Everyone wears a headset when flying, but how about a helmet? Might seem like overkill, but the data shows that a flight helmet has a measurable safety benefit. In this AVweb video, Paul Bertorelli dives deep into the topic and find a really stylish flying helmet with skull icons. Seriously? Yeah, seriously.


    • I had the same attitude when I had a Harley. I ride a BMW R1250 GS Adventure now and dress like the Michelin man.
      I watched to many people die from a head bounce and I value my skin. Healing slows down after you turn around 40.

  1. Flying banners I always wore a helmet. I spent all day over water at 350′. If the engine quit, I was going to get wet. Water landings can be rough and there is whole bunch of steel right near your head in a Supercub. Unconscious in a sinking airplane was not a place I wanted to be so I wore a helmet for that gig.

  2. I flew helicopters in the military for 20+ years, rode a motorcycle for nearly the same duration. The helmet was one of the factors that saved my life in a helicopter crash many years ago. Yes, it is a little inconvenient, but the consequences of not wearing one can be of a greater concern. The second greatest benefit is the huge improvement in communications over the $0.50 speaker that seems to be installed in most of the civil aircraft that I flew. If I were still flying, I would have no reservations about wearing a helmet. Over the years in the US Army, we received several comprehensive safety briefings on helmet design and safety considerations, i.e. design, impact resistance, G – loads imposed on the cervical spine, the effect of helmet mounted vision augmentation systems, etc. I wonder where those studies are today? They could be persuasive for the non-helmet wearers? I bet NASCAR has some interesting information on helmet safety, too. We take a lot for granted when we fly, our invincibility shouldn’t be one of them. Just another old opinion.

  3. I work with JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Service) and the majority of the bush pilots wear helmets – even while flying brand new Quest Kodiak aircraft. I think the reason is they’ve seen what happens to a person’s head when you go down over the jungle. I’m going to start using one in my Zenith 701 even though I have a BRS system as you never know how it’s going to land if you use it. Of course here in Arizona, where helmets on motorcycles are not required, I’m amazed at how many Harley riders go flying by me at freeway speeds without a helmet. There will always be those who decide they would rather be dead than look bad.

    • Oddly, I do. I ride a motorcycle with crash protection under my riding suit. When I get to the airport, I change helmets and put my flight suit on over my ‘under armor’.
      The C2 armor is very flexible and my knees don’t hurt when going under the aircraft for inspection. And my elbows and forearms are covered too. My riding boots also provide great protection.

  4. When I was with the government, “special use aviation”, low level operations and helicopters required an approved flight helmet, routine flying in a fixed wing aircraft were exempted from that requirement.

  5. Good video. I think it very much does depend on the type of flying one does, as to whether a helmet should be used. No one wears a helmet in their cars, but drivers who take factory-stock cars on a race track do wear helments. Exact same vehicle, but different circumstances that warrant the extra safety. The same is/should be true in aviation.

  6. I have thought about it. I am building a Zenith CH-750 and have already modified the aircraft frame to strengthen the seat belt mounts and allow the installation of 5 point belts. I have used up 2 motorcycle helmets. One when I was 22 and one when I was 68. The last one was a Snell rated G-Force Racing full face helmet. I was going under 30 mph and just minding my own business but had a AAA service truck pull a U-turn in front of me on a 2-lane road and I had a light weight dual sport bike. Broke my neck, back and hip and would have probably killed me except for the helmet. Even a open face helmet would have left me with severe facial injuries as the lower helmet face guard was completely broken. Something to think about.

  7. Kudos Paul. You broached the forbidden topic of helmet hair creators (often accompanied by mention of fire retardant duds and flight suits)! I am a confirmed pilot nerd… I wear a helmet (with built in ANR, no less) while flying a GA aircraft, and don’t wear synthetics in a GA cockpit or even in the rare occasions when I’m a passenger. Didja notice I did NOT say “flight deck”…?

    Paul, you mentioned that ‘the data were in” that show helmets are a good idea. That ‘data’ has been in for decades, at least since the 50’s, and probably longer. No, I wasn’t flying way back in the Eisenhower, Kennedy, or even Johnson, Nixon, Ford, or Carter Administrations. I just read CAMI reports and other research from years past. The clincher for me was FAA Alaska Region’s report a few years ago that basically demonstrated only an idiot depends on a lap belt to save their brain from being scrambled in even a not-so-bad accident. Besides the value of four and five point harnesses,that report pointed out that helmets, and airbags would each, if used alone, reduce fatal and serious injuries by about a third. Stack ’em up, and (assuming we fly under control all the way into the crash) the odds are really good that we’ll survive the crash to complain some more about helmet hair, AND likely won’t spend much time in a hospital either.

  8. Paul great video. Could you explain why you used the statistic of death per registered vehicles? Wouldn’t a rate based statistic on usage instead of registration be more accurate? Maybe that data isn’t available? Just curious. Thanks

    • Because the NHSTA numbers were in accidents per registration. So the easiest and most accurate way to compare is to reduce the GA numbers to the same incident/exposure. It’s even more reliably accurate than hours flown. Otherwise, you have to convert miles driven to hours, then figure it that way. Seemed to me there was far more noise in that data than just using the registrations. Either way, the directionality appears to be about the same.

      AAA has data that suggests drivers spend 293 hours a year in their cars. I don’t know how reliable it is.

