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The Military Transportation Hardware Technology

The E6-B Flight Computer Is 75 Years Old, Still In Use (informationweek.com) 132

An anonymous reader writes: Few devices have been around this long, have had cameo appearances in Star Trek, and remain in use today. The current E6-B looks almost exactly the same as the first one manufactured 75 years ago. It was designed by U.S. Naval Lt. Philip Dalton in the late 1930s. When he completed the final version, it was introduced to the Army in 1940, and later used widely during WWII. Today is a required instrument for flight training, and has appeared on Star Trek original series several times, as Mr. Spock used a E6-B for critical calculations.
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The E6-B Flight Computer Is 75 Years Old, Still In Use

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  • by freeze128 ( 544774 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @03:15PM (#51217597)
    "Windows 95 is 20 years old, and is still in use today."

    That doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?
    • Windows is 30 years old, and still in use. Hard to imagine that Windows 95 was far closer to Windows 1.0 than today.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MrKaos ( 858439 )

        Windows is 30 years old, and still in use. Hard to imagine that Windows 95 was far closer to Windows 1.0 than today.

        Windows 3.11 was the most popular of that series of Windows. I retired a 3.11 system IIRC about 5 or so years ago, but the old lady who owned it used it for word processing and that was about it. It wasn't on the net, it didn't even have an IP stack, it had nothing else installed and she saved everything to floppies, even though it had a hard drive. I was amazed it even functioned.

        Out of curiosity, I timed it go from power down to DOS 6.? to Win 3.11 UI in 17 seconds and to MS word within 34 seconds. Obvio

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          It's as if the OS does what it can to take any hardware improvements away from you. I remember booting used to be held up, mostly, by POST and sometimes not at all. There was also a time when one had to read a floppy into memory but even that was pretty speedy and you could put it on a HDD if you wanted.

          There were computers that were pretty close to fully usable almost immediately. They weren't as general purpose, or at least not as easily so, but they were snappy in some areas.

          I'd think that, with all thes

          • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

            It's as if the OS does what it can to take any hardware improvements away from you.

            I've noticed the same thing myself, it's as if atrophy is included.

            There were computers that were pretty close to fully usable almost immediately. They weren't as general purpose, or at least not as easily so, but they were snappy in some areas.

            The more application specific they become the less the are perceived as friendly. People don't seem to understand 'application specific'.

            With some work, I mean a lot of work, I got Windows 98SE running on a system from sometime around 2008.

            That must have been fast, I was wondering about something similar.

            Another fun one is to take something like Puppy or DSL

            I've run puppy to build a box that power on and off things, I never thought to try it on a fast machine because it looked pretty cut down, then again maybe I was just focused on what I was doing.

        • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

          I used to sell PCs way back in the 1980s. Sold a machine to it turned out a Dentist. 20 meg drive, 386/33. In the early 2000's he tracked me down. I had moved way away from that stuff. Said the hard drive was dead. Wanted a new 20 meg drive. I said go to the Smithsonian. They might have one. I had him go to a vendor and just get an entirely new system.

          I understand he was using it for his business records all of those years.

          • Wanted a new 20 meg drive. I said go to the Smithsonian. They might have one.

            "And I still don't understand why sheeple say I have no people skills."

            • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

              Wanted a new 20 meg drive. I said go to the Smithsonian. They might have one.

              "And I still don't understand why sheeple say I have no people skills."

              Well the context is lost. I said it with a kidding laugh. Got the point across though.

    • "Windows 95 is 20 years old, and is still in use today." That doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

      My Tallywhacker is 60 years old, and still in use today.

      No ring or nuthin on it.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        Heh... You're older than I am. You old bastard!

        • Heh... You're older than I am. You old bastard!

          And someone modded my post "off topic". Hehehe, those young whippersnappers don't know what awaits 'em......

