Gear: Top TEN Things Every Pilot Needs

By Ian Robinson | Industry

Feb 13

Tried and True: Top TEN things that every pilot needs.

Some of the most succesful aviators that I know use these essentials on daily basis. If you are a creature of the sky, you should give these products a try - and hey, with free returns, why wouldn't you? 

**If you are a struggling aviator and need justification to drop more money on gear? Just remember that you WILL eventually need these items so why not start enjoying them earlier on in your career?**

#1 The Shades

Serengeti lenses provide technicolor sensations of warmth and are ideal for flying because they enhance both colors and contrast. These shades are IMPERATIVE during marginal weather conditions and have saved our lives numerous times. They are non-polarized so they will not conflict with digital display systems. Keep a pair in your flight bag at all times and when the horizon gets difficult to see, slide these babies on and enjoy the relief that you'll feel when you make it home safely. 

#2 The iPad Mini

The world of the paperless cockpit is here and THANK GOODNESS. Sure there are other tablets out there but consider this, if you are headed to a part 135 operator, chances are high that they are using iPad with ForeFlight subscriptions. If you are considering on working for the airlines, ForeFlight has a Jeppesen Publications so you can get used to their format for briefing the approach plates.  We recommend getting an iPad with 128GB for optimal speed performance in the cockpit. Cellular-enabled iPads allow you to see your aircraft location as it is GPS enabled. A data plan is NOT required for the GPS feature to work. 

Necessary items to go along with the iPad:

We use the double stick velcro to easily secure the i​​​​Pad to the kneeboard.

#3 The Dual Timezone Watch

If you fly, you NEED to have a dual time zone watch. When flying IFR, your clearance void times will always be stated in ZULU/UTC time. It is SO handy to be able just to look at your watch instead of converting local time in your head. Never worry if you remember your daylight savings time or standard time again. This will alleviate so much stress with one less calculation to make as you are burning precious fuel at the hold-short line. The best thing about this watch? YOU NEVER HAVE TO SET THE TIME OR REPLACE THE BATTERY. If you want to save a few bucks, check out the sports version with the rubber wristband. The E6b bezel makes it handy for quick time/distance/fuel calculations. Extra bonus, this accessory will add just the right amount of style and class to your suit at the Heli Expo and Heli Success Seminar.

#4 Hearing Protection

There are lots of options out there but here are two facts that inspire us to go with the Bose A20 over the competition. Never miss another radio transmission again, the clarity is unbelievable! 

1. Some airlines do not approve other headset brands in the cockpit as they are not compliant. 

2. I conducted a 3 year hearing degradation study on myself using the predecessor headset known as the Bose X. My first year using the Bose X, I noticed my ears ringing after a long day of flying so I decided to conduct hearing test every 6 months. Flying in the left seat of a piston helicopter 3000 hours with the doors off revealed a slight hearing loss in my left ear in the medium frequency range. A few short months later, Bose released the next generation A20 which added a second active noise reduction sensor and addressed other issues like roomier ear cups and more passive reduction. Did they send me a free set? No, but I am still a big fan since I don't have to wear custom molded hi-fi earplugs under the headset anymore. 


#5 Torch (a.k.a. Flashlight)

This companion of mine fits in my flight suit sleeve pen pocket which is a good thing. My issue is that I always forget to remove it before wash. I have washed and dried this flashlight multiple times and it is STILL kicking. I have had the original one since 2011 and use it during preflight and cockpit ops. Hang it on your shirt collar and it makes a perfect kneeboard chart light. I recommend doing that for every flight because, in the event of a total electrical failure, you can click it on and fly using the pitot-static system. This is my number one Christmas gift to all of my pilot colleagues. You can get them in a two pack.

Cool story about this light

#6 Logbook Pens

I don't know many people who still use paper logbooks but if you do, flight examiners prefer this one. Also, There are still lots of organizations that use paper aircraft logs and engineering reports. Pressing through three carbon copies will keep you from being hassled by the records department. These pens make great gifts if you want to get on the good side of your technician. We used to use the sharpie fine point but those bled through to the other pages. I've never had an ink leak when flying at altitude. Unlike rubber grip pens, these puppies slide nicely into your flight suit or coat sleeve pen-pocket and the grip is engineered to perfection. You can grab a pack of the baby Zebra F-301's here to save a few bucks if your colleagues keep stealing your F-701 or you plan on writing a book. 

