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
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
Made (assembled) in: UK
Hen's Teeth (10 rarest): 5