Who Wins the Battle of the Aviation Kneeboards?

We test-fly a few that are custom made for the iPad Mini and find a few we liked.

Do you use an iPad in the cockpit? Is the device secured? I ask because a friend had an unfortunate life-changing experience during her spin training when her CFI’s kneeboard with the iPad strapped inside came loose and became a projectile, striking her in the face and fracturing her eye socket. This cautionary tale made me take a closer look at the kneeboard options available to iPad users.

In fact, iPads have caused a kneeboard evolution. The mission of the kneeboard hasn’t changed much since its introduction in the 1930s: Provide the pilot with a flat space to write on. The Apple iPad was introduced in 2010 and quickly found its way into the cockpit as aviation apps such as ForeFlight flourished. Pilots who sought to go paperless quickly learned their kneeboards were not designed to hold the devices. The manufacturers of kneeboards took note and began to design with that in mind. Some work better than others. Often it is a matter of preference. To get to the heart of the matter, FLYING put several to the test and came away with few we particularly liked.


Some Things to Consider

Kneeboards can be made from plastic, aluminum, or wood. Each has its own characteristics of weight and durability with a price tag that matches. It can be a challenge to find a kneeboard that works with your iPad or tablet because dimensions vary model to model and year to year. Make sure to know the manufacturer’s return policy before you purchase so you are not stuck with a kneeboard you cannot use because it doesn’t fit the device or shape of your leg.

Aviation Supplies & Academics for iPad Mini 

Aviation Supplies & Academics for iPad Mini kneeboard is shaped like a book. [Courtesy: ASA]

If you are looking for an economy of design, check out the kneeboard for the iPad Mini from Aviation Supplies & Academics. Shaped like a book, you put the iPad inside. Soft, gray microfiber protects the screen. There is a binder style clip for paper or a checklist and two loops on one side for writing implements.

Four plastic hooks about as thick as a toothpick ( for minimal screen disruption) hold the iPad in place. Nonskid strips on the underside of the unit and a 1.5-inch-wide strap with  Velcro keep the board secure to your leg, even during abrupt attitude changes and turbulence. This was the lightest board we tested, so light you almost stop feeling it.

Price: $45.95 to $54.95

FlightOutfitters KB4 & Centerline

The FlightOutfitters Centerline kneeboard, with its fold-down platform. [Courtesy: FlightOutfitters]

FlightOutfitters has several designs for iPad Mini users. According to FlightOutfitters founder Mark Glassmeyer, the KB4 is the latest evolution. Originally, it had plastic hooks to hold the iPad, but those wore out too quickly, so the company came up with a silicon rectangle with bands that secure the device by the corners. The kneeboard has a small pocket for writing implements. We liked the traditional Velcro strap along with friction fabric and two contour rolls mounted to the underside of the board to keep it from moving on your leg. It was comfortable even after two hours on a hot day.

The FlightOutfitters Centerline kneeboard comes in large and small sizes. The small earned our vote because of the fold-down platform with a smaller, molded case. This zippered compartment is the perfect size to hold your sunglasses or smartphone. If you’ve ever smashed your sunglasses in a kneeboard pouch, you will appreciate this. The bezel that holds the iPad uses the silicone straps and it rotates, so if you prefer your information in landscape as opposed to portrait, you are covered. This feature made one of my learners very happy, as he is a lateral presentation pilot. This kneeboard has a wide, elastic strap with Velcro closure, but this one feeds through a buckle for extra stability.

Price: $69.95

Battle Board Tech Edition

The Battle Board Tech Edition kneeboard offers an array of color options. [Courtesy: Battle Board]

For the other kneeboards we tested, black was the only color choice. One of the things that sets apart the kneeboards made by Battle Board is you have options—sooooo many options—when it comes to color. In addition to black, you’ll find red, orange, green, brown, and gray along with several camouflage patterns. The color is not about fashion. Any color but black can help you locate your kneeboard more easily in a darkened gear bag or the back seat of a car.

The Battle Board Tech Edition—the iPad Mini stabilized board—is described as “turbulence-proof tablet integration,” which is military speak for “keeping the tablet on the board and the board on your leg.”

The board features a padded underside with wedges of nonslip material that can be positioned on your leg for better balance. Mesh provides breathability, so you don’t get that hot-book-on-your-thigh feeling. The elastic leg strap is one of the wider ones on the market and fastens with a metal G-hook that withstood turbulence and unusual attitudes. The company notes it makes the G-hook from recycled 81 millimeter mortar ammo cans.

The Battle Board Tech Edition kneeboard comes with easy-to-understand instructions, a necessity for setup to get the most out of the unit. It was also one of the most compact and lighter designs we tried. On the downside, the Battle Board unit was also the most expensive of the ones we tested.

Price: $109.95

Sporty’s Flight Gear Bi-Fold

The Sporty’s Flight Gear Bi-Fold kneeboard was one of the least expensive we tested. [Courtesy: Sporty’s Pilot Shop]

Sporty’s Flight Gear Bi-Fold kneeboard was the least expensive one we tested, coming in under $30. The elastic straps at the corners hold an iPad, and the clipboard is reversible so you can wear it on either leg.

The kneeboard also has a VFR/IFR cheat sheet with phonetic aviation alphabet hemispheric rule, basic VFR weather minimum, mandatory IFR reports, flight plan sequence, and transponder codes, just in case you forget these things.

Price: $29.95

Flight Gear iPad Bi-Fold

The Flight Gear iPad Bi-Fold kneeboard for those pilots willing to shell out a little more money. [Courtesy: Sporty’s Pilot Shop]

For the pilot prepared to spend a little more, Sporty’s also offers the Flight Gear iPad Bi-Fold kneeboard with two movable, vinyl-coated brackets held in place by a hook-and-loop fastener that it claims can be configured to hold just about any iPad or tablet on the market. The backside of the mounting surface has an integrated kickstand that allows you to place the iPad at an angle that cuts down on sunlight glare. If you’ve ever done what feels like an advanced yoga pose trying to read the computer screen in a sun-drenched cockpit, you will appreciate this.

This kneeboard boasts a plethora of pockets, including one that closes with a zipper for those really important items you don’t want to lose. The front face of the kneeboard has an ID holder that’s perfect for a business card. You will probably want to use this because most of the kneeboards on the market are black, so they all look alike.

Price: $39.95

This column first appeared in the October 2023/Issue 942 of FLYING’s print edition.


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