This is the first in a multi-part series on flight gear.
Well, the weather and my work schedule have not been conducive to flying in Colorado lately. Mostly, it’s the winds. The Aero Club has really sissy rues about wind limits, but I guess safety is cool, blah blah blah. But fear not, I’ll be back in the airplane on Thursday-Friday-Saturday for as many hours as my instructor can handle. In the interim, I wanted to talk about the gear that you’ll need if you want to get your PPL.
This unfortunately is required. You are required to communicate with the instructor sitting next to you and with any and all Air Traffic Control that you encounter. To do that you need a headset. Depending on how loud your aircraft is in flight, you could just scream at your instructor. But that’s (arguably) a bad plan. Also, as someone who has already lost 42% of his low frequency hearing due to 13 years of B-52 engines screaming through three layers of hearing protection, you really want to keep your hearing as long as you can. Some aircraft come equipped with these microphones that you talk into like a CB radio from a 70s trucker B movie (something like Smokey and the Bandit or Convoy, did you see those flicks? They were pretty cool). But those systems, frankly, suck. So get a headset. You might not need to if your flight school rents them. Is it cheaper to rent the common-use headset? Hells yes. At the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center it only costs $1 per flight to rent a headset, so that means it would only cost maybe $50 to complete your PPL. Compare that to $500 to buy a cheap headset and there is no question that renting is cheaper. However, you’ll have to ask yourself if you want to keep wearing something that gets passed around to other people’s heads and ears and mouths. Also, in my experience the common-use headset is not only a petri-dish of zombie virus infecting nightmares, it also is uncomfortable and probably doesn’t work very well. If it did work, it wouldn’t be a common-use headset. It might just be better (and more sanitary) to just buy one. The problem is these things do NOT come cheap.
Let’s look at some headsets:
David Clark (www.davidclark.com)
You just can’t go wrong with Dave. IMHO, they are the industry standard. Good noise protection, excellent clarity, sturdy and tough. Comfortable, customizable, dependable, and their customer service is top shelf. If your headset breaks, sent it back to them and they are supposed to then call you and tell you what’s wrong and how much it will be to fix it. That’s what they advertise, but in reality, they just fix it and sent it back to you at no charge. I think that David Clark rocks. The Active Noise Reduction model uses a 9 volt battery and the battery life is pretty good (mine last on average 50-100 hours of ANR time) but it doesn’t have a battery meter so you don’t know if it’s low or not, so pack a spare. Dave’s stuff is not the most expensive, and most of their models don’t come with all the bells and whistles that you can get in other headsets. Are they the best out there? No. But they are the best value. That’s why when you go into a military cockpit anywhere around the world, there’s a better than average chance that the entire crew is wearing David Clark. If you want one, the H10-30 is their best seller and is a proven product. I’ve used one for years and I know it’s going to work for me all the time. I use the gel ear cups and the improved head cushion.
I’m not talking about the wave radio that everyone sees on late night infomercials between the ShamWow and the Ab Cruncher. Bose also makes aviation headsets. Bose is top shelf, in everything including price (this bad boy will set you back a grand). It has great noise protection, all the goodies that you’d want, and they look cool too. Bose also sports dual volume control, so you can have one ear louder than the other (if you want something like that). It uses 2 AA batteries for the ANR and it does come equipped with a meter so you know the life on the batteries. The life is not as good as anyone else (<50 hours per set of batteries). My only issue with Bose is that the hardware is too fragile. I’ve broken 2 of them right where the headbar connects to the ear cups. Now granted, I’m pretty hard on my gear and I didn’t keep it in its protective case (I just tossed it in my helmet bag) but still… fragile. Their customer service is also awesome, they replaced both sets that I’ve broken at no cost. I had the A20 model and it is the cat’s meow. If you have the money to burn, then you want a Bose with the bluetooth and the noise reduction and the AUX input. But most of us don’t have a grand to blow on a headset… (the two that I had were issued to me by the USAF).
