Whether you’re shopping for a pilot or making a wish list for the holidays, we’ve found the best aviation products of 2015.
If you’re lucky enough to have a pilot in your life, gift-giving is a piece of cake. Aviation is one activity that has an endless supply of gear and equipment that’s necessary to accomplish everyday tasks in the air. Most student pilots stare wide-eyed at the “basics” list supplied by their flight instructor after lesson #1. Perhaps only backpacking or scuba diving can come close to featuring the same amount of gear.
Entire catalogs are devoted to pilot accessories. Those from pilot “super stores” like Aircraft Spruce and Sporty’s weigh in at several pounds. You could spend entire days looking through them and dream-listing your favorite goodies. Several companies make a great business just supplying pilots with what they need. Once you get beyond the basic charts and sunglasses, the aviation accessory world opens up to a gaping mouth of gift ideas.
But there are also scads of useless tchotchkes that are nothing more than money-drainers. For every Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), there’s some silly “Remove Before Flight” sweater or Cessna 172 beer opener. The trick is sorting through the chaff and finding the right accessories for the pilot in your life. If you’re the pilot and you’re reading this buyer’s guide, sharpen your pencil and clear your notepad because your wish list may get lengthy. Start dropping hints now, because the holidays are just around the corner. Here, we present some of our favorite useful, interesting and fun aviator gifts.
1 AKG Aviation.
Every once in a while, a legendary product comes to aviation with performance to match. AKG Aviation’s Austrian-made AV100 headset has done just that. Using Hybrid active noise cancellation that matches your changing cockpit noise environments, the AV100 is quiet and ultra-comfortable.
It comes loaded with brilliant features that make it more than just a premium headset. The cup size and shape provide a fit that remains comfortable even after long use. It features Bluetooth connectivity and an AUX input for other wired devices, along with various plug options.
Our favorite feature is the super-useful LED map light array mounted on the ear cups. In 2015, a light filter feature was added, allowing users to select red, green or white light for changing environments. The AV100 brings the elegant audio tradition borne in the recording studio to the aviation cockpit. About $1,000 from www.akg.com/aviation.
ASA has become an aviation education giant. Thousands of pilots use their Prepware apps and Test Prep books to study for and pass the FAA knowledge exams. For pilots who are in the ratings-ladder stage of their careers, your gift-giving can’t go wrong with ASA’s Test Prep Bundles. These include the popular Test Prep Books, Prepware Software Download and Prepware Online access for the ultimate in at-home learning convenience—and all of it for less than $60.
For 2015, we particularly love ASA’s new Standard Pilot Logbook in pink. It strays away from the boring and staid black or brown logbooks of the past hundred years. ASA’s pink, hardcover logbooks retain the industry-standard logging and endorsement pages, while adding a sense of flair and individuality to pilot record-keeping. Just $10.95 at www.asa2fly.com.
Maybe you want to splurge a little this holiday season. If so, look no further than Bose’s excellent A20 headset. With a legendary audio engineering pedigree, the A20 now comes in a variety of plug configurations to fit any cockpit—including helicopters. Weighing in at just 12 ounces, the A20 also offers the wire-free convenience of Bluetooth for connection to cell phones or music players. High-quality active noise reduction (ANR), comfort details like sheepskin head cushions and reduced clamping pressure make it a comfortable, beautiful and renowned headset for pilots. $1095 from www.bose.com.
4 David Clark.
The familiar blue-green of David Clark headsets has become an icon of aviation, and their H10-13.4 has become one of the best-selling headsets in the aviation industry. You can’t go wrong with any of the popular David Clark headsets, and choosing from their passive or active noise reduction (ANR, though they call theirs, “ENC”) models is tough because they’re all so good.
David Clark really hit a home run with their fantastic DC PRO-X, supra-aural (meaning “on-ear”) headset. At just 7.5 ounces and with minimal clamping and the on-ear design, it feels like you’re wearing nothing. Add the crisp, clean noise reduction, the magnesium-alloy construction, retro-design superb engineering and five-year warranty, and you won’t find a better headset. About $695 from various dealers, www.davidclarkcompany.com.
Garmin makes some of the best avionics in the business, along with the world’s top glass-cockpit products. However, none of these are exactly stocking stuffers. While you can’t miss with Garmin’s amazing G3X Touch Display Systems, those aren’t exactly “gift” items. For that, check out Garmin’s newest VIRB X and XE action cameras.
Meeting POV camera giant GoPro head-on, Garmin’s VIRB cameras capture brilliant HD, but add data recorded from sensors within the camera for speed, altitude, G-force, GPS position and more. They also wirelessly connect to compatible devices and other sensors, so you can capture even more data. Garmin’s ingenious G-Metrix system overlays gauges, tapes, graphs and other shapes onto the video display to show such things as G-force, bank and pitch angles, and speed. The latest VIRB cameras also feature multi-camera synchronization, wireless connectivity, image stabilization, 1080p/60fps resolution and connectivity to the Garmin world of remotes, sensors, watches and other devices. $399 from virb.garmin.com.
6 Dual Electronics.
With all the latest focus on ADS-B, affordability is a prime requirement. Dual Electronics just introduced their new XGPS190, featuring a WAAS GPS, dual-band (978/1090 MHz) ADS-B receiver for weather and traffic, and AHRS artificial horizon for EFB apps with synthetic vision. It connects to up to two devices via Bluetooth, and is compatible with iPad, Android and Windows devices. The internal battery lasts five hours of continuous operation, and the receiver can be charged with the included 12-30V adapter and wall charger. A non-slip pad is also included for convenience. $849.99 from gps.dualav.com.
