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Budget-friendly aviation gift guideBudget-friendly aviation gift guide

The holiday season is almost here, and there are a variety of aviation-oriented gifts to help keep pilots happy and safe without breaking the budget of friends, loved ones, or fellow pilots. AOPA pilots assembled a selection of economical gifts that can bring smiles to faces in two modest price points. Ten gifts under $20 should please Uncle Scrooge and ten items under $50 are available for big spenders. These products are tried-and-true with our staff but as always, your experience may vary.

Holiday season is almost here and there are a variety of aviation-oriented gifts to help keep pilots happy and safe without breaking the budget of friends, loved ones, or fellow pilots. Save the environment and fuel money with this 16 ounce GATS wide mouth clear plastic fuel tester, available online for less than $20. Photo by Mike Fizer.

Gifts under $20

Can of Pledge and old T-shirts

AOPA frugal flier Dave Hirschman waxes poetically about the benefits of Pledge furniture cleaner and its effectiveness on windscreens and leading edges. He says ag pilots use the spray’s slick coating to prepare aircraft surfaces for an easy wipe down after a day in the fields. Online editor and tailwheel pilot Alyssa Miller spends part of her summer in Alaska where mosquitos rule the airways, and she says bush pilots also praise the lemony-fresh product. $4.50

Gerber Curve Multi-Tool

Ever need to pry open a stuck cowling door or sticky fuel cap lever, or quickly tighten a screw? I found a handy high-tech replacement for my 20-year-old Leatherman after TSA officials confiscated it from my camera bag (it’s a long story). Technology has advanced smartly in two decades; this small and lightweight Gerber Multi-Tool fits the bill while dangling from your flight bag on its included clip, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. $12.99 from Dick's Sporting Goods

Two quarts of aviation motor oil

Let your baby drink a couple of quarts of its favorite blend. It’s not a bad idea to keep a quart of oil in the aircraft itself and another in your ground-based vehicle to ensure a quick and safe fill-up before flight. Single weight, multi-grade, or special blends, depending on your engine manufacturer’s recommendations. Visit an aircraft specialty store, your local FBO, or a large discount club for exact pricing and weights. $15 from Aircraft Spruce

CruzTools TirePro digital tire pressure gauge

I’m a sucker for an accurate tire gauge ever since I threw a leg over a motorcycle and grasped the importance of correct tire pressure. Out of the way but not forgotten, aircraft tires need TLC to keep pilots safe during taxi, takeoff, and landing operations. CruzTools’s digital tire pressure gauge has an easy-to-read digital readout and is popular with pilots at a certain online aircraft parts store. $17.95 from Aircraft Spruce

AOPA Pilot Gear Holiday cards

AOPA’s aviation-themed holiday cards are a hit with me, my friends and relatives, and other pilots alike. I enjoy the throwback feel and pastel artwork of these holiday cards, not to mention the classic airplanes and winter settings. Wouldn’t it please your ace mechanic, a friendly air traffic controller, or a long-lost relative to know they are in your thoughts? A variety of designs are available online with discounts for larger quantities. $18.49 from AOPA Pilot Gear

GATS Jar fuel tester

Save the environment and fuel money with this 16-ounce, wide-mouth clear plastic fuel tester. It’s easy to see contaminants including water or dirt particles when they are filtered from your fuel by the device’s strainer, allowing preflight fuel samples to go back into the tank. Recycling the fuel will keep you out of the EPA doghouse, and the resilient plastic construction holds up well if accidentally dropped. $19.95 from Sporty’s Pilot Shop

B-24 Liberator metal sign

This retro metal sign from Historic Aviation could augment a hangar wall or home office, depending on your tastes, and is still rated PG. The throwback look of a twin-tailed B-24 Liberator adjacent to a World War II pin-up girl seductively standing nearby measures 18” x 12”. It’s made of 24-gauge steel to withstand the rigors of the airport environment. $19.95 from Historic Aviation

Energizer 6-LED Headlight

Headlamps have gone past the stage of looking goofy and have entered their own high-tech arena with comfortable straps, practical red and white beams, and long-lasting LEDs. I spotted this hands-free AAA-powered combo light and its red and white beams at the counter of my auto parts store. It’s hard to beat a hands-free headlamp in the cockpit with its red light helping to illuminate things during night arrivals. The white lamp mode does double duty on the ramp for preflights in the darkness. $19.99 from Advance Auto Parts

Microfiber glass cleaning towels

Microfiber cloths are great for aircraft windscreens because they’re soft, lightweight, and washable. A couple of these new-tech cloths stashed in a plastic bag with some cleaning supplies can fit into the smallest of cubbyholes, and they do wonders to help pilots maintain “see and be seen” conditions from the cockpit. Save with a 25-pack. $2.99 to $19.99 from Advance Auto Parts

BESTEK 2 in 1 combo 5000mAh dual USB battery pack and folding wall charger

The downside to our nifty portable devices and their moving maps, detailed airport data, and storm avoidance capability is the power penalty you pay to keep those Androids and iPads running. Reach for an external USB battery with a foldable wall plug and dual USB outlets to help keep your situational awareness in check when you really need it. It’s small enough to stash in a flight bag or a jacket pocket. $19.99 from Amazon

The following under-$30 aviation-themed coffee-table books could be a hit with your own Top Gun pilot:

 

  • Warbird Factory: North American Aviation in World War II by John M. Fredrickson
  • P-51 Mustang: Seventy-Five Years of America’s Most Famous Warbird by Cory Graff and Steve Hinton
  • Bombing Europe: The Illustrated Exploits of the Fifteenth Air Force by Kevin A. Mahoney

Quarto Publishing Group’s Nichole Schiele says, “All of the books are written by aviation experts and historians and provide aviation enthusiasts with exceptional detail in very readable prose and—often times—contain photos never before published.”

