By GRANT BOYD
Just how each pilot is different, their flight bags are equally as varied, from artisan-crafted leather six-compartment sectional and headset holders all the way to shabby backpacks.
The following brave volunteers’ stories will give a glimpse into their “story of the bag,” and provide insight into three different types of pilots: Standard bag carriers, unique bag carriers, and the non-carriers.
Perhaps after learning about their setups, you may want to upgrade your flight-material carrier to the latest and greatest or realize you are in good company owning a duffel bag that’s 30 years old, tattered, and was with you when you began your journey to become a pilot.
CFIs have the unique opportunity of having future pilots seeking their advice, potentially even for flight bag recommendations.
Jaecy Friesen, a flight instructor at Hesston College of Aviation at Newton City/County Airport (KEWK) in Kansas sports the Sporty’s “Flight Gear Captain’s Bag,” a bag he says is “one of the best Christmas gifts I ever received!”
This type of flight bag is a popular choice among all types of pilots, probably because it is able to carry a considerable amount of gear, both flight-related and other.
Friesen holds a variety of goods within in his bag, including extra AA and AAA batteries for various needs (headset noise cancelling, flashlights, etc.), a Wichita Area Sectional (as a backup for iPad/iPhone operations), and “the most important thing” — a seatbelt cutter.
As he puts it, “this small device is crucial if for some reason in the event of an emergency I need to cut through a seatbelt.”
This affordable life-saving device demonstrates that not all useful things need to take up a lot of space, like paper POHs and charts once did.
“When I first started flying, aviation apps such as ForeFlight were just taking off and I hadn’t quite jumped on the bandwagon yet, therefore, a LOT of the documents that are now on ForeFlight were in my bag,” he relates.
When he still carried the small library of applicable aviation print materials with him, Friesen had a flight that was particularly memorable.
For those unfamiliar with the Kansas sports arena, The University of Kansas Jayhawks and The Kansas State University Wildcats have an especially fierce rivalry (similar to Auburn and Alabama football) in basketball. On this particular flight, he flew to Kansas State University Polytechnic for his private pilot checkride, with a Jayhawk pin affixed to his flight bag. After catching some well-deserved flak from the chief pilot of the pin’s rival school, Friesen demonstrated his skills and passed with flying colors.
While he since has gone on to earn additional ratings after the accessory faux pas, he kept the same bag in tow.
He has no intentions of upgrading, but noted that “as I look to transition into corporate and business aviation flying, I anticipate that my bag will change with added — or removed — items compared to before.”
Whichever type of flying he partakes in, Friesen says he will always carry a flight bag, of some sort, with him.
“My flight bag is important to my identity as a pilot, just as a medic’s bag is important to their identity, he said. “Without my flight bag, I don’t have the peace of mind while flying that I need.”
The Non-Traditional Route
Not all pilots have — or desire – a traditional flight bag. Many are content with whatever works to get the job done.
That’s how it is for Tom Kitt, a pilot who now tows banners out of Albert Whitted Airport (KSPG) in Florida, in PA-25 Pawnees. He’s also flown corporate jets, including the Falcon 2000, all with a flight bag that used to be his dad’s old laptop bag.
Potentially one of the biggest differentiators between this one and typical “soft-shelled” flight bags is that the black leather laptop carrier is able to be dropped (unintentionally) from the baggage compartment of the Falcon and not damage any of the contents, with everything packed correctly, he notes.
The bag also has an attribute that many pilot’s bags don’t include: The cost.
“I chose my flight bag mainly for its price: Free!” he said with a laugh. “I started flight school just a few months after graduating from high school. I had just taken out a very substantial loan for flight school with Airline Transport Professionals and as an 18 year old with big dreams and a small wallet, if it was free, it was for me!”
Now that Kitt has finished training and started a career, there are potential plans to upgrade — at some point.
He notes that a much smaller bag, just big enough for a headset, charts, and a flashlight, would be ideal for the aerial advertising pilot.
“While I’m towing banners, the big bag I currently use can’t really fit in the airplane with me,” he says, explaining the plane has only one seat.
Transitioning from a flight bag that has been with him since the beginning of his training is difficult, especially if it holds as many memories as Kitt’s bag does.
He remembers using the bag — which can double as an overnight bag capable of holding two days’ worth of clothes along with his flight gear — while flying to Oklahoma in a Piper Seminole while he was building time for his commercial certificate to his favorite memory of hand flying a Falcon 2000 into Aspen, often regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful airports.
As with most pilots, something that travels with them on so many excursions is bound to become an important factor in their flying experience.
While Kitt says that his laptop flight bag does not scream “pilot,” he tries to stay humble and gives the look of an aviator by sporting other products, like “rocking aviator sunglasses everywhere I go.”
Do pilots today really need a flight bag? Not so, says Jacob Frye, a private pilot at Lloyd Stearman Field Airport (1K1) in Benton, Kansas.
He says he doesn’t need a flight bag because “most everything that I need is on my phone or iPad.”
This rationale for not carrying a flight bag is reflected by many pilots within the general aviation community, especially by those who have been pilots for a while.
When pilots start training, some buy the most amount of gear that can be carried and as they progress in training and receive additional ratings, the amount of gear carried is inversely related to the amount of knowledge they receive.
While no professionally generated statistics exist to separate “bag carriers” from “non-bag carriers,” Frye is not alone in choosing to lighten the aircraft’s load (as reference, from a quick Facebook survey, approximately one in four pilots fly without a bag).
As the famous adage says, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This seems to be the case for Frye, as he says that he doesn’t have any plans to buy a bag.
Whether you fly with a bag featuring the newest bells and whistles, no bag, or a Walmart plastic grocery sack found in your kitchen as you walked out the door to the airport, remember this flight accessory is not nearly as important as the flight itself.