• Review: Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset

    General aviation, sad to say, has never gotten quiet except at the gazillion dollar bizjet level, and so high technology turned its attention to alleviating the noise problem in the cockpits. Mere attenuation turned out to be not enough, with or without things like gel-filled ear seals. Beginning with Bose a few decades ago, special headsets were developed that actually cancelled out noise by generating, within the ear cup, a countervailing sound wave that immolated itself against the opposite waves coming into the cup from the outside. These noise cancelling headsets are more or less the rage today, and I finally got one after years of complaining about the expense (the Bose examples start at around $1000 and go up from there!). They have the advantage of being somewhat lighter than a regular headset, which must achieve its noise reduction from an abundance of insulation.

    So throughout aviation history, headsets have served to convey audio information to the pilot, and nowadays to also mitigate the noise exposure issues, which might otherwise lead to a reduced need to spend a lot of money on audio systems later in life (I know - I have saved many thousands of dollars due to the fact that my hearing, while certainly good enough to pass a class I FAA physical, is also such that a $400 audio system sounds just like a $40,000 system!)

    They must also be comfortable over medium to long periods of time, although in small airplanes the endurance factor is limited more by bladder range than by fatigue due to noise. Headsets have gotten lighter in weight over the years as materials have improved - I well remember the high end Bose audio headphones from the 1970's, which were outstanding in performance but quite heavy. Of course all of my muscles, including those in my neck, were in better shape in my youth than they are these days, but it was a good thing that most of my listening back then was done recumbent in a bean bag chair!

    The use of headsets in flight simulation is a much more recent development, at least for me, and it all started with the advent of live online ATC services (and for some, the enforced need to keep a home from sounding like the tarmac of an international airport!). The first headsets I used, once I discovered VATSIM and Pilot Edge, were simple and cheap plastic affairs that looked like de-minimis editions of those single ear things that football coaches are seen sporting on the sidelines. The quality of these humble units was minimal, but sufficient to the needs of the operation. They got relatively little use, since I am a real world pilot and get most of my daily dose of ATC interaction from the real thing! I just don't use the online services much. But that may change.

    What may change it is this new Thrustmaster T-Flight headset (USAF edition, it must be noted, just like me!). This thing strongly resembles a real aviation headset that has had surgery at the plug end, and is equipped not with the large aviation jack plugs but rather with the small versions that accommodate things like iPhones and computers. As near as I can tell, that is the essential difference between this and something like a non noise-cancelling David Clark headset. It was nearly fully assembled out of the box - the only thing I had to do to complete the process was to install the mike boom, which was simply a matter of snapping it into place on the left ear cup. Nothing to it-- even an airline pilot (!) can do it.

    The T-Flight Headset looks exactly like a real aviation headset, weighs pretty much the same as my Bose A-20 (leaving aside the rather heavy battery compartment which makes up nearly a third of the Bose's total weight), and is as comfortable as the Bose and more comfortable than either of the two David Clarks that I also use in the SkySkooter. The ear seals make for a very close and quiet fit, and although this is not a noise cancelling headset it does a very good job of attenuating ambient noise.

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset

    The sound quality is also very good, although this might matter less in a computer headset than it would in one that would be used for high end music listening. I tried it out on some audio recordings played through the computer, and (keeping in mind the limitations of my audio acuity these days) the T-Flight performed quite well. It has been decades since I had anything other than earbuds for music listening, and I may well utilize the T-Flight on occasion for that purpose when it is not engaged in flight simulation.

    It has a master volume control on the left ear cup, again just like the real ones, and it also has a mike control unit in-line on the cord going to the computer. This allows you to mute the mike, and also to vary the mike volume, which is likely to be a handy feature when you are working with some kind of live ATC service. I used Rip Vinyl to make a recording using the microphone, and the sound quality going out is very good. The VATSIM and Pilot Edge controllers will have no difficulty understanding you when you are using this headset.

    The USAF edition has USAF logos on the ear cups, and the color is a military looking blue-ish grey. I have no idea if real USAF issue headsets have the AF logo on them - they certainly did not back in the day, but then again there was no actual AF logo then. I wonder if Thrustmaster had to pay royalties for the use of the logo - I would imagine not, since the government probably has rules against that sort of thing. But overall, the T-Flight Headset looks very official! The logo plates are removable, and the unit comes with three sets of plates - the current USAF logo, a logo that features a fighter pilot (all you can see of the guy or gal is the helmet!) and a third one that has a P-47 Thunderbolt image. They are easily interchangeable, so if you or your copilot gets bored with one of them, swapping the logo plate is an easy snap-in affair. They think of everything! (Actually, this same headset is offered in another version, called the Ferrari edition, with ticket-me-red ear cups and the Ferrari logo, presumably for auto simulations.)

    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset

    A quick look at gaming headsets on Amazon showed me that I have been out of touch with the goings on in computerland, which should surprise no one! There are literally scores of headsets available, with prices ranging from around $11 to over $350. Capitalism sure is great! It would take the better part of an evening just comparing the looks and specs of all these offerings. Perhaps there is an adapter out there somewhere that would allow me to use my Bose A20 with the computer! But that would be overkill on several levels. One thing is immediately apparent -- none of the other gaming headsets bears much similarity to a real aviation unit. The T Flight is the only thing I saw that looks exactly like a pilot headset. With a MSRP of around $99 it fits right into the cost spectrum as well - pretty much in the middle of the range. I have no idea if the other products perform as well as this does, but the T Flight would certainly be my choice if I were going to simulate that aspect of real world aviation. And if you will be using a headset, why not look for realistic appearance as well as high quality?

    Just remember though -- if you are also a real world pilot, be careful that you don't pick up the T Flight instead of your Bose or David Clark as you head out the door to the airport! It is that realistic.

    Tony Vallillo
    Thrustmaster T-Flight Headset (USAF Edition)

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