"The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird" by Richard Graham is a good holiday gift choice for aviators. The retired U.S. Air Force colonel flew the SR-71 and shares his intimate knowledge of the beast, its success, and its devastating test flight losses. About $30 from Zenith Press and a digital version is available. Courtesy photo.

Gifts under $50

Vintage aircraft logo glassware

It’s nice to unwind with a cool beverage after a long day in the cockpit. Vintage aircraft logos of historic aviation manufacturers are etched into sturdy glassware and provide pilots with a nostalgic look at the world of aviation. A variety of sizes and distinctive logos featuring Aeronca, Curtiss, Stearman, Waco, and more can be mixed and matched for the ultimate throwback experience. $24.99 from Sporty's Pilot Shop

Kool-Scoop vent

Stay cool and refreshed on the ramp with this easy-to-install auxiliary pilot vent. It extends through the pilot vent window when you need it, and stows rearward and out of the way for flight. I had one of these in my Mooney M20C, and it made a delightful difference during taxiing or when performing engine runups in Atlanta’s hot summers. $28.75 from Aircraft Spruce

One Six Right Anniversary Edition, Blu-Ray

One of the most inspiring aviation movies is back, and it’s bigger and better than ever. Filmmaker Brian J. Terwilliger told AOPA audiences at the Salinas and Frederick Regional Fly-Ins that he’d have a special surprise for the tenth anniversary of One Six Right: The Romance of Flying, and he delivered the goods. The new Blu-Ray version includes ten additional minutes of footage, behind-the-scenes looks, time lapses, and a ride with the Blue Angels. It’s all HD-friendly in 1080p with 5.1 surround sound. Lead your own squadron by pre-ordering the DVD and grab some popcorn! $29.95 from Sporty's Pilot Shop

Altitude Clock

This clock is certain to keep aviation on your mind, especially if you are counting down the minutes to your next flying adventure. The white face on black background in an altimeter-style readout is easy to see from across the room, and the single AA battery lasts for a really long time. I’ve had one of these in my den for years, and it’s a great reminder of the wild blue yonder. $29.99 from Tailwinds

ASA Flight Timer

Instrument pilots know that timing turns is crucial to accurate holds and approaches. This digital chronometer from Aviation Supplies & Academics has proven its worth over the last two decades because it’s easy to use, easy to reset, and takes up precious little space. The LCD display is backlit, shows AM/PM, UTC “Zulu” time, and has resettable alarms to multi-task as a fuel tank reminder. $38.95 from MyPilotStore.com

Sporty’s updated iPad Bifold Kneeboard or traditional Tri-Fold Kneeboard

Whether you are old school paper and charts or new-age pixels and electronics, one of these Sporty’s kneeboards can help declutter your cockpit. The traditional tri-fold kneeboard design was my constant cockpit companion for a decade because of its slim pockets for sectional charts, manual flight computer, and pens and highlighters; a clear cover protects your most-needed chart. Its updated twenty-first-century cousin is equally rugged and securely snuggles your leg to an iPad or iPad Mini, now with additional hook-and-loop webbing, a charging cable pocket, and a more rigid kickstand for better viewing. $27.95 from Sporty's Pilot Shop or $39.95 from Sporty's Pilot Shop

Smith & Wesson Captain’s Flashlight

A powerful flashlight is hard to beat when you really need to light up dark nooks and crannies during a maintenance operation or for a thorough nighttime preflight. A strong beam of light could signal help and might even save your life in the event of an emergency. The artillery maker goes high tech with nearly indestructible white and red LED light, a knurled metal grip, and a limited lifetime warranty. $39.95 from Sporty’s Pilot Shop

Plexus plastic cleaner and polish, 13-ounce spray

Great for windscreens and leading edges, this amazing streak-free cleaner includes a micro-thin wax layer for easy bug splatter cleanup. I learned about this product from a motorcycle racing friend and have been singing its praises ever since. It’s great for sunglasses, helmet visors, and painted surfaces like leading edges, too. $40.95 (two pack) from Amazon

AOPA umbrella

Stay dry at airshows, fly-ins, or golf courses under a 64-inch-diameter fiberglass windproof frame when the weather is uncooperative. This large umbrella also helps you fly your AOPA colors and is great at sporting events or at the mall. $41.91 from AOPA Pilot Gear

Oxi-Go Pro pulse oximeter

This lightweight monitor measures blood oxygen saturation and could literally be a life saver in high-altitude and high-demand aviation situations. It’s a good idea to monitor blood oxygen levels at night, too, even at lower altitudes. The dual color display is easy to read, there are six display modes, and it’ll run on a pair of AAA batteries for about 30 hours. $49.95 from MyPilotStore.com

The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird by Richard Graham

Imagine my surprise when my editor dropped this book in my lap for a review. The Blackbird has long been my favorite airplane (I proudly wear a Blackbird fleece sweater), and this illustrated SR-71 volume doesn’t disappoint. The coffee-table version shows off the Bird’s sexy lines and details how it catapulted pilots across the Cold War skies at more than three times the speed of sound (2,000 miles per hour). The U.S. Air Force’s Col. Richard H. Graham flew the SR-71 and shares his intimate knowledge of the beast, its success, and its devastating test flight losses. There’s a digital version too, both from Zenith Press. $30.93 Kindle, $32.72 hardcover from Amazon.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Gear, Aircraft Accessories, Flight Bags

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