I fly a lot of cross-country trips and not only has the price of paper charts been slowly increasing but perhaps as annoying it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find FBOs that carry charts with coverage beyond their local areas. Because of this I decided to devise a way to mount an iPad in my cockpit, giving me the option to use electronic charts. As an added bonus the iPad could also be used for flight planning, to display en route weather and other information as well as airport taxi charts for unfamiliar airports.
But where to put a full-sized iPad in the confines of a Stearman cockpit. Hand-holding it was not a viable idea even if I could find a convenient place to stow it when not in use. And with aging eyes an iPad mini just wouldn’t do. Due to its size the only suitable place I found that had enough real estate to mount it where it would be both easy to see and convenient to operate was on the left sidewall of the cockpit, aft of the throttle quadrant (Figure 1). After settling on the general location the next step was to design a mounting bracket that would meet four criteria: keep the iPad well clear of the throttle quadrant (and my left arm); allow convenient operation; provide a comfortable viewing angle; and allow access to my fire extinguisher from inside the cockpit. What I ended up with is a hinged mount that allows the iPad to fold down when in use but can be folded up and stowed against the cockpit sidewall when not in use. When it’s down and in use it does cover the fire extinguisher but should I need to access the extinguisher the iPad easily flips up out of the way allowing full access.
To begin with I purchased a Ram iPad holder (Figure 2). It’s a plastic mounting cradle – model designation “EZ-ROLL’R” – that is model-specific to fit my iPad Air. This device securely holds the iPad yet allows its quick and easy removal when I want to take the iPad out of the cockpit. The mount came equipped with a Ram ball mount on the back, which I removed and discarded. I didn’t want to mount the iPad using the typical ball mount and clamp for a couple of reasons: the clamp, articulating arm and ball mount take up too much room, and from past experience I’ve found that things mounted that way in a Stearman can sometimes have a resonant frequency that results in unwanted vibration. That could make the screen difficult to read. The next step was to fabricate a simple way to secure the plastic mount in the cockpit. What I came up with was a two-piece aluminum bracket. It’s fabricated out of .060 aluminum (Figure 3). and a short section of piano hinge.
The plastic Ram mount is secured to the lower half of the bracket with #8 screws (Figure 4) and the upper half of the bracket attaches to the upper fuselage frame tube utilizing two Adel clamps (Figure 5). The use of Adel clamps foregoes the need for fuselage clamps or modification of anything on the airframe. When installed, the Adel clamps are oriented on the fuselage frame tube such that the bracket is on the outboard side and mounted far enough aft so that the deployed iPad doesn’t interfere with the throttle. One mounting screw is replaced with a male snap (Figure 4.). When the iPad is stowed a small nylon strap over the top of the fuselage tube snaps onto the bracket to secure the iPad in the stowed position. The geometry of the hinged bracket and how it functions becomes apparent once the bracket is assembled (Figures 3 & 6).
Lastly, to power the iPad I replaced an existing cigarette lighter socket with a socket that contains 2 USB ports (Figure 7). This operates on ship’s power and supplies the necessary 5 volts at 2.1 amps to keep the iPad’s battery fully charged. I can use the extra USB port to charge an iPhone if desired. When the iPad is deployed it hinges down (Figure 1) and rests on the fire extinguisher. This serves as a lower “stop” to keep it from swinging down too far. The resulting screen angle provides comfortable viewing and easy operation. An iPad mounted with this type of bracket in an aircraft without a fire extinguisher to serve as a lower stop would require some sort of alternative stop to prevent the iPad from hinging so far down that the viewing angle became too acute.
Attached to the lower side of the mount and protruding slightly below it when deployed is a short anchoring strap (Figure 1). This strap snaps onto a snap installed on the aft end of the elevator trim handle bracket and is used to secure the iPad in the deployed position so that it can’t flop around in turbulence.
When the iPad is stowed (Figure 8) it folds up nearly flush against the left sidewall of the cockpit and is completely out of the way. Visible in the photo is the upper nylon strap that is attached to the back of the upper half of the mounting bracket and routed up and over the fuselage tube. This snaps onto the back of the iPad mount to secure it in the stowed position when not in use. The only drawback I’ve found when using the iPad in the open cockpit is the reflectivity of its screen. The screen is well backlit but on a bright day, especially when direct sunlight falls on the screen, the shade of a hand sometimes becomes necessary to enhance readability. Irrespective of the reflectivity issue though the capabilities of the iPad make it a very useful device.