Looking through the aviation catalogs you can quickly be overwhelmed by the choices of pilot equipment and gear. In Sporty's Pilot Shop catalog, for example, there are two pages of logbook options and half a page of logbook covers and cases. What's a pilot to do?
When I first started taking flying lessons, I gobbled up at least one of everything. If one plotter was good, a second one was better and a mechanical measuring implement was needed. I had a standard E6B but then felt I needed a circular slide rule version. Sectionals were fine, but I also needed airport guides and all kinds of whiz wheels that showed landing pattern procedures, holding procedure entries and weight and balance calculations.
Many of the choices today didn't exist when I was training. Flight bags were hard sided and the choice was how wide you wanted it based on how many Jepp Manuals you needed to accommodate. None of us had headsets, handheld navcoms hadn't been invented and the GPS wasn't even a gleam in anyone's eye. Today, the choices are myriad.
If I'm typical, then pilots go through phases in terms of the equipment and gadgets they need or want. And of course it depends on what type of flying they're doing. There are going to be differences in what resides in the bag of an instrument pilot compared to a VFR pilot. What a pilot totes back and forth to the airport is going to differ if he's a renter or an owner. Initially, I think, we all feel we have to have one of everything, but eventually we learn what we really need and what's excess baggage.
We thought it might be interesting to see what pilots are carrying in their flight bags and whether the selections have changed over the years. We contacted Sporty's for help and John Zimmerman, Sporty's vice president of the catalog division, volunteered. Here's what he found.
Flight BagsIt seems that the size and type of flight bag that a pilot orders depends on where they are in their ratings. Students, Zimmerman found, often need big ones to live out of and cram full of textbooks and the FARs. On the other hand, an owner may not need nearly as much capacity.
"We see many pilots go through three or four different types and sizes as they progress, from big to small (or none) back to bigger." Zimmerman admitted to having two flight bags of his own. "One is what I need when I'm flying my airplane and the other is packed and ready in case someone comes along and asks me to fly a DC-3 to Africa. If so, I can pick up and go."
According to Sporty's records, the core bags are still the soft-sided nylon bags. At the same time, sales of the traditional airline captain's case, the hard-sided leather bag that sometimes has wheels and a handle, have faded away.
Maybe it's a fashion statement, he said, but, "a very hot trend these days is the soft-sided leather pilot bags. In terms of size, the full-size bags are our best sellers."
HeadsetsA big change from the time I started flying has been the growing popularity of headsets, first passive and, more recently, active noise reduction headsets. According to Zimmerman, "The most important trend we see is the steady rise in the popularity of ANR headsets, which have reshaped the category in terms of price, performance and manufacturers. Sales of inexpensive as well as expensive ANR headsets are growing." So far the trend is toward an increasing percentage of ANR headsets and eventually ANRs will become the dominant, although not exclusive, style. Many of the passive headsets are bought by beginners and students. Part of the attraction of the ANR headsets, in addition to hearing protection, is that the prices are coming down. A popular option, particularly for ANR headsets, is a cell phone/music interface.
"The in-the-ear (ITE) products are an exciting new development," Zimmerman added, "but right now, they're a niche market. Although we've been surprised by how popular they've been, they're not for everyone. So far, it's a small percentage of headsets sold but as this technology matures, I think they'll gain a strong foothold."