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Aviation Gifts that Take Flight

Top picks for pilots and aviation enthusiasts this holiday season.

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If you’re on the lookout for gifts suitable for pilots, mechanics, or aviation enthusiasts, the vast selection available can be overwhelming. [Adobe Stock/Yakobchuk Olena]

Have you begun your holiday shopping? If you’re on the lookout for gifts suitable for pilots, mechanics, or aviation enthusiasts, the vast selection available can be overwhelming. We took on the challenge, navigating the cyber crowds to explore offerings from various pilot and aerospace supply companies. Discover what’s “hot” this holiday season as we present insights from mechanics, technicians, pilots, and enthusiasts on their wish lists.

The Classics: Headsets, Gear bags, and Watches

A Good Headset

Many pilots begin their training by renting a headset from the FBO or borrowing a hand-me-down from another pilot. If you’d like to give that pilot a headset of their own, there are plenty from which to choose.

The David Clark Company (the headsets with the distinctive green ear cups) has been protecting pilots for decades. The model H10-30 is still a beginning pilot favorite, and at less than $400 it does the job. On the higher end, you’ll find their automatic noise reduction models available from $745 to $895.

The two most popular ANR headsets on the market are the Bose A30 and Lightspeed Delta Zulu. Both will set you back about $1,200, which isn’t cheap, but both are aviation safety wearables, and most pilots will tell you they are comfortable, even on long flights.The Lightspeed also features a built-in carbon monoxide detector. The Bose and Lightspeed headsets also come with protective cases.

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Pilot Gear Bags

They come in many shapes, sizes, and materials, but all have the same job—to hold the pilot’s supplies. You can find them in man-made fabrics that resist tearing and are relatively easy to repair, as well as in leather. The bag should be large enough to hold a headset, kneeboard, iPad, notepad, water bottle, writing implements, E6-B flight computer, and anything else your pilot needs or carries with them on flights.

Look for a bag with multiple pockets and compartments to keep the pilot organized. Some bags come with specially designed spaces for personal electronic devices. Some are designed to be carried with a shoulder strap like a duffle bag, while others are backpacks. Some are a hybrid of the two.

Prices start around $75 and go up from there. Companies that carry them include ASA, Sporty’s, and Flight Outfitters.

Pro tip: Look for a bag that has a reinforced bottom or corners because it’s going to be put down on cement ramps. You may also see if there is an option for monogramming. Most of the bags are black and tend to look alike, so do what you can to set your aviator’s gear apart from the rest.

Flight Jacket

A flight jacket may become a pilot’s most prized possession and often a family heirloom. Fabric jackets such as the nylon MA-1 with its baseball styling is an aviation classic and available for around $90. The interior of the jacket is come-find-me-now orange, which could come in handy if the wearer has an unscheduled off-airport landing and needs to be spotted from the air.

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The leather jackets, notably an A-2 look-alike from a department store will run you about $140, while an A-2 military spec flight jacket from companies that specialize in them (Sporty’s Pilot Shop, U.S. Wings) starts at about $250. The jackets with the sheepskin lining are considerably more, $930 and up for the real thing.

Pro tip: When it comes to the flight jacket, always order one size up from what the person usually wears. That way they will be able to layer it in the winter.

Watches

There is a running joke that you can always tell a pilot by the size of their watch, but that has morphed into that you can tell if someone is a pilot because they wear a wristwatch rather than use their cellphone as a time-check device. The higher-end watches, like the Breitling designs, sell for $2,000 and up, and are beautiful chronographs. They are often worn by military demonstration teams.

Garmin D2 varieties continue to be popular. The Garmin D2 can help you check weather, monitor your vital signs, navigate via GPS, and when paired with your smartphone, take and make calls and send texts.

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The Garmin D2 Mach 1 Pro does all these things and more, and has a built-in LED flashlight with white light, strobe, and red light for flight deck operations. For the sports minded, it has multiple functions to keep your training on track. The Garmin watches sell for $500 to $1,399.

For women, the Abingdon Co. continues to produce beautiful aviation-inspired timepieces (the bezel doubles as a flight computer) that look good on a slightly smaller wrist. Designed for women by a woman, they start at $485 and go up from there. This year, the Abingdon WASP watch to honor the Women Airforce Service Pilots is creating a lot of buzz in aviation circles.

Hand-held Radios

There is a reason that so many pilot gear bags come with a pocket specifically designed to carry an aviation radio. It is a good item to have, providing a pilot with a backup should the aircraft’s radio fail in flight and providing a flight instructor the means to monitor a learner’s first solo flight from the ramp.

Sporty’s PJ2+ Com ($249) is a popular unit this year. If you would rather go with ICOM, expect to pay $269.95 to $579.95.

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Pro tip: Remove the batteries from the device if it won’t be used for a while. This keeps it from going critical and corroding.

Oil Dipstick Remover

It’s  one of those gifts most pilots don’t think to get for themselves, but there will come a time when everyone needs one. Usually this is after someone with gorilla-like strength has put the oil cap back on and tightened it with such force that you would think it insulted their parentage. Instead of wrestling with the recalcitrant cap or using a tool not designed for this purpose, resulting in damage to both the tool and cap, reach for the specialty tool.

From Aircraft Spruce: $13.95

Flashlights

Aviation flashlights with multiple-colored lenses are always appreciated. Some are designed to clip on to something so they can be angled. Some are so bright they can turn night into day. Some have the ability to strobe. Expect to pay around $12.95 to $99.95 for one, depending on the size and options you choose. Don’t forget to include batteries.

Screwdrivers

Screwdriver sets, Phillips or flathead or those with replaceable bits or with a magnet or claw tip, are always appreciated, as they tend to grow legs. Brass screwdrivers that can be used to swing a compass are particularly valued by avionics technicians.

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Aircraft Spruce has a selection available.

Tool Supplier Gift Cards

Because most mechanics are very particular about their tools, going with a gift card from their favorite tool supplier, such as Snap-on or Matco, is always in good taste.

Time Gift Certificates

If the flight school or FBO allows it, put some money on account for your aviator to use toward their training. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Pilots who are doing all sorts of things to economize, such as living off of ramen and hot dogs so they have more money to pay for flying, will appreciate this. Caveat: Before you do this, check to see if the flight school has an administrative fee for money on account. If the learner has to drop out of training for a time, it is very discouraging to learn that $300 that was put on their account has been eaten up by administrative fees. This is not uncommon when the school is known for questionable business practices.

Aviation Supply Gift Cards

You can’t go wrong with a gift certificate, as this allows the person to make their own selection, be it apparel, book, model, fuel strainer, or even parts for the airplane they are building in the hangar. They might even use it toward the purchase of an online ground school.

Go for the Whimsy

For the more fanciful gifts, Sporty’s has its Wright Bros. Collection. Colorful and comprehensive, it is a good resource for history buffs looking for that perfect gift from the dawn of aviation to the space program. You’ll find T-shirts, artwork, models, and books, and you’ll find a nice selection of holiday decorations as well, including the inflatable Santa in an airplane and the aviator nutcracker.

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There are gifts of nearly every size and at every price point for the aviator or enthusiast in your life. With a little thought and a little searching, you should be able to find something that is just right. 

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