By Garth Calitz
I am a very active aviation photographer and spend many hours in one aircraft taking photographs of another aircraft, up until recently I thought that there was no reliable means of communication with the pilot in the subject aircraft. I have tried many different types of headsets they all seem to have the same problems when flying in an aircraft with the door removed.
Firstly, the microphones tend to be far too sensitive to the excess wind inside the cabin making it almost impossible to hear what is being transmitted. Secondly, the excess noise from both the engine and the wind make hearing very difficult, (granted, I am almost deaf in my left ear which doesn’t help matters). Thirdly, when I do stick my head outside most headsets tend to blow off my head so I spend most of the shoot without them on, relying on hand signals to position the subject aircraft which is far from ideal as the subject pilot is normally looking into the sun when in the perfect position for light on the aircraft. That means the photo-ship is nothing more than a silhouette rendering hand signals useless.
Towards the end of last year I was requested to do a photo shoot of a Beechcraft Bonanza V-tail we managed to secure a Cessna 170 as the photo ship. I was expecting the normal challenges with comms but I was pleasantly surprised when the pilot of the photo ship revealed he had recently purchased two Bose A20s and offered one to me. I had used the A20 on the odd occasion in closed aircraft but had never had the opportunity to try them in an aircraft with the door removed.
After removing the right-hand side door and arranging the furniture it was time to get airborne from Eagles Creek to meet up with the subject pilot at Wonderboom for a quick cup of coffee and a briefing on what we planned to achieve.
On take-off, I was immediately impressed with the comfort and clarity of the A20, but that was only the beginning. When we got airborne I realised that the wind didn’t trigger the microphone as often as other headsets, I purposely moved closer to the gaping hole in the side of the 170 to test this and I must say I was presently surprised. While on the very long 12-minute hop I took a bit of time to “play” with the control module when pressed the power button I had a big “What the hell just happened” moment the engine went silent, it took a second or two to realise that I had just activated the active noise reduction and boy does it work. I was impressed with the headset before now I was blown away.
The individual volume settings for Left and Right sorted out the lack of hearing in my left ear which made for more ease when listening to the chatter. I thought this would be a good time to test some other features as well, I whipped out my phone and connected via Bluetooth and was soon listing to my favourite tunes on Spotify, this was amazing. My listening pleasure was however cut short when the pilot of the subject called to let me know they were running a bit late due to a snag, the quality of the call was amazing and the headset automatically muted the call every time there was a radio call.
We landed at Wonderboom and taxied to the Flitecare hangar for the briefing and of course a cup of coffee. After the briefing it was time to get airborne, this time I activated the noise cancelling before we left the ground. On the take-off run, I couldn’t resist sticking my head out the door and once again the A20 surprised me although the headset is very comfortable with very little pressure on the head, it stayed firmly planted in place even with a 90-knot wind trying to remove it all this while listening to “Danger Zone” in perfect clarity, rather pathetic I know but I am a massive Top Gun fan.
Comms between the subject and us was the best I have ever experienced making the photo shoot that much more pleasant and seamless. The only addition I would make is to have a PTT that can be strapped to the palm of my left hand so I can speak directly to the subject without the need to relay messages through the pilot.
This was, without doubt, the best communication I have ever experienced during an air to air photo-shoot, In case anyone was wondering I am not sponsored by Bose in any way to write this review, and of course, would not hesitate to accept such sponsorship in future if offered :). I will definitely be saving to purchase a Bose A20 of my own.