      • Understood. Thanks. The only thing that sticks out is that there are probably a lot more registered aircraft that sit idle versus cars which would worsen the fatality rate for aircraft anyways. So probably a moot point.

        • Just for the hell of it, I did plug those numbers in. The car rate is 0.038/100,000 hours, if the the registration data is reasonably accurate and so it the hours drivers spend in the car.

          That’s 25 times higher than the 0.95 GA fatal rate. I dunno if I believe the Delta is that high. It might be.

  9. By coincidence I just came across an article that mentions the theory of “Risk Homeostasis” which tries to explain why accident rates sometimes don’t improve despite improvements in safety. One observation is that people (being people) will take more risks if they feel safer. One might wonder if a pilot feels safer wearing a helmet that he or she might take more chances, with the result being an accident (and maybe one in which a helmet wouldn’t make a difference).

  10. One thought which made me laugh is that it might not be cool to wear a helmet, but I have seen a few pilots, expecially glider pilots, with dirty, ancient cloth hats or caps, which are definately not cool, but they pretend they are. Something to do with the insulation disappearing off the roof of the head… You youngsters just wait… So in addition to not providing crash protection, some of these anti-burn cloth coverings should also have bio-hazard warning stickers on them. Beats skulls any day.

    • If you’re referring to the typical glider pilot bucket hats, they are cool. That’s their intended use. In most gliders about the only time you’re in the shade is when you’re thermaling under a big old grey-bottom cumulus cloud. Flying four or five hours during the heat of the day under a bubble that seems designed to concentrate the sun’s radiant energy can get intense. Bucket hats which shade the tops of the ears are very effective at reducing the likelihood of carcinoma on the ears turning up in the future. If you don’t think that’s a Thing, well, you youngsters just wait.

  11. Great article, Paul. If I flew in the front seat of a Cub I’d exercise my personal choice and wear a helmet due to the documented lethality of the cabane “V” joining the front spar attach to the longerons. If I finish the homebuilt autogyro I started a long time ago, I will wear a helmet when flying it because I’ve seen a gyro get upset on a taxiway and the top of the mast was not tall enough to keep the pilot’s head from bouncing off the pavement when it flopped over. Flying the glider, no.

  12. Great video – nicely done covering a topic that people frequently have fairly religious convictions about.

    I fly a Christen Eagle (when not flying a Twin Comanche) and a long time ago I decided a helmet was an essential safety requirement. In part I was motivated by another extremely experienced aerobatic pilot (way beyond my expertise) having to bail out. When she pulled the canopy release, the slipstream pushed the canopy straight backwards first, directly into her forehead. She was not wearing a helmet and as you can imagine, she did not survive the impact.

    Though I was already convinced it was time to protect my head (and I don’t worry about helmet hair as I have very little hair these days – that would be a high class problem to worry about 😉 ), that accident was a sober reminder to take action and “do it”.

    The problem at the time was which helmet to use – many of today’s choices were not available and those which were cost a fair amount of cash plus had very limited headphone/microphone options. I use a Clarity Aloft in ear headset – it is very light, which is important when pulling Gs. Then I hit on an interesting option: why pay such a high price when there was another type of helmet in the market that was built to handle high impact with rocks, protected your forehead, top/back/sides of skull and top of your neck? it is a river rafting helmet – so I adapted it. It is also very light, extremely strong and, since it left ears out in the open air, the Clarity headset was perfect with it.

    It does not have a visor, so there is still some face risk but it certainly adds a good margin of safety.

    While I do this in my Eagle, I do not wear a helmet in my Twin Comanche since I have a 4 point harness in that aircraft which would keep me from hitting the instrument panel or yoke. Plus, if I hit something with enough force to crumple the Comanche’s cabin, in all probability I’d need way more of my body protected than just my head …

  13. Yes it looks goofy on my head, mine is painted T34 yellow, but I have to hold the controls when I fly through a crash, be it fixed wing or helicopter. Like it or not, my head will likely be hit by something. I can’t duck and cover. My helicopter helmet seems a bit more bubble head.

  14. I really appreciate the time and effort you put into this, and may even borrow a few of your techniques in my own presentations. Beyond that, nobody could ask for a more objective and unbiased presentation of a concept that deserves some of our attention and discussion. As a glider tow pilot flying a Citabria and Pawnee, I often wished I could don one of my old Nomex flight suits and helmet, but the vanity issue kept be wearing jeans, t-shirt, and headset. Thanks for a great video.

  15. For you average GA cabin airplane I would suggest the actual amount of safety advantage gained by wearing a helmet would be fairly small. Seatbelts however do not get the respect they deserve. Replacing the Cessna/Piper 40 year old lap/shoulder belt combo with a proper 4 point harness dramatically decreases the chance of injury.

    The old OEM should belts in particular are especially problematic as the little button clip for the shoulder belt to lap buckle attachment has a well documented history of failing to secure the shoulder belt in a crash. However you still have to wear it properly and I still see a discouragingly large number of GA pilots not wearing the fitted shoulder belts.

    With respect to helmets; I wear on when flying warbirds with canopies. This is not only for crash protection but to save my head from hitting the canopy if there is an aircraft in flight upset as many of these airplanes, particularly the Chinese and Russian ones, have pretty tight cockpits.