What pilots are packing in their flight bags

When packing your flight bag, is there an item you always make sure to bring along?

What's in your flight bag? Pilots share their must-have items. Composite by Elizabeth Linares.

We were interested in what pilots are placing in their packs nowadays, so we put that question out to AOPA’s social-media following. We also sought suggestions from a few of the most active in-house aviators.

From tablets to treats, and from headlamps to handheld GPS units, responses flowed in. Don't be surprised if your personal list expands as a result: Did you remember to pack your electric gloves or bring along another creature-comfort item that comes in most handy when the next rest stop suddenly seems unreachable at current groundspeed?

Here’s a sampling of the messages we received: long answers, short answers, and a few pictures that spoke for themselves including one photo-essay that surely was worth a thousand words in how it compared the contents of a student pilot's and an instructor's flight bag—from plotter and fuel sampler to a beverage bottle and a bag of Doritos—spread out on a carpet. Thanks to Rod Rakic for the submission.

Another photo displayed one object only: a convenient vessel for those whose physiological endurance aloft falls urgently short of any number you'd find on that endurance chart in the aircraft operating handbook. Thanks for the suggestion to Jeff Panozzo, who is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Twitter was our hottest sources of responses—including the two credited above—and for many, the lead-off item was the same: an iPad. From there the tweets took different paths. Lady Aviator tweeted a list: “1. iPad with my trusty Foreflight. 2. Charger. 3. External brick battery 4. Snacks for the kids!” followed by Mark Perlot’s contribution: “iPad, creditcard and keys…” Christopher Sullivan likely had night flight in mind when he tweeted his recommendations of “flashlights and a headlamp with red lens.” Paul Fahey seconded the idea of a red-lens flashlight, and in the name of redundancy he added “chemical glowsticks as a backup.”

An iPad with ForeFlight is one of popular items pilots pack in their flight bags. An ADS-B In receiver, such as the Stratus 3 shown here, is another recommended item. Image courtesy of Sporty's.

Joe Godfrey divided his carry-along items into two categories: Digital (iPad, SD card with data for a Garmin unit, and a thumb drive for JPI engine monitor data) and analog (paper and pens). About those pens, he noted that he’s not a pencil guy. “I just carry lots of pens,” he explained, adding that things like ATIS information, clearances and amendments, and holding instructions “are just better on paper.”

Snacks rivaled iPads for popularity, whether accompanied on response lists by “a spare handheld radio,” as suggested by a tweet from Portage County Airport, or by a compass and an extra battery backup as urged by tweet author Panish Jain.

Larry Lehman led his lengthy laundry list—well, he’s an instructor—with “iPad w/ForeFlight,” then it laid out such ever-practical items as a headset, flashlights, an ACR Electronics locator, fuel cup, flex oil spout, carbon monoxide detector, and a “small vise grip pliers & screwdriver set under 6 inches so TSA doesn’t take them,” among other things.

AOPA’s friends on Facebook also weighed in with suggestions of gadgets and redundancy-reinforcing items to pack. They were a thirsty bunch, led by Dennis Kirin with his reminder to take “drinking water to hydrate,” and Kleran Van Wagoner, whose enticing photo of a steamy-hot mug of coffee prompted me to take a quick break from writing this article to get one. (Thankfully there was no doughnut in the photo.)

A tidy flight bag is an efficient flight bag, and AOPA Technical Editor Jill Tallman, owner of a beautiful Piper PA–28-140, made the point that the first thing to do before stocking up for a flight is to go through it and get rid of no-longer-useful items such as that previous destination’s airport diagram. Once that’s done, “I have batteries, flashlights in good working order and backup batteries for those; pens and paper. I have to make sure my iPad is all charged and the backup battery is charged. I use ForeFlight exclusively now, so I have to make sure the right charts are downloaded. Depending on how long the trip will be, I might throw an energy bar in there.”

AOPA Director of eMedia Alyssa Cobb, owner of a fine Cessna 170B, suggested bringing along “some kind of multi-tool. It seems like I use mine on every flight.”

We’re all a product of our experience, and AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has ferried a variety of aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, including at least one with questionable cabin-heating capability. So in addition to the iPad, flashlights, spare batteries or recharge units, a handheld GPS, and a portable Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast In unit he offered this seasonally appropriate supplement: “electric gloves.”

Electric gloves? I wondered why Horne thought it was so important to wear ornate mittens in the cockpit. Then I researched the matter and found out he was referring to gloves that are self-warming—but remember, they only work if you bring batteries along.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Flight Bags, Gear

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