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Top 14 Pilot Essentials




Are you a budding pilot looking to make sure you have all the necessary tools and gear for a successful flight? With so many items on the market, it can be overwhelming to know what is truly essential for a pilot.


Pilots are responsible for the safety and smooth operation of aircraft, making it crucial for them to have the right equipment at all times. Whether you are a student pilot or a seasoned aviator, having the right essentials can make all the difference in ensuring a successful and safe flight.


When it comes to flying, there are certain items that pilots should always have on hand to ensure preparedness for any situation. From navigation tools to emergency supplies, these essentials can help pilots navigate the skies with confidence and peace of mind.


Here's a guide to the top 14 pilot essentials that every aviator should have in their arsenal.



Certifications

It is necessary for a pilot in command (PIC) to have their pilot certificate, government-issued photo ID (driver's license or passport), and current medical certificate on hand. In the event of being inspected on the ramp (ramp check), it's important to keep these items together in a location that's easy to locate.



Headset

Having a high-quality headset is crucial for communicating with ATC and other planes, as well as safeguarding your ears. Ensure that the headset is fit for your needs and that there is a solid bond between the ear cups and your ears. Make sure that the headset you select is appropriate for the aircraft you're flying.


If you have a headset such as a Bose that has noise cancelling, remember to always carry extra batteries.


If you are still a student pilot or do not have a headset, don't go out and buy a headset that is over $1,000. Shop around first. Most large pilot supply shops (Aircraft Spruce, Sportys, etc.) have a lot of different headsets on display for you to look at and try on.


TIP: When shopping around for a headset, bring a pair of sunglasses you plan on wearing while flying. Ensure that the sunglasses and headset are both comfortable to wear.


A couple of good headset brands that are reasonable priced are:

  • David Clark

  • Lightspeed


The whole point is to save money, start out with a reasonable price headset, then after a few years or you are starting to become a flight instructor and or working towards your ATP, then upgrade to a more expensive one.



Non-polarized Sunglasses

Since sunglasses were mentioned earlier, let's revisit them. Pilot essentials should include sunglasses as a major component. Sunglasses are a great way to protect your eyes from glare and any strains.


Key TIP: Select sunglasses that are not polarized. Why? Because polarized lenses can destroy depth perception and make the screens of glass cockpit aircraft black and unreadable.


Purchase an inexpensive pair of non-polarized sunglasses, as mentioned earlier, and make sure they are comfortable with your headset.



iPad/Knee Board

If you're into technology and want to go electronic, having an iPad with all the necessary apps for sectional charts, approach plates, and other things is a must. Paper backups are carried by some pilots, including myself, as a precaution. This is something I strongly advise pilots to consider. Paper backups don't break if accidentally dropped on the ramp, or if they run out of battery or become overheated in the sun.


  • Tidbit of advice, my iPad has overheated twice and both times I’ve had to pull out my paper back up.


It is highly recommended to have a kneeboard with paper and writing utensils (pen and pencil). So you can easily and quickly write down weather information, ATC/taxi instruction, etc. Remember to care a few extra pens or pencils in your flight bag, in case one breaks, or gets lost.



Portable Charger and Cords

When it comes to using an iPad, it's crucial to have a portable charger to charge your iPad or phone. Ensure that you have additional charging cables for your devices and that they can be adapted to the airplane. If you're renting an airplane, each one is unique in that some may still have the old cigarette light while others may have USB ports.

 


Fuel Tester

The preflight walk around of the aircraft includes a major inspection of the fuel sump. It's recommended to have your own aviation fuel tester in your flight bag. A fuel tester should be kept in the airplane at all times, but if you are renting an airplane, you never know if the tester has grown legs and run off.

 


Flashlight and a Headlamp

Visually, it assists you during your preflight inspection. In addition, having the ability to read sectional charts and anything you need to record during flight operations.


Carry a good LED flashlight that has the ability to switch between white, red, and perhaps blue light. LED lights last longer than incandescent bulbs, so you do not have to worry about carrying extra lightbulbs in case one burns out. Remember to always carry extra batteries.


Headlamps can be useful in the cockpit for a hands-free option during emergencies. Make sure to choose a headlamp with multiple colored lights. For preflight inspections, use the white light for a clear view of the aircraft's interior and exterior. During flight, switch to the red light for reading sectional charts, approach plates, taxi diagrams, and note-taking.



