There are some common denominators among pilots of all skills and ranks. For instance, while the student pilot may carry some form of the E6-B or a sectional, when I am performing my job as an airline captain, I do not. Nor for that matter do I carry my plotter or a copy of the FARs, though I do have some FARs that I can reference. But one thing that nary a student nor a professional pilot—from the smallest LSA to the space shuttle—can avoid is a good headset. For many pilots, this is the first big purchase or investment made once the actual commitment to flying itself is made, and for good reason. Headsets perform three major functions, all of which contribute to safety: they reduce noise-related fatigue, ease communications (both within the airplane and with ATC); and they protect your hearing.
For the first twenty years of my aviation career, my headset of choice was David Clark. And to this day, I love ‘em. They are dependable, rugged, easy to fix and find parts for, and simple to use. But lately, I made a change to a different model, and not because I wanted to. Starting in the last year or so, I began to get some arthritis in my neck. Also, as one who has worn hearing aids for all but three years of my life, I knew that my hearing in one ear had ever so slightly declined, and I want to maintain the balance of what I have for as long as I can.
A few years ago, several pilots at my airline began showing up with Bose headsets, but not your typical aviation headset. Instead, they had stumbled on what might be called the poor man’s ANR. The headset itself is the Bose QC-15, the same product you see people use on airline flights to block out noise so they can sleep. The QC-15 runs $300 plus shipping. The boom microphone attachment is manufactured by UFlyMike, LLC of Colorado, and is priced at $225, plus shipping. The mic plugs into the same hole used for MP-3 players, iPods and cell phones, and when disconnected, fits neatly into the headset case. I tried a couple of the units when I flew with people that had them, and I was stunned at how quiet, light, and comfortable they were. This year, between the pain in my neck, the occasional headache from wearing the David Clark’s for 8 or 9 hours a day, and the need for a tax deduction, I bit the bullet and ordered the headset and the mic.
The only regret I have is not doing it sooner. Not only do my neck and head feel better, but the noise levels that I used to hear are essentially gone. Radio and intercom transmissions are crystal clear, the volume is turned down, and airflow noise, which can be a major distraction in the RJ at high speeds, have ceased to exist. In fact, the strangest thing for me to get used to was the almost total lack of noise from the wheels accelerating on the runway during takeoff.
The mic adapter plugs into standard intercom/radio plugs (an adapter for Airbus plugs is also available), and also has a plug for an iPod or cell phone. One of the best features is that the unit does not have a battery pack: it uses a single AAA battery that lasts forty to fifty hours. When the battery begins to run low, the green power light starts to blink, which makes it a good time to replace the battery.
There is, apparently, quite a bit of bad blood between UFM and Bose. Bose, after all, has a universal pricing policy and does not offer sales, and the company wants you to spend $1,095.95 to get their new aviation ANR headset. UFM has also been in several battles with various airlines about the use of the UFM/Bose setup. But for my money, the UFM/QC-15 combination is the way to go, especially when it is just more than half the price, only requires one battery, and is usable for more than just flying the airplane. I was so impressed that I will be buying them for my kids.