• Review: Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset

    Throughout the 50's and into the 60's, just about all talking on the radio was done using a hand microphone, although there may have been a few airplanes equipped for a true headset with attached boom mic. By the 1950's that sort of thing was common on the ground, for telephone operators and the like, but not in the air.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    The grey headsets that were standard USAF issue when I started flying C-141's in 1972.

    Meanwhile, the military had transitioned from the leather helmet-with-headset to the more modern "fighter pilot" helmet, which also of course contained earphones and a mic built into the oxygen mask. This was what I wore throughout USAF pilot training, and had I had more of the "right stuff" and become a fighter or bomber pilot I would have worn it for my entire career. But I never had any interest in anything other than getting an airline job, and so I flew transports, in which we wore a headset affair that was modern when I started in 1972 but had lost its luster by the mid 1980's. It was a grey metal and plastic affair, with somewhat crude ear seals and an articulated boom mic, and it was standard USAF issue in airplanes that did not accommodate helmets. A few C-141 pilots actually had a helmet of sorts, that looked like an old fashioned bicycle helmet, from the sides of which the ear pieces were suspended. But only a few used this, since it was, for most of us, less comfortable than the grey affair and took up more room in the kitbag.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    By the time of Desert Storm the USAF had re-equipped us with David Clark headsets.

    During my tenure flying the C-5 in the 1980's and early 1990's the USAF had been persuaded to provide the crews of transport airplanes with the more modern David Clark headsets that had become ubiquitous in the general aviation world. These had large green plastic ear cups with fluid filled seals that did a great deal to silence the high levels of cockpit noise that persisted in all of the military transports I ever flew in, and were a welcome relief to the aircrews. Sadly, I did not get to keep mine when I left flying for a reserve desk job in the early 1990's (I had been allowed to keep my original gray headset, since these would have been scrapped anyway, and I still have it in a bookcase in my office that serves as my personal air museum).

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset     Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    In pilot training we wore helmets similar to this one (from Air Combat USA in Fullerton CA), except that instead of a boom we had an oxygen mask with a built in mike.

    Fighter pilots, as it turned out, eventually came to wear helmets that look like something out of Star Wars, with huge wide-angle visual displays and high tech attachments. For all I know they may have stereo or even surround sound, which might be a useful addition to situational awareness.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset
    In the 1980's these lightweight earpiece/boom mike units were popular in the quieter airline cockpits. They often featured a custom molded earpiece such as mine has.

    At the airline, where Boeings and, to a slightly lesser extent Airbuses got very quiet up front over the years, we often dispensed with headsets altogether, using the overhead speaker for sound, especially above 10,000 feet. As transport category airplanes came to feature curved windshields up front, it got to be quiet enough to speak in a normal tone of voice at all speeds (it turned out that the flat window panes and the angles that these created were responsible for just about all of the interior noise up front). Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed went to curved windshields starting with the wide bodies, and pilots were able to get new lightweight earpieces with a boom mike attached. This was the ultimate in comfort and efficiency, and probably still is today. We typically used the earpiece and boom mike below around 10,000 feet, switching to the overhead speakers and hand mikes above that altitude.

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