Best Aviation Handheld Radio Reviews
The aviation field requires all tools in place for a safe flight. Whether it is for navigation or commu1nication, handheld aviation radios are among the most important tools.
Handheld radios can serve as backup or primary radio for trained pilots and ATC practice tools for student pilots. But not all aviation handheld radios are the same, a pilot requires specific radios depending upon the mission type.
We’ve reviewed the top aviation handheld radio models after extensive research. The review covers whether the radios are Com only or Nav/Com radios, their weight, dimension, range, Bluetooth/USB connectivity, and battery life. It also sheds light on other features like GPS, ILS and, VOR, display type, memory channels, and accessories.
Best aviation handheld radio reviews:
We’ve handpicked the best aviation handheld radios for you to choose from.
1. Uniden Bearcat BC125AT Handheld Scanner
The Uniden BC125AT is an easy-to-carry and compact handheld radio scanner. It caters to over 40,000 frequencies, suitable for monitoring aviation, civil, and military bands. Plus, it catches CB, GMRS, and FRS bands.
The Com radio can be quickly programmed using the software freely available on the Uniden website. Manually inputting frequencies using long alpha tags can take about 15 minutes.
Its Close Call RF capture technology tunes into signals emitting from local transmitters, whereas DND mode prevents interruption during a transmission. Both the features work in unison to provide you with the best quality reception.
The large LCD screen comes with an orange backlight, making it easy to read in dim light as well. It displays mode, alpha tag, frequency, signal strength meter, and PL Tone. The alpha tagging feature allows you to scan through and categorize your channels for ease of recognition.
By pressing the temporary lockout button once you can temporarily lock out the active frequency. Whereas you need to press it twice in rapid succession to lockout the frequency permanently. Other features include weather alert standby, narrowband compatibility, and auto search service in common preset bands.
At its price and size, Uniden Bearcat has excellent audio quality. However, its battery isn’t particularly impressive. Moreover, the radio gives a very short-notice low battery warning. Another problem area is the radio antenna. The stock rubber antenna doesn’t catch distant weak signals.
2. Yaesu FTA750L Handheld VHF Transceiver
Yaesu is a household name when it comes to radios. The Yaesu FTA 750L is a compact radio packed with several features. These include full-spectrum aviation Navigation/Communication radio; ILS/glideslope navigation; VOR navigation; GPS WASS receiver; weather alerts and NOAA weather channels.
The antenna is attached to an 800-mW amplifier that tunes signals perfectly. The brilliant audio quality coupled with powerful GPS navigation makes the Yaesu FTA 750L an ideal pick for pilots. Its impressive features enable your air band handheld transceiver to perform almost all the functions of a panel mount radio with a lower range.
Another striking feature about Yaesu FTA 750L is its full-dot matrix display. The backlit radio makes it even more convenient to use the radio during emergencies.
3. Yaesu FTA550L Handheld VHF Transceiver
This is one of the most versatile Yaesu models out there. Its IPX5 water protection allows you to use it in different environments. The screen of your Yaesu transceiver has a dot-matrix LCD screen along with a user-friendly interface. Plus, you can adjust the backlight brightness to make it more readable.
When it comes to navigation, the Yaesu FTA 550L can easily pick up VOR navigation signals and comes with ILS localizer navigation capability. It has an upper limit of 200 memory channels.
4. Yaesu FTA-250L Handheld VHF Airband Transceiver
The Yaesu FTA 250L is one durable and affordable Com aviation radio. It can store up to 250 memory channels.
This transceiver supports both 12V DC and AC charging, while its 1,905 mAh battery powers it for a long duration. Your air band tool is not only waterproof but can survive small falls due to its rugged polycarbonate covering. Moreover, it has an intuitive and user-friendly operating system and a clear dot matrix display.
At this price and features, this Yaesu Transceiver is a steal deal with its loud and clear 700mW audio system.
5. Yaesu FTA-450L Airband VHF
This is another Com version of the classic Yaesu radios. Similar to Yaesu FTA 250L, it has a large full dot-matrix display and an easily navigable UI. Its in-built 800 mW audio speaker is loud enough for you to hear calls even in a noisy environment. You can buy the Yaesu FTA 450L to store up to 200 memory channels.