Multi-tool / Knife

It is recommended that pilots carry a multi-tool, which offers a variety of helpful functions while in the air. Having a multi-tool readily available in your flight bag guarantees that you are equipped for any unforeseen circumstances that may call for tools such as pliers or a screwdriver. Make sure your multi-tool includes a knife, or you can choose to carry one separately.

 


Snacks and Extra Water

Hydration and proper fueling with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats are vital for your health. Lack of food and water can hinder your cognitive and decision-making skills while increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. It's a good idea to carry extra water, electrolytes, and nutrient-dense travel-friendly snacks during your flights; it doesn't have to be a five-course meal.


The Aviation Dietitian Nutritionist and student pilot Alexis Elliott-Stabler, RDN, LD, has a well-put-together list of healthy snacks and drinks to help ensure that you will never fear losing your FAA medical. You can check out her healthy aviation food and other fueling ideas on her Instagram page: @fly_high_nutrition.


  • It's crucial to prioritize hydration during hot summer flights by adding electrolytes. This is especially true for those flying in and around desert areas or hot humid areas. Consider carrying extra water plus electrolytes as a precautionary measure in an emergency.


  • Remember to pack additional ice packs for hot days when flying. In addition to keeping your water cool, they can also be utilized to lower your body temperature by placing them on your chest and neck in case of an emergency landing in a desert.


Be careful when opening packages and bottles at altitude, as pressure changes can result in explosive decompression of food and beverage containers. This is especially significant when embarking on flights that could last for a few hours.



Two-way Handheld Radio

Although aircraft are equipped with onboard radios and communication is essential, there is always a risk of encountering a radio failure. It is advisable to carry a backup handheld radio in your flight bag as a precaution. Additionally, activating pilot-controlled lighting systems can be helpful when flying at night.


Flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) may not pose significant issues, but flying in Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) conditions without a functioning radio can be dangerous. While the FAA mandates that pilots must know emergency light gun signals, it can be challenging to see these signals if the tower has sunshades down. In such cases, utilizing a handheld radio to communicate intentions to the tower may be more effective.



Other Optional Essentials

Small Overnight Bag

It is wise to pack a small overnight bag with a change of clothes and a toothbrush, weighing less than 10 pounds. Unexpected circumstances like maintenance problems or weather delays can occur while flying, preventing you from reaching home or your destination.


We recommend that you stay comfortable and relaxed while showing everyone that you are an aviator with one of our performance t-shirts: Link

 

Gloves

It is a good idea to carry gloves. During the winter, you should keep your hands warm when flying. They might also be useful for your pre-flight examination. The dipstick might get extremely hot to the touch when checking the oil level. The aircraft's skin may get extremely hot to the touch, even in the sweltering summer heat.

 

Tie Down Straps & Chocks

A personalized pair of tie-down straps is a nice thing to take care of. You don't want to land at an airport after business hours and discover that there are no tie down straps at all, or worse, only one or two. This is especially true after a cross-country flight. It is not advisable to disembark from the aircraft without securing it. Your plane might be completely gone from where you left it the previous evening, or it might have flipped over due to strong winds or a passing storm. Particularly in regions that are always vulnerable to powerful storms or tornadoes.


Carrying a pair of chocks of your own. Most airports don't keep extra chocks on hand. It could be necessary for you to park the aircraft at an area with a slight slope.



Small Survival Kit

For long cross-country flights, it is recommended to bring a small survival kit in addition to an overnight bag. It doesn't need to be a complete campsite setup, just the ten basic essentials. A few of them are:

  • Sun protection

  • First aid Kit

  • Fire starter (lighter, matches, etc.)

  • The full List of the ten essentials can be found online or at REI.com


Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind depending on the season. During hot summer days, make sure to bring extra water to stay hydrated and cool. In winter, consider packing a thick blanket or space blanket to stay warm.


TIP: As a pilot, carrying paper backups of sectional charts can serve multiple purposes in case of an emergency landing. They can be used as a window shade to block out the sun, and in extreme situations, they can even be used as a fire starter to start a small campfire.





Ready to Gear Up?

Having the right pilot essentials is crucial for a safe and successful flight. From navigation tools to emergency supplies, each item plays a vital role in the overall operation. By investing in quality gear and staying organized, pilots can ensure a smooth and efficient journey. Remember, preparedness is key when it comes to aviation. So, equip yourself with these top 12 pilot essentials and soar through the skies with confidence.


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