best handheld aviation radio

Best Handheld Aviation Radio – Top 6 Reviews, Buyers’ Guide, Tips & More

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An effective handheld aviation radio is essential to have when flying. 

Without it, you won’t even be able to fly off in controlled airspace since you won’t be able to communicate with Air Traffic Control (ATC). 

After extensive testing, we’ve compiled our top picks for the best handheld aviation radios. 

Winner

This is an extremely high-quality but still, affordable radio for pilots. We were impressed by its battery life and the backlit keypad which makes it super easy to use. 

Runner Up

This waterproof radio is quite budget-friendly and great for pilots that only want communication capabilities. We found the dot matrix display very easy to read and the radio’s quite lightweight as well. 

Also Great

With great audio quality and cheap pricing, this radio is great for amateur pilots. Its battery lasts a long time and the sturdy exterior ensures it won’t get damaged very easily. 

Now that you know what our top 3 picks have to offer, let’s delve deeper to find the most suitable radio for you. 

Best Aviation Handheld Radios – Top 6 Reviews

#1: Best All-Around Handheld Aviation Radio – Yaesu FTA750L Handheld VHF Transceiver Review 

This VHF handheld radio comes packed with features and that too, at a fairly reasonable price. Yaesu decided to amp up the navigation features with this model and it certainly shows. 

We tested it extensively and found the VOR and ILS functions to be super simple to use and the menus are very easy to navigate. It doesn’t take too long to navigate through them which ensures you don’t get too distracted mid-flight. 

You can also access NOAA weather channels for easy updates. 

It has an Alkaline battery tray that holds 6 AA batteries. You also get a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery. Hence, you have two ways to power it.

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy Yaesu FTA750L Handheld VHF Transceiver

Price: As mentioned earlier, the price is fairly reasonable when you consider the number of features packed into this radio. It’s certainly more expensive than other entries on our list but the features it has justifies its price.

Battery life: Its 1800 mAh Lithium-ion battery is easily able to power the radio for up to 8 to 10 hours. When it’s recharging, you can use AA batteries to power the radio meanwhile. 

Portability: The radio is designed to be lightweight and easy to carry around. It can easily fit into most normal-sized pockets and doesn’t get in the way during flights. 

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Rechargeable battery
  • Has both communication and navigation features
  • User-friendly
  • Sturdy exterior

Cons

  • Relatively expensive

Best All-Around Handheld Aviation Radio

The best all-around handheld aviation radio is the Yaesu FTA750L Handheld VHF Transceiver thanks to its user-friendliness, durability, and portability.

#2: Best COMM-Only Handheld Aviation Radio – Yaesu FTA-450L Airband VHF Comm Review 

With impressive sound output and an easy-to-use interface, this Yaesu radio really floored us with its performance. Over the course of testing, we found this COMM-only radio to be super convenient to use, thanks to its clear dot matrix display. 

The display of the Yaesu FTA-450L is easy to read even in low-light conditions. 

Furthermore, the radio can store up to 200 memory channels which are more than enough for most civilian aircraft pilots. 

Lastly, it comes with a rechargeable battery that easily lasts up to 8 to 10 hours on a full charge. If your flights are longer than that, you can power it with 6 AA batteries using its Alkaline battery tray. 

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy Yaesu FTA-450L Airband VHF Comm

Price: Since it’s a COMM-only radio with no navigation features, its price is also much lower. If you have other equipment to provide navigation inside your aircraft, you can opt for this handheld aviation radio to save you some cash. 

Battery life: As mentioned earlier, the battery lasts about 8 to 10 hours on a single charge which is quite decent. 

Portability: The handheld radio is fairly lightweight and compact. You won’t run into too many issues storing or carrying it around since it’s fairly unobtrusive. 

Pros

  • Loud audio output
  • 200 memory channels
  • Easy to use
  • Durable
  • Small and lightweight

Cons

  • COMM-only

Best COMM-Only Handheld Aviation Radio

The best COMM-only handheld aviation radio is the Yaesu FTA-450L Airband VHF Comm thanks to its great sound quality, ease of use, and affordability.

