by Nate "Buster" Jaros
Sigh…the E6-B. I’m sure you're thinking “really Buster, an article on the most useless antiquated thing in my flight bag?” I know, I know. But give me just one minute to explain, and maybe you’ll find that your E6-B should no longer be relegated to the bottom of your flight kit, or even just left at home. It actually has uses for pilots, and there’s a lesson in here too.
For those pilots reading that are just getting into aviation and “learning the ropes,” you may have been told to purchase one of these E6-B things by your instructor. Or perhaps you were given one by your flight school. Maybe? No? Do you know what I’m talking about?
The E6-B is a piece of old tech, that every pilot should at least be familiar with.
These days, is anyone even teaching and using the venerable E6-B anymore? It seems that with the advent of Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight Applications (or “Apps” as the kids say these days) that the old rusty and trusty E6-B that some of us, ahem… more experienced pilots… grew up with has often been brushed off as a tool of the past. Maybe it is no longer needed. These new fancy planning Apps and modern computers and software really do a fabulous job of aiding the pilot in mission planning and flight planning. I admit, I turn to my iPad and my App of choice when it’s time to plan a flight somewhere.
What Can it Do?
In case you don’t recall, there are a few things that the ole E6-B can do, once you dust off the dirt and candy bar bits stuck to it from years of flight bag slumber.
The most common purpose that I can remember from my early days of using the E6-B was solving time and speed problems. I admit, twisting the wheel on the backside of the metal tablet was always rewarding, but lining up various numbers, on various scales was always a bit troublesome too. If you’re like me, finding the right number was always difficult, though satisfaction was gained at times if you stuck it out. Anyone else ever plug in 100 knots groundspeed for a given distance and come up with a figure like 78? Yeah not very useful right, until you remembered you were solving for time and 78 was actually minutes. Oh! That’s going to take me one hour and 18 minutes. Oh, that makes sense. Stupid E6-B!
Okay, lets, be honest…solving time and distance problems on an E6-B can be a bit of a challenge. Where’s my calculator App?
What else does the E6-B do well? Honestly, some of the more simple functions on the various graduated scales around the perimeter the E6-B are great. There are easy to read and have logical scales for various conversions. Things like nautical miles to statute miles, a temperature conversion scale, and more. These things are actually quite useful, and they are simple to use. There is even a crosswind conversion chart and mine has a second crosswind grid area with pre-computed wind factors. Cool.
Also important, an easy-to-read flight plan filing checklist in case you decide while airborne that you need or want a flight plan in the system. I don’t know of any airborne methods of electronically filing a flight plan available to the GA pilot. You're going to have to call up the Flight Service guys. Additionally, next to this checklist are the Special Equipment suffixes, in case you forget that you’re probably a Slash G.
When I was teaching young student pilots how to fly the T-38, we had a very common discussion amongst the Instructor Pilots. We always wondered how many of the “bells and whistles” to let the next generation use in the cockpit.
You see, the T-38 I was teaching in was the T-38C. The “C” model has a fancy glass cockpit ADI/HSI, like a massive Aspen on steroids, with a keyboard-like interface as well. Hand-jamb in any identifier on the keypad and you were on your way. In addition, it had two navigational pointers on the HSI and a third INS driven pointer. The days of the fix-to-fix were going the way of the dinosaur. Additionally the ten inch color MFD display had all the airspace boundaries loaded into it, and the common low-level routes we used to train on as well. Navigating the T-38C was crazy easy.
Was it okay to let the average student use these new tricks and technology? Or was it better to have them “suffer” like we did with a simple TACAN receiver and HSI, and a map?
I’m quite certain that debate will rage on for centuries and our grandkids who become pilots will know nothing more than flying programmed magenta lines “in the system.” It’s worth thinking about however. Are you comfortable with the old methods of navigation?
The Venerable E6-B
Seriously, the E6-B is old technology. You can better use it as a makeshift chock for your nose wheel, or perhaps to fashion a cutting tool with, or some other survival instrument in the event you have a forced landing. Honestly, I don’t use the E6-B anymore, the modern technology is simply too accurate, and simple to use.
But if you’re a bit of a dinosaur like me, or perhaps a new student who wants to ensure there are no gaps in your knowledge-base…the E6-B is something important to have and use. Like a classic muscle car, there’s a soul in that old circular slide rule. Knowing how to use one not only sets you apart from the modern era of whiz-kid computer experts and technology, but it also gives you something to fall back on should your tablet or panel mounted GPS device decide to quit on you.
If you haven’t ever used an E6-B, grab one. They’re just a few bucks. Find the oldest CFI you can find and spend an hour drawing pencil lines on a chart and computing headings, groundspeed, and drift corrections. It’s useful “old school” pilot knowledge that will make you a better and safer pilot in the long run. Besides, busting out an E6-B makes you look like a rocket scientist to some of today’s hatchlings.
As old as it is, give it a try! The dinosaurs will thank you for it!
PS - The micro one there in the middle, is the one the USAF still issues today! Yep, there is a full class on the E6-B in Undergraduate Pilot Training.
Nate "Buster" Jaros
What is Engine Out? Relevant aviation topics, key safety techniques, war stories, and pilot tips from Fightersweep writer and the author of Engine Out Survival Tactics, Fighter Pilot Tactics for GA Engine Loss Emergencies.
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