Part of preparing for your flight training means making sure you have the right tools with you—whether your day’s learning session involves time in the sim, ground lessons, or a flight. Here, we assemble a representative kit that will outfit you for training, with a selection of ideas from products we’ve tested over the long term for their suitability, reliability, and durability.
Pick the right sized bag for your mission, and you’ll never lack room for what you need—nor will you be fishing around in a too-big bag for the one thing that always falls to the bottom. There are a number of great student-optimized flight bags on the market, but check out the Jeppesen Student Book Bag. With exterior pockets plus a double-zipper opening, you can use it for ground training or to take out to the airplane.
Your hearing protection begins before you get into the airplane for your first flight—by scoping out a good headset. You’ll typically want one that covers your ears for most training aircraft, and you can pick the one that matches your budget best. If you have the funds, invest in active-noise reduction (ANR), like the technology you may have used to reduce ambient noise as a passenger on a commercial flight. Here are three headsets (normal and ANR) we can recommend:
Under $200: Kore Aviation KA-1
Between $200 and $500: David Clark H10-13.4 Aviation Headset
Between $500 and $900: Lightspeed Sierra ANR Aviation Headset
One of the MVPs of the cockpit, your mobile device (whether a tablet or a decent-sized smart phone) comes in handy in such a variety of ways it’s tough to list here. Though you will want to learn how to perform critical calculations manually in order to understand the underlying concepts, later on you’ll find many apps save you time and brain space. You will find apps for flight planning, weight and balance, performance, reference, and studying for exams. Your choice of mobile device operating system (iOS or Android) determines the apps available. You’ll want an extra battery pack to back up your device for long cross-country flights.
While you may do a lot on a tablet or smartphone, pilots also find various paper references useful in the cockpit as well—and it helps to have a specialized clipboard (which pilots refer to as a kneeboard) to strap onto your leg for easy access during flight. What kind of kneeboard suits you best depends on whether you want to use it for your device or just taking notes and holding charts. But many have useful information printed on them that can be helpful in normal and emergency situations. These two from ASA made for visual flight rules (VFR) show the options available:
ASA Visual Flight (VFR) Kneeboard ASA-KB-1
ASA KB-3 VFR Trifold Kneeboard
Speaking of paper charts, you will need a few traditional tools to both help you learn the basics, and to serve as a primary reference or backup, depending on your course of instruction and how your training aircraft is equipped. In addition to the sectional and terminal area charts that show where you fly, you will also want to invest in a flight computer or E6B, and paper flight planning logs to help you pencil out your first flight plans.
One of the most critical preflight actions you’ll take is to check the quantity, quality, and grade of the fuel on board your airplane prior to flight. In order to do this, you need a fuel tester. You’ll also need a special dipstick to gauge visually the amount of fuel in many tanks (especially on high-wing airplanes). While most schools have fuel testers and the proper dipstick in the seat-back pocket in each airplane ready for you to use, it pays to carry your own fuel tester so that you’re never caught out. Sporty’s makes one called the Gats Jar that allows you to strain the fuel back into the tanks so that you need not dispose of it incorrectly.
While your own favorite sunglasses make you look cool—or just block the sun adequately for most of what you do on the ground—your needs in flight change, and you may consider equipping your eyes accordingly. You’ll also want to be aware that polarizing lenses can change colors and distort your view in the cockpit. Here are a couple of aviation-specific shades to try:
Scheyden C-130 Titanium sunglasses
Ray-Ban RB3136 Caravan sunglasses
The climate changes rapidly as you ascend into the sky—or you could fly to a destination where the weather is decidedly different from your departure airport. Yes, flying takes you places, and it pays to be prepared. For the most comfort in the cockpit, dress in layers, and be sure to pack adequate clothing (including hats and gloves as needed) for where you’re going—or if you happen to land somewhere you didn’t plan to.
Finally, you need to ensure that you’re physically fit for flight and that includes properly nourishing yourself before the flight, and making sure you have enough energy to maintain yourself during a flight. This goes double for hydration—drinking enough water or other healthy fluids before and during your flight will help keep your mind sharp and your flying at its peak. Think of yourself as an athlete preparing for an event, and you have the right idea. We like various protein or granola bars for quick, easily digestible energy during the flight—or snacks like nuts and dried fruit. A refillable water bottle can be topped off at stops along the way.