The Whiz Wheel
Since 1940, the E6B, a circular slide rule, has been the student pilot’s computer of choice. Invented by Navy man Philip Dalton and developed with celebrated navigator Philip Van Horn Weems, the device, also called the Dalton Dead Reckoning Computer and the Whiz Wheel, was embraced by the Army Air Forces during World War II, and has changed little since. The logarithmic slide rule uses arithmetic to calculate speed, flight time, distance, fuel burn, and density altitude; the wheel on the reverse side uses trigonometry to calculate how wind will affect cruise flight.
The E6B has made a few appearances on “Star Trek.” In the episode “The Naked Time,” Mr. Spock uses a Whiz Wheel to calculate precisely when the Enterprise will smash into a planet. It’s likely this prop came from the flight bag of series creator Gene Roddenberry or designer Matt Jeffries, both of whom were pilots.
Although many students today use an electronic version, some prefer the plastic or aluminum original. In a debate over the pros and cons of plastic on the Jetcareers Web site, one poster says, “1) It never [exhausts] batteries. 2) It’s smaller and lighter. 3) I am actually quicker with it. 4) (most important) I am an enormous nerd.” However, the Major Nerd award goes to Stefan Vorkoetter, who notes on Stefan’s General Aviation Web site, “The calculator side is also handy for computing tips or comparing unit prices of items in the grocery store.”