Monday, January 3, 2011

iPad in the cockpit: upgrading the GPS & weather

There are a number of companies tackling the limitations of the built-in GPS in the Apple iPad.  The GPS built-into the iPad is not WAAS, and can be quite inaccurate at times. It is also A-GPS (assisted GPS) which requires a cell signal to obtain the initial GPS lock—this also means, if you lose GPS lock in flight, you will have trouble getting it back. Given the surge in popularity of the iPad as an EFB, a number of companies are stepping up to try to cover the short comings of the iPad GPS. Here are a few we've come across.

  • There is the GNS 5870 Bluetooth GPS receiver. This bluetooth unit supports the iPad/iPhone out of the box without any need for jail-breaking. ~$100 from This one is not WAAS. (photo top left)
  • There is also an dock-connector "dongle" solution from Bad Elf. Amazon had it listed for ~$100 but it appears that they are currently out of stock. Interestingly, the Bad Elf website itself seems to be broken aside from the top page. A shame really, since The Bad Elf GPS is a 66 channel 10Hz WAAS unit which is perfect for aviation applications. Hopefully this is a temporary situation. (As per the comments below, the website issue appears to have been fixed, and they are back on line.  As of this writing—1/7/11—they are out of stock, but are expecting more in soon.) In the mean time, you might be able to find one on eBay. (photo top right)
  • Taking a slightly different approach is Skyradar, which we touched on before. The intersting thing about this device is that not only does it make 1Hz WAAS GPS signal available, it also works as a ADS-B receiver for both weather (FIS-B) and traffic (TIS-B). The data is broadcast over Wi-Fi, and does not require jail breaking the iPad. The hardware is expensive (~$1,000), but since ADS-B gives us free in-flight weather, it will be worth it for some. Currently, it works with only their Skyradar app on the iPad, but since the hardware is available independent of the software, hopefully other app developers will support it. (photo bottom left)
  • Taking a similar approach is the new device available from Flightguide called Fly-Wi GPS.  This device also sends WAAS GPS data over WiFi. They are also promising ADS-B or XM weather via this device in a "future update." For now, this device, costing $270, works only with the FlightGuide iEFB app for the iPad.  Again, it would be interesting to see if other developers pick this up. (photo bottom right)
So, it looks like third party developers are stepping in to fill the gap left by Apple's anemic hardware, and we should have better GPS, as well as in-cockpit weather on the iPad soon. As always, any pireps on any of this gear would be appreciated.


  1. Thanks for mentioning the Bad Elf GPS Receiver. Yes, our website was down recently, but this was not related to our being out of stock at the moment. (Our web hosting service performed a major migration and it took 36 hours instead of the 5 minutes they'd promised.) Anyway, the website is long since back up, and we expect a large batch of units in stock at both our Amazon and eBay stores within the next 10 days.

  2. I was able to order a Bad Elf unit from Amazon early last week. It is scheduled to arrive this week so it looks like the stock has been replenished.