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            I wear moderation like that as a Badge of Honor. My favorite is when I reply to someone, they get the OT mod, and I get a +5 informative. I do not understand that - I've seen in multiple times. I'm also a little fond of the 'troll' mod when all I did was point out the facts. It's even funnier if I've included citations. The "flamebait" is kind of silly and, I admit, I might be guilty of that one from time to time. I'm also guilty of troll but I'm usually much more subtle about it. I can be perfectly polite,

  • Happy Birthday (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zamboni1138 ( 308944 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @03:15PM (#51217599)

    I remember being 14 and learning to use an E6-B flight computer for the first time. It's pretty amazing to be able to sit down and develop a to-the-minute flight plan from departure to arrival and then be able to go out and execute that plan. Flying along hitting all your waypoints at the proper time, getting your enroute crab angle correct for the given winds aloft and not killing yourself along the way was always exciting. Hats off to Lt. Dalton. Your invention will always have a place in my flight bag.

    • enroute crab angle Does that make you a crab person?
      • Crap people
        Crap people
        Look like crabs, talk like people.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Moooooo!

      • Re: Happy Birthday (Score:5, Informative)

        by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @07:12PM (#51218883)

        enroute crab angle Does that make you a crab person?

        For those who do not know, the action of flying turned into the wind is called "crabbing", after the skittering motion of a crab across the ground. If the wind is coming from your left, then to keep a defined track across the ground a pilot will keep the aircraft yawed to the left by some angle -- the "crab angle". Adding the vectors of wind and thrust results in the correct path from point A to point B on land.

        You don't usually notice this as a passenger while aloft. You will see it when you watch an aircraft land in a crosswind. To line up with the runway (a fixed track on the ground) the pilot points the nose of the airplane into the wind to cancel the sideways drift from the wind. This is the easy way to cancel that drift. It can be held for long periods of time and allows a stabilized approach.

        Just before landing, pilots will kick the airplane over into a "slip", which is a deliberate mis-coordination of the flight controls. This puts the plane in a bank (using the horizontal component of lift to cancel the wind) with rudder cancelling the yaw. This is a harder technique because it requires constant control inputs, but it aligns the wheels with the direction of travel. That's good for not blowing out tires.

        • I've seen a few B-52s landing and taking off at all kinds of odd angles. I heard once they have landing gear like a [scaled up] supermarket trolley.

          • Re: Happy Birthday (Score:4, Informative)

            by Martin Blank ( 154261 ) on Thursday December 31, 2015 @09:11PM (#51219481) Homepage Journal

            Supermarket trolleys have castering wheels that align themselves to the path of least resistance. The landing gear of a B-52 are actually steered into position, and the plane holds the crab all the way down the runway.

            Example video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              Heh. I should have scrolled down. You explained it much better than I and were able to take the time to find a link. I've no idea what the knob is called or how to refer to it so I didn't bother searching.

            • First thought: Why go to all that complexity?
              Second thought: When you're rolling along the runway, you probably want to stay there!

              Thanks for that. Imagine if cars had that, it'd make parking a lot easier!

              • Apparently, it's one of the hardest transitions for pilots to make when going to the B-52. The lack of glass cockpits or flying a plane with very different aerodynamics (it uses spoilerons instead of ailerons, so it handles something more like a glider in some ways) is supposed to be comparatively easy to not snapping the plane around just before touchdown, and holding that crab all the way down the runway, looking out a side window in some cases. I know it would weird me out for a while.

                I think the compl

          • by KGIII ( 973947 )

            They can land sort of sideways. I don't remember the name but I've seen a documentary on them (in fact, I've seen a couple). One of their controls is a knob, they can turn this knob and it turns the wheels which enables you to come in at angles where the wind makes it so that the plane is not perpendicular to the runway. Don't count on this as being correct but I seem to recall one documentary saying that they could adjust the wheels up to an angle of 15 degrees. It was just a round knob with angle markings

          • A quick internet search reveals that castering landing gear is mostly limited to light aircraft nose wheel, however it was used in the B24 and B25 (but I may be mistaken).
        • But what do you do if your E6-B has flat batteries.

          • If you look at the pictures of how it's built, it should be plane [minor pun there] that only flat batteries will fit.

