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Widget Of The Week

Airlite 62 Binaural Headset (1985)

If you think paying £200 or more for a pair of stereo headphones is a bit stiff then you’ve clearly had no dealings with civil aviation or the military. They routinely pay twice as much as that for what in civvy street would be regarded as a rather basic set of cans. What’s more, most of them are wired for mono sound and Hi-Fi buffs wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. Usually the only obvious differences between headphones for listening to music and military or aviation headsets is the addition of a microphone, and the rather austere, often brutal design, but don’t be fooled. The lack of any obvious padding or fancy-sounding comfort aids doesn’t mean they are uncomfortable to wear. Quite the opposite. In many circumstances they will be worn for hours on end, and taking them off simply isn’t an option when the messages the wearer is meant to be listening to responding to is concerned with flight safety or maybe something really serious…

 

The Airlite 62’s featured here is one of the all-time classics. This model has been in production for more than 40 years, which suggests the manufacturers, UK-based Clement Clarke International got a lot of things right from the beginning. What made the Airlite 62 particularly popular with aviation and military users over the years was their adaptability. Scores of microphone and twin or single earphone combinations are available, along with numerous wiring and plug configurations, add-ons and accessories, but above all it is their reliability and durability that contributed to their longevity.

 

Build quality is on another level; they’re made to withstand constant use, often in harsh conditions, and that means using the toughest, lightest materials, and simple construction so there’s less to go wrong, but when it does, it’s easy to fix, in the field, if necessary. For example, the headphone capsules are held in place by a simple clip and the microphone module is mounted in a snap-in holder and both can be changed in a matter of seconds. The same goes for the padded headband, and since they are likely to be shared by several users, or worn in dirty or unhygienic conditions, it has easily replaceable outer cotton covers. There are a good number of adjustments, to make them more comfortable. The springy wire headband can be lightly bent to accommodate different head sizes; the earpieces slide up and down on the headband frame and it’s worth mentioning that the earphones have removable gel-filled cushions. Speaking of which, the ear cups are large enough to cover the whole of the outer ear, vitally important in noisy environments like aircraft and armoured vehicles.

 

The headset shown here dates from the mid 80s and is fitted with 300-ohm magnetic type earphones but 600 ohm magnetic and moving coil types are also available. It has an electret microphone and there’s an even wider choice of alternatives, including 300 moving coil and rocking armature types. Noise cancelling moving coil and electrets, Mu Metal shielded models with increased immunity to strong magnetic fields, amplified electrets and even old-school carbon mics. It came with an external microphone that plugs into a 3-pin Amphenol socket on the side of the mic boom earphone. This looks like it is designed to attach to an oxygen mask. The only slightly mysterious feature is the 6-pole 7.5mm jack plug on the end of the 2-metre long connecting cable. At first glance it looks like a standard NATO connector, or maybe a helicopter type plug but there are too many contacts. It’s definitely not meant for GA (general aviation – light aircraft), which still favours a twin jack arrangement, so if anyone can identify it, please let me know.

 

Unlike most things appearing in dustygizmos this one came from an actual shop, and a remarkable one at that in Lincoln (J. Birkett in Steep Hill, down from the Cathedral). They specialise in vintage radio and electronics and a lot of interesting avionics devices. There’s always something in the window, or inside that I didn’t know I needed and can’t bear to leave behind. These Airlites were a real bargain at just £5.00 and it took a great deal of will power (and a glaring missus) not to buy more. They were clean, in only slightly used condition, and good working order. My intention was to modify them for general aviation use but somehow they ended up in the to-do box, but I definitely will get around to it one day. 

 

What Happened To It?

Clement Clarke started out making and supplying aviation headsets in the 1950s. Nowadays they’re called Clement Clarke Communications and are part of the MEL Group of aviation specialist companies. The Airlite 62 along with several other aviation headset and microphones are still in production and whilst there have been a number of modifications over the years they are recognisably based on the original design. Prices vary enormously but if you want a new one you can expect to pay the thick end of £400 for a basic configuration. On the second-hand market, as this one ably demonstrates, they can sell for as little £5.00, up to £100 or more for one in tip-top condition and configured for GA use, or a specific aircraft type. To be honest it’s not a very big market and prices in general tend towards the lower end of the range but you don’t need an aircraft to use one. There are several articles on the web showing how to modify them for more earthly applications, like computer gaming and ham radio. I don’t think they have much of a future in home audio or Hi-Fi; cramming in decent quality drivers could be quite challenging but I have no doubt someone, somewhere has tried it.


First Seen:           1975?

Original Price:     £400?

Value Today:       £30 (0818)

Features:             Binaural (twin) cushioned earphones (magnetic type 300 ohm impedance), adjustable boom microphone with detachable/interchangeable mic cartridge (electret), external mic connector, adjustable cushioned headband, 6-pole 5.5mm jack connector

Power req.                       n/a

Dimensions:                     220 x 90 x 240mm

Weight:                            420g

Made (assembled) in:      UK

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):    5



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