Do you have a pilot in the family? Maybe a special someone who is a high flier? Or is your Secret Santa recipient an aviator? Maybe you’re a pilot who needs a good way to show someone what you want for Christmas… Regardless of which category you belong to, this post is for you.
The holidays are a great time for pilots to expand their aviation gear whether it is through receiving gifts or taking advantage of holiday sales and specials themselves… I moved into the “I have everything I could possibly want, let along need,” category of aviators a few years ago. So now that I don’t really “need” anything myself, I figured I’d share some helpful advice for holiday shoppers out there with a pilot on their list! So, here are 4 things, some of which I’ve received as gifts, that any pilot would enjoy receiving as a holiday gift!
- The easy & inexpensive, every pilot uses one option: An aviation red/white flashlight (roughly $40)
A flashlight is an absolute must for any pilot. Some pilots may elect not to do a lot of night flying, so they don’t need a flashlight, right? WRONG!
Prior to each flight every pilot completes a preflight inspection to make sure their craft is ready to go. After all, in the history of aviation, we’ve never left one up there… It’s important to make sure that we stay up there as long as we’d like to, and we come back to the ground on our terms! A flashlight allows pilots to explore their aircraft better, especially during nighttime preflight inspections, but also during daytime preflight inspections.
Some pilots elect to carry cheap flashlights that can be found on the end cap of registers at home improvement stores. This option is perfectly acceptable, a flash light is a flash light. But, this also opens up a good opportunity for YOU as a gift giver to give your pilot a gift they will appreciate and actually use!
My flashlight of choice is the Smith & Wesson Captain’s Flashlight, you can read more about that from a previous post I wrote here on ReviewBeforeFlight too!
- The intermediate cost & fun gift: A flight bag (anywhere from $40-$150)
A flight bag is always a great gift option when you’re charged with gifting to an aviator. The reason for this is because there is no perfect flight bag… It simply doesn’t exist. There are a variety of really good ones, but none are perfect. Each and every pilot has a different set of circumstances and needs. As a result, bag manufacturers produce bags designed to accommodate as many of these needs as possible, this allows them to sell a lot of bags which are good, but none are perfect.
Some day I’ll design my own flight bag. But, even then I’m not sure it would be perfect because the next day I’d probably buy something new I’d want to carry with me when I go flying and suddenly the perfect bag wouldn’t be perfect any more… The main takeaway here for you as the “gifter” is not to worry about the bag being perfect, “it ain’t gonna happen…” But you can give a rockstar level gift if you them a cool one!
Before ordering any old flight bag though, there are a couple of points to consider… What kind of bag does your pilot use now? Does it seem too big? Too small? What does the pilot use the most from their flight bag when you accompany them on a flight?
As a rule of thumb, remember there are three broad categories of flight bags (my theory). There are small bags, medium bags and large bags… Innovate, huh? But seriously, small bags are headset bag, they are designed to hold a pilot’s headset and a few other things they may need (charts, pens, handheld radio, etc…). These bags can also be good for aircraft owners who leave their headsets in their aircraft too, because they can use the smaller sized bag to carry the items they bring home from the aircraft, without having a wasted headset pouch on a larger bag… My favorite one of these bags recently received a refresh from Sporty’s Pilot Shop and is back on the market. You can read my review of the original Sporty’s CFI bag HERE and you can see the current version available from Sporty’s HERE.
Medium bags allow for the carrying of a headset or two, a handheld radio, and some additional supplies. This is probably the most common among private pilots and there are a lot of options out there. The flight bag I currently use falls into this category, you can read about “The Antoine” by Lightspeed Aviation HERE.
Unless your pilot carries a bunch of stuff with them and brings things other than flying “stuff” with them when they go flying, I’d avoid large flight bags. These bags are common during training because they allow for a student to carry all of their gear for flying plus their course materials (books, notes, etc…). After training is completed carrying a bag this large is often overkill and should be avoided. My advice when gifting is to stick with small and medium size flight bags. Many pilots will be able to incorporate these types of flight bags into their flying without difficultly and almost always they will enjoy the refresh to their gear!
