A pilot’s flight bag is one of those things that a pilot cannot be without. No matter if the person is flying a commercial airliner or a small aircraft out in the remote wilderness. A pilot’s flight bag has everything close by that a pilot would need both before, during, and after the flight.
An airline pilot’s flight bag contains identification, company documents, sunglasses, headset, additional clothes, water, snacks, notepads, and a company iPad filled with all the aviation charts and procedures. A bush pilot’s flight bag may also have a portable GPS and small survival and first aid kits.
This article is quite unique as it has two pilots’ perspectives. Firstly I will give you a tour of what is in my bag that I use on the airlines every day, then Rick will give you a tour of what he uses flying in the bush.
Just like a ladies’ purse, a pilot’s flight bag can seem endless with the amount of stuff they have in there. Everything in there though has a purpose so to find out exactly what’s inside these bags and why please read on…
What’s Inside an Airline Pilot’s Flight Bag?
This is split into two categories:
Every pilot needs to carry with them their Pilot’s License, passport, medical certificate, any type of visa if they have to overnight in any place not covered by international law (Israel for example).
The company’s Identification card which is sometimes put on a lanyard around the pilot’s neck and a notebook so they can write down things to make life easier while flying (fuel figures, ATC frequencies, passenger numbers, etc.).
Before the advent of the iPad, many of the company documents were in paper format and would have to be carried. Flight plans, Load sheets, weather data, schedules, and so forth. This easily doubled the size of the pilot’s flight bag. Now its much lighter!
The next important thing that can be found in a pilot’s bag is the Headset. Different types of headsets can be found, but two most common the world over are the:
These are the most comfortable headsets for long-distance flights. Both have had extensive pilot input into their design and the pedigree of Bose is the reason why you will find these on every flight deck. Just like any tool, they are not cheap, but when you are wearing them for hours on end you soon forget about the cost.
It is for these reasons that both myself and Rick wear Bose pilot headsets.
Together with the headset usually pilots carry batteries to use in case the batteries for the headset die during flight. The headsets have noise canceling capabilities that run off the batteries and once it stops working mid-flight I can tell you it feels sooo loud without it!
These types of headsets usually have Bluetooth so you can listen to music or watch movies in a long flight. Some pilots also carry spare headset parts in case anything breaks that might need replacing.
Food and Water
Good food and lots of water are always present in a pilots bag. Like every job, pilots need to be properly hydrated and not have a distraction of an empty stomach. Not every airline offers food to pilots and flight attendants!
Most low-cost airlines require pilots to bring their own food and some of them, even water. Supplied or not, it’s always a good idea to have some kind of food in the bag, even if that is just a snack. Water should always be in a pilot’s bag no matter whether the airline supplies it or not.
Coffee – Waking up at 4 am to operate any kind of flight usually means most pilots will have this as part of their primary flight possessions.
Clothes should be brought on any flight even if that is a short one. Lots of times pilots may find themselves in an unplanned layover somewhere with nothing to wear but their uniform and the hotel’s towels.
A change of underwear, pants and a shirt makes for a much more comfortable evening when going out for a quick meal. Not every pilot wants to stay a pilot in their downtime!
Electronic Flight Bag
Every airline in the world issues some kind of iPad to their pilots. For most operators, the iPad contains all airport charts, performance tools for take-off and landing, aircraft flight manuals, company standard operating procedures, company operating manuals, and any company-specific documentation required.
Besides the company-issued iPad, pilots may carry their own iPad containing movies, books, or whatever else they prefer to make their life easier on the flight deck during long flights.
Believe it or not, pilots carry even board games or books with them to pass some time while flying those long 8 hours crossing the ocean. This may sound odd, but as pilots, we are still constantly monitoring all the instrumentation and the avionics instantly lets us know if something changes or faults.
For those unplanned overnight layovers, the thought of not having deodorant, or a toothbrush just sends shivers down most pilots’ spines! All pilots will carry a small toiletry ‘Basics’ pack in their pilot bag. This way they ALWAYS have something to freshen up.
In addition, one of the downsides of everyday flying at altitudes more than 20,000 feet is that the air becomes dry. The warm cabin air we all breathe and sit in is provided by the engines, so a good quality face moisturizing cream and a hand cream should always be in there.
Sunscreen is also a must. Once above the clouds, a pilot can be sat facing the sun for hours on end, every working day. Even though the cockpit windows do have a UV-reduction coating it is still advisable for pilots to apply a small amount of sunscreen to their faces each day.
Disinfecting wipes are also a good idea to clean yourself up before and after eating or for just cleaning the instruments and the controls of the aircraft.
The last thing is sunglasses, no matter what! To find out why pilots need sunglasses please take a read of this article:
High Visibility Vest
All pilots need to carry their High-Visibility vest with them at all times they are on airport grounds and in the aircraft maneuvering area.
High-vis vest are mandatory while outside of the aircraft or terminal to all them to be easily seen by ground staff and pilots.
Airports are very busy places and not everyone is paying attention so making themselves easy to see is a must to avoid an accident.
Both the Captain or Co-Pilot can be tasked with doing the pre-flight visual inspection of the aircraft exterior.
