In the past, pilots had to carry flight bags that were heavy, bulky, and full of navigational charts, checklists, handbooks, and logbooks. Nowadays, with the popularity of the paperless cockpit, most pilots are traveling a lot lighter. When United Airlines transitioned to using iPads as electronic flight bags in 2011, it was estimated that the 1.5-pound iPad would replace nearly 38 pounds of paper and save 326,000 gallons of jet fuel.
Even with an electronic flight bag in tow, many general aviation pilots still choose to bring along a small bag or backpack to store supplies and keep the cockpit organized. And while every pilot has personal preferences as to what goes into his or her bag, there are a few essential items that can come in handy on any flight.
Pilot certificate and medical
Legally, you can’t fly without a pilot certificate, photo identification, and if necessary, a medical certificate. Be sure these items are readily accessible in your flight bag.
Electronic Flight Bag
These days, most pilots prefer carrying an electronic flight bag (EFB) over cumbersome paper charts. An iPad or tablet equipped with an electronic charts app like ForeFlight can help pilots improve situational awareness in the cockpit and make flight planning easier and safer. It can be a good idea to keep a set of sectional charts in your flight bag as a backup in case something happens to your EFB.
Kneeboard, pen, and paper
Even with an EFB, many pilots find it helpful to have a pen and some paper nearby to jot down instructions or make quick calculations. Whether you opt for a kneeboard or a small notebook, having a pen and paper on board is always helpful.
Fuel tester with a screwdriver
Every flight is preceded by a pre-flight inspection, which should include checking the fuel quality for water and contaminants. Look for a fuel tester with a screwdriver mounted on the tip to carry in your flight bag. Most fuel testers are small, practical and won’t take up too much space in your bag.
Flashlight or headlamp
A high-quality flashlight is another smart addition to your flight bag. You’ll use it during day or night to shed light on what you’re inspecting during pre-flight and post-flight checks. Some pilots prefer to use a headlamp so they can go hands-free during pre- and post-flight inspections.
Portable phone/tablet charger
To keep your EFB fully charged during flight, carry a charged external battery in your flight bag. This can also be used for charging your cell phone.
Headset and extra batteries
An aviation headset is a vital part of any pilot’s equipment. Some pilots even double-up on hearing protection by wearing foam earplugs and a good-quality headset. If you have a noise-canceling headset, be sure to pack an extra set of batteries.
Water and snacks
Having some sustenance on board is essential, especially for long flights. Bring along a few packaged foods such as protein bars, nuts, or candy in case you (or your passengers) experience unexpected hunger during flight. And of course, water is necessary to prevent dehydration. Pack a few water bottles for every flight.
Spare handheld radio
In the event that your radio goes out mid-flight, having a backup two-way handheld radio can make all the difference. Be sure to keep a spare radio in your flight bag so you’re not stuck without communication in an emergency.
For pilots, sunglasses are about more than style, they’re an important way to protect your vision from the harmful effects of bright sunlight, eye fatigue, and potential impact with objects or debris. Look for a pair of high-quality, non-polarized glasses that won’t interfere with visibility through your windscreen or reduce the visibility of anti-glare instruments.
What are some must-have items in your flight bag? Let us know on social media: @HartzellProp.