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Key Takeaways

  • Gifts can either be functional and stand the test of time or be just for fun at the moment. The ten gifts listed here are about functionality.
  • Beyond being functional, these gifts are also what pilots will find useful. Just because something can be used, doesn’t mean pilots use them. This list filters through that.
  • When choosing a gift for the pilot in your midst, remember that it has to either be useful in an emergency, useful during daily routines or make their life easier in some way.

Buying gifts for pilots is tricky. But with a little insight of what they need, you should be able to get them the perfect gift.

In making gift choices, balance utility, fun, and novelty. Then top it off with a little extravagance built in as the x-factor. Pilots typically like anything that relates to aviation. But stay away from gag gifts as they will be forgotten.

As a pilot, I’ve received many gifts from passengers, students and family. Some I’ve used and liked, others I’ve not. This list consists of what I and a few of my fellow pilot friends have found the best/most useful.

Table of contents


#10 Portable Nav Coms

Portable nav-coms are functional gifts for pilots.

A portable nav-com is a hand-held battery-operated device that can be used to communicate with controllers and has navigation capability. It fits snugly in a flight bag, a backpack, or clips onto a belt. It works exactly like how the radio and navigation equipment in the aircraft work, with the added benefit of not needing to fire up the aircraft to use it.

There are two kinds of handheld devices. One is a communication device, or com, which is just a radio that works on the frequency pilots and controllers use. The other is a nav-com, which has the added feature of providing navigation data. These days most nav-coms even come with GPS data as an added benefit.

Having a portable nav-com on board gives pilots access to communication and navigation independent of the aircraft’s systems.

So in the event of an electrical failure, damage to the aircraft’s antenna, or internal circuitry shorting out, the portable nav-com remains operational, allowing the pilot to continue communications with the controller and receive navigation information..

Nav-coms have a built-in mic and speakers. And, they can also connect to a pilot’s headset via an adapter if needed.

Aside from emergencies, nav-coms are also useful to pilots who fly older aircraft that have limited avionics. The nav-com allows them to venture beyond uncontrolled airspace and even into airports that have control towers.

It is also possible for aviation enthusiasts to expand their flying to experimental aircrafts. Many experimental aircraft do not come with the necessary navigation and communication equipment aside from a magnetic compass. A nav-com allows a pilot to begin a new chapter in flying.

#9 Flight Jacket

Flight jackets aren’t just aesthetic, they are highly functional as well. Whether your pilot spends his day on a commercial jetliner’s flight deck, or in a small unpressurized aircraft, it can get cold up at altitude.

That’s how flight jackets came into existence. Bombers used to fly up where the air is thin and cold without any heating in the cabin. To improve their comfort and concentration, bomber jackets with hide shells and wool lining came into existence.

In time, jackets evolved. Different missions required different designs, and new materials allowed for lighter and mission-specific designs to be incorporated. This brings us to today and the choice you have for your favorite pilot.

Flight jackets, whether made of hard leather shells or light Nomex, now give you a wide selection, catering to individuality and budget. All you need to know is their size and you can get a stocking stuffer or a birthday gift that a pilot loves and needs.

Pilots who are just starting out will be better off with a Nomex flight jacket. Although leather jackets are stylish, pilots at this stage of their aviation life are usually stuffed in small cockpits with little room left for bulky jackets. Pilots who are further along, and flying larger aircraft, or fly alone, will have better use for a thicker, bulkier jacket.

For safety reasons, just be sure to get a fireproof jacket. Nomex jackets are generally fireproof, as are real leather jackets. PVC jackets or faux leather, however, most often aren’t.

It’s also best to get an idea of the kinds of conditions the person you are giving the jacket to experiences. If they are almost always in warm weather, like in southern Florida, then a Nomex jacket would be the best bet.

On the other hand, if you are getting a jacket for a bush pilot out in Juno, then the hardshell real leather with the wool interior would be a better choice.

#8 GoPro Mount

GoPro cameras are awesome companions in the cockpit. I use them for a lot of different things I do just because they can take a beating in harsh conditions and still keep going. I use multiple GoPro cameras in the cockpit during flight lessons. And my students get a copy of our flight and everything I taught them so that they can take them home to review.

A GoPro mount expands the utility of every flight. It either gives pilots a way to look at how they fared and learn from their own actions, or it gives them a way to have some fun. I even know a few pilots who use them to make YouTube videos to make some money on the side.

