The image of the senior pilot carrying his big flight bag full of charts, plotters, headsets, and other goodies is one that remains strong in my mind from my initial days of flight training. The big flight bag full of all of the tools of the trade seemed like a mark of an experienced professional to me. Who knew what special and important goodies such a pilot carried with them as they headed out to the ramp to pilot aircraft larger and faster than the first training aircraft I was flying.
This seems stupid, but to me that was a goal. To have enough flying experience and skill that I NEEDED a big bag full of pilot goodies. As I gained pilot experience, completed more ratings and certificates, and transitioned into aviation as a career, the flight bag I carried got bigger. I even used some of the stuff in the bag periodically! Things and times change though.
Last week I went into the storage shelves in my basement and found three flight bags on the shelf.
I got to thinking. I don’t think any of these flight bags had been off the shelf in at least a year, maybe two. The contents of these bags included paper charts, plotters, random mixes of “state aviation directories,” some old paper state sectional charts, 5 or 6 empty leather Jeppesen approach plate binders (which I remember being expensive when I bought them originally), some patch cords for various headsets and handheld aviation radios, two extra headsets, and a mixed bag of old and dried up pens. Oh, I think there was flashlight with dead batteries in it also.
As I spread all of the bags and their contents on the table, the sorting began. I figured it was time to get rid of a few things. After a short bit, all of the paper charts ended up in the recycling pile (they were all expired and a few even ran into 3-4 years old). I saved one of the plotters, one of the three E6Bs I had, a couple patch cords, and the flashlight. This was all I think I will ever use again. The Jeppesen binders and two of the three flight bags I ended up dropping off at a local airport for them to give to any flight students who might want them (the only flight bag I ended up keeping was a small Brightline bag).
The pile I was left with, including the headsets barely makes the flight bag I kept even look full. In fact, when I was done, I even put this last bag back on the shelf. The reality is that I don’t carry any of this stuff with me flying anymore. In fact, I have come to a point where technology has changed any need for a flight bag.
When I fly now, all I really carry is a headset, sunglasses, and my iPad.
Technology over the last couple of years has completely changed the need for all of this pilot gadgetry and charts that I used to carry. All of my charts (which historically used to be a big part of the flight bag content) are now digital – and I don’t even have to spend the hours updating Jeppesen charts like I used to – and update themselves automatically. My E6B is an iPad App by Sporty’s. Sunglasses, I can obviously carry on my head.
The only things I sometimes need to carry otherwise are a flashlight for night flight and a charger for my iPad in-flight. Both of these fit in my headset case.
Technology has changed what the image of a pilot is to me from when I started. There is no longer a need for the big pilot goodie bag.
It seems kind of like we are missing a part of the pilot puzzle has been cut out. I’m not sure that I would want to be a company that provides the physical paraphernalia that pilots have historically collected that have now been digitally replaced – although most of those traditional providers are the same folks that now provide digital versions, so it is probably just fine.
The digital flight bag has eliminated the need for sore shoulders that have carried binders full of approach plates and consolidated more data than we ever had available to us as pilots into mobile tablet devices that fit in our hands. In fact, this change has the potential to make us safer if we know how to access and use the data that the applications can provide.
Most interestingly to me though, is that in this transition, General Aviation pilots and training seem to have lead the way in the aviation community. Historically, the commercial and professional pilot realms have been where high tech professional developments have taken place, then trickling down to the GA pilot community. In this case, and largely through fast growth of iPad utilization by the GA community, the GA community was able to move forward with a transition faster than the commercial community. The ability of GA pilots to make changes without requiring authorization or large company wide changes allowed fast integration of new technology. The experience of the GA community with this transition is now directly impacting and helping to foster similar changes in the commercial community who is also transitioning into paperless cockpits and electronic flight bags.
Our mental image of a professional pilot stereotypically includes the sunglasses, the leather jacket, probably the captains hat, the white shirt with stripes, and it used to include the flight bag. Now perhaps it will be all of those things plus an iPad under their arm.
We have seen a significant change in the pilot community and our flight bags. My old big bags are probably a thing of the past never to been seen again. I doubt I’ll miss carrying them.