The best part is that it comes with all the necessary accessories. These include 12VDC and 110VAC chargers, alkaline battery tray, USB cable, belt clip, headset adapter, and a rechargeable battery (1800mAh).
Its display offers high visibility in almost all cases. The unit offers output power measuring 5 watts and is compatible with an 8.33kHz narrowband.
6. Icom IC-A16B (Bluetooth) VHF Air Band Handheld Transceiver
This one offers a cost-effective practice tool for student pilots. It is among the best aviation handheld radios for practice. The lightweight device is compact and durable with its rugged cover and IP67 waterproof rating.
The transceiver can receive both navigation and weather channels. It offers two types of keypads- simple and full versions. The IC-A16 used an in-built speaker of 1500mW for loud and clear audio. You can group its 200 channels into 10 memory banks. It comes with a solid 17-hour long battery life (2400mAh).
What's more, is that it offers Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free use. Additionally, it has an exclusive button to tune into the 121.5MHz emergency channel. It boasts of a backlight LCD for navigating in the dark or night. You can hear your voice through a different aviation headset using its sidetone function.
This is an all-in-one package when it comes to durability, features, and quality.
7. Icom IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver
The Icom IC A25N is the top preference of many seasoned pilots. It comes with a solid build - making it stable and durable. This radio offers unmatched reception, owing to the 6W amplifier that powers its antenna. It can support up to 300 memory channels, storing up to 300 waypoints and 10 flight plans.
The Icom IC A25N features a VOR navigation system for the most accurate directions. You can use the OBS mode to change your original flight plan. Whereas the CDI mode displays the deviation to and from the VOR station. In addition to VOR and GPS navigation, Icom IC A25N offers a built-in Bluetooth feature.
This powerful Nav-Com handheld is weather resistant with its waterproof rating of IP57. The transceiver comes with a long-lasting Li-ion battery (2350mAh). Its user-friendly interface and high-grade LCD screen make for successful in-flight operations and programming.
8. Icom IC-A16 VHF COM Aviation Handheld
The Icom IC A16 offers roughly the same features as IC A16B except for Bluetooth connectivity. The compact device is suitable for one-hand operation for use by pilots or the ground crew. You no longer need to worry about charging your radio with its 2400mAh battery that lasts for 17 hours and the sit-in rapid charger.
Its in-built speaker provides loud and clear 1500mW audio output, making it ideal for highly noisy environments. It is loaded with high-tech features - sidetone button, 121.5MHz specific button, full keypad, LCD backlight, automatic noise reduction, low battery alert, VOX capability, and weather alert.
10. Icom IC A25C Sport VHF Airband Transceiver
With 6 W of power output, the IC-A25C is one power-packed air band device. In contrast to other Icom devices, Icom IC A25C has a much simpler and user-friendly interface. It ranks high in providing convenience with its large 2.3-inch display, backlit keypad, and rapid frequency recognition.
It boasts a capacity of 300 memory channels spread across 15 banks. The Sidetone function allows you to hear your own voice while speaking into the microphone. The device stores your 10 recent channels and allow you to recall them using "flip-flop" recall buttons.
You will be able to conveniently switch between weather channels if you buy the Icom IC A25C. It also comes included with a AA battery pack.
How To Buy The Best Handheld Aviation Radio?
Considering how vital aviation radios are to a pilot’s toolkit, it becomes essential to be able to choose the right one for the right purpose. An ideally-suited handheld radio can significantly ease your flying experience with quick and effective communication.
Naturally, picking out the right aviation radio for yourself would require some idea of what you should be looking for. One size does not fit all when it comes to aviation radios. Here we walk you through some of the factors that merit consideration when you set out to purchase the handheld radio for your specific needs and purposes.
Since the primary purpose of the aviation radio is to aid communication, it makes sense to have that as the primary priority when selecting one. A handheld aviation transceiver is meant to ensure stable and effective communication, and it is only as good as it fulfills that purpose.
The clarity and connectivity the radio offers thus become very important for it to be useful to you in its capacity. Therefore, be careful to note the quality of the reception and relay a particular handheld facilitates before looking at the further specifications.
Next to its primary function of allowing to and fro communication, your handheld aviation radio would also have a role to play in navigation. The majority of these also come equipped with mechanisms to facilitate navigation.
