use their iPads hard, it makes sense to give that big chunk of glass a little extra protection from scratches, drops and fingerprints. Some will cut down on screen glare too.
Why it’s the best: These screen protectors aren’t flimsy sheets of plastic that are impossible to put on; instead, they’re made from tempered glass. They are much easier to apply, they don’t affect the touchscreen performance and they even reduce screen glare by a bit.