#3: Best Durable Handheld Aviation Radio – Yaesu FTA-250L Handheld VHF Airband Transceiver Review 

If you want a radio that’ll hold its own and last you a long time, then this product is definitely worth considering. It’s made from high-quality materials and is constructed to ensure it’ll be resistant to drops and impact. 

It also has an IPX5 waterproof rating. 

In addition to being incredibly sturdy, the radio also offers clear and loud sound output. This, coupled with the fact that it has 250 memory channels, really makes it a great choice for most civilian pilots.  

The backlit keypad and dot matrix display are two features we appreciated immensely. During our tests, we had no issues using the radio since the menus were easily discernible, even in darker environments. 

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy Yaesu FTA-250L Handheld VHF Airband Transceiver

Price: It’s an extremely cheap handheld radio since it’s COMM-only. That being said, it’s still packed with features and it even has more memory channels than some of its more expensive competitors.

Battery life: The Yaesu FTA-250L boasts a 1950 mAh battery that is easily able to power the radio for up to 8 to 10 hours. 

Portability: With radios that are durable, you often expect them to be heavy. However, that’s surprisingly not the case with this particular radio. It’s fairly lightweight and can easily be carried around. 

Pros

  • 250 memory channels
  • Budget-friendly
  • User-friendly
  • Great sound output
  • Excellent build quality

Cons

  • COMM-only

Best Durable Handheld Aviation Radio

The best durable handheld aviation radio is the Yaesu FTA-250L Handheld VHF Airband Transceiver thanks to its polycarbonate housing. It’s also extremely affordable. 

#4: Best Handheld Aviation Radio with Large Memory Bank – ICOM IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver Review 

We were particularly impressed by the ICOM IC-A25N due to its large memory bank. Compared to most other portable aviation radios on this list which usually store 200 to 250 channels, this can store up to 300 channels. 

It boasts 6 watts of power with an IP57 waterproof rating. 

Not only is it incredibly durable but the built-in speaker it has is also super loud and clear. You’ll easily be able to hear through it without the need for an external amplifier. 

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy ICOM IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver

Price: Since it has both communication and navigation capabilities, it’s fairly expensive. However, we do think that its high price is justified due to its large memory bank, the number of features, and overall build quality. 

Battery life: The ICOM IC-A25N boasts a 2350 mAh battery that is easily able to power the radio for up to 10.5 hours. 

Portability: The handheld radio is fairly lightweight and designed to be easily portable. Hence, you’ll have little to no trouble moving it around and using it.

Pros

  • Weather alerts
  • Excellent battery life
  • Lightweight radio
  • Built-in GPS
  • Great build quality

Cons

  • Expensive

Best Handheld Aviation Radio with Large Memory Bank

The best handheld aviation radio with a large memory bank is the ICOM IC-A25N VHF Airband Transceiver as it can store up to 300 memory channels. It’s also quite user-friendly. 

#5: Best Long-Lasting Handheld Aviation Radio – ICOM IC-A16 VHF COM Aviation Handheld Review 

This radio is incredibly small but has a ton of features loaded onto it. First off, let’s talk about what impressed us most: its incredible battery life. The Lithium-ion battery inside it is able to power the radio for up to 17 hours on a full charge. 

It’s perfect for pilots that go on long flights regularly. 

Furthermore, as far as portable radios go, this one has one of the best-performing speakers that we’ve had the pleasure of testing. It’s loud without having any distortion to it. 

If all that wasn’t enough, you should also know that this radio even has Bluetooth compatibility.

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy ICOM IC-A16 VHF COM Aviation Handheld

Price: While it’s not the cheapest radio out there, it’s not too expensive either. When you look at the number of features it has, the price suddenly starts to feel incredibly generous. 

Battery life: This radio has the best battery life out of all the entries on our list. If battery life is your main concern, then this product should definitely be among your top considerations.

Portability: The product is super lightweight and does not cause any hindrance when being carried around.

