Mael Balland Tvyvjugdc6I Unsplash Scaled

11 of the Best Handheld Radios For Pilots:  All you need to know

|

Aside from trimming the aircraft perfectly, flying is largely about communication, so the best handheld radios for pilots are those that are reliable and easy to use. These compact devices are not just for backup; they can save you time and provide peace of mind. In this article, we’ll review the 11 best handheld radios for pilots, and including some curated reviews from Amazon.

Contents

What to Look for in a Handheld Radio

Before we dive into the reviews, let’s discuss what you should look for in a handheld radio:

Uses: Communication/Navigation or Com Only

Handheld radios come in two flavors: Communications + Navigation (COM/NAV) and Communications only. The COM/NAV radios are the Swiss Army knives of the aviation world. They include both communication and navigational frequencies, making them a versatile tool in the cockpit.

On the other hand, COM only radios are simpler and often more affordable. They’re perfect if you only need to communicate with air traffic control or other aircraft and don’t require navigational aids.

When choosing between COM/NAV and COM only, consider your flying activities. If you’re a student pilot or fly in controlled airspace, a COM/NAV radio might be more useful. But if you’re a recreational pilot who mainly flies in uncontrolled airspace, a COM only radio might be all you need.

Powering Your Flight: Battery Life

When it comes to handheld radios, battery life is a crucial factor. You wouldn’t want your radio to run out of juice in the middle of a flight. Most radios offer both DC and AC charging options, but the real determinant of battery life is the battery’s capacity, measured in milliampere-hours (mAh). The higher the mAh, the longer the battery life.

But remember, battery life isn’t just about the numbers. How you use the radio also impacts how long the battery lasts. For example, using the backlight or transmitting frequently can drain the battery faster. So, consider your usage patterns and choose a radio with a battery life that matches your needs. And don’t forget, carrying a spare battery or a portable charger can be a lifesaver in a pinch!

Tuning In: Frequency Ranges

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) assigns specific frequency bands for aviation use. Handheld air band radios receive and transmit in the VHF (Very High Frequency) bands. The specific frequencies your radio can access will depend on whether it’s designed for communication only or if it also includes navigation functionality.

Remember, not all radios cover the same frequency ranges. Some may include weather channels, while others might not. So, make sure the radio you choose covers the frequencies you need for your flying activities.

Top Com + Nav Handheld Radios

1. Yaesu FTA-750L Handheld VHF Transceiver w/GPS

The Yaesu FTA-750L is more than just a handheld radio; it’s a full-fledged navigation tool. This device comes with a 66-channel GPS WAAS receiver, VOR navigation with a course deviation indicator (CDI), and ILS/glideslope navigation. It’s like having a mini GPS navigator in your hand. Plus, it provides access to NOAA weather channels and alerts, keeping you informed about weather conditions in real-time.

Amazon reviewers have praised the Yaesu FTA-750L for its solid build quality, excellent battery life, and easy-to-use interface. However, some users have reported issues with the audio quality, describing it as tinny with a lot of hiss.

750L
750L

Yaesu FTA-750L

The Yaesu FTA-750L is more than just a handheld radio; it’s a full-fledged navigation tool. This device comes with a 66-channel GPS WAAS receiver, VOR navigation with a course deviation indicator (CDI), and ILS/glideslope navigation.

2. Yaesu FTA-550L Li-Ion Handheld VHF Transceiver

The Yaesu FTA-550L is a robust Com/Nav transceiver that offers VOR navigational functions including automatic navigation and CDI. It also includes the localizer component of ILS navigation. This makes it a versatile tool for pilots who need both communication and navigation capabilities.

On Amazon, users have praised the radio for its large display, which is easy to read, and the radio’s large memory for stored channels. The programming software is free and works well via a standard USB cable. However, some users have criticized the display for poor contrast and distracting background shadows.

550L
550L

Yaesu FTA-550L

The Yaesu FTA-550L is a robust Com/Nav transceiver that offers VOR navigational functions including automatic navigation and CDI. It also includes the localizer component of ILS navigation. This makes it a versatile tool for pilots who need both communication and navigation capabilities.

3. Yaesu FTA-550 AA Handheld VHF Transceiver

550 AA
550 Aa

Yaesu FTA-550 AA

The Yaesu FTA-550 AA is a variation of the 550L, powered by a pack of 6 AA batteries. This makes it a great option for pilots who prefer the convenience and availability of AA batteries. It includes NOAA weather channel monitoring, VOR, and ILS localizer functionality, making it a versatile tool for any pilot.

4. ICOM IC-A25N (NAV/COMM/VOR & GPS) Handheld VHF Transceiver

The ICOM IC-A25N is a handheld radio that goes the extra mile. It offers all the features of a com/nav model plus the ability to pair your radio with your Bluetooth earbuds or phone for extra functionality. It also boasts a large LCD screen, 300 memory channels, and a powerful 2,350 mAh battery, making it a top choice for pilots who need a reliable, feature-rich radio.

