Flight bags become a part of our aviation lives. We somehow become attached to those glorified grocery bags we use to schlep our flight gear around-so spending a little time making a selection is worth the effort. Chances are youre going to have it for a long time.
There is a bewildering selection of bags-we quit counting at 70 different offerings. However, before even looking at a flight bag, we believe that the selection process should begin with a thoughtful assessment of the type of flying you do, followed by consideration as to what you truly need to have with you in an airplane and how you want it organized. A good flight bag is all about organization and convenience for you as pilot in command.
Take inventory of all the stuff you normally carry in the airplane on a flight. Get all of it and lay it out on the bed. Go ahead, well wait. If youre a student pilot, keep reading: well have some suggestions for you.
Look the pile and decide what you really need. Weve seen too many pilot who think that flight bags are zero-gravity bins, and 25 pounds of stuff gets tossed into an already overgross Tomahawk, making for some puzzled looks on the faces of PICs on warm day takeoffs. How long has it been since you used that second GPS unit? Why two fuel samplers? Four piddle packs-really?
Pull out the survival gear-it goes in your survival vest that you wear because you may not be able to get at the bag after a quick stop. The vest gets carried in the bag to and from the airport. Weve got more on survival starting on page 13.
Next, segregate the stuff-start with the things you normally need on getting into the airplane; such as tablet computer, headset, pen, pad, flashlight. Youll want those things in a convenient location. Second, is there stuff you might need in flight on very short notice, such as the spare flashlight or standby radio? Youll want a flight bag that is set up to allow you to reach and grab-when the adrenalin is flowing, you dont want to be digging frantically for what should quickly come to hand.
Finally, make a pile of the stuff that you simply cant bring yourself to get rid of.
Weigh everything. More than you thought, right? See what you can do to weed it down still more.
Now youre in a position to evaluate what you want in a flight bag. Think about where you will put the stuff in those three piles you made each time you look at a contender.
As you look at bags, keep the overall size of the pile of your stuff in mind-buy a bag big enough to hold it without a lot of empty space. The human tendency to fill up suitcases just because there is space available is counterproductive with flight bags. You dont need the weight and the extra junk will be in the way when youre looking for that fuel sampler.
By the end of the first lesson, a new student has not only been inundated with information about flight, she or he has also been bombarded with things they should buy. In our opinion, a flight bag shouldnt be purchased right away. Grab an old backpack from the closet and use it-itll be fine and you wont look uncool. We suggest that you hold off on the flight bag decision until after at least your first solo cross-country. By then youll have a pretty good feel of what you need and can buy a flight bag that will meet your needs for many years to come. Keep thinking convenience and organization.
To help you with step two of the flight bag selection process-actually looking at bags-we examined some of the best-known and most popular flight bags, and that we felt were durable enough to buy with an expectation that they will hold up as you toss them around over the years.
Brightlines FLEX system allows a pilot to combine various modules to create a flight bag that fits his or her needs. Starting with the $96, ultrathin B-Zero Slim bag that is the lines basic Pocket Cap Front and Flat Cap Rear zipped together, the line progresses, by adding various size center sections and side pockets, up to the B18 Hangar bag, priced at $319.
According to Brightline, the hub of the FLEX system is the Pocket Cap Front, which has three main pockets and six secondary pockets for the pilot to store cords, cables, chargers, batteries and so forth for electronic gear as well as a fuel sampler, multi-tool and small flashlight. The various center sections include movable dividers. Side pockets vary from something for holding pens to one that Brightline says will hold any handheld radio.
While pricey, we like that the modular system allows a user to start small and buy additional modules as the need arises, as well as to make a big bag smaller for a flight where weight or available space will be a consideration.
Brightline offers a three-year warranty.
Sportys Flight Gear line of pilot bags is attractively priced and, we think, extensive enough to have a bag that will fit most any pilots needs. Starting with a padded headset case for $19.95, it includes seven more cases, topping out with the large Flight Gear Navigator Bag at only $99.95.
We spent some time with three of the bags. The Mission Bag, priced at $62.95, is 10x8x13 inches and is designed for tight cockpits where you may only be able to get at the bag through the top. Its centered around a large center compartment that can be accessed through a top zipper flap or a side zipper that opens up the entire bag. It also has two zipper compartments on the front and small pouches on one side.
For a little less money ($59.95), Sportys Crosswind Bag is larger (15x9x9.5 inches) and offers a large center compartment and dedicated headset compartment. Sportys says that the bag was designed for student pilots by the student pilots in its flight school. It has the space for most things a VFR pilot will need and there are enough dividers and compartments to keep things organized.
Sportys top-of-the-line bag is the $99.95 Navigator. At 10x22x11 inches, its more than just a Crosswind bag on steroids. It has a padded headset and padded tablet pocket as well as hideaway headset pockets that are accessed from the outside. There are four additional external pockets of varying sizes and shapes as well as fuel sampler-sized pouches so anything from power cords and batteries to large writing tablets can be carried.
Sportys posts photos of its product testing. They show a bag filled with bricks to test the straps; it was then dropped from 50 feet to see if it would break (it didnt) and left out in the rain to show that the contents wouldnt get wet. We like the design, durability and competitive price of Sportys flight bags.
