In the U.S., today is Thanksgiving and we all know what that means–Black Friday is fast approaching. Well, alright it means a lot more than that, but Thanksgiving has long since become the beginning of the buying rush for Christmas. So, unless you celebrate another holiday, you’ve got a little over a month to buy those perfect gifts. To that end, I would like to offer a few ideas that should help you find something for the pilots on your list. As this isn’t purely community service, I must disclose that there will be affiliate links where applicable. Clicking these links costs you nothing, but a portion of the proceeds generated by you buying things will make their way back to me. That said, I must assure you that I haven’t just strung together a list of junk. Also, do note that I don’t know any pilot who would turn down a free airplane, but nothing on this list will exceeds $2,000 and precious little will exceed about $250.
Gifts For in the Plane
A nice portable radio
Something like the Sporty’s SP-400 Handheld NAV/COM makes a great addition to any pilot’s flight bag. Back when I was doing my primary training, there was another pilot who learned first hand how to cope with a radio failure. That was the same day I understood why a portable radio might be a good thing to have. It also makes a great primary radio for aircraft, such as LSA or ultralights, not equipped with electrical systems. What I really like about this model from Sporty’s is that in addition to standard communications, it also handles navigation via VORs and ILS localizers.
A tablet device
Just like your car, technology has changed the way pilots navigate. For the last couple of years I recommended several handheld units like the Garmin AERA 560 GPS or the Bendix King AV8OR Handheld GPS, but this year is the year of the tablets. There are tons of tablets out there running Google’s Android platform and they are great, but I must confess to being hopelessly invested in Apple’s IOS. It’s a good thing I like the iPad. I don’t think you can go wrong with an iPad and I really like the new iPad Mini. Couple one of those with an external GPS unit, like the Dual Electronics iPad GPS with Bluetooth and you’ve got a pretty nice GPS.
That brings us to the iPad accessories. Just like regular cases and such, there is no shortage of kneeboards, bags, and other accessories. For a good run down, check out The iPad pilot’s holiday wish list.
Training or preflight gear
If you’ve got any aspiring pilots or pilots training for aditional ratings, like their instrument ticket, consider buying them some training gear. I’m not ashamed to admit that one of my favorite gifts last year was a ASA’s Color E6B Flight Computer. An aspiring instrument pilot, who doesn’t live in the most depressing place on earth (i.e., somewhere with 250 IMC days), might enjoy receiving their own JeppShades Training Glasses. Another item in my bag that I’m convinced makes a perfect gift for the pilots of newer Cessnas, is the GATS Jar. With 13 fuel sumps on the new Skyhawks, checking each sump can get old fast with regular testers. I picked one up during my training and changed my preflight life, because it holds enough to allow me to check all the sumps. While we’re talking fuel, perhaps an analog Fuel Gauge might make a good gift. These tubes are designed for specific aircraft and tell you exactly how much fuel is in the tanks rather than relying on the notoriously inaccurate gauges on the panel.
Gifts for the Hangar or Office
A Pilot on Duty Sign, Flight Instructor on Duty Sign, or Mechanic on Duty Sign would make great additions to the office or hangar and offer a vintage flair. A Vintage Wooden Propeller or an aircraft model like this Cessna C-172 Skyhawk are also great gifts for the PICs office.
Great Aviation Books
I’m also not ashamed to say that I have a pretty extensive personal library. A lot of times, I can’t think of a better gift than a good book or magazine.
My wife regularly complains about the quantity of aviation magazine subscriptions I have. Since they rarely arrive on the same day, I don’t see a problem. Depending on your particular pilot’s proclivities, a subscription to their favorite magazine might not make a bad gift. If you’re taking notes, I currently read Plane and Pilot, Sport Aviation (I’m an EAA member), AOPA Pilot (also an AOPA member), and Flying. Other than the increasingly prevalent turbine-based content in a few of them, I really enjoy reading these each month.
As for books, there are three instructional books that should be on every pilot’s bookshelf:
This should be required reading for every pilot. Sure it shows a little age with some funny words (e.g., flippers), but it explains the complexities of flight in a way that makes them easier to understand.
