Schrader was not yet a pilot when designs began in 1994 for what would become the K-series active noise reduction headset. The device used two batteries versus six to power noise reduction technology and included a power level meter, a helpful feature that other headset manufactures lacked.
The original blue-gray headset was introduced in a small booth that Schrader manned himself from the back of a steamy hangar at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 1996 airshow. His strength, he said, was determining the needs of pilots, and the company remains “committed to relentless product evolution that expands performance to the edge of technological possibilities.”
The K-series headsets soon gave way to the automatic shutoff XL series in 1999. The Thirty 3G introduced pilots to wired music and a cellphone interface in 2002 before the Zulu line with Bluetooth cellphone and music technology launched in 2007. The company’s current Tango wireless aviation headset with its panel interface further frees pilots and passengers from additional cords.
Lightspeed has manufactured more than 250,000 headsets since its inception.
Thinking back, Schrader said, “At that time this [automatic noise reduction] technology, which is ubiquitous now, was new, pretty exclusive, and very expensive.”
Future innovations would likely be more evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Schrader said, because revolutionary concepts like noise reduction and Bluetooth “come less often.”
He said, “The quietness bar has been raised in the last 20 years,” although noise levels in airplanes are just a little bit above the EPA/OSHA exposure levels “so wearing anything will probably get your hearing safety into the right zone.”
Part of the company’s philosophy is to expand “performance to the edge of technical abilities.” While Schrader didn’t release any details, he said future headsets may be a more integral part of the cockpit.
“Lightspeed will keep looking at what we can do to make things that move the needle,” he said. “We innovate at a reasonably high rate and our focus is on pilots.”