US Air Force to spend $9 million on up to 18,000 iPads

apple-ipad-2Air Mobility Command, which provides transport and refueling services to the US military using cargo planes and other military aircraft, announced on Friday that the US Air Force will be buying as many as 18,000 iPads worth over $9 million to be used as electronic flight bags by its pilots. Apple’s tablets will replace the bulky paper-based flight bags traditionally used by its pilots.

Bloomberg said it was one of the military’s largest ever orders of computer tablets.

Military spokesperson Captain Kathleen Ferrero explained the decision to Bloomberg. “Air crews fly non-stop worldwide missions and require access to flight publications both on and off the aircraft, throughout all phases of flight,” she said, adding that the iPads, which will be loaded with information such as flight manuals and navigational charts, will enable crews to work more effectively and safely, supporting the Pentagon’s efficiency goals in the process.

The 32GB iPads being bought retail for $599, though Ferrero said the Air Force would be getting them at a discounted price of $520 per unit.

Ferrero said the actual number of iPads purchased will be dependent upon funding requests and approval, though it could be as many as 18,000.

The move by the US military to offload heavy paper-based flight bags and replace them with electronic versions follows in the footsteps of a growing number of commercial airlines. American Airlines and United Airlines are already in the process of lightening the load by handing pilots tablets.

Apple has so far been the device of choice among US airlines, with no other tablet maker up to now making it into the cockpit.

The tech giant will be unveiling the next iteration of its big-selling tablet, the iPad 3, at a special event in San Francisco on March 7. It’s expected to incorporate Apple’s high-resolution Retina display, better cameras and a faster processor.