A flight computer is an invaluable tool that every pilot, especially student pilots, need to know how to use to perform important calculations before takeoff and inflight.
Despite living in the 21st century, and with advancements in technology now dominating the world of aviation, many pilots still rely on manual flight computers.
But there are also a couple of excellent electronic computers to consider that pilots prefer for their faster, and more accurate calculations.
Best Electronic Flight Computers
ASA CX-3 Flight Computer
The most versatile and easiest-to-use electronic flight computer.New: $118.89
The ASA CX-3 Flight Computer is the most versatile and most recommended flight computer available to pilots.
Compared to the Sporty’s model, I feel like more care was taken with its design. I found that the keys have better tactile feedback, feel more responsive, and light up for use in darker environments; the display is easier to read; and the computer is able to perform more complex calculations too.
Best of all, everything is more intuitive, and simply put, it is easier to get up and running and continually use without frustration. The ability to update the firmware, so everything is up-to-date is another big plus.
If you’re looking for the most versatile and easiest-to-use electronic flight computer, look no further than the ASA CX-3.
Sporty’s Electronic Flight Computer
A cheaper alternative to the ASA CX-3.New: $79.95
The Sporty’s Electronic Flight Computer is cheaper than the ASA CX-3. Like the ASA model, it is approved for use on all FAA exams.
It has 24 aviation functions and can perform 20 aviation conversions. Its built-in storage case for protection and well-illuminated backlit screen are welcome features, especially when it comes to night operations.
In my opinion, it might not be as intuitive to use as the CX-3, but it will still get the job done quickly and easily when called upon.
Best Manual Flight Computers
ASA E6B Metal Flight Computer
There's no need to ever worry about wear and tear with this flight computer.New: $42.37
The main benefit of choosing the ASA E6B Metal Flight Computer over others is that due to its aluminum construction, there’s no need to ever worry about wear and tear.
I found that the markings were large enough, so I did not have to strain to read them, and the device comes with a very clear instruction booklet, as well as a sturdy vinyl case for storage.
It’s no wonder that this flight computer is recommended by many flight school instructors.
ASA Color E6B Flight Computer
The use of color makes for easier readability and quick identification of key elements.New: $45.26
Due to its use of color for easier readability and quick identification of key elements like weight and volume, distance and time, rate arrow, and units to be calculated, this E6B flight computer from ASA is a student pilot favorite.
Additionally, it is made of metal, so you know that it is built to last, and comes with an instruction booklet, and vinyl case.
Jeppesen CR-3 Circular Computer
This is the one to get if you're looking for a CR-3 flight computer.New: $35.94
If you’re looking for a CR-3 flight computer, this one from Jeppesen is the one to get.
Constructed of rugged, scratch-resistant plastic, I found that it can do everything E6B-style computers can do, in addition to solving wind triangle problems, polar grid navigation pressure pattern flying, and more.
ASA E6B Paper Flight Computer
A good backup option to metal and electronic models.New: $16.99
A great inexpensive option to consider is this paper model from ASA. It is just as easy to use as the company’s metal computers but is made from solid, heavyweight fiberboard.
Due to its low price, I recommend buying this as a cheap backup to an electronic model like ASA CX-3.
Jeppesen Student Flight Computer
A great inexpensive option for student pilots.New: $16.95
Another great inexpensive option to consider is the Jeppesen Student Flight Computer.
Constructed of rugged plasticized composite material, the computer offers full functionality, comes with an instruction manual, and conforms to the instructions and examples in Jeppesen manuals, workbooks and audiovisual programs.
ASA E6B Circular Flight Computer
Very similar to the now discontinued Jeppesen CR-5.New: $29.95
ASA may call this an E6B flight computer, but it’s much more similar to the now discontinued Jeppesen CR-5 model.
The ASA E6B features a very similar design, build quality, is the same size – yet is easier to read.
ASA Micro E6-B
Offers all of the same functionality as larger models but in a smaller package.New: $38.40
Made from brushed aluminum, the ASA Micro E6-B will have no problem fitting in your shirt pocket and offers all of the same functionality as larger models.
While the main benefit of the Micro E6-B is its small size, this has the trade-off of it being harder to read than larger models.
Why Every Pilot Should Buy a Flight Computer
Flight computers, including the E6B, CRP-5, or the CR2 and CR3, are most commonly used by student pilots but can be found in the cockpit of pilots of all levels.
They are useful to perform various important calculations both before takeoff and in-flight, including ground speed, wind correction, fuel burn, and updating the estimated time of arrival, and estimated fuel burn.
In short, knowing this data is useful to all pilots, regardless of experience.
What to Consider if You’re a Pilot Buying a Flight Computer
- Electronic vs Manual
The most important factor to consider when buying a flight computer is whether to opt for an electronic or manual model.
Electronic flight computers will cost more but for the modern-day pilot, they can be an invaluable tool to have in the cockpit. Being able to perform calculations more quickly, easily, and accurately is usually well worth the higher cost.
Manual models, on the other hand, have the benefit of never running out of battery, can be used one-handed, are lighter, smaller, and less prone to break.
It’s good to know that you can use an electronic flight computer on FAA exams, but every pilot should still know how to use a manual flight computer too, which is commonly taught in flight school.
It’s common for pilots to own and use both.
Electronic flight computers are naturally going to be heavier than manual ones. But manual models can either be made from paper, plastic, cardboard, or metal, which can affect their weight.
If buying an analog computer, it’s generally a good idea to stick with models made from metal than paper or any other material. Metal is more durable so won’t suffer from wear and tear, and will likely never need to be replaced.
- Features & Functionality
Features and functionality across different flight computers won’t differ too significantly, especially when it comes to manual models. Electronic computers can have small variations in functionality, though. The CX-3, for example, can perform more complex calculations.
- Ease of Use
Manual computers contain printed instructions on the device itself, which can at first make them easier to use, especially if you’re already somewhat familiar with the calculations.
However, while it might take a bit of time to figure out how to perform all the necessary calculations using an electronic computer, in the long-term performing these calculations will become second-nature, and an electronic model will be the easier and faster of the two to use.