Some of these handheld devices feature sound systems of navigation, complete with GPS technology. These are efficient and make the headings and information as clear and precise as possible. Yet others come with the useful function of audio alerts that allow you the comfort and ease of constant informational inputs even as you look ahead and not at the device directly.
Thus, you will find these handheld radios being sold in two distinct types. One is the simpler variety that solely offers the function of communication. Then there are the ones that combine the functions of communication and navigation, expanding their utility beyond traditional use. Naturally, the former kinds are cheaper than the latter. If you are looking for a budget-friendly option, the communication-only devices would fit the bill better.
Nevertheless, the added function of navigation can be useful for a lot of purposes. It will enable you to keep track of the ILS and VORs. This will allow you access to more information as you fly IFR. For many pilots, it can be more purposeful to go for a handheld radio that offers this dual functionality.
If this is the case with you, paying a little extra for such a device might be worth it. Thus, the thing to figure out when making this choice is whether this applies to you and if it does, to what extent. In case it doesn’t, saving the extra expenditure might appear more prudent.
When we are talking about handheld aviation radios, any handheld devices for that matter, portability or the ease of carrying it around assume supreme importance. If the handheld device isn’t light and convenient enough to be carried around with ease, it doesn’t really achieve the full purpose of being handheld.
If you are looking for a handheld aviation radio, therefore, make sure to size it up and check its bulkiness. If the handheld is overly bulky and imposing, it is bound to get in your way and create inconvenience. This is especially true and applicable in case of emergencies when you need the device to be as functional and easy to carry as possible.
Therefore, when scouring the outlets for a handheld radio for yourself, keep in mind the need for portability and ease of carrying it around with you. It will be worth your while to opt for compact, lightweight, portable radios over bulky ones, by all counts.
Ease of Use
Another primary factor to keep in mind, the ease of use the handheld radio offers can make a huge difference to your experience of the communication and/or navigation it facilitates. Inevitably, some of these devices are markedly simpler to understand and use than others. Finding the one that is most suited to you and your preferences in this regard is crucial.
Most of the newer, modern kinds of these radios prioritize user-friendliness and ease of operation in their design and build. With the types that don’t accord this factor as much importance, you might face difficulty in programming the channels you need. Therefore, the user interface has a considerable role to play when it comes to user experience and convenience.
This is particularly the case if you are going for a handheld that offers the function of navigation as well. To allow you to use it optimally, the interface of the device would need to be intuitive and accessible, and clubbed with thoughtfully incorporated features aimed at maximizing convenience during flights.
For better and more widely adapted utility of the aviation radio, it needs to be aptly designed to ensure ideal visibility. You would come across radios with various qualities of display and screens. This is sure to make a difference to the ease of viewing the information on display and its clarity. This is of added importance if you are using the device for navigation purposes and need to program it as well.
The good variety of these handheld radios would come with bright screens with enhanced visibility for different conditions and levels of lighting. Some of these feature backlit screens that make it easy to read the information at a glance.
Designs of some others also consider the ease of viewing the screens in bright sunlight. Yet others come with night modes for easy visibility in the dark. Depending on your individual flying needs and conditions, you would need to make this choice mindfully.
Batteries and Battery-Life
Considering the nature of the use of handheld radios, their reliability becomes an important factor, especially in situations of urgency. One determinant of this reliability quotient of a handheld is its battery life. Most often, these need to be used for long hours which means they should have sufficient battery life for such lengths of time.
While most of the popular and good quality handheld radios make use of lithium-ion batteries, some also come with AA battery packs. The lithium-ion battery pack is undeniably more long-lasting and also offers the advantage of being rechargeable, doing away with the hassle of replacement. This lithium-ion battery is also found to have a great battery life, allowing you more time between successive charging cycles. This makes the ion battery the preferred choice among battery types for such devices.
In the case of a AA battery pack, you need to put in more effort by carrying spare batteries for the purpose of replacement if the charge runs out. This can be particularly taxing in situations of emergency. Besides, even if they seem cheaper on the get-go, they can end up costing you more in the long run, with all the batteries you will be buying.
In view of this, the professional opinion would point you in the direction of the handhelds with the lithium-ion battery packs for convenient, long-lasting, and cost-effective use.