Where Stick and Rudder teaches you to fly, this book teaches you to fly in IMC. The insights it provides regarding weather and instruction on judging and flying safely in all kinds of weather make this a must read for all instrument-rated pilots or instrument students.
I picked this book up not long after completing my training and it provides a great introduction to all aspects of mountain flying in an easy-to-read style. It doesn’t have to be this particular book, but even if you’re out in the flatlands, a good book on mountain flying is something I highly recommend. Just think, you might be saving a life with your gift.
If non-fiction isn’t your thing or the intended recipient already has these other books, you might like to pick up a nice fiction book or biography (aren’t those mostly fiction anyway?).
If you want a flying book that is difficult to put down, look no further than this book. If you’ve ever wondered how a man who can pour tea backhanded while barrel-rolling and airplane full of VIPs learned to fly, this is the story. In case you’re wondering, that’s Bob Hoover, noted airshow performer and test pilot. The book, authored by Mr. Hoover himself, covers his life from his very earliest aviation experiences to his notable performances, like this one:
This is a book that sort of found me when someone from the publisher, Stearman Press, contacted me. I found it to be a really good story that more or less centers around a group of people arming a Beech 18 with some homemade solutions in order to fight Nazis in 1939 Brazil. I think it would make a great gift.
This is one of the best aviation documentaries to come out in a long time. It focuses on the history of Van Nuys Airport in LA, but the flying and aircraft scenes make it a must watch for aviation buffs of all geographical leanings.
This is a great movie for vintage aircraft afficionadoes and warbird buffs. It looks at the work and love put into aircraft from bygone eras. It would make a great gift for anyone that appreciates the sleek polished aluminum look of a restored warbird tearing down the runway. It also bears mention that this features some great sequences of Bob Odegaard and his rare Super Corsair, which were both lost earlier this year in a tragic accident.
I count my numerous viewings of this 30 minute documentary as some of the best time I’ve ever spent. This is a great story centered around a great plane. The air-to-air footage is simply stunning.
This is a documentary about a small fly-in at a farm in Indiana. It is a great little film about pilots and non-pilots coming together and harvesting a little of what flying should be. Still one of the best aviation films I’ve seen.
Red Tails isn’t technically perfect, but it is a good movie if you can suspend your analytic mind. It would make a great gift for any WWII buffs and really anyone who appreciates a good flying movie. Furthermore, It stars some pretty nice warbirds, so I can’t complain and I don’t imagine many others will.
Flyboys, which is a WWI movie fits in the same mold as Red Tails–it may not be aerodynamically perfect, but just go with it. It has some good flying scenes and it, too, would make a good gift for those who enjoy a good aviation movie. Maybe you’ll inspire the gift-receiver to start building one of Airdrome Aeroplanes super affordable kits.
For the Simulator Pilot
A good simulator
In the past, Microsoft’s Flight Simulator was the big daddy of flight sims, but for whatever reason they terminated any real flight simulator development after the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It’s still a pretty good sim, thanks to the significant number of third-party developers, but I think the following video will convince you that XPlane 10 might be a better deal these days. Although, I’m hard pressed to find a better sim than FSX with A2A Simulation’s Wings of Silver Piper J-3 Cub. I mean you can even skim across the water on bush wheels, who wouldn’t like that?
Flight sim equipment
A good yoke, throttle and rudder system can make all the difference in creating a realistic the home flight simulator experience. There are several good models available, but you can’t go wrong with Saitek’s modular kit. The entire kit, which also includes some Cessna stuff, will run about $600. The good news is that each piece only costs about $100 and you don’t need the entire set to get a lot of use out of it. I’d start with the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke with Three-Lever Throttle. The throttle and yoke setup closely mimic most single engine aircraft, like the Cessna 172, there are enough switches and buttons to control the essential functions. The next step is the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals, which are basically like the ones in any Cessna. Then finally there are several expansion boxes that provide more advanced functions: the PRO Flight Radio Panel by Saitek, Pro Flight Multi Panel, and Saitek PZ55 Pro Flight Switch Panel.
I’d say that’s a pretty substantial list, so I won’t belabor the point since most of the time I think these things take the form of a 10 point list. In any case, have a Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday shopping season. I hope this list is helpful, but if you feel like I’ve left something out, drop your suggestions in the comments.