Anything else that might be important for the pilot, That might be cigarettes, gum, medications, reading glasses, specific beverages, or snacks. You get the idea! Random stuff that makes their life easier.
Try These Articles:
* Pilot Logbooks – What Are They & Why You Need One?
* Before Taking Off – What Do Pilots Check?
Do Pilots Buy Their Own Flight Bags?
Most airlines will issue their pilots with a flight bag and suitcase. These may have been manufactured with the airline’s branding and may be mandatory. Many times pilots will purchase their own flight bags that suit their personal preference and usage provided the airline allows it.
A pilot’s bag is considered a part of the company uniform so for some airlines it is mandatory to be carrying one with you at all times when on duty. Usually, the bag is provided by the airline company together with the pilot uniform with guidance on when and where both the uniform and bag must be worn.
Usually, airlines provide their pilots with a suitcase as well for long layovers but it’s not mandatory to carry it with you, unlike the pilot’s bag.
If you want to see a great selection of some of the most popular bags used by pilots all over the world please check out the collection Here in the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store
What’s Inside a Bush Pilot’s Flight Bag?
A bush pilot’s flight bag will usually contain a flashlight, bug spray, multi-tool, survival kit, satellite phone, portable GPS, toilet roll, and sometimes a first-aid kit. Being out in the wilderness the pilot has to be prepared for an overnight stay and to be as comfortable as possible.
Bush pilots very rarely have the comforts on an airport lounge or terminal to work out of or wait. Once away from the main hanger most bush pilots are out in the wilderness with their customers and as such need to have a few items to help.
Bush pilots mostly spend their days working out in the bush and return to the hangar at night or they can be based out of camps or hotels. All commercially operated aircraft must have on board a small first-aid kit, a small survival kit and most also contain a satellite phone and tracking system and a GPS, but most pilots I know will also pack their own gear too.
Hi Rick here, now Vasileios has shown you what’s in his airline flight bag, I will show you what’s in mine!
Depending on the company the aircraft may come with an aviation GPS installed already but if not, the pilot needs to be prepared with their own GPS. This is mainly used for navigating to the locations the customers have specified. Many times the customer may send a file of GPS coordinates that they wish to visit during their job. The pilot can then enter these in ahead of time so is ready for the first day with the customer.
The portable GPS however is now becoming obsolete as most pilots have their own iPad.
Just like the airline pilot, the bush pilot will use the iPad for all of their personal and company documentation as well as a GPS App like Boeing’s Foreflight or Garmin’s Pilot.
The moving map technology which also allows customers to send map overlays make the iPad a powerful tool in the cockpit.
For example, this was an updated map of a wildfire showing the perimeter and all of the helipads, camps, and rain gauges.
This was airdropped to the pilots for that morning and it was instantly on all the pilot’s iPads for that days fire attack.
The iPad is a very powerful and helpful tool in the bush/utility sector.
If you wish to know what kind of iPad mounting system I use check out my review video Here.
Phone Battery Pack & Solar Charger (Sometimes)
For those days when the pilot has to fly their customers to a location and then sit and wait for them all day, watching movies on their iPhone/iPad can soon chew up their battery. Portable battery packs provide an easy way to charge them back up.
You can find the Battery Pack I use Here at Amazon.com
In the summer a solar phone charger is also a handy tool to have. They can easily be packed away, are light and a great addition/alternative to a battery pack.
Find a Great Solar Charger Here at Amazon.com
Being based in remote camps and away from home, most bush pilots will have their laptop with them. My current laptop has seen more of the country than my wife has and in fact many of the blog posts you read here on Pilot Teacher were written from the backseat of a helicopter while sat waiting for my customers.
Many pilots will keep their digital logbooks and company documents backed up on their laptop.
When staring at a screen is done you can regularly find a pilot sat in their portable camping chair, or hammock reading a book. Pilot crew houses are full of novels and is a great way to take a book, leave a book.
When sitting for hours on end for the weather to improve or their customers to finish a book is a must.
All commercial aircraft by law have to contain a survival kit. But many pilots will pack a small survival kit that they will keep in their flightsuits or in a small ‘Bug-Out’ bag by their seat. In the event of an accident or the pilot needs to evacuate the aircraft quickly, an easy-to-grab survival kit may be the only thing they have to survive.
If you wish to see some great little kits please check out the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store Here
Small Sleeping Bag
When sleeping in a camp a small lightweight, compact sleeping bag and inflatable pillow is usually thrown into the pilot bag! Here is mine and I can tell you that it has paid for itself many times over. Some of the places a pilot is expected to sleep is not for the squeamish!
Although not always needed, their small size makes them easy to throw into the bag when you think there might be a chance of a camp stay.
Usually, a pilot will also have a small first aid kit packed away with their survival kit. Again, most aircraft will have a first aid kit onboard but having a separate, small kit gives great piece of mind. Its surprising how many pilots cut and burn themselves while out working in the bush and building a small campfire!
A small kit like This One from Amazon.com is perfect
Before every flight of the day or after the last flight of the day the aircraft needs to have a nose to tail visual inspection by the pilot. When darkness surrounds the pilot a flashlight and usually a headlamp are first to come out of the bag.
