The Air Force Special Operations Command announced it plans to buy 2,861 iPad 2 tablets in a move to unload as much as 70 pounds of paper per flight.

The decision, announced in a Dec. 29, 2011, justification and approval notice, and first reported by Nextgov, followed a three-month product evaluation begun last July and completed in the fall on five aircraft. Command officials concluded that iPad not only meet but exceeded AFSOC mission specifications, the report said.

The AFSOC notice said switching to electronic devices not only reduces the cost of printing and distributing paper manuals, but will also mean aircrews have the the latest information on and off their aircraft.

The iPad2 electronic flight bags, as they are referred to in aviation circles, will contain digital versions of technical manuals and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency-issued Flight Information Publications for navigation, which are updated as often as every month. The iPad tablets will use a GoodReader application that synchronizes data securely.

The devices are also being ordered with requirements to come with single button one-touch lighting control in order to dim the tablets for night time operations.

The Air Force’s decision follows similar decisions in the commercial aviation industry.

United Continental Holdings announced in August all 11,000 of its pilots would be provisioned with iPad electronic flight bags equipped with Mobile FliteDeck software developed by Jeppesen, a division of Boeing. The application replaces the need for navigation charts, reference handbooks, flight checklists, logbooks and weather information.

The airline said that switching to electronic flight bags would eliminate the production of nearly 16 million sheets of paper and save 326,000 gallons of jet fuel a year.

United’s move followed guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration issued last May that authorized the use of certified commercial off the shelf tablets, such as the iPad that make use of the Jeppesen Mobile TC App. The application displays approach map plates, terminal procedures, airport diagrams, and other data.