Pilots love gear. Even if you're a minimalist at heart, aviation lends itself to lots of equipment. I've heard flying likened to backpacking or cycling, with its plethora of gadgets and doohickeys. But in truth, aviation does require a number of essential items, whether you're a sport pilot or fighter pilot. A look in any pilot gear catalog will quickly generate a wish list that's at least a few items long, and much more if we were to be honest with ourselves. While we may not really need that "pattern heading computer," the fact is that a great pair of sunglasses, a solid flight bag, the right headset for your cockpit and certain emergency items are essential things that every pilot needs.
Once you've been flying for a while, your personal preferences start to emerge, and you become much more selective about what you use in the cockpit. By then, each pilot's own "flying style" has come through, and their flight bag contents reflect the way they fly. Some are purists at heart, and they carry an E6-B (I still carry a manual one), a portable GPS, a good LED flashlight, a handheld radio and a good kneeboard. Newer pilots will likely have an iPad/tablet holder of some kind, a PLB or satellite communication device, a GoPro or VIRB, and an external GPS device like a Stratus. Both kinds of pilots accomplish what they need to do, but they go about it in a different way.
Mix in holiday gift giving, and you have what seems to be an endless list of goodies to consider giving the pilot in your life (or to yourself). It's good, then, that for every "remove before flight" item of clothing, there are also items that a pilot must have to be safe and prepared. The fun is in going through the almost endless list of what those items are. We at Plane & Pilot have tried to separate the wheat from the chaff, and present to you our 2014 Holiday Gift Guide of the best and most useful gear for aviators.
1 Bose A20 Headset. Classic items, once created, don't change much. Such is the case with the Bose headset, setting a standard in aviation since Bose developed their famous "X" headset for pilots in 1998. Consistently rated number one by pilots, Bose's A20 is lightweight, durable, solid to the touch and one of the quietest headsets out there. Perfect for advanced closed-cockpit environments, the Bluetooth-equipped headset uses a number of proprietary technologies to achieve a quiet and great-sounding headset. Price: $1,095 MSRP from various aviation dealers, www.bose.com.
2 iWatch By Apple. Available early 2015, the iWatch could impact the world like the iPad did on its release. It will be interesting to see how aviation integrates with the iWatch, but it's a remarkable device regardless. iWatch combines a series of remarkable feats of engineering into a singular, entirely new experience. You interact with it through a digital crown, which is a multifunctional input device that lets you zoom, scroll and select, much like the click wheels on the iPod. It comes in three styles and two sizes, and features Apple's stunning Retina display. Look for aviation apps to follow soon. Price: Starting at $349, www.apple.com.
3 Custom Airplane Model. This is always a favorite. If there's an airplane in your life that you have an affinity for—whether you own one, flew one or just dream of one—then a custom model of it will put a smile on your face like a butcher's dog. These models are handcrafted from fine mahogany, with smooth finishes that rival the originals'. The detail is exquisite, and they can be used for anything from ground school to professional decorations. Of late, more and more dealers seem to be cropping up, so a quick Internet search will yield many hits. Some of the more popular ones are Factory Direct Models, Custom Air Models and Scalecraft. Price: $150-$300 for most GA aircraft.
4 Icom IC-A24 Handheld Radio. This has to be one of the handiest devices in aviation. There are countless uses for it, and its convenience is unmatched. Aside from using it as an emergency backup device in case of primary radio failure, we've used the IC-A24 to direct maneuvers and photo flights from the ground, for pilot-pilot communication in crowded, busy airspace, for advisories to other aircraft and scores of other uses. Simple one-handed operation, a well-labeled, large keypad, clear display and durable construction make this a winner. Price: $599 MSRP and ranges around $300 from several dealers, www.icomamerica.com.
5 Viban IFR Hood. IFR hoods seem to be as personal as undergarments. Field use has shown, though, that many of the frosted IFR hoods create a disturbing glare that interferes with your vision. Also, many traditional hoods are like torture devices when it comes to comfort. Enter Viban. An absurdly lightweight and comfortable IFR device, Viban's IFR hood is more like a pair of sunglasses. Price: $39.99 with free shipping, www.viban.com.
6 Seaplane Rating At Jack Brown's. There's a reason all pilots with a seaplane rating will tell you it's the most fun they've ever had flying—because it is. A joyous exercise of stick-and-rudder skill combined with the best of boating and water sports, earning your seaplane rating can be done in a long weekend. It qualifies as a BFR, too. Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Fla., is one of the best and most respected seaplane training outfits in the industry, and you'll be flying cheery Piper Cubs on floats. Price: About $1,400, www.brownsseaplane.com.
