Pilots and aircraft owners are easy to buy for if you know where to look. Here are a few suggestions to help you track down that perfect Christmas gift for the pilot or aviation buff in your life. Let's start small first with some stocking stuffers:
• A carbon monoxide detector is a must-have for every aircraft. They wear out in only a few months once opened, so buy a few (only $4.95 each at Sporty's) and make sure your pilot is safe. (For the convenience of highlighting individual gifts, we've linked to national online retailers like Sporty's, but you may be able to find many of these items at local Alaska shops that specialize in aviation, such as Northern Lights Avionics in Anchorage.)
• A mosquito net makes all the difference between losing your mind and staying sane in the summer months. Cabela's has one for $14.95, although they should be pretty easy to find at any outdoors shop.
• Lots of pilots toss some MREs into their survival kits, which is a great idea, but why not add some really good smoked salmon jerky to the mix? Everything made by Dejon Delights in Haines is excellent and their jerky is quite reasonably priced -- you can buy several sticks for less than $15.
• For a seasonal touch, Taku Graphics has several floatplane ornaments to choose from that are under six bucks -- and not one of them is made in China.
Moving on to larger items to place under the tree, you can continue to peruse the Taku Graphics website for some aviation art including prints, posters and cards by John Fehringer, and frameable art cards from Byron Birdsall and William G. Stewart.
The survival kit itself is something to consider stocking up, starting with a new bag to carry all that important pilot gear. You can go crazy with choices here -- Sporty's has quite a selection -- but really any decent duffel will do.
Now take a look for a small ax or machete. Cabelas has both online but again, any outdoor or sporting goods shop should give you a good selection. Just watch the size, as they will need to fit in the kit.
Outside Magazine took a look at water purification kits a couple of years ago -- benefit from their research and then shop for one of them online or in camping stores.
If you really want to make a good impression while shopping, then gift a folding-stock .22 which will make surviving in the backcountry a lot easier to accomplish. No link here, just hit a gun store and tell them what you need it for; they'll steer you in the right direction.
As far as equipment, a headset and a handheld VHS radio are both good -- albeit pricey -- choices. Start at Sporty's to get some ideas of what is available. My suggestion would be for a noise-cancelling headset, which most pilots would agree is well worth the cost.
In the food and drink department, return to the Dejon Delights website and gift some Lookout Stout Smoked Salmon or Smoked Pepperell Keta Salmon so snacking on the next flight -- for both pilot and lucky passengers -- is top notch. For long quiet evenings once your pilot is back on the ground, consider Aviation Gin (which I wrote about earlier this year) or Halcyon Gin from Bluewater Distillery. Both of these products are available in Alaska and through their distinctive labels celebrate the state's aviation heritage. Alaska Brewing Company in Juneau has also embraced the state's love of flying in some of their designs and their beer, which can be purchased both in Alaska and the Lower 48 and sports multiple labels designed by Southeast artist John Fehringer. You might want to check out the Alaskan Pilot Series of beers and gear which includes this wooden sign that would be at home in any hangar -- and while you're there, scope out the glasses, t-shirts, etc. with the same logo.
Magazine subscriptions to consider include Plane & Pilot and Flying as well as membership with the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association or Experimental Aircraft Association, both of which include magazines in the price of the annual dues.
For longer reading material, I recommend "The Flying North," the recently reissued story of Alaska's early bush pilots; "Arctic Bush Pilot," about the post-WWII era flying for Wien and reviewed just a couple of weeks ago here; "Glacier Pilot," the story of pioneer pilot and airline owner Bob Reeve; and "Wager With the Wind," the story of Talkeetna pilot Don Sheldon.
I also recommend the small press titles "Panhandle Pilot" by Bob Adkins and "Pilots of the Panhandle" by Jim Ruotsala, both about flying in Southeast Alaska. Ruotsala's books are out of print as is Jim Magoffin's outstanding "Triumph Over Turbulence" but they can be purchased quite reasonably online. My own recent book, "The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska" is still easily available online and in bookstores, if you're so inclined.
Finally, think of investing in serious survival preparedness for your pilot. You can purchase a course from the experts at Anchorage's Learn to Return; consider Bear/Wildlife Awareness or Aviation Land Crash Training in particular. But the most important item on this list is a 406-megahertz emergency locator transponder. No one ever gets on a rescue helicopter and bemoans the fact that they were found so quickly but I'm sure a lot of them wish they had spent the money on a 406 ELT when they are waiting and praying for rescuers to find them. The 406 saves lives, period. And you can't put a price on that. Find them online at Sky Geek or contact your local avionics dealer.
Have a great holiday and fly safe in the New Year!
P.S. My husband says if you want to blow the doors off your favorite pilot's holiday then look no further than a Carbon Cub from CubCrafters. It's going to set you back a pretty penny, but you will boast the coolest pilot on the block, for sure!
Colleen Mondor is a former dispatcher for a Fairbanks-based air carrier. Her book, "The Map Of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska," details her years working in the Alaska aviation industry. You can contact her at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com.