Flight bags have certainly changed over the years, but what has changed most is what today’s pilots consider “must have.” My first flight bag was a military flying suit with pockets everywhere, each stuffed with some necessity. My current flight bag isn’t a bag at all but a large briefcase loaded with electronic gadgets, including a tablet computer, AC power supplies, handheld GPS and navcom, personal ELT and combined GPS, boxes of batteries, charts, the latest Flight Guide (a photographic guide to airports), a small wind indicator, extra eye glasses, sunglasses, sun block and a small container of prescription meds (just in case). As with most pilots, the centerpiece of my flight bag is my favorite headset.
High on a pilot’s list of must-haves are the EFBs (electronic flight bags). These portable, mini glass cockpits have advanced steadily from simple navigation programs to sophisticated, miniature MFDs. They’re capable of precise navigation, weather information, terrain awareness and can even alert pilots to possible traffic conflicts. The new tablet PCs are easy to transport and have easy-to-read, vivid touch screens.
How often have you been ready to take off only to discover that the tower is closed? Now, you can have the exact wind and weather conditions with a handheld mini weather station, such as Nielsen-Kellerman’s Kestrel 4500 Pocket Weather Tracker (www.nkhome.com). In the event of an emergency landing or a survivable crash, how will rescue squads find you? Easily, if you have a combination personal ELT combined with a GPS. The ELT sends out an alert, and the GPS informs them exactly where you are.
Vendors are also supplying computer-based programs for every mode of flight. Others offer special gel-filled headset pads, ear cups and external noise-reduction circuits to upgrade your favorite headset. It’s up to you to match your new headset or electronic carry-on flight aid to your particular needs. Do these new electronic carry-on products really work or do they clutter up the cockpit with connecting wires, power supplies and extra antennae? In spite of this, most pilots love them. Of course, an important consideration is the product’s price versus your budget. Be aware that “You get what you pay for” still holds true; also, pay attention to a company’s reputation with other pilots. Here are some of our picks for products that will make great gifts for any pilots in your life.
Electronic Flight Bags
ADR FG-1610 EFB: This unit is available either as a standard Fujitsu laptop or as a Fujitsu Tablet edition. Both versions can input any type of aviation software that’s compatible with Windows XP or Vista. They’re both equipped with touch screens, AC adapter and on-board battery. The units have 512 MB RAM (with a max of 1 GB) and come with a 30 GB hard drive (with options to 60 GB). Both are integrated with wireless capabilities. There’s an automatic three-year warranty. The tablet version has a slipcase for protection, six pens and a USB CD-ROM drive. Suggested Retail Price: $1,800–$2,200. Contact: Advanced Data Research, (248) 299-5300, www.adrsoft.com.
AirGator NAVPad 10.4-inch: This custom-configured tablet computer is light, superbright and small enough for any cockpit. The main feature is a brilliant 10.4-inch TFT Active Matrix LCD with 1024 x 768 XGA resolution. It has card slots, USB ports and a VGA port. The AMD Geode processor allows for instant-on and extended battery life. The audio portion has a 16-bit processor with stereo, headset jack, built-in speakers and microphone. The unit is 802.11 wireless LAN/WAN capable and can share info with desktop computers. The tablet is preloaded with ICA and RDP terminal clients and terminal-emulation software. The touch-screen display has soft keyboard support. Suggested Retail Price: $5,525. Contact: AirGator Inc., (914) 666-5656, www.airgator.com.
Anywhere Map Version 1.9: Control Vision was the pioneer in bringing electronic navigation via PDA or iPod into the cockpit. This company’s software has won many awards over the years; Version 1.9 has some exciting features such as flight-plan loading, which has been modified so you can now save extra-long flight plans and distant VORs and fixes. Holding fixes now remain on the screen when needed, and the METAR display has been enhanced to detect fractional visibility. The XM weather display has been improved and is much clearer, plus it has a faster refresh rate. Suggested Retail Price: $695–$1,595. Contact: Control Vision, (800) 292-1160, www.anywheremap.com.
FlightPrep Motion LS800 Tablet PC: Selected by Aviation Consumer Magazine as a top pick in its 2006 “EFB Hardware Round Up,” this unit by Stenbock & Everson measures 8.94 x 6.69 x 0.87 inches and weighs just 2.2 pounds. It has 1 GB RAM for a 40 GB hard drive and an optional SSD drive available. A pen-only input allows a precise user interface. The EFB is offered in a variety of packages, including the Gold Package with a BT-338 Bluetooth GPS Receiver, and the Platinum Package with WX Worx Bluetooth and USB XM Weather Receiver. Suggested Retail Price: $2,650–$5,150. Contact: Stenbock & Everson, (503) 678-4360, www.flightprep.com.
