How many gadgets do ya need ?

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What aviation gadgets (like see in Sporty's magazine) does
a new student/prvt pilot really need to have/buy ?
Supposed basic at least is a headset (like DavidClark or something)
But what about all those pages of other stuff like Sporty sells ?
Like: portable gps, or portable ELT or flashlites, portable
radios, survival gear etc etc

It must get pretty expensive if a pilot gets a lot of these extra
gadgets (or maybe they are necessary or essential things )

Im only doing VFR stuff for private pilot learning and to pass test
(for now)

-- jim kenn, April 16, 2010


During daytime hours it is nice to have a printout of the FAA light gun signals (in the AIM PDF from During nighttime hours it is nice to have an LED flashlight, if only for the preflight inspection. If the rental airplane does not have a fuel sampler and cost is an issue, use a clear plastic water bottle. Beyond a headset (which you don't need if you're willing to use the hand-mike and speaker), your total cost is therefore one page of color printout (15 cents?) and $10 for the flashlight.

So, having saved $5 by not buying a standard fuel sampler, your total cost of making a trip to the beach is only $7,000 more than if you'd driven your Honda Accord.

-- Philip Greenspun, April 16, 2010

To the follow-up question below... the light gun chart is useful when an FAA examiner asks, on a checkride, what the light gun signals are. I say that I have no idea but carry the chart. I don't know anyone who has had to use the signals in a real life situation.

In an aircraft equipped with a moving-map GPS, I don't use anything for a day VFR flight other than a headset, a pencil, and a Sectional chart (to be opened if the GPS failed for some reason).

Anything else to be carried is a consequence of the terrain over which we are flying. If it is desert, I carry a lot of water. If it is super cold out, I make sure to bring my winter coat into the plane. If over the wilderness, I carry camping gear. If it is over some water, I carry life jackets. If it is crossing more than 50 nautical miles of open water (e.g., Caribbean), I will carry a handheld GPS, EPIRB, and life raft.

Most of the need for backup gear comes from flying crummy old planes in instrument conditions. Until you earn an instrument rating, this will not be a consideration for you.

-- Philip Greenspun, April 17, 2010

Ok talking about lite signals - how often does that usually come up anyways ? Does radio comm go out that much - that lite signals are really needed ? Any other realistic gadgets you carry - never mind the cost - what else are good to have/get ?

-- jim kenn, April 17, 2010

I can say this: I messed up on the radio and tuned off the sound for about 30 seconds, just when the tower cleared us to land on the crosswind leg of a patter in high wind. They fired up the light gun, in day light, to clear us to land. Yeah. At 100kn on the downwind, and not specifically looking for it, the odds of you seeing/noticing the green dot are about the same as useing thse floatation seat cushions...

-- fabio savoldelli, April 19, 2010

I've been flying for 25 years and all I have is a headset, flight bag, charts, flashlight, light gun printout, notebook and pen.

I came close to the dreaded light gun scenario as I was approaching Napa, CA (APC) in my Mooney a few years ago. My alternator failed about 40 minutes out over Stockton. I knew I'd be negative radios in about 10 minutes so I called ahead to Travis approach and had them coordinate with Napa tower to clear me to land. Then I powered everything down until I was 10 miles out, at which time I fired up COMM1 just long enough to get my landing clearance verbally from Napa tower. No muss, no fuss, no lights!

-- Joe Zuffoletto, April 25, 2010


--, July 6, 2012