It used to be that the perfect flight bag had to accommodate several thick binders of paper charts, heavy headsets, a bulky portable GPS, oversized flashlights and anything else you could squeeze into it. It’s different now.
These days, we strut to the airfield armed with a tablet computer loaded with electronic charts, plus a handful of other small gadgets that might get lost in the bottom of a large flight bag. The solution? Downsize the bag, and there are plenty of aviation-specific solutions for doing so.
Partly for my own amusement, but mostly with your budget money in mind, I collected several totes that won’t hog valuable cabin space, but are smartly designed to tame the clutter of modern gadgetry. Here’s the summary.
Welcome to My World
Unlike Joe Pilot, I’ve never been a guy for flight bags. Instead, I cram my flying stuff into a large backpack that serves double duty for hiking and motorcycling. The problem with that is small items get lost in the bottom and are difficult to retrieve while flying. That’s where these aviation-purposed totes shine. It’s all about dedicated compartments.
For most flying missions and before leaving the house or office, I pack: a Bose A20 headset, an iPad Mini and the Flight Outfitters fold-down kneeboard for housing it, an iPhone 7 smartphone, my wallet, two action cameras with mounts, extra batteries and charging cables all housed in a soft storage bag, sunglasses, a Smith & Wesson Captain’s flashlight, a pulse oximeter, a Garmin GDL39 portable ADS-B receiver (or lately, the SXAR-1 SiriusXM receiver), a ball cap, a bottle of water, packaged snacks (granola bars, usually), a bottle of pain reliever, a bottle of hand sanitizer and for long hauls, a magazine or two. When it’s cold, I’ll bring a warm hat, gloves and a neck warmer. I don’t carry my portable radio, but I should.
To be fair, I probably carry more space-eating camera gear than other pilots because a lot of my missions are for shooting photos and video. If that sounds like a lot of stuff to pack into a medium-size tote, it really is. When I’m packed, there is no room for much of anything else.
To keep this trial contained, I limited it to six totes (there are plenty more), so if one works well for you, I want to hear about it. I consulted with a couple of mail order suppliers, including Sporty’s and Pilot Mall, plus fellow pilots, to get a feel for what bags in this size class are the most popular sellers.
Sporty’s HP iPad Bag
The HP iPad Bag is part of Sporty’s new Flight Gear HP collection, which also includes an update of the popular full-size Captain’s model. Realizing that pilots don’t carry the stuff they used to, the new bags are 30 percent lighter than the previous Flight Gear models, but are stronger, have reinforced handles and come with a three-year warranty. If you own any vintage Flight Gear bags (I still have the original from the 1980s), you likely recognize the excellent build quality.
The $69.95 iPad Bag, which measures 12 inches wide by 7.5 inches deep and 13 inches high, focuses on organization and of course, housing an iPad and its accessories. The main compartment measures 11 by 9 by 5 inches and has a headset hangar. This feature alone makes the bag my favorite of the group. I generally keep my Bose A20 in its carry case, but the iPad Bag offers enough protection so it doesn’t get crushed. There are two internal mesh zipper pockets, two mesh side pockets, four AA battery pockets and four webbing loops for fastening stuff with carabiner clips.
The outside has a transceiver pocket, phone pocket, chart pockets (good for my magazines), flashlight and fuel tester pockets, plus a water bottle holder. On the inside, a padded tablet pocket is large enough for a full-size iPad and accommodated my foldable kneeboard. There is even a charging cord pass-thru (for connecting a power supply/charger) from the main compartment to the iPad pocket.
Sporty’s offers optional custom embroidery and accessory pockets called Gear Mods, which are modular storage compartments that can be moved from one bag to another. Contact Sportys.com.
MyGoFlight PLC Bags
I own MyGoFlight’s flagship PLC Pro flight bag, which doubles as a backpack, and it has survived serious abuse (I backed over it with my truck one dark morning). Plus, it is one of the few smaller bags that can accommodate my 15-inch MacBook computer. The other thing that impressed me was the build quality and in particular, the strength of the zipper system. Pack any bag beyond its capacity and there’s a chance you’ll break a zipper, but not on the PLC. That’s why I was anxious to try the company’s $139.99 PLC Sport bag, which is essentially a scaled down version of the Pro.
The PLC Sport measures 14 inches high by 13 inches wide and 6 inches deep. It has two main compartments (instead of three compartments on the Pro) and is large enough to carry one headset, a full-size tablet computer and a portable transceiver. One of the padded pockets can accommodate a 13-inch laptop computer, although I was able to squeeze in my iPad Mini and a small MacBook.
The main compartment easily accommodated my Bose headset, but I was sold on the headset hangar feature in the Sporty’s bag. One feature I like about the PLC Pro is the see-through mesh pockets and the Sport has them, too. This makes it easy to locate stuff you need quickly, like sunglasses, a wallet and keys, for example. The quick access pocket at the top of the bag proved convenient for storing snacks, hand sanitizer and a bottle of pain reliever—all stuff you don’t want to be fishing for on the inside of the bag while flying.
