Tips from the ToyMaster

Gary Aldrich

Originally published March 1996

Gadgetosis Nervosa...If your name is neatly printed on the address label of this newsletter, you; or someone you know suffers from this insidious killer of bank accounts. In its most advanced state, it can contribute to a full-blown case of the dreaded AIDS (Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome). This month's tip deals with a related strain of the disease known by the initials HIV.

HIV, or Hysterical Illuminodeficiency Virus, is caused by that innocuous little device floating around the bottom of your flight bag...the flashlight. We've all been there; no moon, black as the inside of a cow, so dark that the wingtip strobe flashes are swallowed up as if by some diabolical wormhole. You get the picture. You're on the NDB to Fox, deep in the soup, those 50-cent post lights you picked up at the swap meet are proving they aren't worth even that, so your trusty Mini-Maglite is firmly clamped in your teeth. As you approach minimums Joshua Approach calls for a radio check, and as you key the mic and start to talk your AA-cell cigar departs to live among the Snickers wrappers and 5-year old sectionals in the bowels of the airplane. No sweat, right? Grab your backup light. . .you know, the one with the batteries stolen from the kid's walkman...etc., etc.

"YOU PAID $40 FOR A FLASHLIGHT?!?!?!?!" If you hold the page up to your ear, you can still hear my wife shrieking those words as she methodically reduces my MasterCard to shreds of plastic. "Au contrare, my love" I say soothingly. "This is no mere flashlight, it's 'a unique lighting instrument', and 'one of the best cockpit safety enhancement devices ever'." I gently open the elegant leatherette case to reveal the "Blackout Light" manufactured by NavAire Instrument Corporation of Akron, Ohio. Let me tell you about this little beauty while she is off searching for my backup charge cards....

To call this just another flashlight is to call the Mustang just another airplane. Neatly encased in the aforementioned leatherette box is a true example of elegance in engineering. Measuring 3.5 by 1.0 inches in length and height and weighing in at 2 ounces, the Blackout Light is well constructed from space age high-impact ABS plastic and anodized aluminum. It is powered by two AAA cells (included) and has both clear and blue-green lenses. What sets this instrument apart from the average flashlight is the included mounting system which allows you to fasten the light to virtually any headset (or anything else, for that matter) for true hands (and teeth) free operation. The Blackout Light uses a clever mounting scheme comprised of a disk-shaped, self-adhesive bracket sporting a quarter-inch "nipple". With minor pressure. this nipple engages a suitably sized receptacle in the body of the light. The fit is such that the light can be adjusted through 360 degrees of pitch and about 20 degrees of yaw and roll. This movement allows illumination of the charts in your lap as well as the instruments on the panel and there is enough friction in the system to hold the adjustment until you change it. The light weight and small size combine to make the installation virtually transparent on most general aviation noise reducing headsets. Three different brackets are included to fit any headset contour as well as a strip of the ubiquitous Velcro to cover the other one percent of mounting problems. A simple quarter-turn of the aluminum head, in either direction, turns the light on and there is no focusing required to obtain an optimum lighting pattern. The blue-green filter is touted as "the new standard for cockpit lighting" and "military style". Even though I have a passing acquaintance with military technology through my day job, I can't vouch for this claim of "unsurpassed night vision performance". However, in scientific trials while piloting my Jeep through the Antelope Valley night, I can say that the illumination provided by the light made reading even the fine print of the instruction brochure easy and my night vision did not seem affected. I suspect that performance in the air will be at least as satisfactory. The blue-green light has the appearance of being brighter than the typical red lens while not producing glare. I also suspect the color is night-vision-goggle (NVG) compatible, but I'll let the more well-heeled among you test that theory out. Other features of the light include a high intensity grain-of-wheat sized bulb common to most modern mini lights, as well as a matte-finished reflector which gives an even light pattern free of hot/dark spots. Too cool, you say? Well, in the fine tradition of the Ginzu knives, that's not all! The tailcap of the light contains a handy compass that (when separated from the batteries) reliably points out the North magnetic pole! Now you see how they come to call this thing a "safety enhancement" system.

OK, so I've got you all lathered up and ready to spend...how do you get yours? I got mine from the JetStream aviation catalog (1-800-470-2FLY) for $39.95. You can also contact the light's maker, Navaire, at 1-800-603-6014. Their brochure lists a full complement of replacement parts and additional brackets to ensure years of trouble-free aviating. Oh yeah, the "piece d'resistance"? It comes in two colors...black for the Bose crowd, and David Clark green to match the discriminating aviator's ensemble. If you aren't dialing one of those numbers right now, you're not infected with Gadgetosis Nervosa....yet! (P.S. Admitted G.N. carrier Norm Howell bought his after deliberating for nearly a micro-second. Ask this noted flight test legend for his personal assessment.)


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Revised -- 10 June 1998