VistaNav CIS-2000: The large touch display is crystal clear and has been designed with the latest avionics-style buttons and dials. The CIS-2000 employs the latest ARS/GPS module to drive the VistaNav Synthetic Vision System and offers an independent battery-backup, emergency-awareness display, complete with the popular HITS (Highway in the Sky). Many options are available, including two types of tablet PCs, dual GPS and weather antenna, plus various mounting options. A weather receiver, an XRX Traffic bundle plus software updates for the database and operational software are also available. Suggested Retail Price: $6,500 and up. Contact: Mercury Computer Systems, (866) 627-6950, www.mc.com.
ICOM IC-A24: Easy one-hand operation is the most desirable feature of the communication/navigation-equipped IC-A24. The well-labeled, large keypad assures friendly operation. Both the keypad and display are backlit for readability in any light. The unit stores the last 10 channels you used for fast flip-flop recall. The radio has VOR-navigation functions, including to and from, and deviation from, the station. Power is supplied via its own battery, AC adapter, optional aux battery or 12-volt panel adapter. The water-resistant unit operates under damp conditions. Suggested Retail Price: $392. Contact: ICOM America, (800) 426-7983, www.icomamerica.com.
Sporty’s Handheld Radios: My Sporty’s combo broadcast and aircraft frequency radio is on all day, tuned to the Apple Valley Airport Unicom. I listen to my favorite oldies-but-goodies music station, and when there’s activity on the Unicom, it switches to that frequency. There are a large number of handheld radios of every type—navcom and/or aviation frequencies—and to make it easy to choose, Sporty’s has listed a number of them on a detailed chart on its Website. We highly recommend a visit to access the company’s handheld-radio directory. Suggested Retail Price: $99 and up. Contact: Sporty’s, (800) SPORTYS, www.sportys.com/pilotshop/pages/transceiver.cfm.
Vertex VXA-220 Pro VI: This new, small handheld transceiver is stylish, solid and waterproof. The Pro VI provides communication over the International Aircraft Communication Band and will receive on the Navigation Band. The unit provides 700 mW of clean audio output and supplies 8.33-kHz synthesizer steps for the soon-to-appear narrow-band channels. The Pro will monitor NOAA weather band. The unit’s large memory includes 150 memory channels and 100 book memory channels. Suggested Retail Price: $189. Contact: Vertex Standard, (714) 827-7600, www.vertexstandard.com.
ARINC eFlyBook: As the system grows, so does the amount of paper, charts and documents needed to make the flight. All pilots recognize how difficult it is to keep this paperwork organized and ready, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, these papers are usually needed when stress in the cockpit is at its highest. There’s a solution: charts and documents can be inputted into the eFlybook and then retrieved when needed. The unit weighs only 13.7 ounces and has an 8.1-inch electronic display “page.” This allows pilots to store en route charts, terminal procedures, approach and departure plates and airport diagrams. Pilots can now update their charts via CD-ROM. Suggested Retail Price: $1,499. Contact: ARINC, (888) 406-7388, www.eflybook.com.
Flight Guide: This little, brown airport-data book has been the pilot’s best friend for many years. Flight Guides are the nation’s leading VFR airport and frequency manuals. There are different editions available for the part of the country where you do your flying. Airguide Publishers are also online with the latest changes on up-to-date airport information. Now pilots using tablet PCs or IPACs can maintain their airport database with last-minute changes before any flight. Combining your Flight Guide with a GPS will certainly make your flight planning much faster, more accurate and far easier. Suggested Retail Price: $39 and up. Contact: Airguide Publications, (800) 359-3591, www.flightguide.com.
WingX Premiere Edition: This full-featured preflight software runs on Pocket PC devices and is about the size of a pack of cigarettes. Among other things, the software provides DUATS weather breafing and flight-planning access; weight-and-balance calculations (for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft); FAA airport and facilities directory; route planner with wind calculator; NACO approach plate viewer; airport diagrams with Safe Taxi warning; and weather data. An expiration feature allows you to keep track of your currency status, most recent BFR, charts, insurance and inspection status. Clever and time-saving features include a pop-up menu of predefined values. Suggested Retail Price: $129. Contact: Hilton Software, (866) 42-WINGX, www.hiltonsoftware.com.
