As we get older Santa just doesn’t seem to get it. The holiday gifts never seem to bring the same excitement as when we were kids. It is understandable. Neckties and slippers just don’t cut it anymore. Often well-intentioned gift givers don’t understand what we really want. The only way out of it is either to hint your way to present-ville or, even better, buy yourself a gift. How about asking Santa for something to help you out on the aviation front?


We all know that there are an endless assortment of aviation baubles and trinkets out there ranging from T-shirts to T-CADS. Let me offer some practical gift suggestions for the cockpit that will not only last a lifetime of flying, they may even save your life. Many of these gifts can be used whether you own, borrow, or rent a plane.

AxeOn the bottom end of the price scale, I would suggest a survival crash axe to help extricate the pilot and passengers in the event that a crash landing limits your normal areas of egress. The axe should be in an accessible location and secured from impact forces. In our plane I keep not only a crash axe, but a small pry bar as well. Speaking of survival, another great and affordable gift idea for flying is a survival kit. It should include signaling devices, first-aid, food, fire starters and water. If you fly over water, add in floatation gear. There are a wide assortment of prepared kits from aviation supply companies or you can put one together yourself for a nominal cost.

HeadsetAnother gift idea, if you don’t already have one, is a good quality headset. When I first started flying, the use of headsets were not nearly as common as it is today. Perhaps that is why I am always asking people to “speak up.” A headset provides three direct safety benefits: 1. It protects your hearing; 2. It leaves your hands free to fly the plane; and 3. Communication is unimpaired by ambient noise. A headset can be a lifetime companion and can be used on almost any plane you fly. To really do justice to a headset when you have passengers is to also have an intercom system. Many planes have them built-in, but for those that don’t, there are plenty of inexpensive portable units available that you can take with you.

Hand-Held RadioMoving up a little on the price ladder, a hand-held aviation radio is another safety and peace-of-mind present that will last a long time. There are numerous models to choose from and many of them not only have sophisticated communication features, but navigation back-up as well. They make a nice companion to have on a dark and cloudy night when the ammeter needle starts to flicker. BatteryMy experience with hand-held units leads to me suggest the following: Use a headset adapter to reduce background noise and if you have your own plane, have the avionics shop install a jack that is plumbed into your external com antennae. You can then connect the hand held radio to that jack which will provide excellent radio transmission and reception performance. Lastly, remember to keep the battery periodically charged, a lesson I learned the hard way when I lost the electrical system on one flight only to find that the hand-held radio didn’t have any juice either.

Whether Santa is kind enough to buy one of these gifts for you or you buy it for yourself , these gifts will not only be around long after the neckties are out of fashion and the dog has chewed up the slippers, but they will make your flying better and safer. What more could you ask for? 

 Happy Holidays.

Webmaster’s note:  Ken left off his “Xmas Wishes” list one safety item that he always carries with him. One day a few years ago Ken and I were flying together in his company’s Cessna P210. In the blind, I reached into the back seat to grab my flight bag and felt a large round object I could not identify by touch.

“What the heck is this big round thing back here?” I asked.

Helmet“Oh, that’s a my old motorcycle helmet”, he said. “You see, Bob, in the case of most engine failures in a single-engine aircraft, the pilot has time to prepare for an emergency landing. The most serious injuries in this scenario involve trauma to the head. Wearing a helmet like that one will surely help eliminate or minimize this hazard.”

“That’s fine, Ken,” I said, “but where’s the helmet you’re going to wear?”

Editor’s Note:  This article was written by Ken Steiner prior to his retirement from the United States Aircraft Insurance Group as a Vice-President and Claims Manager. During his career, Ken investigated thousands of aircraft accidents involving small planes, crop dusters, helicopters, corporate aircraft, and airliners. He has been on-site at over 100 fatal aircraft accident investigations. He is currently an Aviation Investigative Consultant and is also a Pilot and Tactical Flight Officer for the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Air Support Unit. He owns a Cessna 182 based at San Carlos and holds ATP and CFI certificates with over 5000 flying hours.