7 DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator. From the "most innovative" category comes the insanely useful inReach Explorer. Pilots, hikers, boaters and adventurers of every ilk can navigate, create waypoints, log trips and reach help in an emergency. With an inReach device, pilots can send and receive text messages or trigger an SOS from anywhere on Earth using satellites instead of cell phone signals. This rugged handheld device offers 100% global coverage from Iridium. You can also pair it with your mobile device to access topographic maps and U.S. NOAA charts. Price: $379.95, www.inreachdelorme.com.
8 DJI Phantom Quadcopter. It's mind-blowing to consider how much UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles or "drones") have changed our lives. From roof inspections to search-and-rescue, drones have allowed people to do things that only manned helicopters could do just a couple of years ago. Leading the charge is DJI with their line of stable, powerful and innovative quadcopters. If you've never tried your hand at flying one of these remote-controlled wonders, you'll be amazed. The applications are limited only by your imagination, and with the addition of a gimbal-mounted GoPro, you can channel your inner filmmaker. Price: $499-$1,229, store.dji.com.
9 ASA FAR/AIM 2015. ASA's combination of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is considered the best aviation resource. This book contains complete and up-to-date information from Titles 14 and 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 and 49 CFR) pertinent to General Aviation, combined with the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) and a free email subscription service for you to receive updated information as it's released by the FAA. This version also contains Security Administration (TSA) rules, the Pilot/Controller Glossary, NASA Aviation Safety Reporting Form, all the FARs and 1,136 pages of aviation information, all in a convenient 6x9-inch handbook format. Price: $17.95, www.asa2fly.com.
10 David Clark Pro-X Headset. What pilot doesn't want a new headset? The company hit a huge home run with their DC Pro-X, which remains one of the quietest, lightest and most unique headsets in aviation. David Clark is still manufacturing their venerable and proven H10-13.4—one of the best-selling headsets in aviation—and their popular passive noise reduction H10 line. As pilots frequently post on forums and blogs, "You can't go wrong with a David Clark." Price: Pro-X: $695, www.davidclarkcompany.com.
11 Bahamas And Caribbean Pilot's Guide. For the first time, this popular guide has been split into two different books, each covering one region. Known as the island flying "bible" for over 30 years, pilots rely on these guides for information they need to fly the islands. Updated annually, the Pilot's Guides are packed full of procedures, customs and immigration information, phone numbers, frequencies, fuel availability, aerial photos, forms and more to help you plan and enjoy your trip. Sixty airports dot 700 of the most amazing islands on the planet. Having used this guide ourselves, we can tell you it's a must-have and a welcome addition for flying the most aviation-friendly paradise on Earth—the Bahamas. Price: $34.95, www.pilotpub.com.
12 Iridium Go! Satellite Connection. This compact, rugged and portable unit creates a reliable global connection for voice and data communications on up to five smartphones or tablets. Simply flip up the integrated antenna, and the battery-powered unit connects quickly and automatically to the Iridium LEO satellite constellation to create an anywhere Wi-Fi hotspot. You can make voice calls, upload or download data, or connect to the Internet from anywhere on Earth. And, it fits in your pocket. Price: $875 + subscription plan (approximately $900/year), www.iridium.com.
13 Sporty's Stratus. The award-winning Stratus turns your iPad into the ultimate pilot tool, delivering subscription-free weather, ADS-B traffic, GPS position and attitude information—all from a wireless receiver that fits in your pocket. Stratus includes a complete Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) for backup attitude information in the cockpit. It also features a dual-band ADS-B receiver to display traffic information right on the ForeFlight Maps page. Price: $899, www.sportys.com.
14 AO Pilot Sunglasses. For pilots, sunglasses are almost a survival item due to the dangers of ultraviolet light at altitude. American Optical (AO) comes to the rescue with these classic sunglasses. In 1958, the Flight Goggle 58—now known as the Original Pilot Sunglass—was produced for the U.S. military to provide pilots with maximum protection and comfort. They've since become a favorite with the military flight crews they're issued to. These were carried to the moon aboard Apollo 11, and are in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The AO Original Pilot sunglasses are still being manufactured in the AO complex in Southbridge, Mass. Price: About $75 from various dealers, www.aoeyewear.com.
15 Brightline Bags. Who knew flight bags could be so flexible and modular? From a sheer engineering perspective, Brightline has designed one of the most ingenious bag systems in the world. Their line of flight bags is a "something for every pilot" sort of offering, with an enormous selection of right-sized bags. Their original award-winning B7 Flight Bag remains their best, with enough pockets, compartments and add-ons to enable anything from a jaunt in the pattern to a multi-year Mars mission. Four different bags can be built with the included parts of the B7. Price: $199, www.brightlinebags.com.