Best Com Only Handheld Radios

5. Yaesu FTA-250L (COM ONLY) Li-Ion Handheld VHF Transceiver

Com only
Yaesu Fta-250L

Yaesu FTA-250L

The Yaesu FTA-250L is a top option in the com only handheld market. It has an oversized 250 channel memory bank and a high capacity (1,950 mAh) battery. This makes it a reliable choice for pilots who need a communication-only device with a long battery life.

6. ICOM IC-A25C (COM ONLY) Handheld VHF Transceiver

The Icom IC-A25C is a streamlined version of the IC-A25N, offering 300 memory channels, a large LCD screen, and a powerful 2,350 mAh battery. It’s a great choice for pilots who need a reliable com only radio with a long battery life.

Com only
Icom Ic-A25C

ICOM A25C

The A25C is a communication-only model, designed for pilots who primarily need a reliable device for air-to-air and air-to-ground communication. It’s a straightforward, no-frills option that focuses on delivering clear, reliable communication. This model is perfect for pilots who prefer simplicity and have separate devices for navigation.

7. ICOM IC-A25C-S (SPORT COM ONLY) Handheld VHF Transceiver

The Icom IC-A25C-S is a user-friendly radio that supports all your basic communication needs. It has a dedicated emergency key linked to the 121.5 mHz distress frequency and offers a dedicated emergency key linked to the 121.5 MHz distress frequency. This radio is a great choice for pilots who value simplicity and ease of use. Amazon reviewers have praised the IC-A25C-S for its intuitive interface and robust build. However, some users have mentioned that the squelch is overly sensitive, even at the maximum setting.

8. ICOM IC-A16B (Bluetooth) VHF Air Band Handheld Transceiver Radio

Com only
Icom Ic-A16B

ICOM IC-A16B

The Icom IC-A16B is a compact and lightweight handheld radio that offers Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to pair it with your Bluetooth earbuds or phone for added convenience. It also features a large LCD screen, 300 memory channels, and a powerful 2,350 mAh battery. Amazon reviewers have praised the IC-A16B for its excellent sensitivity, clear audio, and robust build. However, some users have mentioned that the menu for adjusting different functions is complex and not user-friendly.

9. ICOM IC-M25 21 Handheld VHF Radio – Blue Trim

Com only
Icom Ic-M25 21

ICOM IC-M25 21

The ICOM IC-M25 21 is a compact and lightweight handheld radio that offers excellent reception sensitivity and a long-lasting battery. It’s a great choice for pilots who need a reliable com only radio with a long battery life. Amazon reviewers have praised the IC-M25 21 for its solid build, excellent battery life, and easy-to-use interface. However, some users have mentioned that the display is difficult to read in bright light.

Best Emergency Handheld Radios

10. Sporty’s SP-400 Handheld NAV/COM Aviation Radio

The Sporty’s SP-400 is a top-of-the-line handheld radio that offers both communication and navigation capabilities. It features a large, easy-to-read display and a robust build. Amazon reviewers have praised the SP-400 for its excellent reception, clear audio, and long battery life. However, some users have mentioned that the radio is a bit on the heavy side.

11. ICOM IC-A25C (COM ONLY) Handheld VHF Transceiver

Com only
Icom Ic A25C 1

ICOM IC-A25C

The ICOM IC-A25C is a streamlined version of the IC-A25N, offering 300 memory channels, a large LCD screen, and a powerful 2,350 mAh battery. It’s a great choice for pilots who need a reliable com only radio with a long battery life. Amazon reviewers have praised the IC-A25C for its excellent reception, clear audio, and long battery life. However, some users have mentioned that the squelch is overly sensitive, even at the maximum setting.

11 Of The Best Handheld Radios For Pilots:&Nbsp; All You Need To Know
Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash

Mounting Your Handheld: A Place for Everything

When it comes to using a handheld radio in the cockpit, placement is key. You want your radio to be easily accessible, but it shouldn’t interfere with your other flight controls. That’s where mounts come into play. These handy accessories allow you to secure your radio in a convenient location, ensuring it’s always within reach when you need it.

There are several types of mounts available, ranging from suction cup mounts that attach to your windshield to clamp mounts that can be secured to a yoke or other structure. Some pilots even opt for a simple Velcro strip to keep their radio in place. The best mount for you will depend on your cockpit layout and personal preference.

mounts
Cup Holder Mount

Adjustable Cup Holder Mount

  • Heigth can be adjusted from 6.5″ To 8″
  • Base expands out to 3 3/4″
  • Works with any HT and Scanner with a belt clip

Positioning Your Radio: Accessibility and Safety

The position of your handheld radio in the cockpit can significantly impact its usability and safety. Ideally, your radio should be within easy reach and in a location where the display is easy to read. This allows you to operate the radio without taking your eyes off the flight instruments for too long.

