Top 10 things you need when starting flight training

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Sporty’s is much more than just a pilot shop. From the very beginning, our company was based on teaching people how to fly. Today, our successful flight school has hundreds of students and is solely responsible for the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Program. The plethora of pilot supplies out there can be overwhelming, so students often look to us for advice on what you really need for flight training.

1. Training Course

Learn to Fly course
An online video course will save you a lot of time and money.

If you haven’t already purchased one, the best value in aviation today is Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course. It will give you all the knowledge you need to become a proficient aviator and help you ace your FAA tests. Home study is an essential part of your training and Sporty’s Learn to Fly Course will save you time and money. It works on all your devices and it never expires, so you can buy it once and use it for the rest of your flying career.

2. Headset

Airplanes are noisy. In order to communicate in the cockpit (and protect your hearing), you will need a headset. There are tons of different headsets to choose from. Many students start with a passive headset before stepping up to an active noise reduction (ANR) model later on, which are generally much quieter and more comfortable. Our advice: you get what you pay in aviation headsets, so stay away from really cheap models.

Lightspeed Sierra
Buy the most headset you can afford—ANR if possible.

Here are our favorites:

  • David Clark H10-13.4: Classic, been around forever, will last 20 years, but a little tight on the clamping force. $320
  • FARO Stealth 2: A little large, but cancels a lot of noise and has Bluetooth. $249.95 for passive and $449.95 for active make these a good bang for the buck option.
  • Lightspeed Sierra: At $650, this entry level ANR headset is packed with many of the features you find on $1100 headsets.
  • Bose A20: If money isn’t a deciding factor, these things are amazing. They are extremely comfortable and super quiet.

3. Books

FAA books
Two essential books for any pilot.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) publishes several textbooks that are often considered as required reading for student pilots. Many of these books can be found digitally as part of Sporty’s Pilot Training app. Click below to find the paper editions.

4. Fuel Tester

One of the many pre-flight tasks pilots perform on aircraft involves fuel, and it’s not just confirming you have enough for your flight and required reserve. Specifically, pilots need to inspect the fuel to make sure it’s the right type and that it is free from contaminants. That is where a fuel tester comes into play.

Types of Fuel Testers

Fuel Sampler Cup

This simple, small, inexpensive fuel tester consists of a clear acrylic cup with a rod in the center. The size makes it easy to stow, but the size makes it less than ideal for aircraft with multiple sumps.

Sporty’s Fuel Tester

Fuel tester
Checking fuel before a flight is an important step.

The most popular style of fuel tester is this longer model. It has a screwdriver at one end, which makes it convenient for opening a cowling during pre-flight. The center rod is removable to work with both types of drain valves.

GATS Jar

The GATS Jar has room for a lot of fuel and is often used with larger aircraft. The piece that is used to activate the fuel drain can be reversed so it can fit both types of valves. The GATS Jar incorporates a screen so you can pour sumped fuel back in your tank if so desired, while straining out debris.

Multi-Sump Fuel Tester

This is the fuel sample cup on steroids. The cup is mounted on top of a larger reservoir. Once the fuel in the top cup has been inspected, a simple push on the side of the cup dumps the contents in the larger reservoir. This allows the pilot to hit a bunch of sumps without needing to dump every time.

5. Flashlight

Part of getting your private pilot license involves flying at night. While we all have a flashlight on our phone, it will be extremely difficult to use for preflight and in the cockpit. Try to get a flashlight with both white and red light, since red preserves night vision. Here are three of our favorites.

Flight Gear Flashlight

Flight Gear flashlight
An aviation-specific flashlight is a solid investment.

This light is perfect for the cockpit. It has independent buttons for both the red and white light, so you won’t have to ruin your night vision to find the red light setting. The side is printed with the FARs pertaining to night flight, and a focusing head makes it easy to throw light up high on the tail of an aircraft.

Flight Outfitters Dual Color Headlamp

A headlamp puts the right type of light where you need it without tying up your hands. The white light has two levels, low and high, and a focusing ring takes it from a flood light to a spot light. The red light puts just the right amount in the cockpit without waking sleeping passengers.

Flight Outfitters Bush Pilot Flashlight

This rechargeable flashlight is the best we’ve seen for the cockpit. A selector ring on the back of the flashlight allows you to select the color and intensity of the light. A focusing bezel allows you to concentrate the light where needed. The best part of this flashlight is that it doubles as a backup phone battery. The same USB port used to charge the flashlight can be used to charge your phone.

6. Flight Bag

A student pilot generally has more gear during training and you’ll need a dedicated bag to store this gear. Flight bags are purpose built with pockets and features needed for pilots.

Crosswind Flight Gear Bag

Crosswind bag
Keep your expensive gear protected with a flight bag.

The most popular student pilot bag has enough space for a headset and books, yet is small enough to not throw off your weight and balance. The most important feature students wanted: price. Put more cash towards flight training and less towards gear with the Crosswind Flight Gear Bag.

Flight Outfitters Lift Bag

This sturdy bag has room for all the essentials, but won’t get in your way. Includes a large headset pocket, iPad pocket and multiple organizer sections with room for all your accessories. A helpful exterior pocket makes it easy to grab your backup radio in an emergency. Steel-reinforced carrying handles will haul even the heaviest load, and the reinforced sides offer additional protection.

Flight Gear iPad Bag

The Flight Gear iPad Bag was specifically designed for the iPad pilot, with lots of pockets for organization and custom pockets for protecting important electronics. The smaller footprint is perfect for stowing on the floor between the front two seats of a Cessna. With a heavy duty carrying handle and padded, no-slip shoulder strap, the Flight Gear iPad Bag will stand up to the rigors of daily flight training.

7. Logbook

You are required to keep a record of your training and flight time, which is done in a pilot logbook. These are the two most popular logbooks.

Logbook
Properly logging your time is critical, especially if you’re headed for a career in aviation.

Sporty’s Flight Log and Record

Most pilots start with this logbook. Over 100 pages to fill with all of your training flights.

Senior Pilot’s Flight Log and Record

This is a larger logbook with more pages and columns. The Senior Pilot’s Flight Log and Record is normally used by professional pilots, who have more things to keep track of. Over 250 pages and 32 columns make keeping your records up to date.

8. Charts

Much like learning to drive a car across the state, you will need to learn how to read maps for navigating. These maps will be filled with information and you will need to be able to comprehend them. There are generally two types of aviation charts: VFR (visual flight rules) and IFR (instrument flight rules). When you are starting out, you just need VFR charts.

VFR Charts

Sectional chart
Sectional charts are essential for cross-country planning.

The United States is divided into sections and each of these sections is covered by a Sectional Chart. The Sectional Chart will be named after a larger city in that section.

Terminal Area Charts

Terminal Area charts take a small area of a sectional chart and make it larger. You’ll find Terminal Area charts around larger cities and congested airspace.

Chart Supplement, formerly known as Airport Facility Directory (AFD)

The chart supplement is the repository for information about each and every airport in a region. There are seven different chart supplements that cover the entire United States.

ForeFlight app

Most student pilots also train by using a navigational app, which has the ability to overlay charts (like Sectionals) on the screen. While these are approved for training, you may want to check with your instructor to make sure they are alright with you using electronic charts, as some flight schools want you to start with paper charts.

9. Kneeboard

Kneeboard
A good kneeboard will keep you organized in flight.

During flight training, you’ll have a lot of information thrown at you. Having a platform on your lap to take notes or hold charts/iPads will make it easier for you to focus on flying the aircraft. Here are our three favorite kneeboards.

Classic Aluminum Kneeboard

This basic clipboard is perfect for holding a chart on your leg and is the most popular.

Flight Gear Tri-Fold Kneeboard

The Tri-Fold Kneeboard adds side flaps for additional organization and pockets for storing small items.

Flight Gear iPad BiFold Kneeboard

Perfect for using a tablet in flight, it adjusts to fit different models. The side flap has extra pockets for other gear.

10. Flight Computer

E6B
Electronic E6Bs are approved for use on FAA knowledge tests.

You don’t have to have a PhD in math to be a pilot. While there are plenty of calculations involved, pilots use purpose built flight computers to figure crosswind components, time/distance equations, and a whole slew of aviation conversions. There are two types of calculators; most student pilots choose the electronic version.

Manual E6B Flight Computer

These trusty, old whizwheel computers have been around since the 30s. While they are great because they require no batteries, they have a fairly steep learning curve. The most popular manual E6B is this aluminum one.

Electronic E6B Flight Computer

Sporty’s E6B takes the guesswork out of aviation calculations. The rugged design is easy to use and approved for use on FAA written exams.

 

BONUS: you can get many of these products in a kit and save. Check out Sporty’s Deluxe Learn to Fly Kit.

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Doug grew up off the end of a runway and has wanted to fly before he could ride a bike. As the catalog manager for Sporty's Pilot Shop, he takes pride in developing products that make flying easier for pilots. After spending a short time in the military including a year in Iraq, his standards are abnormally high for pilot products. A private pilot with an instrument rating, he enjoys small prop planes more than any jet. You'll normally find him in a Cessna 172 or Skycatcher while on a mission to find the finest biscuits and gravy at an airport cafe.