Even in this age of cockpit electronica, theres often a need to jot something down, hold open a chart or approach plate, or stow your checklist. Enter the kneeboard, and the reviewers dilemma. Kneeboard needs and preferences vary not only person-to-person, but even aircraft-to-aircraft. So heres the best in class as we see it from several perspectives.
Even in this age of cockpit electronica, theres often a need to jot something down, hold open a chart or approach plate, or stow your checklist. Enter the kneeboard, and the reviewers dilemma.
Kneeboard needs and preferences vary not only person-to-person, but even aircraft-to-aircraft. So heres the best in class as we see it from several perspectives.
One Pad, One Pen
The core function of a kneeboard is to write stuff down. With strictly that goal in mind, we liked the Classic VFR and Classic IFR kneeboards from Sportys. The only difference between the IFR and VFR models is the “useful” data printed on the metal board itself. Beyond reminding you what the light-gun signals are if you go lost comm, we dont think that information matters much. Other than that, the two boards are the same.
The price is right at $14.95, and the fit is comfortable. It edges out ASAs basic kneeboard on price ($16.95) and the pen holder. ASAs is a spandex sleeve, where Sportys uses a clip. We liked the clip better as its quicker to use and holds most any size pen, but if you like the sleeve, go with ASA. Both hold half-letter (5.5- by 8.5-inch) pads.
Sportys board has foam anti-slide material on the back, but its superfluous if you use the strap. Our experience with that foam is that it usually wears out and disintegrates over time anyway. The board can hold a pack of approach plates under the clip, but its awkward and tends to make the paper underneath fall out. Youll want a separate holder for a book of plates (see below) or a kneeboard thats a bit more feature-rich to hold a bound book of approach plates.
That kneeboard might be the Flyboys Kneeboard. This design adds a small side section with three pen holders that accept all
but the beefiest pens. Theres also a small pocket OK for a pulse oximeter or pack of mints.
The big added feature is a clear strap that comes across the entire board to hold down a pack of plates opened to the page in question. The grip is quick and secure, and the text under the strap is perfectly readable. The downside is that the placement makes writing on, or looking at, the paper underneath a hassle. The Flyboys system also offers a set of checklist rings on the left side of the kneeboard for any checklists or quick-reference items you might want to add.
If you need more storage from your kneeboard, such as folded charts or sticky notes to cover the attitude indicator during instrument instruction, then the Sportys Flight Gear Tri-Fold Kneeboard is a best bet. The $27.95 price is lower than similar kneeboards by other vendors and, we think, the design is more versatile with a good combination of long chart pockets and
square mesh pockets.
Our favorite kneeboard wasnt exactly a kneeboard at all. It was ASAs Lapboard. This is really just a piece of bifold aluminum with a clip on the top of the right section and the side of the left section. Resting in our lap, it made a surprisingly comfortable and versatile workspace to have charts, plates and a pad. The best part was just tossing something down and having it stay there until we needed it again. The experience was like having, well, a desk.
Charts or an approach plate book can be clipped or rested on the left with room to write on the right. When it comes time to land, the whole thing can be folded and put aside far easier than a big kneeboard, which always seems slightly in the way on landing. The only thing we wished for was a good pen holder.
Just by chance, we were also flying with two cockpit EFBs for the accompanying article in this issue. The Lapboard with a cloth pad resting on it turned out to be the perfect resting place for the rather large and heavy EFB computer. We liked this better than yokemounts (which tend to be cumbersome with something so big as an EFB) but not quite as well as a good suction mount which could hold the EFB at eye level.
ASAs Lapboard sells for $29.95. Sportys sells what looks like the same product (although we didnt have one to test) for less, at $21.95. It has the anti-skid grip stuff on the bottom and ASA doesnt, but we didnt have any issue with ASAs sliding.
If youre using a simple kneeboard and still need a place to strap your approach plates, you can get a clear Chart Leg Strap from www.tagpilotsupply.com for $6.95. A similar product is also available in two widths from www.flywings.com for a bit more. It does start to feel like youre wearing football padding
with multiple things strapped to your legs, but the simple chart strap works great.
If all you need is somewhere to write, it doesnt have to be on your knee. The ArmBoard is available through several online outlets ($24.95 from Sportys) and puts the writing on your wrist. The Armboard takes custom pads, which can be had for $6-7 for a pack of three.
We found the freedom of not having stuff in our laps refreshing, but felt the ergonomics of writing on your inner wrist awkward if that arm was also flying. It quite comfortable if the airplane was on autopilot and we could bring our arm closer in and at a better angle. The pen holder sleeve for the ArmBoard also didnt like fatter pens.
Dont You Zulu?
Weve briefly used the Zuluboard kneeboards in the past and been impressed by their comfort and utility packed in a small space. They are similar in design to the Flyboys kneeboard, but without the approach-book strap and with more options for pens and other small items. They also offer a unique tabbed system of “Zulucards” as basic checklists or memory items for different phases of flight.
Unfortunately, the company was unresponsive to our emails or phone calls to get samples of their products for this review. We had similar difficulty with the company during our flight bag review. The company website is still active and says you can order the boards, at prices ranging from $24.95 for the Economy Mini-Z to $59.95 for the Deluxe Zuluboard. If you can
get a hold of one to try out in person, it might be worth a look before you commit to another option, but thats about all we can say about Zulu at this point.
This is far from everything out there, but, frankly, we havent seen anything fancier that held our attention for long. (Although a kneeboard specifically designed for the left-handed pilot with its extra flap on the left is definitely lacking.) When it comes to old-school, pen-and-paper technology, we think that simple and well-made is the way to go.
Jeff Van West is Aviation Consumers Managing Editor and resident kneeboard addict.