#7 Portable Power 

With over 10,000 reviews and 4.5 stars, you can't go wrong with this particular battery. If your operator has a paperless cockpit, there is probably a requirement that your iPad has at least 30% battery power prior to launch for the mission. I never lift off without this device. It'll charge tablets twice over and your phone up to 7 TIMES! I don't know how they stuff so much power into such a little box but I love it. 

#8 Gluteus Comfort

Flying plays tricks on the mind. We think we are moving all day as we soar through the sky. Unfortunately, there is no way around it, we have to sit on our tush while we fly all day. I was lucky enough to receive this cushion as a gift from Oregon Aero for attending a CRM Helicopter Instructor class with Randy Mains back in 2015. Since then I have taken this cushion all over the globe and enjoy it, particularly when flying the Airbus H125 and Bell Huey. If it weren't for this little gift from the heavens, I'd probably rather dig ditches instead of flying. Fun fact, this cushion utilizes the same material that saved the F22 fighter jet from being scrapped because it enhanced the crash attenuation properties. If you are particularly tall, you may opt for the 1" cushion.

#9 Sleep System

Sacred Trust: Your passengers place their life into your hands when they board your aircraft. Often, you will be required to sleep at the most inopportune times and have to catch up on vital beauty sleep in the middle of the day. I personally have tried EVERY single eye mask available on Amazon and returned all but one. I love it because the temples are low profile which is ideal for side sleeping. Light leaks are eliminated by two enlarged cheek area pillows which also remove pressure from your eyelids to prevent REM sleep interruptions. I have lost this eyemask at least five times and keep re-purchasing the same one - worth every penny. Couple this with slim-fit earplugs and you'll wonder how you ever slept without this combo. 

#10 Bottoms Up 

I started wearing ExOfficio drawers in 2007 and haven't switched it up yet. Why? Because I can bring only one pair of briefs on a mission when flying weight limited aircraft. You can hand wash these in a hotel sink, wring them out, and they air dry in about 4-6 hours. They are not flame resistant though so best not to crash or play with flames, but I will take my chances with the comfort and versatility. Ladies, we didn't forget about you, ExOfficio also makes female knickers! Pick your own style but I know a particular lady pilot who raves about these. You can thank me later. 

Sharing is Caring!

Give your fellow aviators the chance to read about these products. Comment below if you have any other products you can't live without. 


About the Author

While I get land sickness if on the ground for extended periods of time, I have discovered my true passion when helping aviators grow and succeed. Feel free to connect with me. If we put our heads together, maybe we can discover something great. - Ian Robinson

  • Greg Robinson says:

    I love gadgets! The ones in your article are essintial to flying.
    Worth every penny.
    Could be a life or death situation.

  • Katie Jackson says:

    That eye mask is seriously amazing ?

  • Kathy says:

    Hi Ian, Am ordering some of these suggested items for my son; can you specify which Portable Power pack you prefer? Thanks for this article; quite helpful to those of us who want to support our aviators but don’t really know how!

    • Ian Robinson says:

      Hi Kathy! Without a doubt, this is the one he should have. I have had mine for 5 years and it is still going strong. Also, it is approved for use in the airlines.

      • Kathy O'Brien-Carter says:

        Hello again, Ian! Just wanted to tell you I gave my son the power pack for his birthday in Oct.; he was excited to get it, uses it and loves it! Also was excited to get the penlight you suggested. Thanks for the great gift options! By the way, “Gotsky” is brilliant…so easy to remember, since I like to check back here and read what’s happening! While I am actually a severe claustrophobic and not an enthusiastic flyer, I am quite the opposite in supporting my son and his passion and career choice. Keep up the good work – I enjoy coming back here!

        • Ian Robinson says:


          I am so glad to hear that you are able to utilize the info in this blog for your son. Be sure to add your email in the subscribe area on this page. I am developing an interactive syllabus and online training center for students and instructors to collaborate.


        • Ian Robinson says:

          We also have an online referral store with more reviews of products that we use. You can also access it in the main menu of this site.

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