Receiver-Only Or Transceiver
While this is a rather basic distinction, it can make the most difference to the purpose you are able to use the handheld radio for. Some of the least expensive options in this category out there come without the functionality of two-way communication.
They only allow you to receive radio signals and not send them. In case the purpose you need the device for is to simply listen to the ATC conversations and informational relays, this would fit the purpose just right.
On the other hand, if you need a receiver that both sends and receives radio signals, you will be looking for a transceiver. This would be the appropriate choice if what you need is an alternative or a backup for the aircraft’s in-built radio.
The choice between a receiver-only radio and a transceiver, therefore, depends entirely on the purpose you need it for. You are not likely to make an error here as long as you read the radio description and details before buying it, to make sure it is the one you have in mind.
The kHz Of The Radio
The frequency of the handheld radios also needs to be kept in mind. It is an important feature of radios to be used for aviation signal purposes. There are regional guidelines and regulations as well when it comes to the use of different frequencies.
For instance, if you are flying over any of the EU member states, you will need to comply with their updated requirements in this regard. EU has changed these regulations in 2018 and designated the new spacing of frequencies as 8.33 kHz. This means all pilots flying over this territory can only use radios that support this spacing, rendering the older 25 kHz radios unusable.
The frequency ranges will also differ based on whether your radio is for communication purposes only or if it also offers the function of navigation.
Frequently Asked Questions
You might still have some lingering doubts and queries on the subject of handheld radios. We have got you covered. Read on to find the answers to some of the common questions that might also occur to you.
1. What radios do pilots use?
The type of radio communication most often used in aviation is the VFH or the Very High-Frequency radio call. These are used in the case of 95& communication between pilots and the ATC.
This type of signal is transmitted in a straight line and can therefore encounter obstacles in the path in the form of topographic variations or curvature of the Earth’s surface.
The type of radio communication brought into use by government and military bodies is the UHF AM. The kind used for communication with the ATC on oceanic routes is the HF radio. While it is not found to be as reliable as the VHF, it is better at transmitting farther.
2. Are handheld VHF radios any good?
Since VHF is the most frequently used type of communication between pilots and the ATC, a VHF radio is a good choice for better applicability. It is a popular and reliable radio option, even used by sailors on ships as a backup for assured communication.
In the event of your aircraft’s built-in radio failing or malfunctioning, you can rely on a handheld VFH radio to save the day by allowing you to relay the emergency to the nearest ATC.
3. What frequency do pilots use?
The frequency used to be used by pilots is set by the relevant aviation authorities of different countries and zones. In the case of the United States, this authority is exercised by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Here, the VHF aircraft communications are allocated the band of 100 MHz apart from 760 channels falling in the 118.0-136.975 MHz range. Every frequency the pilots use to communicate needs to adhere to the limits of this range.
These VHF communications channels usually have a spacing of 25 kHz between them, with the exception of flight test stations which have a spacing of just 8.33 kHz besides the emergency frequency of 121.5 MHz with the protection of 100 kHz around it.
4. What radio do I need to listen to ATC?
In terms of radio type, you will most likely need a VHF radio to connect to the ATC. If your intention is to simply listen to the ATC conversation without any back and forth, you can choose to go for a receiver-only radio.
Such an aviation handheld will allow you to listen to the ATC and also receive signals. However, using this, you would not be able to send out radio signals. For that, you will require a transceiver or a two-way radio receiver.
5. How do I listen to aviation frequencies?
In the US, you can quite simply listen to aviation frequencies by tuning in to LiveATC.net. You can access this using any smart device and listen to control towers in full action in real-time.
You can alternatively make use of an aviation handheld that is receiver-only to be able to listen to these as well. This is even useful for a student pilot to listen to their regional airport and get a real idea of the calls and communication involved.
6. What is the NAV 2 Radio used in aviation?
These are the aviation handheld radios that come with the added functional use of navigation. They go beyond the basic purpose of facilitating communication to assist the pilot in navigation, thereby offering expanded utility.
Knowing what an important function a handheld aviation radio serves, it is crucial to take into consideration the factors that affect its utility to pick one ideally-suited to your needs and purposes.
While scouring through the vast variety of aviation handheld radios available out there can be taxing, knowing what you need and what to look for can make the process so much easier. Now that you know what are the best aviation handheld radios in the market, you can go ahead and make a purchase you are sure of.