There are a few good options for drone pilots looking for an aviation radio. The best radios come from Yaesu and Icom, who design models that are trusted by all types and levels of pilots, including remote pilots.
Trying to decide which radio is right for you ultimately comes down to what you’re looking for, as you can’t go wrong with any of the models listed. One of the biggest deciding factors will be if you’re looking for just a COMM only model or COMM/NAV, but there are also a couple of other factors to consider.
Note: We have a dedicated article that covers all the top handheld aviation radios listed and then some, including a comparison table.
If you’re looking for no-frills, dependable COMM only radio, one of the best options is the Yaesu FTA-250L. It is the most inexpensive model and offers the best value on the market. Battery life is very impressive at 16 hours, it is lightweight at 10.6 ounces, and is well-constructed.
The only other radio to consider at a similar price point is the Icom IC-A16. Spending slightly more will reward you with a marginally better battery life (17 hours instead of 16), an LCD instead of Dot Matrix screen, a more lightweight design (9.1 ounces), and better construction that meets MIL-STD 810 standards.
If you’re looking for a radio that beats all others in terms of functionality, the Yaesu FTA-750L is just the ticket. This has GPS, VOR and ILS Navigation, as well as CDI (Course Deviation Indicator). The FTA-550L is another option to consider if you do not need GPS or ILS Navigation (Glidescope).
A comparable Icom radio to consider is the Icom A-25N. This has the same functionality as the 750L with the exception of any form of ILS Navigation. It does have the advantage of Bluetooth, though.
Non-remote pilots generally aren’t concerned with accessories unless they’re planning on using the radio in other environments, such as in a cockpit. Still, this is something worth nothing.
All Yaesu radios (apart from the FTA-250L) come with both an alkaline battery tray and cigarette lighter adapter. While you will unlikely find much use for the cigarette lighter adapter on the ground, the alkaline battery tray could come in handy. This allows you to use alkaline instead of rechargeable batteries.
Just note that Icom require you to purchase these accessories separately whereas Yeasu include these accessories with each model.
Ease of Use
Icom radios are considered easier to use than Yaesu models. In the long run this may not be too great of a concern as you become more familiar with the radio. Just keep in mind that there will be more of an initial learning curve if you buy a Yaesu radio.
One final thing to keep in mind that isn’t so much to do with selecting a radio but with regulations is that you do not want to transmit on the radio unless in an emergency situation. The following comes straight from the FAA study guide: “The remote pilot should refrain from transmitting over any active aviation frequency unless there is an emergency situation.”
However, it is important to have an understanding of different types of aircraft and commonly used language. “In the interest of safety in the NAS, it is important that a remote pilot understands the aviation language and the types of aircraft that can be operating in the same area as a small UA.”