Support: iPads Make Cockpits Bigger


July 25, 2013: The U.S. Air Force is evaluating the iPad mini tablet to join the iPad in replacing most of the maps and manuals normally carried on transport aircraft. This would save a lot of weight (40 kg/88 pounds or more depending on aircraft type) and money (fuel savings and buying all those print materials). The air force expects to save $50 million in ten years by using iPads. The air force is buying 18,000 iPads (full size and the mini) for its transports at a cost of about $528 each. The 32 GB air force models will be equipped with special security, to keep hackers out. The air force also has to provide a converter so that the iPads can be recharged from the aircraft electrical system. 

There would be two or more iPad minis on board, each weighing 308 g (11 ounces). The mini is more compact and half the weight of the 652 g (23 ounce) iPad. Flight crew must have excellent eyesight to get the job so the smaller screen size of the mini is no problem and the smaller size is a plus in sometimes cramped cockpits. Most of the first iPads issued will be the standard size. Most of the maps and manuals can be used as PDF files, a technology the military has been using for a long time. Several commercial airlines have already adopted the iPad and aviation regulators have signed off on this, and air force pilots were often using their own iPads for maps and manuals.

The air force is catching up when it comes to iPads. These were soon being adopted by officers and troops as soon as they first appeared in 2010, without waiting for official permission. The iPad mini showed up in 2012. While using PDF files to replace maps and manuals was one of the first military uses, this was quickly followed by military-specific smart phone apps.

Early on combat pilots in Afghanistan, like many businesses, discovered new and useful ways to use the iPad. U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilots found the iPad a useful way to carry hundreds of military maps, rather than the hassle of using paper versions. Marine commanders quickly realized this "field expedient" (a military "hack" that adopts something for unofficial use while in the combat zone) worked and made it official. That meant buying iPads for this and getting to work at coming up with more uses. Meanwhile, support troops that have to handle a lot of data quickly found ways to get it done on iPads. This was pretty simple for technical troops who rely on lots of manuals. They are often already available in PDF format and can easily be put on an iPad. But the iPads are basically hand-held computers and can do so much more. The troops quickly began making that happen themselves.

About the same time iPad appeared the U.S. Army decided to establish an app store (the Army Marketplace) for military smart phone users. This quickly included the iPad, which soldiers were instant big fans of. The army app store included an "App Wanted" section where users can post descriptions of an app they need. If a developer (in uniform or an army approved civilian with access to the Army Marketplace) was interested, a discussion could be started on an attached message board. The army found that many needed apps were quickly created and made available at the Army Marketplace. Developers could charge for their apps, although the army also would pay developers to create needed apps that have been described by military smart phone users.

The other service quickly adopted a similar attitude towards app development and many of the U.S. Army apps have shown on smart phones outside the country. 




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