Gadgets & Gear
Welcome to the world of flying. Like any vocation or hobby, flying can bring with it lots of fun new gadgets and gear. You're likely to encounter and use all of these items at some point in your flying career.
Pilots keep a record of their flying experience in a logbook. The logbook is the pilot's primary means of showing what type of flying experiences they've had. For each flight the pilot typically records the date, type of aircraft and registration number, point of departure, destination, duration of the flight, number of landings, operating conditions (i.e., night or instrument weather), and their role (i.e., pilot in command, copilot, instructor, student pilot receiving instruction). Pilots are required to log any flight time that is needed to meet FAA minimum levels of proficiency and currency.
Headsets and Intercoms
Aircraft engines and propellers make a certain amount of noise. To protect your hearing and carry on a conversation in the cockpit with your instructor, copilot, or passengers, pilots use a headset with a boom microphone connected to an intercom. Today, most aircraft have built-in intercoms that use standardized headphone and microphone jacks. The best headsets use active noise cancellation technologies to eliminate most engine and propeller noise. When you're ready to buy your own, you can learn more by using our online buyers' guide.
E6Bs (manual and electronic)
Pilots are required to use mathematics at about an eighth grade level to calculate such things as how much fuel they'll need to complete a flight, how fast they'll be traveling over the ground given the effect of winds aloft on their airplane, and what compass heading they'll use to maintain the desired ground track. The traditional mechanical E6B or "wiz-wheel" as it's often know is really a simplified adaptation of a slide rule that never needs batteries and works every time. Modern E6Bs are electronic and work just like a handheld calculator, making your aeronautical calculations fast and easy.
Plotters and Pens
Pilots love charts. But what good is a map if you can't mark it up with your planned route of flight? Plotters are made of clear plastic and feature a special aviation ruler that lets you draw straight lines or measure distances. They also include a basic protractor for measuring course angles and bearings. Plotters come in all shapes and sizes; some even fold up to fit in your shirt pocket. Pens are used to drawn the lines on the map. Some include both a black felt tip marker on one end and a yellow highlighter on the other to help you see the route you've drawn once you're looking at the map in flight.
Pilots use a variety of basic forms to help them plan a flight, record weather information, calculate their aircraft's weight and balance, or file a flight plan with air traffic control. You can see some of these forms by visiting our online library.
Handheld Global Positioning System receivers featuring detailed moving map displays can show you where you are, where you've been, where you're going, and the airspace and terrain features around you. Many also include route planning tools and detailed information about airports and navigational aids. Use our online buyers' guide to learn more.
Many pilots like to carry a portable backup radio when flying. You can buy a transceiver that not only receives but also transmits on all the civilian aviation communications frequencies. Most handhelds also receive signals from aviation navigational aids, hence the name NAV/COM. Transceivers, or even less expensive aviation-band receivers, allow students to listen to aviation radio transmissions, which often helps them to learn the terminology more quickly.
If you end up buying even just some of the gadgets and gear shown on this page, you'll need a flight bag in which to carry it all. New pilots often buy the biggest and best flight bag they can find. After all, don't you need all this stuff with you when you fly? More experienced pilots often shed gadgets and gear until they have the time-tested basics needed for any flight and no more. That's often when they buy a much smaller flight bag that doesn't require a luggage cart to carry it from their car to the airplane.
Some airplanes have better forward visibility than others, and some pilots are more petite or shorter than others. If you find you need a bit of a boost to see over the instrument panel of your basic training aircraft, your flight school may supply you with a simple seat cushion that does the job. Or you can buy your own and take it with you from aircraft to aircraft. More modern trainers, and larger aircraft, generally offer seats that include a height adjustment capability.
Aviation flashlights come in an endless array of sizes, shapes, and capabilities. Some provide red light to protect your night vision. Some clip to the visor of your hat, your headset, or your breast pocket while some use a headband like a modern camping light. Some use traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs, but the latest generation uses multicolored LEDs that stretch battery life to almost 100 hours. Whatever kind you pick, it's always wise to have one or more flashlights when flying at night.
Pilot drain a sample of fuel from each fuel tank and the aircraft's fuel system before every flight, to verify the type of fuel being used and look for water or other contamination. Fuel strainers perform this task with protrusions that open the fuel tank drains found on most types of aircraft, collecting the fuel in a clear container. Most fuel strainers also feature a combination flat blade and Philips screwdriver at one end. Most flight schools will supply you with a basic fuel strainer when you rent their aircraft.
Hey, it happens; some new pilots (or passengers) get a little airsick as their body adapts to the new sensations of flight. This is especially true if the air is very turbulent. As the U.S. Air Force puts it, "If an upset stomach is anticipated, remove bag from this container and keep ready for use. Do not be embarrassed by this precaution as even veteran travelers are subject to occasional motion sickness."
How can you really call yourself a pilot if you don't have a nice set of cool pilot shades? Whether they're used to make spotting other aircraft through the summer haze easier, or just used for a nice afternoon of hanger flying at the local airport's picnic bench, your pilot sunglasses will let everyone within sight know that you are an accomplished pilot. They also provide important protection from UV radiation.
View Limiting Devices
By using the aircraft's instruments, pilots can learn how to fly without having to look out of the windows of the aircraft — a necessary skill to fly safely in clouds. To help you develop and practice these instrument flying skills, your instructor will use a "view limiting device" that works like a sophisticated set of horse blinders to block your view of the outside world while allowing you to see just the instrument panel. These range from large plastic hoods to simple safety glasses with a limited viewing angle.
Virtually every task you can perform with an aircraft can be guided by the safe and effective use of a printed or electronic checklist. Use of a checklist helps ensure that no key task is omitted, and that all required tasks are performed in the proper sequence. The most routine checklists used are the preflight aircraft inspection checklist, the engine start checklist, the pre-takeoff checklist, the pre-landing checklist, and the engine/aircraft shutdown checklist. You'll find all your aircraft's approved checklists in the Pilot's Operating Handbook, or as standalone products sold at many pilot supply stores.
Pilot's Operating Handbooks
Almost every aircraft in use today includes some form of Pilot's Operating Handbook, or POH for short. The POH describes all of the aircraft's basic characteristics and capabilities; standard and emergency operating procedures; equipment configuration; weight and balance information; and a description of its systems, instrumentation, navigation, and radio equipment. Technically, there is only one legal POH for each unique aircraft serial number. It is updated throughout the life of the aircraft with changes to standard and emergency operating procedures that are issued by the manufacturer, as well as to reflect changes to the aircraft's equipment configuration and weight and balance information.