Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Headsets: The Critical Component

Defining your mission is the key to finding the right headset

Defining The Mission
Pilots talk quite a bit about “the mission,” that is, the intended and normal use of the aircraft they’re flying. Whether buying an aircraft or buying a headset, defining that mission is critical. It means carefully examining the noise environment of your particular airplane. This simple step lets you avoid the problem and expense of buying the wrong headset. Remember that headsets are a combination of a receiver (the speakers in the ear cup) and the microphone (on the end of the boom), so it’s important to select a headset that’s a combination of the right components. In my case, my “mission” is short trips in the windy open cockpit of my old biplane.

My mission dictated a PNR (passive noise reduction) headset with a higher-output electret condenser microphone. It also needed to fit securely enough to stay on my head in the wind, and have high gain (the ability to turn the volume up) so I could hear ATC over the noise. I ended up with a Pilot USA PA-1181T with an upgraded microphone and mic-muff leather covers from Oregon Aero. I also opted for upgraded ear seals, and I changed the head pad to suit my needs.

The point to take away here is that an ANR headset wasn’t right for my mission. ANR attenuates (reduces) frequencies in the lower range. That’s because scientists have discovered that the “average” GA airplane produces a low-frequency hum in the 100 Hz range. ANR headsets offer peak noise attenuation from about 70 Hz to around 150 Hz, depending on the manufacturer. While that works very well in a cockpit such as an average Cessna, Cirrus, Diamond, Piper or other makes, it doesn’t work well in an open cockpit. Open cockpits have noise in the higher frequencies as a result of wind flowing over the fuselage and wings, the bleat of the engine and wind swirling around you.

Careful attention to the noise curves supplied by manufacturers is important, as is a little education about how a headset works. By looking at the technical details and not relying strictly on marketing information, a pilot can make a better-informed decision on which headset to buy.

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