Aviation is resplendent with items that can make great presents for the pilot or flying aficionado. We share a few of our favorite ideas with you – especially if you find yourself shopping at the last minute.
Most flight schools offer these introductory flights as a means of attracting new clientele. The flight is usually about 20 minutes to half an hour, and the client, under the watchful guidance of a flight instructor, gets to fly the airplane. Some flight schools offer discounts around the holidays—the $99 discovery flight is very popular. Gift certificates for discovery flights are also an option.
If you purchase one of these flights, make sure to ask what type of airplane is used for the intro flight. Oftentimes,the flight school will use the aircraft in its fleet with the lowest operating cost—such as a Cessna 150—which can limit the size of the person taken on the flight. Do not be surprised if the school asks for the height and weight of the client, as there are fewer things more disappointing than going to the airport expecting to fly and finding out it is not possible because the holder of the gift certificate cannot fit in the aircraft. Cost: $99 and up.
Nothing says “I love you” like block hours of aircraft rental at an FBO or flight school. Many schools offer a block rate for training, so take advantage of this and put money on the pilot’s account.
Block hours are not just for aircraft—there are some FBOs that have AATDs (advanced aviation training devices) that allow customers to book block time in them as well. The latter is greatly appreciated in the winter months, when flyable days become the exception rather than the rule. Cost: $200 to $1,000.
You probably know someone who is or soon will be interviewing at the airlines or an FBO for a pilot job. Help them dress the part with an aviation-themed tie. Keep it classy, keep it understated. You might even want to get them two: one with images of World War II warbirds or vintage GA aircraft and one with jets. Ties like these can be just the right accessory for an aviation-related job interview or a holiday party. Cost: $25 and up.
An aviation flashlight with multiple colored bulbs—red, green, white—is always appreciated. You can never have too many. Be on the lookout for flashlights that have a clip that allows them to be attached to a collar or shoulder harness for hands-free operation. Another option is the flashlight with a magnetic base or a rotating head that allows the beam to be targeted hands-free in a specific location—these are especially appreciated during maintenance operations. You get bonus points if you include a pack of batteries with the flashlight. Cost: $10 to $80.
Flight jackets and pilots go hand in hand. At the lower end of the financial scale are the cotton and nylon blends in the MA-1 and A-2 styles. They come in a variety of colors ranging from traditional military colors (olive, blue, and black) to the more fashionable options of pink and maroon. Some are preloaded with “mission patches” while others leave plenty of blank space so your aviator can add his or her own.
Leather jackets are more expensive. Keep in mind the classic World War II styles, such as the A-2, B-15, and B-3, run smaller by modern standards, so you may want to buy a size up from what the person usually wears. If you purchase the jacket second hand and it smells a little “vintage,” you can refresh it by placing the jacket in an airtight plastic bag along with fresh-scent dryer sheets. Leave the jacket in the bag for about a week to dispel any odors. Vintage leather jackets are more expensive and, depending on the age, more delicate—keep this in mind if you are looking for a jacket that will be worn. Cost: $55 to $1,200.
Aviation Spark Plug Holder
If you are shopping for an aviation mechanic or owner who maintains their aircraft, consider an aviation spark plug holder as a gift. Working on an aircraft engine is a precise task and having a spark plug holder makes it that much easier. Gift certificates to aviation tool supply companies are also appreciated. Cost: $35 to $100.
Hot Wings Runway Playset
For the younger aviation fan—and the young at heart—there are all sorts of aircraft toys on the market.
Die-cast metal toys are particularly popular, especially for CFIs who use them as teaching tools. The Hot Wings company makes several play sets that range from individual aircraft with a piece of foam rubber “runway” all the way up to a hangar and control tower with runway and ramp extensions. Cost: $11 to $30.
Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk Watch
A wristwatch has been synonymous with aviation since the 1920s. Pocket watches just weren’t terribly practical in open-cockpit aircraft because they could be dropped too easily. In addition, the watch had to have a large face (because you’re reading it as you bounce around the cockpit) and large buttons and knobs that would allow you to make adjustments while wearing flight gloves. If you’re looking for a modern pilot watch for a gift, consider the Citizen Promaster Blue Angels Skyhawk A-T.
This watch features a stainless-steel case chronograph, perpetual calendar, dual time zones, alarms, a countdown timer, a digital backlight and UTC display, and power reserve. This watch utilizes Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology, which means it is powered by light; therefore, it never needs a battery. The watch also has a pilot’s rotating E6B-style slide rule bezel. This model appears in a stainless-steel case and bracelet. The dial features the colors and the insignia of the Blue Angels, the Navy precision flight demonstration team. Cost: $600 to $750.
Flight/ Gear Bags
Pilots always need a gear bag. Find one that fits your pilot’s needs, or get this as a gift for yourself. Do you need a place to put an iPad? Do you need one with two headset pockets? Washable bags made from nylon or another fabric are wonderful because they are easy to keep clean. The more expensive leather bags look more professional, though, and they tend to be more durable. The bags can also be personalized with a monogram.
It’s not uncommon for pilots to have multiple gear bags—you may one day find that you have more than you need. Suggestion: If this is you, consider donating that extra gear bag to your local foster care system. The children who are in foster care often lack luggage, and when they are moved from place to place, they are frequently forced to carry their belongings in trash bags. These kids already feel disposable—think what it could do for their self-esteem to have a gently used nylon gear bag to carry their belongings. Cost: $20 to $250.
Collectible aviation tree ornaments are very popular. Each year, Sporty’s Pilot Shop has a new design—this year it is an Ercoupe, celebrating the classic single.
Hallmark has been in the game for decades as well—expect to see a Republic RC-3 Seabee from them. For models from past years, search eBay and Amazon. Cost: $19 to $35 (more for past years).
Pivot EFB Mounts
Pivot makes several mounts to hold electronic flight bags (EFBs). These devices provide both instrument protection and make for a neater cockpit. These devices are easy to install and remove with a universal mounting system so upgrading or exchanging devices is quick and simple. Cost: $150.
Aloha Pilot Shirts
In the spirit of “aloha,” or affection and fellowship in Hawaiian, Pilot Quarters recently released a series of polo, casual, and camp shirts suitable for pilots sharing the joy of flying. Within the Hawaii Collection, sectional charts from the islands are screened onto cloth in a variety of colors and routes. Men’s, women’s, and youth sizes and styles are available. Cost: $48 to $75.
This article was originally published in the December 2022/January 2023 Issue 933 of FLYING.