In addition to inspecting the aircraft is looking inside drums of fuel stored at remote fuel caches. The only way to ensure the fuel is not contaminated with water or sediment is to peer through the cap and see it contents.
It will be very rare to find a bush pilot without a multi-tool strapped to their waste or in their flight bag. Being out in the wilderness there are times when small repairs have to be made to the aircraft or equipment to keep it working. A Multi-tool serves this purpose incredibly well.
You can find a great selection of Multi-tools Here at Amazon.com
Toilet Roll and Hand wipes
As much as this gross’s out my wife the fact that a bush pilot spends all day out in the bush means there comes a time when they need to use the bush ‘Facilities’! A bush pilot soon learns to pack their own toilet paper and sanitizing hand wipes! – it’s the simple things in life that make the biggest difference!
Water and Food
Unlike Vasileios, bush pilots do not have the luxury of flight attendants bringing them food or picking up a snack from a terminal food court! Bush pilots will always have plenty of food and water on them to last the day, in fact, this usually comes in its own cooler because it would not fit in the flight bag!
During the summer I always hang a CamelBak off the back of my seat (See Very First Pic), especially when fighting wildfires. Hot summers, beating sun, and 3 hour long flights can soon lead to dehydration if not careful. The Camelbak allows for easy sips between water drops.
In addition, a LifeStraw is a great device to pack in a bag. If water runs out this ingenious device allows you to safely suck water straight out of any water source.
You can find the LifeStraw Here at Amazon.com
Suncream & Sunglasses
Just like Vasileios, every pilot needs sunglasses and sunscreen. Have a look at the picture below and see how much of the aircraft is window!
Protection from the sun is paramount, especially over decades of exposure. Both good-quality sunglasses and sunscreen will always be found in any pilot’s bag.
Here is a great selection of Pilot Sunglasses at the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store
Bug Spray & Bug Hat
One of the worst aspects of being a bush pilot has to be the bugs! Mosquitos, Horse Flies, Black Flies, No-See-Ums, I swear they are all there to make a pilot’s life miserable while out in the bush. I’m lucky as I can sit in the aircraft with all the windows and vents shut to keep them at bay, but when a pilot needs to work outside bug spray and a bug hat are the only means to survive.
Over the years of working with hundreds of talented field workers, the best bug spray/cream they all wear is This One Here at Amazon.
Operating in remote areas brings with it a whole set of challenges if a problem occurs or the pilot or their aircraft becomes disabled. Many bush aircraft have satellite tracking systems fitted into them so the company can track their aircraft, but for smaller companies, this is not the case.
Over the last few years, both I and many of my customers have invested in our own sat tracking devices so that we can connect with each other while out in the field and give out loved one’s peace of mind should an issue occur.
The two most common devices in a bush pilot’s bag are either the Spot or ZoLeo. For a few hundred dollars these can not only send messages for help but the ZoLeo allows messaging through an app on a smartphone, even without cell service.
When bush pilots are sitting behind Vasileios and he is flying them to work the bush pilots’ belongings are at the mercy of the airport’s ground handling staff. We all know how bags get misplaced so most pilots will pack the majority of their flight gear (minus the sharps and liquid) as hand luggage.
To ensure the pilot is ready to go the moment they arrive many will have a couple of pairs of underwear and a very small travel toiletry kit in the bag in case their main baggage doesn’t arrive.
If you are like me and are also a YouTube Content Creator then the camera gear must travel too! This is a rare sight, and I’m one of very few pilots who carry ANY camera with them that is not their cell phone, but to do so I had to find a way to incorporate all that gear with my flight gear.
If you wish to find out how I did it please check out this video:
Now back to Vasileios to continue…
What is a Good Pilot Bag?
A pilot’s bag is any kind of bag that would resemble something between a backpack and a suitcase. Think of it as a small suitcase with wheels with just enough space for what you would need on a flight or at a layover.
The most common pilot bags on the interior are usually separated into a big compartment with some smaller ones to fit things like an iPad, clothes, food, and any type of documentation you need to have with you while operating a flight.
It also has to be in a comfortable size that fits inside the flight deck, usually by each pilot’s seat. As you can see this is where I keep my flight bag in the cockpit of the Boeing 737 which unfortunately is not the spaciest flight deck.
With that in mind, a big suitcase – one that you would use to travel on vacation for example – would not be able to fit at all.
Most pilots look for several things in a flight bag:
- Enough space to easily store all their equipment
- Easy access to the most commonly used items – Like headset
- Quality material
- Comfortable to carry
- Not too big, but big enough
- For airlines – Wheels and Retractable handle
Some pilots require a lot of gear to be carried, ie Ricks, some pilots require minimal gear to be carried ie, Mine, and pilots of small, private aircraft may only need a simple headset bag to also store their pilot certificate in.
The good thing is there is such a wide variety of quality pilot bags available that every pilot can find one to suit them.
If you want to see a great selection of some of the most popular bags used by pilots all over the world please check out the collection Here in the Pilot Teacher Amazon Store