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          YJust before landing, pilots will kick the airplane over into a "slip", which is a deliberate mis-coordination of the flight controls. This puts the plane in a bank (using the horizontal component of lift to cancel the wind) with rudder cancelling the yaw. This is a harder technique because it requires constant control inputs, but it aligns the wheels with the direction of travel. That's good for not blowing out tires.

          Actually, no. There are two crosswind landing techniques - the crab, and the wing low (aka

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      I used it back in the day too. Recently I took my IFR written. I'm getting weathered in too much lately. Since they allowed me to use a calculator that they provided, and it has sin, cos, tan, I used it instead. I was smart enough to figure out how to replace it entirely with a real calculator having never done that. Well except for back in grade school 40 years ago with word problems.

      Never the less, if you don't have a calculator a slide rule is excellent. Even helped figure out that we'd miss the moon wh

  • Nomograms (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Thursday December 31, 2015 @03:24PM (#51217647)

    I was musing just the other day about a related calculating method that has fallen into disuse, the nomogram [wikipedia.org]. Nomograms always impressed me as an especially clever way to perform specific mathematical tasks.

    When I was young, and dirt was still sparkling and shiny new, nomograms were in every engineering textbook, handbook, and reference book. Their demise in engineering applications seems to have come with a whimper, not a bang, as no one seems to have noticed it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Good point. A nomogram is like a mathematical analogy to a pre-computed cryptographic rainbow table - it makes your solution time O(n) linear.

      (pun unfortunately intended)

    • I've actually used one, many moons ago. It was for calculating the apparent temperature based on air speed & humidity.

      The thing on the back of flashguns for working out what aperture to set probably qualifies too.

  • It's not surprising that it hasn't changed -- it's not like arithmetic has changed over 75 years.

    • Don't worry, as soon as a tech hipster millennial gets in charge they'll make sure to swap it out for something less reliable because it'll be "new" and "modern".

    • it's not like arithmetic has changed over 75 years.

      ...with the exception of Common Core, where "1 plus 1 equals fish, because bananas can't moonwalk."

      • As a parent I'm curious about where in Common Core you found this? I don't know how to recognize what's Common Core and what isn't, but all of the math homework my daughter brings home seems very clear and sensible.

        I've seen lots of posts on Slashdot denigrating Common Core so I've been on the lookout for anything that looks questionable in her math homework but I haven't seen anything yet that I wouldn't want her to learn. Certainly I've never seen anything even remotely like the gibberish that you're quot

        • by j-beda ( 85386 )

          I've seen lots of posts on Slashdot denigrating Common Core so I've been on the lookout for anything that looks questionable in her math homework but I haven't seen anything yet that I wouldn't want her to learn. Certainly I've never seen anything even remotely like the gibberish that you're quoting.

          People have been complaining about changes to math instruction and how insane it all is since well before all of us were born. See for instance the "New Math" ideas of the 1960s, and I have little doubt that similar "problems" existed before then, probably back to Plato.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

          Usually the issue is not much larger than the combination of student and parent confusion, and poor communications between teacher and family. Add a bit of teacher understanding and a healthy dose of math-pho

  • I haven't used mine in over a decade. Even when I was leaning to fly it was very rarely needed, VORs and other electronic navigation aides made a flight computer unnecessary for most flying. GPS of course makes it even less useful. Pre-GPS there may have been areas with minimal ground based navigation aids where a flight computer was more necessary.

    Its still a cool device though.

    • I haven't used mine in over a decade.

      But is it still in your flight bag just in case?

    • by AJWM ( 19027 )

      You're supposed to use your E6-B before you get in the cockpit, so GPS and VOR won't be much help.

      Remember "plan your flight, fly your plan?"