I was able to easily fit all of my gear into the PLC Sport, with the exception of the action camera mounts. Since I don’t carry a transceiver, I used the deep radio storage pocket for storing my ADS-B receiver, pulse oximeter and two actions cameras. Three other side pockets provide storage for batteries and small electronics, while the main front compartment has plenty of storage for pens, business cards and even a smartphone.
Missing on the PLC Sport is an external water bottle holder—a capability that’s important to me. Actually, the transceiver pocket can hold a water bottle, but not both. Speaking of water, the exterior of all the PLC bags are made from sailcloth, making the bags water resistant.
Measuring 14 inches high by 11 inches wide and 6 inches deep, the $99.99 PLC Lite is the smallest in the series and while it can accommodate one headset, a full-size tablet and a 13-inch laptop computer, it only has two main compartments. Unlike the PLC Sport, the Lite doesn’t have the side pockets or the quick-access pocket. It was a deal breaker for me, but if you only carry a headset, a tablet and small accessories, it should work. MyGoFlight says the Lite is a starter flight bag and that’s an accurate description.
MyGoFlight offers optional embroidery and the LugLoc luggage locator system ($85) for all of its bags. Contact MyGoFlight.com.
Ohio-based Flight Outfitters was founded in 2014, but got its start making high-end bags for the law enforcement, firefighting and EMS industries. What impresses me the most about Flight Outfitters is the dedication to improving its products, which includes sending product samples to industry professionals, accompanied by a comment/feedback card. Its customer service folks are friendly and easy to talk with—that means a lot.
Two bags caught my eye: the $99.95 Lift, a bag resembling the Sporty’s iPad Bag—and the $79.95 Thrust, which is a sling pack design.
The Thrust turned out to be more accommodating than it appears on the outside, which measures 22 inches high by 11 inches wide by 6.5 inches deep. The bag has a carry handle and also includes a single padded shoulder strap that can be adjusted for use on either shoulder.
One side pouch can hold a water bottle (or transceiver) and the other can hold a fuel tester or small flashlight. The bag’s main storage capacity is in four internal pockets, which are lined with MA1-inspired bright orange fleece—the largest pocket measuring 17 inches high by 10.5 inches wide by 1.5 inches deep. That’s plenty of room for a mid-size laptop computer and full-size tablet—I was able to store my iPad Mini with the kneeboard and a small MacBook inside.
The second largest pocket is 12.5 inches high and 10.5 inches deep, which is large enough to house two headsets, or in my case, one headset and all of my camera gear—including the action cam mounts. Another 11-inch pocket is large enough to hold my ADS-B receiver, gloves, hat and wallet. A small zippered pouch at the top of the midsection of the bag worked well for holding keys, pens and a couple of granola bars.
The Thrust also has four internal mesh organizers for housing cables, charging cords and spare batteries, although the bag has a AA battery holder in one of the compartments.
While it has a custom molded padded back, I think the Thrust could be better if you can wear it like a traditional backpack. I’m not a fan of sling packs, especially when fully loaded.
The $99.95 Lift measures 12 inches high by 10.5 inches wide by 9 inches deep and has three main pockets. If you still carry paper charts, the bag has a quick-access chart pocket on the front that I found useful for storing a magazine. There is also a water bottle or transceiver holder, plus a side pocket designed for a small flashlight.
Don’t plan on storing a laptop computer inside of the Lift; it’s designed to carry a tablet computer and I was able to squeeze in the iPad Mini, plus the kneeboard. Like the Thrust, the Lift’s pockets are lined with orange fleece, which makes items easy to spot even in a dimly lit cabin. The bag also has four internal mesh organizers, a key clip, plus elastic loops for storing batteries. Contact Flightoutfitters.com.
As I mentioned earlier, there are more available options for carrying your stuff and the flight bag roundup article in the February 2015 issue of Aviation Consumer is worth a read.
During my trials, I went flying with a friend who invested big—over $200—in the Brightline Bags FLEX. The FLEX is versatile because it allows you to select specific compartments for the stuff you need to carry for a given mission. For instance, for a basic mission you may only need to pack a headset, a flashlight and other small stuff. The system is designed to Velcro or zip certain compartments together to customize your own bag.
Flight bags are such personal items that one size won’t fit all, so it’s tough to say which one will work best for you. Of the smaller totes I tried, both the Sporty’s HP iPad Bag and the MyGoFlight PLC Sport worked the best for the stuff I carry. Moreover, my experience living with the larger MyGoFlight PLC Pro for a couple of years — plus the smart features in the Sporty’s bag — made it easier to declare them as the winners.