Making radio calls often causes stress and discomfort to student pilots, listening to ATC conversations can be a great help to improve your own radio skills. Also for safety, a handheld radio can provide a great backup in case your aircraft radio fails or on the ground when walking around at an airport. A portable radio is the ideal flight companion for every (student) pilot; it practically pays for itself by saving pilots both engine hours and fuel during preflight communications with the tower.
When looking for a handheld aviation radio, there are a few factors to consider and look out for:
This might speak for itself, but always look out for the very cheap radios; they are usually only receivers which you can only use to receive radio messages. If your only intention is to listen to ATC conversations, a receiver would do the job. If you're really looking for a good handheld alternative to your aircraft's radio, a transceiver is what you need.
Most radios are sold in two different models. The inexpensive model is usually COMM-only, with the more expensive one also offering navigation functionalities. This nav function is usually able to track VOR's and even ILS, and could be helpful as a backup when flying IFR. Recently, some of the newer models are equipped with a built-in GPS as well, to offer an even more valuable tool.
Most handheld radios are equipped with a rechargeable Li-Ion battery. This has the big advantage that they last very long and can easily be charged without replacing them. Some radios also have a battery pack that uses AA-type batteries, this requires a little more attention from your side to always carry spare batteries and replace them on time.
If you're flying in the EU, this is something very important to keep in mind. Since 2018, EU regulations have changed the spacing of the frequencies to 8,33 kHz, meaning for every single old frequency, there can now be three new ones. As a result, EU pilots are required to use radios that support 8,33 kHz spacing, making the older 25 kHz radios obsolete. Keep this in mind so you can operate your radio legally inside the EU and potentially other countries that might follow in the near future.
All radios mentioned in this guide support the 8,33 kHz narrow band.
At a price point of just below $200, the Yaesu FTA-250L is the cheapest aviation transceiver in the list. This Yaesu radio is an extremely affordable, compact (comm only) airband transceiver. Featuring an extremely rugged Polycarbonate housing with an IPX5 Waterproof rating for use in harsh environments with rain, splash and spray. Loud 700mW audio output guarantees that radio calls will not be missed even in noisy environments. The FTA-250L is 8.33kHz Narrow Band capable, with a huge programmable 250 channel capacity memory bank.
$197.94Buy now on Amazon
The Yaesu FTA-450L is a competitively priced (COMM-ONLY) version of the wildly successful FTA-550L. Featuring the same easy to operate icon-driven menu system, on a large 1.7" x 1.7" Full Dot Matrix Display. The same loud 800mW internal audio speaker guarantees calls will not be missed. The FTA-450L has a programmable 200 channel memory bank, means all favorite channels can be easily stored and retrieved with just a few button presses.
Valued packaged with all the necessary accessories, including 110VAC and 12VDC chargers, headset adapter, Alkaline battery tray, Belt Clip, USB programming cable, and a large capacity 1800mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery.
$228.96Buy now on Amazon
The Icom IC-A16B is the IC-A14 and IC-A15 successor, featuring advanced functions like Bluetooth and a louder speaker.
Users appreciate the A16’s compact, waterproof design for one-hand operation for working on the flight line, using it for back up in any aircraft, or for use by ground crew. Its 2400mAh Li-ion battery lasts over 17 hours and the radio includes a nice sit in rapid charger. Airband radios are usually operated in high noise environments, so it is essential for the pilot’s radio to provide loud audio. The A16 internal speaker delivers a loud 1500mW audio output with clear sound to cut through cabin or tarmac noise.
$278.24Buy now on Amazon
The IC-A25C is Icom's latest handheld aviation radio. It's a powerful air band COM handheld with 6 watts of power and an IP57 waterproof rating; weather cannot stop these radios. The handheld transceiver includes a large 2350mAh Li-ion battery, providing a long operating time. The easy-to-use interface and large 2.3-inch LCD display combine to provide stress-free programming and in-flight operation.
$411.65Buy now on Amazon
The Yaesu FTA-550 is packed with features, yet very affordable. With an oversize full dot-matrix LCD display, the FTA-550 Airband Transceiver provides full communication on the Aircraft communications Band and additionally provides VOR and localizer navigation features on the "NAV" band. The FTA-550 includes NOAA weather band monitoring and the capability of programming up to 200 memory channels with a quick and easy channel recall feature.
The Yaesu FTA-750L is the larger and more equipped version of the FTA-550L. It's a compact, handheld transceiver that brings to market a full-spectrum aviation COM/NAV radio with NOAA weather channels & weather alerts, VOR navigation, ILS/glideslope navigation, and even a 66-channel GPS WAAS receiver.
Equally impressive is the units 1.7" x 1.7" full-dot matrix display (160 x 160 dots), waypoint navigation, and GPS logging features. The backlit keypad provides easy viewability in virtually any lighting condition, and the unit can store up to 200 memory channels with 15 alphanumeric characters. The entire unit has an IPX5 water protection rating, and the long-lasting Lithium-ion battery cranks out an impressive 800 mW of clear audio. A state-of-the-art, all-in-one communication/navigation system that fits in the palm of your hand.
If you're looking for a handheld radio with besides COMM and NAV also a built-in GPS, the FTA-750L is definitely the way to go!
The Icom IC-A25N is a powerful air band NAV-COM handheld with 6 watts of power and an IP57 waterproof rating; weather cannot stop these radios. The handheld transceiver includes a large 2350mAh Li-ion battery, providing a long operating time. The easy-to-use interface and large 2.3-inch LCD display combine to provide stress-free programming and in-flight operation. The A25N NAV/COM version also features built-in Bluetooth, GPS and VOR navigation.
$443.86Buy now on Amazon
Last updated on September 16, 2019 by Senne Vandenputte
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