Best Handheld Aviation Radios In 2021

AeroAvion

Best Handheld Aviation Radios In 2021

Best Handheld Aviation Radios

Redundancy is everything in aviation, from navigational aids to power and battery banks. Its important to stay prepared in the event something were to become a detriment to your flight. Handheld radios are an aid that is also characterized as a flight aid, a key role of the cockpit. 

Most aircraft have a panel mounted radio but sometimes this may cut out and become problematic. Having a handheld radio on standby can become a crucial asset to making sure you don’t miss any vital communications from ATC.

You are probably wondering why you would still need a handheld radio. There are many other practical reasons for having one in the cockpit. 

Instead of turning on your engine to receive clearance you can simply call in and request. In addition, tuning into guard frequency during flight on your radio ensures that you can pick up any emergency requests in your area.

Clearly, investing in a handheld radio can be a true asset in the flight bag of a pilot in any stage of their career. Having a handheld radio will last you for many years and can be one of your most valuable utilities. Not only will you find use for one in general aviation, but as you scale you can utilize a transceiver in all complex types.

In this listing, we will be presenting what we thing are the Best Aviation Handheld Radios to buy in 2021.

What to look for when choosing a handheld radio

Battery Life

Of course, the main source of power for a handheld radio is the battery. The whole reason that a handheld radio is a redundancy for the cockpit is the fact that it can operate without power. Battery life is an important factor in choosing a handheld radio. Make sure to do your due diligence to find out how long the manufacture measured the battery life to last on a hand-held radio.

On average most last around 12 hours but you can find more robust options that will last even longer. Keep in mind that handheld radios don’t use as much power as other external devices. Even though it may seem like 12 hours is short they can extend for much longer periods of time depending on usage.

In addition, depending on your preference you may also aim for a handheld radio that uses traditional double A batteries. This ensures that you can always have spares on hand or utilize the same power source from your aviation headset. Traditional lithium batteries may not be the most ideal when it comes to durability, but they are always available in a pinch before or after a flight.

COM/NAV Capability

There are two types of Handheld Aviation Radios, Communication only, and Communication and Navigation or most commonly referred to as COM/NAV.

As you can probably tell, COM/NAV systems come with the additional redundancy of having navigational aids in addition to communication. This can be seen as a plus for many aviators as this serves a dual purpose. If left stranded you can communicate and navigate to a safe location. It may not seem like much, but when stuck in a situation like this you can quickly realize the benefits.

The NAV feature is able to track VOR’s, and at times ILS broadcasts. Some of the more expensive models can be equipped with GPS if you want that added layer of redundancy.

Frequency Range

Frequency range is important since this has burned a few in the past. Its important to make sure the radio you pick can correctly capture VHF aviation frequencies. Handheld radios for aviation need to receive VHF frequencies of (Very High Frequency) Bands. There are many counterfeit options on the web that may claim to reach these frequencies. It is important to do your due diligence when selecting a model as they broadcast live.

Luckily, we have done the work for you, below we have some awesome suggestions that will get you flying.

Accessories

Accessories play a huge role in the capability of your handset. Most handsets come with an alkaline battery case and a 12V DC adapter. However, its important to do your due diligence to ensure that your handset comes with these adapters. The good news is, all of our selections below (excluding the FTA-250L) comes with these adapters which expand your capability.

In addition, you want to make sure you can use your aviation headset with your radio. Some accessories may allow you to convert your headset Y cable into a format which can be used with a handheld radio.

Student Flying

Our number one pick is the Yaesu FTA-750L Handheld Transceiver. A COM transmitter with the capability of ILS 66-channel GPS WAAS receiver makes in a bang for your buck. In addition, the display offers a visual aid when it comes to your navigation. With its 2000 mAH battery it can last over 12 hours. Last but not least, it packs weather aids in such a compact form factor adding a backup to any ADS-B outages.

  • ILS Navigation Display (Localizer and Glide Scope)
  • VOR Navigation Display
  • High capacity Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) Battery (2000 mAh)
  • Alkaline Battery Tray (AA x 6) also included
  • NOAA Weather Channel and Weather Alert (USA only)

As our budget pick we recommend the Yaesu FTA-250L COM Aviation Transceiver. It comes with a complete package for a COMM only experience. If you are looking for something to get the job done with the added quality of a reputable brand, then look no further. It’s extremely rugged with a Polycarbonate build featuring IPX5 Waterproof rating. Its 1950 mAH battery is only 50 mAH shorter than its flagship counterpart. The Yaesu FTA-250L has less features but nearly the same battery capacity as its more advanced counterparts. This ensures that it lasts much longer with essential capability.

  • IPX5 Waterproof rating
  • NOAA Weather Channels with WX alert
  • High Capacity (1950mAh) Li-ion battery
  • 12VDC Cigarette Lighter Power/charging cables
  • PC programmable

This is another COMM only pick featuring a Full Display for ease of usability. In addition, The Yaesu FTA-450L also adds Weather channel and alert capability for keeping you on check with what’s going on in your area. We really like this option well because it comes with a 12VDC charger and headset adapter. This means you can charge and listen through it as you fly. Most importantly, this option works with an internal battery and Alkaline batteries offering you the most versatility in what you can use.

  • NOAA Weather Channel and Weather Alert (USA only)
  • Alkaline Battery Tray (AA x 6) also included
  • Water Protection -IPX5 Rating
  • High capacity Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) Battery (2000 mAh)
  • Cigarette Lighter Adapter included

The Icom IC-A16B is an alternative COM handset in our line up. With a 2400mAH battery this handset will last you over 17 hours. The Icom comes with a rapid charger which will have you charged and ready to fly. In addition, it has an IP67 waterproof rating making it durable for any environment.

  • Weather alert
  • IP67 waterproof
  • Exclusive button for 121.5MHz emergency channel
  • Bluetooth version offers hands-free operation
  • BNC type antenna connector

Frequently asked Questions

Is Listening to Air Traffic Control legal?

Listening to Air traffic control is completely legal, however there are some caveots depending on your status. Ensure you follow the guidance from the FCC before purchasing an aviation radio as a hobbyist.

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/interception-and-divulgence-radio-communications

What is the frequency range of Aviation Handheld Radios?

The Frequency range of Aviation Handheld radios are generally between 108 and 137 MHz, this will get you all of the major Aviation transmissions.

Is Transmitting on Aviation frequencies legal?

If you are broadcasting on a public frequency then this is considered legal. However, if you are interrupting, interfering, or blocking aviation transmissions this practice is considered illegal. These rules are enforced by the FAA and the FCC.

COM vs. NAV/COM, which one should you buy?

This truly depends on your budget territory and your use case. If you are a pilot that flies often we strongly suggest a NAV/COM. You get more capabilities and greater redundancies which is the lifeblood of a pilot. If you are a hobbyist or a student pilot that needs to choose on a budget, COM only variants are perfectly fine.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, handheld radios offer an additional option in the cockpit which allows you to be prepared in any circumstance. It has the potential to save you money, time and resources. Having a handheld radio is essential for every flight bag and should be used as an asset on the flight deck.

Selecting a handheld radio with an adequate amount of battery life, frequency ranges, NAV/COM capabilities, and Accessories can make your investment go a long way.

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