Pros

  • Decent pricing
  • User-friendly
  • Incredible battery life
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Bluetooth capability

Cons

  • Does not have navigation features

Best Long-Lasting Handheld Aviation Radio

The best long-lasting handheld aviation radio is the ICOM IC-A16 VHF COM Aviation Handheld due to its 17-hour battery life. It even comes with Bluetooth compatibility.

#6: Best User-Friendly Handheld Aviation Radio – ICOM A25C Handheld Airband Radio Review 

The ICOM A25C is almost exactly the same as the A25N except that it only has communication features. As a result, you can save a fair bit of money if communication is the only thing you need from your portable radio. 

It’s incredibly easy to use. 

The radio features a big 2.3-inch display that makes it super easy to read, even in low-light conditions. We found the speaker to be incredibly satisfying as well with little to no distortion issues. 

It also has an IP57 waterproof rating with a sturdy exterior that makes it resistant to wear and tear. 

Factors to Consider Before you Decide to Buy ICOM A25C Handheld Airband Radio

Price: Since it’s a COMM-only radio, its price is much lower than radios that have both communication and navigation capabilities. It’s a great radio to get if you don’t have a ton of cash to spend.

Battery life: It boasts a 2350 mAh battery that is easily able to power the radio for up to 10 hours. The radio also has an Alkaline battery tray that you can utilize to power it with AA batteries. 

Portability: The radio is fairly lightweight and you can barely feel it resting in your pocket. Its ease of use, coupled with its portability, makes it a super convenient device to operate. 

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Can be powered with AA batteries as well
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to use
  • Affordable

Cons

  • COMM-only

Best User-Friendly Handheld Aviation Radio

The best user-friendly handheld aviation radio is the ICOM A25C Handheld Airband Radio thanks to its clear display, backlit keypad, and clear speaker.

Don’t forget to check out our expert reviews on Best Portable Radios for camping.

Best Aviation Handheld Radio – Buyers’ Guide

alkaline battery case cigarette lighter adapter aircraft’s radio gps functionality cell phone

You should note that buying any handheld radio without doing the proper research is never a good idea. You may end up stuck with a radio that does not properly fulfill your needs as a pilot. 

Hence, before you buy an aviation handheld radio, you must first consider what you need from it. 

For example, do you require your radio to have both communication and navigation capabilities? Or do you have some other external equipment that can handle the navigation for you? 

This is just one example of the many factors you must take into account before deciding on the most ideal aviation handheld radio. 

Other factors include: 

Price 

Naturally, the price of the product is something you’ll always consider whenever making any purchase. 

When it comes to handheld aviation radios, they can range from anywhere between $200 and over $500. 

The more expensive you get, the more features your radio will have such as a larger memory bank, navigation capabilities, etc. 

Depending on your budget and your needs, you can think about what features you actually need and what features you don’t. Be wary not to spend more than you need on a radio that has features you won’t actually ever use. 

For example, if you have other equipment that can handle navigation, you don’t need to spend extra money to get a radio with navigation capabilities. You can save money by getting a handheld aviation radio that only has communication features. 
Another example would be to opt for a radio that has a lower number of memory channels (assuming you don’t need a large memory bank). 

Battery Life

The battery life of any handheld device is important to consider but with an aviation radio, it’s one of the most important factors there is. Of course, you want a radio with a battery life that’ll be able to last throughout your entire flight. 

In this case, you’ll have to consider what the average duration of your typical flight is. Then, you can start to determine which radios will be most suitable for you. 

Some radios come with rechargeable batteries whereas others run using disposable batteries. 

Radios with rechargeable batteries are typically more expensive but of course, you’ll save money in the long run. This is because you won’t be constantly spending money on disposable batteries. 

However, the important thing to consider here is that many rechargeable radios cannot be used while their batteries are recharging. On the other hand, when it comes to radios with disposable batteries, you can simply switch them out and get back to it.

Portability 

You never want a handheld radio that feels bulky or heavy to carry around. This is one of several reasons why it’s a good idea to buy a handheld aviation radio in person. That way, you can inspect it to see if it’s too bulky for you. 