Right now I use a FlightCom Military E-13 ANR (Active Noise Reduction). I must say that I am impressed with the FlightCom. They run cheaper than the David Clark and the Bose which is probably why my squadron changed over to them. But so far, it is every bit as good as either one. The FlightCom I got came with a velcro circle on each ear to connect a headset light to it. The little LED light was included and came with red and green filters (the red is for night flying, the green is for Night Vision). The batteries on the E-13 are also AA and they last way longer than anyone else. I got more than 100 hours out of this set and they are still going. The FlightCom headset I got also came with a few more extras than my stock David Clark. I got the cell phone input (cool) and the AUX input (wicked cool) to plug in my cell phone and music to the noise reduction controller. When the music is playing and someone transmits over the radio, it automatically cuts out the music until the transmission is complete, then the music comes back. Now if you’re asking why I was using my cell phone in an airplane in violation of FAA and FCC regulation, well, let’s not dwell on these points.
All the previous headsets are headsets that I have had the pleasure of using with the concurrence of Uncle Sam (i.e., they were issued to me by the military). That wasn’t going to work for Nicole. She went with the Telex Stratus 50 Digital. This thing runs a whopping 50db noise reduction (the best I’ve ever heard of). It also has the AUX input and dual volume controls and is the first one I’ve seen that also has a power cord that plugs into the airplane so you don;t run your battery on long cross country flights. That’s cool. The battery life on the other’s noise reduction kinda just sneaks up on you, meaning, it’s long enough to let you forget that you use batteries but short enough to screw you when you’re on final. Nic’s issues with the Telex are these: Because of the wicked ear cups that give you unparalleled noise protection it starts to hurt your head after 90 minutes or so. Also it came equipped with something like a 40 foot cable. Ok i’m being facetious here, but for real, that cord is LONG (insert Top Gun joke here). Not sure why you need a 6 to 9 foot cord when you sit 18 inches from the port. She ends up stuffing it in the side pocket and then tripping over it trying to get out of the seat.
So, in summary, these are all good headsets and i would recommend any of them. It really only depends on how much money you want to spend and what kind of goodies you want on them.
|Company||Type||dB Reduction||ANR||Aux Input||Price|
|David Clark||H10-30||22 dB||20 dB||No||$800|
|Bose||A20||20 dB||20 dB||Yes||$995|
|FlightCom||E-13||22 dB||18 dB||Yes||$500|
|Telex||Stratus 50d||29 dB||21 dB||Yes||$700|
The last thing about headsets. If you’re a military flyer like me and you want to use your military issue headset in a General Aviation aircraft then take note of this stuff. Your headset has a single connector. When you get to your General Aviation (GA) aircraft, you’ll see that it needs a 2 input headset. You can get an adapter to turn your 1 prong into a 2 prong, but BE CAREFUL. Ensure that the adapter you get is for a MILITARY to GA. Don’t get spoofed by any common 1 to 2 prong adapter that was made for helicopters. Just about all helicopters (Military and GA) are 1 pronggers. A helicopter adapter won’t work for a military headset.
(This paragraph is for nerds) Military headsets carry a low impedance microphone while GA headsets use high impedance microphones. It’s the impedance of the microphones that is the issue. If you have a one prong helicopter headset, the mic is already high impedance, so the adapter doesn’t change the impedance, it only converts the signal from 1 connector to 2 connectors. The military converter, not only converts from 1 connector to 2, it also adjusts the impedance of the microphone so the GA aircraft will recognize it.
If you bought an adapter and when you get to the aircraft, you can hear everything but no one can hear you talk, you got the wrong adapter. This one works for me. It’s the MG-14 and it costs $65 at Marv Golden’s Pilot Shop.
Leave your comments on any headset issues you have had or any question you have and I’ll try and help you out as best I can.
DISCLAIMER: *I was not financially compensated for this post. I did not receive any samples for review purposes, I purchased them myself online or was issued them by the USAF. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience. Please don’t sue me.*