Using Headsets

The following advice is really aimed for those who have some hearing ability with hearing aids and may wish to improve their hearing reception using the aircraft intercom/radio.

Having said that, communication works both ways.  Even if you cannot use the intercom or are non-radio, your instructor/passenger needs to understand you too, so it is worth wearing headsets.


Wearing Headsets over hearing aids

If you’ve tried wearing a headset over your hearing aids, you’ve probably already worked out that its not very comfortable and the hearing aid will probably whistle.  The sound quality it not usually very clear either.

There are a number of alternatives.


Inductive Loop

I’m sure you are all familiar with the inductive loop system sign seen at many banks, post offices cinemas etc.  The technology is used very successfully at home for telephones, TV’s and music devices like ipods.

The hearing aid is set to the “T-Setting” which enables the hearing aid to receive sound wirelessly via an electromagnetic field.

If your hearing aid has a “t-setting” it is possible to use the inductive loop system in aircraft.

You can buy a hook loop or neck loop, which you can connect to aircraft intercom using a 3.5mm to ¼ jack adapter.

Also, perhaps not very well known is that the speaker coil within a headset also sets up an EMF and works with a hearing aid on the “t-setting”.


Problems using inductive loop

Unfortunately it is not always possible to use the inductive loop system in some aircraft because the hearing aid will also receive some electromagnetic interference from the aircraft electrical system and the alternator.   But this is not a problem in gliders and some motor-gliders.

How much EMF interference the hearing aid received depends on the hearing aid and the aircraft type.

For example a Slingsby T61F Venture motor-glider with a 50hp engine (and a small alternator) does not generate a large EMF and I personally find it ok to use my headsets with my hearing aids on T-setting.

However when I flew a Piper Super Cub (with a 150hp engine), I find the EMF interferes too much for me to hear anything.

Knowing which aircraft is more prone to interference than others can only be determined from trial and error.


Direct input shoes – an alternative method for connecting hearing aids

Some hearing aids also allow direct audio connection via direct input shoes.  These leads come with the 3.5mm jack plug can be used with tvs, hi-fis, ipods, computers….anything.


Modifying headsets with direct input shoes

Coming soon….pictures of modified headsets.

Disclaimer! – Headsets are expensive and modifying them will undoubtedly void the manufacturer warranty.  If you modify headsets, you do so at your own risk.  My advice would be to get the help of an electronics engineer.


Cochlear Implants

There are also personal audio leads available for use with Cochlear implant devices.  The leads may vary depending on which cochlear manufacturer you have, but you should be able to connect them to personal audio devices.  Therefore it should be possible to connect a Cochlear to an aircraft intercom.


Active Noise Reduction (ANR) / Electronic Noise Cancellation (ENC) Headsets

There are quite a few ANR/ENC headsets available for aircraft, however they are very expensive.

They work by cancelling out background noise, but in my experience they don’t really offer any benefit to deaf pilots.

The only possible scenario where they might benefit you, if your instructor/passenger is using a ANR Headset, as it will improve the clarity of their speech by reducing unwanted back-ground noise.

My advice would not to spend £500+ on an ANR headset (like I did), spend the cash on AVGAS, launch fees or beer!

Headset manufactures are developing new headsets all the time so this advice may change in future.


Which Headsets?

My personal choice and recommendation for headsets is David Clark and Sensizer.  Both these manufacturers have a larger ear cup, which is more comfortable if hearing aids are worn underneath.

David Clark headsets are the industry standard and are used everywhere.  If you ever see a pilot the movies they are always wearing the familiar green headsets!

Seniszer is a massive audio/electronics company.  They also make hearing aids!

The best thing to do is to try headsets on before you buy.  Lots of resellers such as AFE / Transair are present at Flying shows and have shops you can visit.


Headset Tips

  • Match the same headset manufacturer/type for student/instructor or pilot/passenger(s).  Not all headsets are compatible with each other.  It does really help if both pilots are wearing the same headset.
  • Borrow before you buy – headsets are expensive, there is no point buying the most expensive top of the range headset and finding out it doesn’t work for you!