16 Flight Of Passage. Every once in a while, an aviation book comes along that stays with you forever. This is one of those. Written in beautiful narrative style by Rinker Buck, the book chronicles his and his brother's adventure restoring a Piper Cub in their barn and flying it across the United States in 1964—when they were just 15 and 17 years old. More than that, it's a touching tale of their relationship with their overbearing father who himself was an accomplished aviator during the barnstorming era of the 1930s. Once you start reading, you won't be able to put it down. Price: $17.95, www.amazon.com.
17 Hendricks 9G-Plus Kneeboard. Many beginning pilots find that the huge kneeboards sold in lots of pilot catalogs (with all the tips and formulas printed on them) aren't useful in the real-life world of aviation. Still, many of us love the convenience of being able to jot down clearances and weather on a compact kneeboard. Originally designed for military fighter pilots, civilians are discovering the amazing little 9G kneeboard. With enough connectors for rings, extra checklists and other accessories, the 9G has a super-tight clip on it and a clear strap that will keep it on your knee, even during heavy aerobatics. Price: $54.95 MSRP from various dealers.
18 Tailwheel Training from Budd Davisson. Have you ever had the desire to master tailwheel aircraft? It's no secret that the coolest aircraft around all have the little wheel under the tail. It's a myth that they're difficult to master, and learning to land a tailwheel aircraft is one of the most rewarding feelings in aviation. Combine that training with time in the two-hole Pitts S-2A, and you've got a great way to do a BFR or just to make yourself a better pilot—all with aviation guru Budd Davisson in the instructor's seat, with more than 43 years' experience and 5,500 hour of instruction given. Price: Varies, www.airbum.com.
19 SPOT Tracker. In addition to serving as a PLB (personal locator beacon) in emergencies, the SPOT has the added attraction of tracking your flights to allow posting them on social media, or recording them for training or record keeping. This little device uses satellites to track your position at fixed intervals and works anywhere on the planet. Though it was designed for hikers, it has become a favorite among pilots, both for emergencies and to bring their flights to life for others. In an emergency, you just press a button, and your position is sent to a network of search-and-rescue teams. Price: Several models from $99.95 plus subscription service plan, www.findmespot.com.
20 Pilot USA Recording Adapters. Pilot USA quietly makes some of the best headsets in the world, along with a better selection of adapters than anybody else. Recording audio from your flight used to be a complicated endeavor, with a myriad of extenders and adapters. Pilot USA has created specialized modular adapters so you can record cockpit audio directly to cell phones, tablets, MP3 devices, GoPro and VIRB cameras, laptops and just about anything else. Price: Starting at $46, www.pilot-usa.com.
21 GoPro Hero4. The GoPro point-of-view (POV) camera has revolutionized aviation. Flight schools use it to review students' flights, and pilots use it to film their adventures all over the globe. GoPro has released their newest camera, the Hero4. It features ultra-high-resolution, high frame rate 4K30; 2.7K50 and 1080p120 video; along with improved image quality and a two times more powerful processor. The Hero4 brings more powerful audio with a "ProTune" feature, a new screen that can adjust ISO and other camera settings, and a new entry-level model at $129. Price: Models range up to $499 MSRP, www.gopro.com.
22 Sennheiser S1 Headsets. Sennheiser's S1 family of headsets includes something for every type of pilot. All three feature innovative design, real attention to detail and maximum noise attenuation. The flagship S1 Digital headset allows pilots to sample their environment in real time to customize noise attenuation at that moment. Designed in partnership with BMW Group Designworks USA, the S1 includes a special eyeglass zone, treble boost control, adjustable contact pressure and full Bluetooth wireless control. Price: About $1,000 from several dealers, www.sennheiser.com.
23 Lightspeed Zulu PFX. A headset that lets you customize its sound, the PFX comes with its own app (called FlightLink), which allows you to record your flights, set preferences and control advanced features in the headset. Great performance, a "techno-industrial" design ethic and a five-year warranty make this premium headset a top choice for a lot of professional pilots. Price: $1,100, www.lightspeedaviation.com.
24 Patty Wagstaff Aerobatic School. There's no question that learning the finery and precision of aerobatics will make you a better pilot. And, if you're going to learn aerobatics, why not learn from one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world? With a slew of awards and accolades, Patty Wagstaff is one of today's premier aerobatic performers and instructors, with a flight school located in St. Augustine, Fla. She's also a regular columnist here at Plane & Pilot. Price: Varies, www.pattywagstaff.com.
25 Quiet Technologies Halo. This innovative headset is an in-ear model that weighs less than an ounce. The headset requires no batteries and comes in a portable zip case that fits anywhere. Price: $359, www.quiettechnologies.com.