General Aviation. Direct & Unfiltered.

Gene Cernan Looks to Sennheiser's HMEC 26 Aviation Headset to Ensure Clarity of Communications While in the Cockpit

Old Lyme, Conn. – July 27, 2010: To say that Gene Cernan is an accomplished aviator is something of an understatement. An experienced NASA astronaut who co-piloted Gemini 9A, was lunar module pilot on Apollo 10 and commander of Apollo 17, Cernan knows something about the importance of communications in the cockpit. While he is still very active in flight, these days, Cernan chooses to pilot a Cessna 421 instead of a rocket. He looks to aviation headset manufacturer Sennheiser to ensure that the quality of his communication in the cockpit is without compromise.

Gene, how did your passion for flying develop?
I am a product of WWII and my passion for flying started when I was eight or ten years old. I watched all those unsung heroes out there, particularly in the Pacific, flying airplanes off of aircraft carriers. Back in those days, we didn't have any TVs like kids do now. You'd go to the movies once a week and have black and white Movietone news. That fascinated me, and that's where my passion for flying began--I knew right then and there that that was my dream.

What role has maintaining a passion played in helping you attain your dream of being a pilot?
Well, first and foremost, you've got to love it. I do a lot of lecturing and I tell people, "If it isn't a passion, then don't do it. If you don't want to be the best there is, then get out of it, otherwise you're going to hurt somebody." When I got a call from the Navy Department saying "We want to recommend you for further evaluation to NASA," that started the ball rolling. Suddenly I was in a room with 400 of the finest, most qualified test pilots and aviators in America. Who would have ever believed it? I like to tell kids, "Don't ever count yourself out."

How important are communications in the cockpit?
Understanding communications is of the utmost importance. If it isn't clear and you miss a cue in terms of an altitude change or another piece of critical information, you can find yourself in a great deal of safety trouble. It is so important to understand what the controller is talking about and what the guy in the right seat is telling you: "Put the flaps at 30." Maybe you didn't hear him correctly and you thought he said, "The flaps are dirty."

There are so many things that can get confused if you do not have distinctively clear communications. This is why the real pros repeat back what they think they heard. You'd be surprised how many times the controller will come back and correct what you think you heard.

When did you first begin using Sennheiser aviation headsets?
I have a Cessna 421 and would fly with a hand mike and a speaker. After using my first Sennheiser headset, I didn't realize how much I had been missing and how difficult it used to be difficult to hear and understand--not to mention how inconvenient it was--It was a world of difference. One reason I've never used competing headsets is because they always felt like you are wearing two ten-pound earmuffs. These things were big and heavy, inconvenient and uncomfortable. I started wearing Sennheiser aviation headsets about ten years ago, and I've been wearing them ever since.

Tell me about the HMEC 26s.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoy and like the HMEC 26s. The weight, the clarity, and the reliability are all major benefits of using them, and the comfort of this headset is unsurpassed. It is very lightweight, and I can tell you--there is nothing worse than wearing a heavy and uncomfortable headset on a flight for three or four hours. In the cockpit, you have too many other things to focus on, and the nice thing about these headsets is that you don't have to think about them. You barely even know you have them on, which is a great compliment.

One of the other great things about them is that you can swivel one of the earpieces. This is very convenient, because if I ever needed to lean over and say something in the cockpit to a grandkid or whatever, I don't have to take the entire headset off.

Tell me about the sonic quality.
It is outstanding. I have been using the HMEC 26 headset all year and communication wise, it is as good or better than anything else I've ever had. I also have a little stereo in my airplane and it comes through crisp and clear. This is a perfect device, especially when using them in a Cessna 421--which can be a relatively noisy environment. The noise canceling system and the clarity is absolutely second to none.

Also, since using the HMEC 26s, I've had no problem with others understanding me, whether in the cockpit or on the ground--this is comforting. I've got to believe that the reason people hear me so clearly is because of the built in microphone technology that Sennheiser is so very well known for.

Where do aviation headsets fall in the scale of importance with respect to all the different equipment that pilots have to rely on?
They are very important. You don't want to find yourself up there--especially in weather conditions--with a loss or inability to communicate. If something happens and you can't talk to anybody, the first thing you reach for is the radio, not the headset. So maybe Sennheiser has done too good of a job in this respect--the reliability is almost taken for granted. I have never had a problem with a Sennheiser headset, with the exception that I once wore out a pad from using it too much [laughs]. I use these now exclusively and won't use anything else.

Gene, do you have any closing thoughts?
I never, ever have problems with hearing or understanding others when I am in a plane using my Sennheisers. Intelligibility is the most important thing in a headset, and with Sennheiser, everything is always very clear. I never have to even think about it.