Personal Locator Beacon
ACR Electronics AeroFix 406: If you’re forced down in remote terrain, all you have to do is push a button on this new GPS-driven personal locator beacon, and it’ll turn a disaster into a found-and-saved situation. The unit will send out not only your coordinates, but also your personal identifier code through the SARSAT system. This alerts the SAR (search and rescue) that you need help immediately. Your location and ID are in the system within three short minutes. In 2006 alone, 272 people were located and saved by the SARSAT system. With its holster, this waterproof unit weighs only 12 ounces and is the size of a cell phone. Suggested Retail Price: $500. Contact: ACR Electronics Inc., (800) 432-0227, www.acrelectronics.com.
Portable GPS Units
AvMap EKP IV Pro: This advanced GPS navigator is an upgrade to the popular GeoPilot Plus. The original unit could be used for navigation in the air and, with appropriate surface-mapping software, on the ground. The unit has a clear and easy-to-read display of 5.6 inches. The upgraded Pro also has three preset search-and-rescue flight patterns that can be selected at the push of a key. The Pro can also access Tele Atlas Street Data. This unit is a natural for law-enforcement departments and any other organization that’s in the business of searching in the air or on the ground. Suggested Retail Price: $1,999. Contact: AvMap Navigation, (800) 363-2627, www.avmap.us.
Garmin 496 GPS: Pilots thought the Garmin 396 was outstanding until they started using the new 496. Besides the normal duties of any advanced GPS, you can view your position on taxiways of the 650 airports that have been preloaded into the database. You can access the AOPA Airport Directory to look up rental cars, FBOs, local restaurants, local lodging and even local attractions. The 496 displays your flight route over contour terrain mapping, with alerts if you wander into danger. You also can add high-resolution weather with a subscription to XM WX Satellite Weather. Weather info includes NEXRAD, METARS, TAFs and even TFRs. When you add a Garmin Mode 5 transponder, the 496 will even alert you to surrounding traffic. Suggested Retail Price: $2,395. Contact: Garmin, (913) 397-8200, www.garmin.com.
Lowrance Airmap 2000 C GPS: This product won “Best Product of the Year” at 2007 EAA AirVenture. This GPS has a large, five-inch diagonal, 256-color TFT display. It features a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels. The cold cathode screen is backlit for nighttime viewing with fast refresh rates. The display has color-coded topographic terrain along with airspace and terrain features that show airspace, tower obstruction, imminent terrain and projected flight-path course line. It has a 12-parallel-channel GPS/WAAS receiver with fast, precise tracking. The unit offers a built-in antenna and remote amplifying. It displays positioning, altitude and velocity. It has an easy-to-access nearest-airport readout. Power is supplied by four AA batteries in the unit, or via the power receptacle on the instrument panel. This is a versatile GPS unit. Suggested Retail Price: $685. Contact: Lowrance, (800) 324-1356, www.lowrance.com.
AVCOMM AC 950 ANR Headset: The platinum series AC 950 utilizes AVCOMM’s ANR technology in a new design. The unit has patented ANR circuits for noise reduction. The mic also uses a special muff for controlling cockpit noise during transmissions. The headset electronics are powered with a nine-volt battery pack that’s recharged via the power outlet on the instrument panel. An audio switch controls the stereo/mono sound, and each ear has an independent volume control. Two sets of ear seals come with the unit—one gel and the other a special premium foam. The unit fits into its custom burgundy bag and has a full five-year warranty. Suggested Retail Price: $534. Contact: AVCOMM/FLITELite, (877) 579-8853, www.flitelite.com.
Beyerdynamic HS 600 DANR Headset: This German firm produces custom-crafted headsets that can be individually tailored to the customer’s specifications. The pilot creates his or her own set using a list of available technical features. You can choose the type of headband pad, ear pads or the configuration of the metal parts of the headset. Your personal information or company logos can be laser-engraved on the headband clip, making your headset creation absolutely unique. The HS 600 DANR is the latest top-of-the-line model to be released. The HS 600 has the latest generation of Digital Adaptive Noise Reduction attenuation. Suggested Retail Price: $899. Contact: beyerdynamic, (800) 293-4463, www.beyerdynamic.com.
