I first heard about kneeboards for pilots when I was a very new flying student, way back in the 1990s. At the end of a lesson in which I was trying to write down important flying information on a notepad balanced on my lap, my instructor told me that I needed to buy a kneeboard.
I had no idea what this was, but I asked in the flying school shop. They sold me an A4-sized clipboard, which I was supposed to clip my route for the flight and any other information I needed. The idea was that I balanced it on my knee and could write on a notepad clipped to it during the flight. But it didn’t work very well. I found it too large, and it was continually falling off my knee onto the floor.
Things have moved on in the years since then, thank goodness. Kneeboards now all strap securely to the pilot’s knee, using an elastic strap. They come in different sizes and types and can hold many other items apart from the basics if required.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a look at what a pilot kneeboard actually is, why you might need one, what you can keep in or on it, and several other important points. I will also look at which kneeboard is best, from the bewilderingly large number now on the market.
Bottom Line Up Front
A pilot kneeboard is basically a clipboard that straps to the pilot’s leg, enabling important information and other items to be easily accessible during flight. Kneeboards come in a wide variety of sizes and types, and some are even capable of holding an iPad. Different pilots will have different needs, but for most people, a kneeboard with a lot of flexibility for different types of flying is ideal. In my opinion, the Flyboys IFR/VFR Pilot Reversible Kneeboard is the best kneeboard available.
- Flyboys IFR/VFR Pilot Reversible Kneeboard
- Flight Outfitters iPad Kneeboard
- Harper Aviation Ultimate Kneeboard
- iPad Universal Kneeboard Folio C by MyGoFlight
- Tikteck 9.7 Inch Tablet and iPad Pilot Kneeboard
- MyClip Kneeboard for iPads and tablets
What Is a Pilot Kneeboard?
As explained, in its simplest form, a pilot kneeboard is just a clipboard that is attached to the pilot’s knee during flight. It is designed to hold all the items a pilot needs to have available and at their fingertips during the flight. Of course, this will vary for different people. Some will want to have a place to keep a notepad and maybe a navigation chart; others will want to carry airport approach plates, several pens and pencils, and perhaps even a spare pair of spectacles.
Many more complicated kneeboards have extra pockets, flaps, and even printed information included. Also, it is becoming more and more common to have all your flight information on an iPad rather than in hard copy, so if this is what you do, you’ll need to look for a kneeboard that will hold an iPad or other tablet.
Why Should You Have a Pilot Kneeboard?
This is an excellent question. Can’t you keep all the items you need in pockets, either on your person or pockets in the doors of the aircraft? Do you need to have items actually attached to your knee?
The answer is that most of us find we need a kneeboard, or at any rate, it is extremely useful. Pockets in jackets and similar are not always easy to get to when you are flying. Unless you own your aircraft, you may not have door pockets appropriately placed in which to keep everything in a hired aircraft.
Also, most pilots find they need to write down clearances, re-fold charts, work out routes, and so on. You really need some way to do this and fly at the same time, and the only way to do this is to have everything in front of you on a kneeboard.
What Items Will You Keep in Your Pilot Kneeboard?
This is something you really need to consider before deciding what to buy, and all pilots are different. Of course, you could get an expensive kneeboard that will hold everything you might ever want. But apart from the expense, many of us find that some of these complex kneeboards, with their extra fold-out pockets and flaps, are pretty cumbersome. If you put all the information on an iPad, they definitely aren’t necessary.
Also, if you fly small aircraft, or especially small helicopters such as the Robinson R22, as I do, you may feel that you’d rather not have something which takes up too much of your limited cockpit space. And open cockpit pilots, for example, may have other needs.
So it is worth thinking clearly about what you might actually need to keep in your kneeboard. Here is a list of items you might want to carry. It might help to read through them and see which ones you yourself actually need…
- iPad or another tablet
- Preflight planning sheets
- Notepad and pencil
- Sectional chart
- Airport diagram
- Cross country planning sheets
- E6B and plotter for cross-country training
- Spare pens and pencils
- Spare spectacles
- Airport diagrams
- Departure, arrival, and approach procedure charts you know you’ll need
- Mobile phone
- Snack bar for long flights
What Features Do You Need in Your Pilot Kneeboard?
As you can see from the above list, you may well want to carry more items than can be clipped on a simple clipboard. As already explained, you may need a kneeboard that will have your iPad, and more and more of us are doing this. Perhaps you don’t do this yet, but think you may want to in the future. So it might well be worth looking for a kneeboard that will hold an iPad if required but is also usable in traditional fashion too.
You may decide it is worth buying a kneeboard with extra side pockets for your additional items. I find side pockets especially useful for things such as spare pens or spare spectacles, or even snack bars for a long flight. But if you get one like this, make sure you still find it comfortable to wear while flying. And if you already use an iPad for flying, make sure the kneeboard you buy will fit your size of iPad. Some are adjustable for different tablet sizes, but some are not.
When looking for a kneeboard, you may find that many of them are labeled as for either VFR or IFR flight. What is the difference? Not a lot. Primarily, the labeling refers to information printed on the clipboard. Printed information on a kneeboard often includes helpful notes, and these notes may differ slightly for a VFR and IFR clipboard. Also, an IFR kneeboard might have ring binder holders to fit approach plates. But there is no major difference.
You may already know exactly what you plan to carry in your kneeboard. But if not, or if you are new to flying, then it could be best to look for a versatile one – which has pockets, but not too many, and which can hold either an iPad or a notepad and charts. Then you will be ready for anything!
Where Can You Buy Pilot Kneeboards?
The days have long gone when students always bought kneeboards from the small shop attached to their local flying school, as I did back in the 1990s, in the days before the internet. Now there are numerous places where you can buy kneeboards. These divide roughly into four primary sources – specialist pilot shops and websites, shops attached to flight schools, eBay and similar online outlets, or buying secondhand items obtainable from other pilots.