      I did a long cross-country flight (Waterloo-Denver and back, with fuel and customs stops each way) solo, in a Cessna 172-RG, with almost nothing but E6-B and paper maps (pre GPS). I did have dual VORs and RDF, but for fun I mostly tracked straightline (rather than VOR to VOR) using the angles to two different VORs to get my position. (Well, that and looking out the

    • Thankfully you were flying where navigational aids were available. I learned to fly where they weren't, and while there were plenty of ponds to land a float plane in, none had barrels of avgas around, so being able to calculate fuel needs and such were damned handy. The E6-B ( I had an Jeppesen aluminum version in the planes I flew) solved every necessary calculation quickly and reliably, and often gave me an obvious answer to the question "can I do this?". A minute to figure out if I should go from A to

  • The E6B (and its smaller brethren such as the one I used to carry in my flight jacket pocket) is nothing but a circular slide rule with a couple of special index points for minutes calculations.

    That said, there is nothing "just" about a slide rule. It scores as one of humanity's finest achievements.

    • The E6B (and its smaller brethren such as the one I used to carry in my flight jacket pocket) is nothing but a circular slide rule with a couple of special index points for minutes calculations.

      Ummm, no. It also solves the wind triangle problem, graphically.

  • Student Pilot Here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 31, 2015 @04:55PM (#51218195)

    The E6B is a rite of passage for all student pilots, but I haven't found anyone that kept using it. An electronics calculator from the 70s is much faster and easier to use in a cockpit, but despite not being part of the practical test, every designated pilot examiner wants to see every student use one, because they used one as a student.

    • Here we have the *only* relevant and insightful comment of the whole lot and it gets downvoted. Slashdot is well and truly dead.
    • The E6B is a rite of passage for all student pilots, but I haven't found anyone that kept using it. An electronics calculator from the 70s is much faster and easier to use in a cockpit, but despite not being part of the practical test, every designated pilot examiner wants to see every student use one, because they used one as a student.

      Only the smart ones who know batteries die and electronics fail.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      As a Navy E-2 Plane Commander, in 1999 I used the equivalent of this (built into the face of my pilot's watch) to plot an emergency 900 mile divert from an aircraft carrier to Japan because the distance was way off our performance charts, no one had a calculator and smart phones hadn't been invented yet (and even if they had, we wouldn't have had them on the aircraft, being both at sea and classified). Worked like a champ and we arrived when we thought we would with the fuel we expected to have remaining.

      • A perfect application of the device. Fuel consumption is critical when you're over water... Right?

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      Can you use the calculator to figure out wind differences without the circular slide rule? Too error prone. I just use fltplan.com. My last flight, it had me at the airport within a minute of when it said. Figured out the VORs, wind, speed (I fly at 140 kts) over 400 NM. Not bad, eh? I probably couldn't have done that good.

  • As an instrument rated private pilot, I do not ever recall using one, although I certainly know what one is.
    • As an instrument rated private pilot, I do not ever recall using one, although I certainly know what one is.

      You didn't use one in flight school? There is not one in some deep dark recess of your flight bag just in case?

      • As an instrument rated private pilot, I do not ever recall using one, although I certainly know what one is.

        You didn't use one in flight school? There is not one in some deep dark recess of your flight bag just in case?

        I did not use one. But I think I actually do have one and yes it is probably in my flight bag if I do have one. It has been awhile since I dug around in there.

    • I used one when I took ground school. but that was back in the 90's.
  • Still have a couple. Vision is good enough for the whiz wheel but not good enough to fly. :(
  • The Type D-4 Time-Distance Computer, mine is marked as being the property of the US Army Air Corp.
  • Damn. Not only do I have one of those, I knew exactly where it was.
  • We could use them to plot the course of starships! What, that's already been done??
  • If your into this kind of thing - check out this in-depth video of how an old US Naval WW-2 mechanical computer works. Absolutely amazing - totally old-school. https://m.youtube.com/watch?fe... [youtube.com]
  • by Noble713 ( 3516573 ) on Friday January 01, 2016 @07:03AM (#51220867)
    I thought this article was about the flight computer used in the Prowler Electronic Attack aircraft....

    Aren't they out of service? How did the aircraft get a flight computer from the 30's? How could Gene Roddenberry possibly get his hands on a (then-modern) military aircraft computer during the original Star Trek's run?

    but that's the EA-6B......

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