For the savvy pilot, carrying a portable handheld VHF transceiver in their flight bag is tantamount to keeping a spare tire in their car; you should not be caught without one. ICOM A14 Transceiver has long been iconic in the aviation community and their A14 handheld VHF transceiver is a workhorse in the industry. Small, lightweight, and relatively simple, the A14 is a valuable safety outlet for any flight bag.
Before we dig in, we have spent the time reviewing a slew of other radios in the aviation world. If you’re looking for another brand be sure to read our comparative radio article as well!
ICOM A14 Transceiver Standard Features
There are only a few major players in the handheld VHF aviation-band transceiver market, and ICOM is perhaps the most well-known manufacturer. Their ICOM A6 has been a popular model for quite some time, being a reliable, cost-effective handset, and the ICOM A14 Transceiver represents a somewhat simpler option for pilots who may not require as many features.
The A14 is capable of operating on 200 separate channels, with memory banks for 10 saved frequencies. This mirrors the A6 , which offers as many frequencies as you will likely ever need out of a handheld.
The one feature which the A6 has that the A14 probably should possess is a bright red emergency button, which takes the unit straight to the emergency frequency. However, 121.500 can easily go under one of the saved channels, and probably should.
The standard power supply for the A14 comes through a 7.4V DC lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. My experience has been that these stock units do not have a very good lifecycle and are sensitive to overcharging. If this could potentially affect you, then opting for the optional AA battery pack might be a wise choice.
The benefit of the Li-ion battery pack is that you can purchase a 12V charging cable for it, allowing you to put a charge on it while you fly.
Applications and Usefulness
Handheld transceivers really serve two purposes for the pilot: first: emergency backup, and second: ground communications.
Emergency backup is self-explanatory, but ground communication deserves an explanation. The hour counter, or ‘Hobbs meter’ as it is commonly known, starts the second the engine starts running, and you are obviously using fuel. So when you, the pilot, are renting by the hour, every minute is costing money.
A handheld transceiver allows you to request clearance before touching the keys, which definitely adds up to considerable earning, and not over that much time. Think about it: if you waste six minutes every time running the aircraft for initial clearance requests, that adds up to a whole hour on the Hobbs after ten flights. With rental rates generally being over $100 per hour, it will not take long to save $100. As ICOM advertises, the unit really does pay for itself in no time.
Additional options and useful features
What I have always liked about the A6 , which carries over to the ICOM A14 Transceiver, is the ability to plug-and-play a variety of different features into it.
The radios come standard with a pigtail adapter which allows you to plug your standard headsets into it. This is very important because these unit are not really loud enough to hear in a noisy cockpit; you can simply pull the plugs out of the airplane’s intercom and go straight to the A14.
NOTE: in order to use the boom microphone on the headset, you also need to buy a push-to-talk switch . Otherwise, the included pigtail only allows you to hear through your headset and you will have to speak into the handheld transceiver when you transmit.
If you are a dedicated ground operations personnel at an airport, you can buy a hand speaker microphone to clip on your shirt while keeping the VHF transceiver clipped to your belt. It does not sound like much, but this is a really useful feature when your hands are full.
This item is not applicable for use in flight, but it is fair to say that VHF handheld transceivers get at least equal use by ground operations.
My final thoughts about the ICOM A14 Transceiver
The ICOM series of radios are very reliable units which have enjoyed a great reputation and have a loyal following. The A14 is a great entry product for student pilots, but will also serve experienced pros just fine. It offers a lot of good solutions for a wide swath of the aviation industry for a reasonable price and in a simple, intuitive package. Instead of wasting your money trying out cheaper knockoffs, put that money towards the A14 and buy a unit that is really going to last.