However, it’s also important to ensure that the radio doesn’t interfere with your flight controls or obstruct your view. For example, a radio mounted on the windshield should be positioned so it doesn’t block your view of the runway or other aircraft.

In general, the best position for your radio is one that allows for easy access and clear visibility without compromising safety or comfort. This might take some trial and error to find, but the effort will pay off in improved communication and a smoother flying experience.

Finding the right place for your handheld radio in the cockpit is a small detail that can make a big difference. With the right mount and positioning, your radio becomes an integrated part of your cockpit setup, enhancing your communication capabilities without disrupting your flight routine. So take the time to find the perfect spot for your radio – it’s worth it.

The Essential Guide to Comms for Private Pilots

Shopping for a Handheld: The First Step

Navigating the world of handheld aviation radios can feel like learning a new language, especially if you’re a rookie pilot. With a dizzying array of options out there, it’s crucial to zero in on what you really need from a radio. Are you after a model with navigation features, or is a comm-only radio more your speed? The cream of the crop in aviation handheld radios strike a perfect balance – they’re functional, reliable, and offer bang for your buck.

Radio Communication: The Lifeline of Aviation

Radio communication is an essential part of flying. It’s how pilots communicate with air traffic control, other aircraft, and ground services. The best handheld aviation radios offer clear, reliable communication, ensuring you can always be heard and understood. Whether you’re communicating your flight plans or responding to an emergency, your radio is your lifeline.

The Range of Aviation Handheld Radios: Finding the Right Fit

The range of a handheld aviation radio can vary significantly depending on the model and conditions. Many pilots use their handheld as a backup radio, so it’s important to choose a radio with a range that meets your needs. Whether you’re flying locally or cross-country, your handheld radio can also be a valuable tool for staying connected.

Headset Compatibility: Enhancing Communication

Many aviation radios come with the ability to connect your aviation headset directly to the handheld. This feature makes using the radio easier and more convenient, especially in noisy cockpit environments. When shopping for a handheld, make sure that the radio is compatible with your headset.

Powering Your Flight: Rechargeable Batteries

Most handheld radios come with rechargeable batteries, providing a cost-effective and environmentally friendly power solution. When choosing a radio, consider the battery life and how easy it is to charge your radio. Some radios even allow for in-flight charging, ensuring you’re never without power when you need it.

The Best of the Best: Top Radio Brands

When it comes to handheld radios, two brands stand out: Icom and Yaesu. These manufacturers offer some of the best overall radios on the market, combining performance, durability, and value. Whether you’re looking for a feature-packed model like the Yaesu FTA-750L or a reliable comm-only handheld like the Icom IC-A25C, these brands offer a radio to meet your needs.

The Flight Bag Essential: Why You Need a Handheld

A handheld radio is an essential tool for student pilots and seasoned aviators alike. It’s not just a backup for your primary radio; a handheld radio can also be used for receiving weather updates, communicating with ground crew, and even navigating in some models.

So, do you need one?  Well, yes.  Why wouldn’t you carry such a useful device in your flight bag?

Making the Right Choice: What to Look for in a Radio

Choosing the best radio for your needs involves considering several factors. You’ll want to think about the radio’s frequency range, battery life, and additional features like navigation or weather updates. It’s also important to consider the radio’s durability and how easy it is to use. After all, the last thing you want in a high-stress situation is a radio that’s complicated to operate.

When Comms Go Silent: Dealing with Communication Failures

In the world of aviation, communication is key. But what happens when your radio goes silent? Communication failures can be a stressful experience, but they’re not insurmountable. The first step is to stay calm and follow established procedures. Try to troubleshoot the issue if possible – check your frequency, volume, and the condition of your equipment. If you’re unable to restore communication, remember that you’re not alone up there. Air traffic controllers are trained to handle these situations and will use various methods to guide you safely.

Non-Radio Aircraft: The Silent Fliers

Believe it or not, not all aircraft are equipped with radios. These non-radio aircraft, often vintage or ultralight models, rely on visual signals for communication. This is where air traffic control signal lights come into play.

Air traffic controllers use a system of coloured lights to communicate with non-radio aircraft. Each color and pattern has a specific meaning:

  • Steady green signals clearance for takeoff or landing.
  • Flashing green signals clearance to taxi or return for landing.
  • Steady red signals to stop or give way to other aircraft.
  • Flashing red signals danger and the need to evacuate the runway.
  • Flashing white signals to return to your starting point on the airport.

While flying a non-radio aircraft can be a unique experience, it’s essential to be well-versed in these signal light communications. Understanding and correctly responding to these signals ensures safe and efficient operations, even without the chatter of radio comms.

In Conclusion: Your Radio, Your Lifeline

Whether you’re a student pilot learning the ropes or a seasoned aviator looking for a reliable backup, a handheld aviation radio is an essential piece of equipment. With brands like Yaesu and Icom offering a range of high-quality radios, you’re sure to find the right handheld to suit your needs. So, take the plunge, get a handheld, and experience the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re always connected.

Share this:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply