Certain developments in aviation–including all-metal aircraft construction, jet power, and GPS navigation–have been game-changers for efficiency and comfort in air travel. Today, the advances tend to be incremental and relatively modest. However, there are still many accessories that can make flying easier for private pilots, often by helping with flight planning or reducing their workload while aloft.
New gadgets and improved versions of older ones arrive on the market regularly, and even for those who tend to shy away from new things, many of these products are worth a look. In some cases, you might wonder how you got by without them.
The following list includes items that I have integrated into my flying routine or plan to try out soon.
Garmin D2 Air Aviation Smartwatch
Using this device is like taking your favorite sports-tracking watch and adding vital aviation features like a horizontal-situation-indicator display, airport information, and direct navigation from a worldwide database. Tired of listening to that scratchy AWOS recording? The same information can be available on your wrist. Not flying today? You can still use the watch to track your run, swim, or other workout while providing background music from your playlists. $499, Sporty’s Pilot Shop
Yaesu FTA-450L Handheld Transceiver
Pilots often seem to “give in” and buy handheld radios after years of holding out. Maybe that’s because manufacturers keep adding features and improving their performance. It could also be that eventually, after flying long enough, many pilots experience radio failures and the queasy, stranded feeling that comes with them. There are also times at the airport when you need to contact other aircraft after stepping away from your own airplane. And a handheld is great if you fly gliders or antique aircraft that do not have built-in communications equipment. $249, Marv Golden Pilot Supplies
Dual Electronics XHUD1000 Head-Up Display
Almost any accessory that reduces the amount of time a pilot spends looking down at instruments, charts, and iPads is worth a second look. The XHUD1000 projects flight information onto a folding screen that can be adjusted for angle and distance. In one of its modes settings, it displays altitude, airspeed, attitude, bank angle, and compass heading. Another shows ADS-B traffic information on a radar-style background while a third mode displays graphics from apps on a smartphone or tablet. $549.99, Aircraft Spruce
ASA CX-3 Digital Flight Computer
From the folks who brought you the old-school aluminum, slide-rule style E6-B flight computer comes an electronic version that is easier and less intimidating to use. Pilots can use the device to calculate true airspeed, fuel burn, crosswind components, center of gravity, and other factors. Its menus are laid out in general flight plan order to ease the planning process. The CX-3 retains settings and data from previous entries, and its memory can be backed up. Like its analog predecessor, the CX-3 can be used during FAA exams. $109.95, Amazon.
CruzTools Pilot’s Tool Kit
I recently watched a flying friend fish through his pocket, looking for a dime to use as a screwdriver for loosening hatch fasteners on his airplane. Other coins are too thick. A tool kit designed with aging GA airplanes in mind is a more elegant solution. The CruzTools version includes numerous wrenches, a 6-in-1 screwdriver, cutters, tire gauge, telescoping mirror, a socket that fits most aviation spark plugs and 30 feet of aviation-grade safety wire. While most aircraft maintenance requires a qualified mechanic, sometimes pilots have to make repairs in a pinch, far from the FBO. $89.95, MyPilotStore
Nelson Yoke-Mounted Chart Clip
One of the simplest aviation accessories on the market, a good yoke clip can relieve stress in the cockpit, especially for those of us who try to keep charts loose on our laps or clipped into an overloaded kneeboard. Even with all of the electronic aids available to pilots, many of us still carry paper charts, flight planning notes, lists of radio frequencies, and other bits of “hard copy” while flying. Clips like this one help spread these items out for easier viewing. $12.75, PilotShop