As gifts, GoPro mounts are great because you don’t need to know what model of GoPro they have, most mounts will fit all GoPro models.

There are generally two kinds of GoPro mounts to choose from. The first kind is the ones that are attached to some part of the aircraft, typically the strut of the aircraft using straps or bolts. There are even those that attach to the tie-down ring using bolts and clamps. If you get these, make sure you get one that comes with silicone or heavy duty rubber damping rings. They will help to prevent excessive vibration.

The second one uses suction cups. And amongst these, there are the heavy-duty suction cups and the lighter ones. These work very well inside the cockpit especially when you want to mount them on the dash or the window.

The obvious difference between the kinds using clamps and the ones using suction is that the latter is exclusive to be used in the cabin, while the former is typically used outside and can also be used inside.

#7 Noise Canceling Headset

Whether it's big jets or small piston engine aircraft, the one thing that is common is that after a while, the constant din of the engine noise in the flight deck leads to pilot fatigue. For passengers, it’s not all that obvious. But for pilots who spend a large part of their time in these conditions, it adds up.

The solution, and the perfect gift for the pilot in your life, is a noise-canceling headset. Noise-canceling headsets go beyond just muffling the exterior noise.

Most regular headsets use thick padding or a gel seal to cup the area around the ears and prevent as much of the external sound as possible from entering.

Gel seals and padding do a good job of it, and most pilots learn to get used to it and the extra clamping force around their heads the headset uses to achieve a good seal. But that clamping, on its own, can get tiring and make your ears and the area around them, feel sore.

Noise-canceling headsets reduce the external noise pilots hear and the clamping force headsets use by employing active noise-canceling technology.

Active noise canceling circuits take the sound waves coming from the outside and reverse them before it reaches the ear canal, effectively neutralizing them.

Be it the noise of wind swirling around the aircraft, or the hum of the engine coming from the nacelles, neutralizing them means the pilot does not have to put up with the constant noise for hours on end. And since the noise is actively canceled, there does not need to be a perfect seal created around the ears, thereby alleviating the need for the clamping force other headsets use.

If you get this as a gift for the pilot in your life, you can be sure that it will change their life. Besides being a comfort item, it is in its own way a health item, since it will reduce fatigue and preserve their hearing over time.

#6 Roller Bag

I used to use shoulder-carry backpacks and sling bags at the start of my career. It was just a lot easier, and that is what I was used to in college. Until someone gifted me a roller bag, and it changed my life.

Roller bags are all about energy use. Pilots use more energy when they haul a bag on their shoulders than they do when they pull it along. But there is more. Carrying it on one shoulder, causes disproportionate fatigue in their back, resulting in aches and pains, and eventually an unfocused day at the office.

Roller bags offer a number of advantages as a gift. Pilots can’t have too many roller bags. So it’s okay if you get them one even if you’re not sure they have one. I have three bags. One to use when I am flying passengers, another when I am teaching students to fly jets, and another when I am teaching primary students in small piston engine aircraft.

I know airline pilots who use different bags depending on the kind of flying they are headed toward. Flying a 747 from JFK to Heathrow will be a different flight, and thus a bag carrying different items, compared to a flight in a Cessna 172 headed to a fly-in.

Another great benefit of roller bags is that you can stack a garment bag or overnight duffle bag over them, and pull all of it along, with ease.

Roller bags are great gifts for flight instructors as well since they have numerous gadgets and teaching aids to bring along with them.

The point to note, whenever you buy something for a pilot, there are two key features you should keep in mind. The first is that it should be as light as possible. Pilots, especially those who fly smaller aircraft, are weight sensitive.

The second is that bags should be water and fireproof and have a hard shell if possible. This makes it easy for them to check the bag in whenever they are deadheading back home.

#5 Personalized Tags Engraved On a Piece of an Old Aircraft

Personal tags are an awesome gift for the pilot in your life as it allows them to combine a functional item with the nostalgia of their favorite aircraft. Pilots are typically romantics. I can personally attest to that. They may not tell you that all the time but it's true.

Personal tags with their name and contact information are great to loop around the handle of their luggage, and most pilots have at least two of those. One is for their flight gear, and the second is their overnight bag when they have night stops. Each requires tags.

But more than just being functional, there is an element of nostalgia that is such a thrill for us when we know that the material that makes up that tag is from a piece of history. That's where these personal tags come in.

The makers of these tags salvage old aircraft, picking ones from as far back as World War II like the Spitfire or Curtiss Helldiver, to something more recent like the Airbus A380.