Bose X Headset: You’ll experience superb comfort and clearer sound when you wear this new headset. The Bose X has full-spectrum noise reduction that assures the pilot of a clearer sound. Bose uses proprietary acoustic technologies that have long been favored by professional pilots. Its special circuits provide extra-long battery life. The headset feels great from takeoff to landing, hours later, because of the controlled clamping pressure exerted on your head and ears. The lightweight headband is made of magnesium. Suggested Retail Price: $995. Contact: Bose, (800) 999-2673, www.bose.com.
David Clark X-11 Headset: The new X-11 follows a long line of popular, working headsets for pilot professionals. The X-11 features low-force, dual-hinge suspension that provides optimum articulation and personalized fit. The sets are lightweight and feature a headband fabricated from genuine carbon fiber for strength and durability. The ear pads are left-/right-contoured with gel-filled ear seals. The set features stereo audio with individual volume controls, which are mono/stereo switchable. The control unit uses two AA batteries. The X-11 has cell phone and music inputs. The mic has dual voice coils and is noise canceling. Suggested Retail Price: $799. Contact: David Clark, (508) 751-5800, www.davidclark.com.
Lightspeed Zulu Headset: Zulu’s new ear-cup design has more total noise cancellation than ever before. There’s now a broader noise attenuation over the entire audible range. The unit is made with magnesium, stainless steel and four types of composite plastics. These provide a comfortable fit with 40% less side pressure. The headset is also tuned for audiophiles and musicians who demand the highest clarity and fidelity. The Bluetooth feature allows the Zulu to hitch up wirelessly to your cell phone, MP3 player or any compatible device. Audio engineers have combined the higher resonances of magnesium and the damping qualities of plastics to provide a quiet experience. Suggested Retail Price: $850. Contact: Lightspeed Aviation, (800) 332-2421, www.zuluseries.com.
Peltor 7000 Pro Headset: The new Peltor Pro 7000 offers a professional-quality set at entry-level costs. New Peltor gel air seals make these headsets comfortable and quiet in the nosiest cockpits. There’s a single dual-action volume control that provides individual ear balance and volume. The mic boom can be used on either the right or left side. The stainless-steel headband is wide and softly padded for all-day comfort. Suggested Retail Price: $229. Contact: Peltor, (317) 692-6582, www.peltor.se.
Sennheiser Electronics Model 460 Headset: The new HMEC 460 was designed for use in prop and turboprop aircraft. The unit has a silver, brushed surface giving it an exclusive and premium-class look. The headband has extra padding along with extremely soft ear pads. The headset has a very low contact pressure (8.0 N) and it also features built-in sockets for multimedia applications. It’s wired with a 3.5 mm audio-in socket to connect MP3 players; a 2.5 mm socket allows you to plug in your cell phone. The noise-guard circuit uses two AA batteries or can be powered from an instrument-panel power socket. The unit comes with a custom-designed carrying case, owner’s manual and a wind and pop screen. Suggested Retail Price: $789. Contact: Sennheiser Electronics, (860) 434-9190, www.sennheiserusa.com.
Sigtronics S-58 Headset: The S-58 comes in three models, S-58H for helicopter, S-58S for stereo and the standard S-58 for monaural. Among the features are a great look, comfort ear seals, headbands and RFI/EMI immune electronic circuits for clear, quiet transmissions. The set is available in adult and child sizes. Dual volume controls and a stereo/mono switch allow the pilot to fine-tune the set to his or her requirements. The helicopter version has a coiled cord and extra noise-reduction mic circuits and a single U-174-U plug. The S-58 series features 24 dB of noise reduction. It weighs in at a light 11.8 ounces. Suggested Retail Price: $237. Contact: Sigtronics, (909) 305-9399, www.sigtronics.com.
Telex Stratus 50 Digital: Telex claims that this headset is the leader for hearing protection. Telex has patented its SmartSense technology, based on digital signal processing that produces 50 dB of total noise protection. The average headset normally has about half of that. The circuit constantly samples the cockpit noise and adjusts the circuit to the unique noise signature of your aircraft. The sets also have newly designed ear cups for even more comfort. The headsets have a cell phone/MP3 adapter that allows you to plug in your cell phone and MP3 player at the same time. The mic has a special low-battery drain circuit for longer life. Suggested Retail Price: $875. Contact: Telex, (952) 884-4051, www.telex.com.