7 HME Watch.
People love aviator watches. For some reason, the public still equates fancy watches with pilots and aviation; a holdover from the days when pilots used precision watches to time critical events in the cockpit. The HME Watch Company out of Van Nuys, Calif., set out in 1987 to offer the finest aviator watches at affordable prices, and they’ve succeeded. We love their electronic quartz men’s Citizen Skyhawk AT “BlueAngels” watch. It features a stainless-steel case, blue leather strap band, scratch-resistant mineral crystal and a dark blue dial. The watch even has an E6B bezel, a date window, chronograph and alarm function.
For a more subdued look, check out their Seiko SNA413 Flight Computer watch. It’s classy, featuring a white dial face with blue sub-dials. It also has a date window, chronograph, alarm function and E6B calculator. About $390 and $250, respectively, at www.hmewatch.com.
8 Icom America.
From the “Most Useful Gift” category comes Icom’s unbeatable A24 handheld NAV/COM radio. It’s a fistful of utility crammed with features any pilot would love. The A24 is made to be used in one hand, so it’s perfect for emergencies or cockpits that don’t have space for a panel-mount radio. It has a well labeled, large and friendly backlit keypad without gimmicky extras. The large display is easy to see and is also backlit, making it ideal at night. Navigation capability sets it apart. If you just want a backup com radio, check out Icom’s A6. Perfect as an emergency backup or main radio; every pilot should carry one. Street price about $289 and $239 from various dealers, www.icomamerica.com.
Who wouldn’t want a world-class headset? Lightspeed’s gorgeous and award-winning Zulu PFX headset offers top performance and the most advanced sound engineering in an aviation headset. What sets it apart from the rest is this headset’s ability to conform to your ears, your environment and your preferences. Lightspeed’s Streaming Quiet ANR continuously adapts to your environment, changing noise attenuation in real time. It weighs 14 ounces and uses specialized larger ear cups for greater comfort.
Another unique feature is the FlightLink app, which allows you to configure and save key audio and other settings to personal profiles. Even better, it records your cockpit communications and acts as a CVR (cockpit voice recorder). It’s a great tool for flight instruction and improving your communication. $1,175 from www.lightspeedaviation.com.
10 Pilot Communications USA.
Most people don’t know that this manufacturer quietly makes headsets for most private-branded companies. Pilot USA headsets are among the best bargains in aviation, combining world-class quality at an affordable price. Their line of both passive and ANR headsets is unmatched, with a headset for everybody.
At just $475, Pilot USA’s top-of-the-line The PA-1779T takes full advantage of military components to add an additional 18-22dB of active noise cancellation to an already super-quiet headset. It’s the only self-contained ANR headset in the industry with a rechargeable nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery and standard 110V wall charger. For passive wearers, the astounding PA-1181T is perhaps the finest passive headset on the market. It combines 24dB of noise attenuation with classy black hardware, amazing comfort, an AUX jack and separate PTT switch, all for under $200! Pilot USA’s Bluelink adapter adds Bluetooth cell phone and music to any headset. Check out www.pilot-usa.com for more info.
11 Sirius XM.
By now, most pilots have discovered the enormous benefits of using Sirius’ XM satellite services to make better decisions in the cockpit. While Sirius only markets the subscription services, pilots will still need hardware to receive the data and also a way to display it.
Garmin’s GXM 42 SiriusXM Satellite Receiver gives pilots access to the vast array of weather services provided by Sirius. The receiver—when paired with a display unit—gives pilots unprecedented access to everything from weather to fuel prices. Sirius offers various subscription plans, from their $34.99-a-month “Pilot Express” package that offers an excellent selection of core services like NEXRAD, temperatures, winds, TFRs, and much more, to their $99.99-a-month “Pilot Pro” package that includes everything imaginable, including icing, echo tops, lightning, and much more. $699 for the GXM 42 from various dealers; subscription plans from www.siriusxm.com/sxmaviation.
Sporty’s Pilot Shop has been supplying the best gear to aviators for decades. Selecting products from their vast catalog is a difficult undertaking. Their flagship product—and a useful and perfect gift—is their Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver for iPads. This simple-to-use pocket-sized wireless receiver transforms your iPad into the ultimate flight tool by providing subscription-free weather, GPS information, ADS-B traffic and backup attitude—all integrated with ForeFlight Mobile. The features list goes on, including an automatic flight data recorder.
If you’re on a tighter budget, you can’t beat Sporty’s Smith & Wesson Captain’s Flashlight. Though there are scores of LED flashlights out there, this one is made for the cockpit. Independent switches allow user to select from white or red light for night operations, and different light intensities offer the right light for in-cockpit or pre-flight operations. Lifetime warranty, AAA batteries and a 110,000-hour life make this a perfect stocking stuffer. Stratus is $899, and the Captain’s flashlight is $39.95 from www.sportys.com.
Yaesu’s 750L is a top-of-the-line handheld NAV/COM transceiver and offers many of the features of other handheld radios with the addition of a 66-channel WAAS GPS receiver. Though it doesn’t have a moving map display, the 750L’s GPS receiver provides the capability of manually entering waypoints for reliable navigation. When a waypoint is activated the navigation screen features a compass display with Bearing, Course over ground, distance and speed information. The standard NAV capabilities add VOR navigation and ILS displays for localizer and glideslope. The COM radio outputs 5 watts of power and uses a backlit display. $429 from www.yaesu.com.