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E6B flight computer, 75 years of service

Pablo Valerio remembers: E6B Computer: Celebrating 75 Years Of Flight — “The E6B flight computer was introduced to the US Army in 1940. Few devices have been around this long, have had cameo appearances in Star Trek, and remain in use today. We think that’s worth celebrating“.

If science fiction is any indication, the E6B could be around well into the 23rd century. In the Star Trek episode “The Naked Time,” Mr. Spock uses an E-6B to calculate the time of impact between the Enterprise and a planet. In the episodes “Mudd’s Women” and “Who Mourns for Adonais?” he is again seen holding an E6B.

The E6B is worth celebrating. Few devices have been around this long and are still in use today, and most pilots keep their original E6Bs as a souvenir of flight training.

This makes me think of the Smith Chart [wikipedia] for complex impedance visualization and calculation. The E6B used customized slide rules for multiplication needs and a rotating conversion wheel for units conversion and a rotating window to calculate wind effects on direction and speed. Between these computers and the modern digital devices were electronic analog circuits that modeled various phenomena. There is still something special about being able to physically adjust a visual model to see what is happening.

Then there’s Eric Brown Ringing in 2016 with 64 open-spec, hacker friendly SBCs. Now it’s getting to the point that you can emulate the old E6B type computers with a cost point that is approaching that of the 75 year old device. The Lab Nation Smartscope effort is an illustration to this point although its user interface is a step away from the traditional oscilloscope knobs and switches and back towards finger motion control, like the E6B, thanks to modern touch screen tablets.