• Review: Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset

    Now my qualifications as a reviewer, at least in the sense of the fine reviews that appear here and elsewhere on the internet, are somewhat limited. Although I am a real world pilot of long experience, I am an absolute tyro when it comes to doing much of anything with a computer or other modern digital device other than getting it out of the box and turning it on. Judging from the look of many of the reviews now online, there is much more to it than that!

    On the other hand, I can indeed offer a specific set of observations related to how hardware and software create an experience that relates to flying. Having familiarized the Thrustmaster representatives with the advantages and limitations of my abilities, they decided to run a few of their products by me (things that I did not already have) so that I could write about them here. And so it was that two boxes, one of them fairly large, arrived on my front porch just a week and a half before I was to become handicapped. Not the best timing, perhaps, but at least I would have a lot of free time to play with them, and time was not of the essence.

    The products in question are the Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset (USAF Edition) and the Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder System. Since both required a bit of assembly, I decided to unbox and set them up in the last few days prior to my surgery, since it looked like setup was not going to be a one handed affair. I thus had a few hours of use on both of them while I still had two arms, and plenty of time later in single-handed mode to dive more deeply into the operation.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    The early leather helmets were more for protection against cold and noise than anything else, although when airborne radio was developed they incorporated crude headphones.

    I will look at the T-Flight Headset first, since I spent more time with it early on. At the same time, we can take a look at headsets in real world aviation and the role they have played over time, thus allowing us to gain insight into what advantages the T-Flight offers.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    An instructor debriefs his student, after having explained it all on the Gosport tube during the flight.

    The first things that pilots wore over their ears were the leather helmets that were used for protection against cold and noise. They did poorly against both. The first time that anything like a headset was used (that being defined as a device that produced audio for the ears) was a gadget called the Gosport tube, invented by a flight instructor from - wait for it - Gosport, in England. This was an acoustic tube, not electrical, and until the advent of airborne radio was the only "headset" around, and for all practical purposes was used only in training airplanes.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    The old Bakelite headset - uncomfortable to wear and of limited use in the high noise environment of the early cockpits.

    With the advent of radio for both communications and navigation, headsets more like those we have today came into common use, both in commercial and military aviation. These were most often made from an early form of plastic called Bakelite, and were likely borrowed with little or no modification from the radio industry. You can see pictures of the early airline pilots in the cockpits with these medieval looking devices clamped firmly on their heads over their company hats. This fashion statement originated in the early pilots' almost universal nostalgia for the old leather helmets they wore continuously in the open cockpit days - they literally felt naked without something on their heads!

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    A Captain using the old Bakelite to monitor the 4 course range,
    with the inside earpiece moved to make for better in-cockpit communication with the FO

    These early headphones did nothing to attenuate the often hellish levels of noise that existed even in the closed cockpits of the DC-2's and DC-3's, but they were sufficient to deliver the voice and Morse code that constituted both the ATC and the navigation of the era. Sometimes the pilots would push the inside earpiece off to the side of the ear, the better to hear their companion across the throttle quadrant. These old headsets were front line equipment right up until the post-war period, and a slightly more refined version (made from a more modern concoction than Bakelite) survived into the 1970's and beyond at the airline, in the form of the "spare" headsets that all airliners were equipped with in the early days of my career. I actually used them a good bit at the FE panel, until my increasing seniority and financial stability made it possible to purchase a custom ear-set in the early 1980's.

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