Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Headsets: The Critical Component

Defining your mission is the key to finding the right headset

On a recent cross-country on a busy day in the skies above California, I got a firsthand look into the importance of a good headset, and how a headset that’s good in one airplane might be completely wrong in another. I was in the rear seat while the airplane’s owner was handling the radio. She was wearing a name-brand, top-of-the-line headset. Every time she would transmit to make initial contact, ATC would invariably ask her to repeat herself. “Ahh, is that one fife mike lima?” they would ask a third time, as if we had spoken gibberish, “And say again type air-
craft?” My friend would then patiently answer in her clearest voice, “No, it’s one niner mike kilo and it’s a Decathlon-type bravo lima eight.” Eventually, they would get it right, and it would start again at the next handoff.

This was an example of the wrong headset in the wrong airplane. The headset she wore sounded fantastic in most airplanes. It has ANR (active noise reduction) and an excellent microphone, albeit one that was designed for quieter cockpits. Decathlons (like Super Cubs and many other airplanes) are particularly noisy in the cabin. They have an abundance of two things: a loud, low-frequency hum and a great amount of high-frequency noise from air flowing over the boxy fuselage. The fuselage also acts like a guitar body, amplifying the noise. It’s a very unique cockpit environment. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

My friend’s expensive headset—with the unprotected microphone designed for average GA cockpits—was transmitting all the aircraft noise in the cabin. It wasn’t a problem with the headset; it was just the wrong environment for that particular one. I wore my less expensive, passive headset that I wear in open cockpits. I selected that particular headset and tweaked it until it gave the best results possible in that loud environment. It was a simple example of picking the right tool for the job. Mine is a headset tailored to a particular environment.

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