5 Aviation Gifts for the Pilot in Your Life
by Crista Worthy
Looking for something special for that special pilot in your life? Perfect for any occasion, these are some ideas that they’re sure to love.
- A Satellite Tracker
Your pilot might still be flying with an old Emergency Locator Transmitter that transmits on the 121.5 megahertz frequency. These ELTs have a rather dismal activation rate of less than 25 percent in actual crashes and a 97 percent false alarm rate. Plus, they’re no longer officially monitored. The newer digital 406 MHz ELTs are more reliable and provide search and rescue personnel with specific information about you and your aircraft. But here’s an alternative: a satellite tracker.
A tracker like the Garmin inReach Explorer+ is great for use both in the cockpit and on the ground in remote areas where cell phones won’t work. If you have an emergency, push the SOS button to summon Search & Rescue; you can push the button before you make an emergency or crash landing. On the ground, the one I used proved to be accurate within 12 feet. That’s close enough! You can send text messages or pre-loaded messages like “I’m OK” or “I need help but it’s not life-threatening.” Your friends and family can monitor your position as you fly or hike. You can receive messages too. The inReach provides GPS guidance with preloaded TOPO mapping viewable directly on the color display. A built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer help with navigation.
You can also pair it with your phone via Bluetooth. The device runs $449; usage subscriptions can be annual or seasonal and run $11.95 to $99.95 a month.
Give your favorite pilot real peace of mind with HangarBot. This new security system lets you monitor your hangar 24/7 from just about anywhere. View motion-activated snapshots of your hangar anytime, download security footage and get real-time alerts when the hangar door opens or closes. You can remotely turn your engine block heater on or off; automatically set your hangar to heat or cool at certain temperatures; set up notifications for events like the door opening or closing, movement or a plane arriving; and if it’s raining you can open the door while you’re still in your airplane so you can taxi in without getting wet — as with your garage door at home.
- Hand-Held Radio
A hand-held radio can be a real lifesaver. We’ve needed ours in the airplane to communicate with air traffic control on at least half a dozen flights when we have had radio, alternator or battery malfunctions. You simply hold the radio up to your mike, talk and voila! You’re not NORDO anymore! What a relief. I also enjoy setting the radio nearby — when I’m waxing or working on my airplane — to listen to local communications. iCom is the standard-bearer, and the A25 comes in two versions: the A25N adds navigation functions. These VOR nav functions can be useful if you have multiple instrument failures, $499.99 to $549.99.
- A Headset
What pilot wouldn’t love a new headset? At Oshkosh, I tried them all and my favorite was the David Clark Model DC Pro-X, with Hybrid Electronic Noise-Cancelling technology, Bluetooth compatibility and a rest-on-ear design. This headset is smaller and lighter than most others, but it still does a great job keeping things quiet. At $695, it’s far less expensive than some competing competing models.
- A Seaplane Rating
Take it from someone who has one: There is nothing more fun in flying than getting a seaplane rating. You get your Biennial Flight Review (BFR) covered for two years and you can make a vacation out of it. There are many wonderful schools, but I’ll pick two at opposite ends of the country. Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, FL, is one of the best and most respected seaplane training outfits in the industry, and it’s a great winter destination. Choose to train in a Piper J3 Cub, a Super Cub, or a Maule M-7 for $1,600 to $$2,600, which covers 1.5 hours of ground instruction, five hours of dual instruction, the check ride and the examiner’s fee. Alaska Float Ratings (where I got my rating) is located in southern Alaska, about 30 miles north of Seward in tiny Moose Pass. You’ll land on glacial lakes — of many different shades of turquoise — with different conditions. The lakes are sequestered 5,000 feet below the surrounding mountains, so you’ll get a mountain flying course as well, and they have cabins just steps away from the dock. The price ranges from $2,499 to $3,499 with lodging and fom $2,299 to $2,999 without it.