- The one thing EVERY pilot could use: A ForeFlight subscription
If your special pilot owns an iPhone or iPad, the easy, go to gift is a ForeFlight subscription. The only issue with a ForeFlight subscription is that your pilot most likely already has it… If they don’t already have ForeFlight, then hook it up and consider yourself as having given them the greatest gift in their life… The capabilities of the ForeFlight app are truly impressive and as someone who experienced (and taught) flight planning and flying both before and with ForeFlight, I’m willing to say they helped to accelerate a revolution in improving the ease and safety of flying over the past few years.
Plus, the folks at ForeFlight are great people, check out this annual treat I look forward to each year, they know how to enjoy he holiday and spread the Christmas spirit & holiday cheer!
ForeFlight is an amazing application. The basic subscription ($74.99/yr), this provides visual and instrument charts along with a variety of flight planning tools and more information than you could imagine. You can think of ForeFlight as combining all of the applicable information a pilot will need for planning or executing a flight into one place. Pilots often take this for granted now, but 10 years ago it was a gigantic effort to collect all of the information from a variety of written, online and phone sources. ForeFlight provides all of this information, and more, in an easy to use, well organized single location!
The advanced subscription ($149.99), which costs a little more, provides even greater features, such as geo-referenced approach plates (showing a pilot where they are specifically when they are flying an instrument approach in the clouds) and a weight and balance calculator, plus more! Either plan can also include a $20 synthetic vision add-on, which does exactly what it sounds like, provides a view outside of the airplane on the screen of an iPad!
I have used ForeFlight for many years as a pilot and flight instructor. I firmly believe that every pilot should use the ForeFlight app. You can learn more about the app on their website.
- The all-in, knock their socks off gift: An aviation headset (prices range from $99-$1,200)
Every time a pilot flies they will use a headset, aside from the pilots of some old classic aircraft that are still operating without a radio. Chances are though; your pilot flies a more modern aircraft that has a radio installed. This means that a headset is something your pilot will use quite a bit. A headset is like a wristwatch, constantly used, yet under appreciated for the amount of use and dependability it provides.
Depending on the budget you’re working with and the amount of flying your pilot does, there are some headsets that are better than others. For the casual flier or student pilot the David Clark 10-13.4 is the way to go. The prices are not usually published but you should be able to find a new one for anywhere from $275 to $350. The product is bulletproof and will continue to work longer than you’d ever expect. David Clark is an outstanding organization based in Worcester, MA and if you ever have an issue and reach out to them, they WILL help you. I used a David Clark for the first 10 years of my flying life from student pilot, though all of my training, and for a couple years of flight instructing. My “DCs” never let me down and when I moved on to a more expensive active noise cancelling headset, my David Clarks became the headset of my friends and family when I took them flying.
If you’re looking to spend a little more money and get your pilot a set of active noise cancelling headsets, I highly recommend the Lightspeed products. Noise canceling headsets are great for flight instructors and pilots who frequently fly long trips, spending many hours at a time in the airplane. You wouldn’t expect it but at the end of a long trip or at the conclusion of a long day of flight instructing, there is noticeable difference depending on the type of headsets a pilot uses. Pilot who use active noise canceling headsets will be far less fatigued than those who use passive noise canceling headsets. The David Clark headset I mentioned before is a passive noise canceling type. A passive noise canceling headset reduces noise by blocking a pilot’s ears, active noise canceling headsets employ a technology to offset the ambient noise from the aircraft. I used a pair of Lightspeed Zulu headphones for five years now and they have proven to be dependable, reliable and continue to be extremely comfortable. You can see their full product line HERE and read what I had to say about headsets in a prior post HERE.
All of these items are available from various sources, but only Sporty’s will send you a free cockpit poster with your order, a extra gift!
-Fly Safe, @MTElia1B9