Ten Essential Products for the Beginning Student Pilot

3 min read

You’ve made the leap and proclaimed “I want to learn to fly.”  Now what?  Besides the obvious aircraft, what else does one need to attempt to defy gravity? Similar to fishing, camping, rock climbing, or boating, getting the right gear ready is almost as important (and as fun) as the actual activity. A comprehensive survey of the students and instructors at the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Program yielded these must-have products for the beginning flight student.


Flight Bag

Having a bag to store all your goodies is essential. Starting out, go big. Something that will hold all the other items found on this list. Sure, an off-the-shelf backpack may do the trick, but having a bag that was designed for aviation will be well worth it in the long run.


You will be unable to complete flight training without some home study. The essential books are published by the FAA and you can find them digitally for free on their website. Downloading them is fine, but buying hard copies is definitely the way to go. Must haves: FAR/AIM, Airplane Flying Handbook, Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. Once you get further in your training, there will be more to buy. Those three will get you started.


The loner headset from the flight school isn’t going to cut it. Get one to call your own. Many students start with an inexpensive passive headset. When it comes to headsets, you get what you pay for. Expect to spend $200 to $300 on a quality passive headset. Once you’ve figured out that you are in aviation for the long haul, your first passive headset will eventually become your first passenger headset.

Fuel Tester

Before every flight, you will be required to check the aircraft for several things. Among them is fuel contamination, so a fuel tester will be required. Get one that has a removable metal rod in the middle.  This will work on just about every type of airplane.


You know them as maps. In aviation, we call them charts. The one must-have chart for a new pilot is the sectional chart. Each sectional chart covers a different area. Your flight school should be able to tell you which one you’ll need.


It’s a pilot’s version of a ruler/protractor combo. It’s a simple, inexpensive item, but needed for flight planning.

Flight Computer

Flying has its own set of formulas and conversions. These calculations are performed using a flight computer. Manual flight computers, better known as whiz-wheels, perform calculations on a slide rule apparatus with spinning dials. Electronic flight computers provide the same functions in a calculator format. An electronic flight computer will make your life much easier. If you have an old school flight instructor, he might insist on learning a whiz-wheel first.


The FAA will require you to keep a written record of your flight experience. Logbooks provide an easy way to document all the information you’ll need for the FAA and the insurance company.  Start with a simple, paper logbook.  You can upgrade to an electronic (online or phone app) later.


You will need some way of organizing your gear while flying. A kneeboard is an easy way to keep charts, calculators, pens, etc. at close hand. Get one with multiple pockets. A tri-fold kneeboard is what most students start with.


This might seem like an odd item to have on this list, but the sheer volume of aviation apps has arguably made an iPad a must-have for aspiring pilots. Every aspect is covered: training, calculations, books, navigation, charts, flight planning, weight and balance… If you do not have an iPad and are looking for an excuse to get one, now is the time.

What would you add to the list?

7 replies
  1. Gregg says:

    I would add a handheld transceiver. A back up radio. Not only for backup but to listen when you are on the ground. Listening to ATC helped me take over the radios from my CFI very quickly.

  2. Ben says:

    David Clark H10-30 is a good beginning headset. Don’t forget a red flashlight for those night x-countries and a white flashlight for preflight. Electronic E-6Bs are a waste of money, because the old school ones are just as fast with practice. iPads are okay but I think they’re a fad.

  3. Doug Brown says:

    I know the Apple iPad cult is very big, but please don’t leave out the great Android apps!

  4. Piper Pirate says:

    I ditched the Android. Everything is developed for the iPad. Foggles also need to be on the list.

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