You must ensure that the radio you get is small and lightweight enough to fit into your pocket without being too much of a hindrance. Remember that it’s a device that should be helpful in emergency situations rather than obtrusive. 

If you can’t buy the radio in person, then it can be a good idea to look up its dimensions as well as pictures of it. They can help give you a better idea of how big it is and whether or not it’ll be a hindrance to carry around.

You won’t have too much trouble with this, however. 

This is because most handheld radios are built with portability in mind. As long as you stay patient and do the proper research, you’ll be able to find the right-sized radio that works best for your needs.  

Versatility 

We briefly touched upon this in the Price section but let’s talk about it in detail: It’s important to consider what different features you need from your radio. 

For example, some handheld radios are only designed to receive radio messages and not transmit them. Others are able to do both. 
Some radios even come with additional perks such as GPS services and the ability to hook up and interface with an onboard computer. 

Naturally, while such features are not absolutely necessary, they can certainly be extremely useful in dynamic situations. 

For this factor, you must consider the nature of your flights and what features would be particularly useful for them. This will be different for every pilot, hence, it’s a good idea to spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. 

Communication and Navigation 

As briefly mentioned earlier, aviation handheld radios usually come in two different varieties. The first ones only provide communication and are usually cheaper. The second one offers navigation capabilities in addition to communication. 

The NAV function of typical aviation handheld radios is able to track VORs and even ILS. More expensive models even have GPS logging features which can also be very useful.  

Again, in the end, it’s really up to you to decide whether or not you actually need all of these features from your radio. 

If you have the budget and the need for them, then go for it. Otherwise, make a list of the features you absolutely need and then opt for a handheld radio that fulfills only them. 

Check out our complete and detailed guides on handheld radios, FAQs about them, and more.

Best Handheld Aviation Radio – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

alkaline battery case panel mounted radio cigarette lighter adapter communication channels

What is a handheld aviation radio and how does it work?

A handheld aviation radio (also known as a portable transceiver) works to provide communication for civilian aircraft. They work in much the same way as regular radios do, i.e., by tapping into and utilizing radio frequencies. 

However, they do have some key differences such as their own frequency range, number of memory channels, and more. 

What are the different types of handheld aviation radios?

Aviation handheld radios are typically separated into two different categories: 

  1. COMM-only 
  2. NAV and COMM  

COMM-only radios, as the name suggests, are only utilized for communication. Most radios in this category can both send and receive radio messages. However, there do exist radio models that can only receive radio messages but not send them. 

NAV and COMM radios can also be utilized to communicate but they also have a NAV band. This allows them to access certain navigation features that can help pilots out with their flights.

Why do I need a handheld aviation radio? 

You might wonder why you need a handheld aviation transceiver when your plane may already have one (or even more) panel-mounted radios. 

The first and simplest reason is redundancy. In case something goes wrong with your plane and you’re unable to access your radios, you want to have a backup that allows you to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC). 

They’re super small and portable so there’s really no reason not to have them. 

Is it legal to listen to aviation radio frequencies? 

As long as you’re not disrupting anything, it’s not illegal to listen to aviation radio frequencies. After all, anyone can just buy a portable aviation radio and start listening in. 

However, please note that it’s not legal to transmit radio messages over these frequencies if you’re not a licensed official. It should also be noted that this is the case in the United States. Laws may differ depending on where you are in the world. 

What does the “memory bank” of a handheld aviation radio refer to? 

The “memory bank” of handheld radios refers to how many radio frequencies they can save in their memory. 

You want to make sure that the radio you get has the appropriate number of memory channels for you to comfortably save your required frequencies.

Final Verdict

That’s the end of our comprehensive list of the best aviation handheld radios. 

While it was extremely fun to test these handheld radios out for months, the debate to crown the best one was quite intense. After a week of discussion, we concluded the Yaesu FTA750L Handheld VHF Transceiver to be the best of the bunch. 

Not only does it provide both communication and navigation capabilities but it’s also extremely user-friendly. 

Which handheld aviation radio do you prefer? Please tell us in the comments section below. 

Our experts review the latest and old radios of all types daily and give their findings on the website.

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