AEA Pilot's Guide 2018-2019 - 63

headgear enhanced the ability to communicate.
Today, most pilots and their fortunate passengers
wear some style of headset or headphones, combining
a boom-mounted microphone with two, sometimes
one, earpiece with a speaker to help the pilot hear. And
today's variety of models, features and protection levels
spans dozens of models and a stunning array of price
and performance points.
Today's pilots enjoy a range of choices covering oldschool passive protection, new-school electronic noise
canceling, and relatively new models without ear cups,
some wired, some wireless, and all offering a level of
hearing protection - always worth its costs.
In the beginning
The Wright brothers lacked fancy hearing protection
when they made two flights each in their Wright Flyer at
Kitty Hawk in December 1903. The use of cotton balls,
twisted and pushed into ears, was the dominant sound
protection of the early 20th century. Before long, inventors
and innovators began to develop protection against engine
exhaust noise.
The evolution of the aviation headset began in 1910,
when Stanford University student Nathaniel Baldwin
developed the first example. For a couple of years,
Baldwin's best efforts failed to land backers for mass
production.
As Europe edged closer to the start of the first
World War, however, the American military recognized
the potential of Baldwin's invention and ordered 100
sets. Although most pilots in World War I flew sans
communications headsets - early aircraft sported no radios
- the headsets used gained great popularity. The dye was
cast.
From those early models through the 1930s, headsets
aided cockpit communications, but offered precious little
protection against the din of unmuffled engines firing hot
gasses past the speed of sound. Hollow ear cups with
speakers but no sound insulation prompted some pilots to
put cotton balls or cigarette filters into their ears in hopes of
a small amount of sound attenuation.
We've seen many results of this lack of sound
attenuation in the hearing aids worn by many veterans of

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the second World War and Korea. Veteran aviators of those
conflicts share a high incidence of wearing supplemental
hearing assistance.
As protection for hearing, however, aviation headsets
came into their own only in the last 50-odd years. And
today, the aviation headset is indeed de rigueur, with the
variations on type, utility and, most of all, protecting pilots'
hearing.
In the beginning, hearing
protection came second
Early aviation helmets offered relatively little in the way
of hearing protection. Sound enhancement became a
feature after aircraft radios became standard equipment
in some aircraft - mostly commercial and military. In the
beginning, hearing protection wasn't the concern.
From the first World War into the second, pilot headgear
evolved from leather "helmets" designed to protect their
heads and to shelter ears from the cold and wind of flight
through the innovation of headsets offering a few decibels
of passive sound attenuation, and on through today's
modern state-of-the-art in hearing protection: the active
noise reduction, or ANR, headset.
The options today range from better passive headsets
to ANR headsets, with choices that include monaural - one
sound channel - to stereo. Today's offerings also include
wireless headsets that eliminate the occasional cable
entanglement problem.
So listen up as we explore the options and sound out
their various strengths and weaknesses.
Headset types: passive
versus active noise reduction
The two dominant general aviation headset styles differ
little and share much in their construction.
Two ear cups, or shells, mount to a headband that holds
them over the ears. Typically, a speaker element resides
inside each shell, along with some form of sound-insulating
material. The speakers and insulation usually sport a cover
to keep unwanted materials out of the shell.
Over that, covering the head-side edges of the shells,
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