Sportys warrants its flight bags for one year.
We looked at four of ASAs extensive line of flight bags. At $29.95, ASAs Pilot Briefcase, is a 15x11x3-inch nylon briefcase that is designed to carry ground and flight school materials. The expandable main compartment will hold a laptop computer and a textbook or two and is protected by a foldover flap that closes with two plastic buckles and has a zippered pouch suitable for long, flat items. It looked to us to be the right bag for ground school, but not for flight.
The Air Classics Flight Bag is a step up from the Flight Briefcase. At $79.95, it is 18x11x7 inches and has a large, double-zippered main compartment with adjustable dividers, compartments at the ends that will each hold a headset, portable GPS or RAM mount and two zippered flat compartments on the side. There are no pouches or small compartments for storing often used items such as a small flashlight or fuel sampler.
The $129.95 Air Classics Pro Flight Bag at 20x10x12 inches has a cavernous main compartment, two large end compartments that can each hold one or two headsets and side pouches with padded storage for a tablet computer. There is also a detachable chart wallet, accessory pockets inside compartments and a roller bag attachment, however, there is an absence of side pockets or pouches for smaller items.
The Air Classics Tech Flight Bag is a cross between a briefcase and flight bag; it felt to us as if it were targeted at the digital pilot, whereas the rest of the ASA line with its large compartments seems aimed at paper chart users. At $99.95 and measuring 17x10x5 inches, the Tech Flight Bag has a main compartment with two removable headset bags, padded laptop storage area and room for a tablet computer. There is a modest exterior pocket for chargers, cords and other small items and two flat, zippered exterior pockets.
Known for its headsets, Lightspeed Aviation made the decision to enter the crowded flight bag field with three offerings that are not only functional but are finely made and styled pieces of luggage.
Named for aviators who had a certain style of their own, these bags are expected to attract attention on the ramp. Lightspeeds director of marketing, Ed Hansen, told us, Anybody who wants a quality bag in the classic style will appreciate the ingenuity of the design of the bag. We noted that all seemed to be designed for the digital pilot, with space for tablet computers, chargers, cords and headsets. All have a one-year warranty.
At $249, the Gann is 16x6x13.5 inches, with a main compartment that has a carpenter-style zippered opening, that allows it to open wide for complete access to the large space containing a zippered tablet pocket. Outside is a handheld radio pouch with a section of the flap cut away to allow the radio antenna to protrude, a front organizer pocket and a flat rear pocket with a clever second zipper so it will slide onto the handle or a roll-aboard suitcase.
The $199.00 Markham is more compact at 12×5.5×9.5 inches and has the handheld radio pouch on the end, rather than the side. There is a main compartment that has no dividers or pouches as well as front organizer pocket, an end pouch sized for a water bottle and a flat back pocket for a table computer and documents.
At $179, the Antoine bag is a duplicate of the Markham, but made of what Lightspeed calls ballistic polyester rather than leather.
Lightspeed offers a $25 organizer insert with a number of pockets for the main compartment of each of its flight bags.
The 17x13x7-inch MyGoFlight PLC Pro bag is a combination briefcase and backpack targeted at pilots who carry tablets and electronic accessories. The large center compartment will hold two headsets and has pockets and dividers that help keep things organized.
Since the inside of the storage pockets are easy to see, we particularly like that small items dont get lost inside the bag-a problem we have with run-of-the-mill backpacks. Moreover, this makes the bag easy to deal with at TSA checkpoints.
At $159, its not cheap, but its one of the highest quality backpacks weve seen.
From a line of six bags, we examined Jeppesens Navigator flight bag and its Pilot Backpack. At 12x24x12 inches, the $101.95 Navigator is built to carry a lot of stuff-its especially good if you fly IFR using paper charts. The padded main compartment has movable dividers; the outside has a removable headset bag on each end, an organizer pocket on the front and two pouches on the back.
We particularly liked the $79.95 Jeppesen Pilot Backpack. Its designed for the digital pilot, with numerous pockets for electronic gear and cords. Its dimensions are 21x14x9.5 inches. The padded laptop sleeve is big enough to hold a 15-inch MacBook, which will not fit into the MyGoFlight backpack. In addition to the large central compartment, we counted eight zipper pockets of various sizes and shapes.
If your flight bag of choice is a backpack, we recommend Jeppesens Pilot Backpack.
With something north of 70 flight bags to choose from, the selection can appear overwhelming. Thats the bad news. The good news is all of the ones we examined were of good quality and, we think that because of the level and quality of competition, the prices are reasonable.
As we were discussing flight bags with him, Sportys Doug Ranly told us, Each person has his own mission. We couldnt agree more. All of the bags we examined came with shoulder straps, some pilots like them, some throw them away.
Some pilots like a lot of small, zippered compartments; others consider them just more zippers to futz with while trying to find the airplane keys.
We like the ability to tailor a bag offered by Brightline, but we recognize that flexibility (and all those zipper pockets) comes at a price. When dollars are tight, we like that Sportys, Jeppesens and ASAs lines are so complete that its almost possible to tailor a flight bag.
Because all of the bags we examined were good quality, the bottom line is that the most important factor in the selection is for pilots to take the time to determine what they need to have in the airplane and evaluate his or her needs for convenience and organization.