They then take the skin of the aircraft, or other parts, and cut them down to the size of a tag. Each tag can be customized with names or a message, alongside the name of the aircraft it came from.

The first time I got this as a gift, it was so precious to me that I could not bring myself to hang it on my luggage handle. It became my car’s keychain, instead. If you get this for the pilot in your life, I guarantee you they will cherish it.

#4 Back-up Power Bank

The one thing all pilots have in common is that we spend long hours away from a wall plug. It’s true some of us have times when the plane is equipped with a USB port to charge phones and tablets, but that’s not the norm.

As the need for electronic devices has risen, from the use of tablets in navigation to having phones for everything from banking to emails, and flight accessories like backup nav coms, everything needs juice.

A backup power bank is a godsend for the pilot in your life, especially one that has proper electrical shielding and will not disrupt the avionics or the magnetic compass in the aircraft. Of course, you can get any power bank and it will work.

But if you are looking for one that’s specifically for the pilot in your life to use onboard his aircraft, then make sure the power bank you give him has the proper electrical shielding. The product information should tell you whether it is okay to use in the flight environment. If it’s not clear, just check with customer service.

A good rule of thumb to remember is that power banks over 27,000mAh are not allowed on some planes.

While no one is going to check the pilot, there is a good chance they will be checked as a passenger when flying for personal trips or deadheading, so make sure the power bank you get them is below that power rating.

#3 Antique Propellor with Wall Mount

There are two ways you can get a propeller as a gift. You could either ask around if there are any aviation workshops that have a used prop for sale. That may not always be the case, but you might just get lucky.

If you are lucky and find one, have it powder coated and engraved. You will also need to get a metal fabricator to construct a mount to hang it on the wall.

Or, you could order an antique prop online. If you take this option, remember that there are two possibilities. The first is that it's a real prop that has seen active service. It's just now too old to be certified for use.

The second option is a replica. It was probably made of wood or some synthetic material and shaped, then painted to look like a real prop.

Will they use it? Yes. Most pilots I know have a den or an office where they keep all their flight gear and paperwork. The antique prop will fit in nicely within that space. Better yet, if you could track down their flight instructor and have them sign it, it will really mean a lot.

When I left the flight school I used to teach at, the students and staff got together and presented me with a prop from a Cessna 150. That was quite a while ago, and guess what? It still hangs in my office at home!

#2 ForeFlight Subscription

A gift accomplishes different things for different people. Some gifts are a good laugh, and that serves a purpose as one etches the moment to their souls. Then there are others that serve a functional purpose that allow the recipient to improve their lives and advance. ForeFlight is such a gift.

Developed by a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, ForeFlight is a software and a service that places all the tools a pilot needs to be the best pilot they can be at their fingertips. Pilots need to do numerous tasks in and outside the cockpit for every flight.

From weather briefings to flight planning, from performance calculations to decision making, and from preflight-checks to paperwork, pilots have a lot to do before and after every single flight.

Foreflight takes care of all of that.

And depending on what FMS your favorite pilot works with, they can upload the information directly to the FMS every time. That’s a lot of time saved, and possible errors avoided.

The ForeFlight subscription can be accessed from any device, desktop or mobile, via a website or app. That means that once your favorite pilot sets up everything at home, from weather briefings to flight plans and route determination, they could just access from anywhere, including the flight deck.

#1 Portable Espresso Maker

In all my years of flying, I have yet to come across any pilot who does not enjoy a cup of coffee, or even better, an espresso. There are a few models in the market now where all you have to do is add coffee grounds in one compartment, and hot water in the other and you're good to go.

Your favorite pilot is going to thank you in their heart each time they sit back in the cockpit and enjoy that shot of espresso with the world at their feet.

The device is certified for use in the cockpit since it has no electrical components and is no more than a flask with a manual pump. That, by the way, is how the water is pressurized to extract the flavor from the grinds. The water and grounds are kept separate in the flask until you begin pumping it and pressurizing the hot water that then flows over the grinds.

I’ve even gotten a little creative at times and added cocoa to the grinds, and that just takes that cup of espresso to a new level.

It’s also easy enough to pack in a flight bag and is drip-proof. It can be filled up at an FBO or even in the galley. I typically have it in my bag, all filled up and ready to go from home. When I get to the point in my flight that I want to have a cup, I just pump the hot water that has stayed hot since I filled it at home. Within a minute from that point, I am enjoying the full flavor of my favorite blend.