These are advantages and disadvantages to all these ways of purchasing. Specialist flying shops, which include Sporty’s Pilot Shop, Pilot Mall, Airport Pilot Shop, and Pilotshop, will have the most extensive choice. Flight school shops may not have much choice, but they may be able to give you good advice for the flying you do, and it might be a good idea if you are a novice and not sure what to buy.
You can sometimes get great bargains on eBay and other auction sites, so if funds are tight and you know what you want, these could be a good source. And if someone you know is selling a secondhand kneeboard, and it seems like what you want, then why not go for it?
6 Best Pilot Kneeboards
Now that we have discussed all the options, I will recommend six of the best kneeboards around. They are all different, but all have a certain amount of flexibility, and will suit various types of pilot and flying. Of course, everyone has different needs, so if none of these seems suitable, by all means look around and choose your own, as there are a lot of good kneeboards everywhere. But hopefully this list will give you a good idea of what is available.
Designed by a pilot, this kneeboard is slim, simple, and closefitting, but it can carry a lot. It has a built-in clipboard, plus a small pocket and a removable ring binder attachment. It also comes in a reversible model, which could be very useful if you are left-handed. They market a particular case that enables you to use an iPad with this kneeboard. So it is highly flexible and versatile.
- Suitable for traditional use or with an iPad
- Suitable for left-handed people
- Very reasonably priced
- None really. I can’t think of any disadvantages of this kneeboard.
This kneeboard comes in two sizes, depending on your size of iPad, so you can pick the one that is right for you. The kneeboard has a number of pilot-friendly features, including loops and pockets, and can also be used for traditional notepad-type flying. So if you use an iPad for flying, or even if you don’t, this could be the one for you.
- Comes in two sizes, so it will fit any iPad
- Has multiple loops and pockets for extra items
- You need a different one for each iPad size, which could be an issue at times.
This kneeboard is excellent for new pilots as it is designed with rings to hold Jeppesen approach charts. It also includes a five-page in-flight guide with both VFR and IFR information. The kneeboard also comes with a five-page in-flight guide containing both VFR and IFR information. Although a relatively simple design, this kneeboard is designed to take you from your student pilot days through your career.
- Holds Jeppesen charts, so useful for new pilots
- Simple but versatile design
- Quite expensive
If you’re unsure if you want a traditional kneeboard or one you can use with a tablet, this model is good for both. Like standard kneeboards, the MyGoFlight Folio C comes with a clipboard that is printed with useful VFR flight information. However, the clipboard can be repositioned to the inside cover and used with the built-in stand so that you can use it with an iPad. This is a slightly different design from many kneeboards, but you might like it.
- A traditional kneeboard that will also work with a tablet
- Includes useful printed information
- Requires readjusting for use with an iPad
- Quite expensive
This kneeboard is designed primarily for iPads, but it is perfectly usable in the traditional manner. It is simple, but it may well be all you require if you want something which isn’t too complicated.
- Simple, uncomplicated design
- Designed for iPads, but will work for traditional use too.
- Some people may prefer something with more pockets and increased versatility.
Are you confused by all this detail and all these complicated kneeboards? You’re not the only one. There is a lot to be said for keeping things small and simple, and if you are simply looking for an easy way to attach just about any electronic device to a kneeboard, then MyClip is it. It consists of clips mounted to a 2″ Velcro strap, nothing more.
But these clips can be adjusted and sized to fit a wide variety of electronic devices. Thus it gives you the freedom to use the same kneeboard for your phone, your tablet or your iPad. It is a really simple idea, but a good one, and could be all you need.
- Very simple design
- Extremely reasonably priced
- Works with a wide variety of electronic devices
- Needs to be used with an electronic device, not a notepad
- It May be too basic for some users
My Recommendation for the Best Kneeboard
There are many good kneeboards, but my first choice has to be this one…
TAn F-16 pilot, no less, designed this kneeboard The pilot wanted a streamlined kneeboard that was versatile but would not get in the way when flying, which is what we all want, of course. It is suitable for the lefties among us, who often have a problem getting suitable kneeboards. It has been combat tested in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And finally, it looks really cool! What’s not to like?
Despite the fact that I have multiple kneeboards already after many years of flying, I’m very tempted to go out and buy one of these! It is obtainable from all the major pilot shops, so you should have no trouble in finding one.
A few other important points…
- If you fly helicopters or open cockpit light aircraft, you may have different needs from the average fixed-wing pilot. If this is the case, perhaps you should ask around among other pilots as to which kneeboard would be best for you.
- If you are on a tight budget, don’t feel you have to spend a lot of money on a kneeboard. Remember, I flew for quite a while back in the 1990s with a simple kneeboard that didn’t even have a strap! A good kneeboard is useful but by no means essential.
- If you don’t have much flying experience, be guided by your instructor and more experienced pilots.
- Remember, a kneeboard does not have to be for life. If later on in your flying career you have different needs, you can always get a different one. I think I’ve owned about half a dozen over the years, and once three at the same time!
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: I am very new to flying. Which kneeboard should I buy?
Answer: The Best Kneeboard recommended above would be entirely suitable. But your best bet is to be guided by your instructor, who will know what sort of flying you do and what kneeboard will be ideal for you. You can always change it at a later date.
Question: Do all pilots use kneeboards?
Answer: Yes, from new students to airline pilots to fighter pilots, virtually all pilots find a kneeboard strapped to their leg to be the best way to carry information around and have it easily accessible.
Question: Can I connect my iPad to my kneeboard?
Answer: Yes, definitely, and most of the kneeboards described in this article are suitable for use with an iPad. This way of flying is becoming more and more common.
Pilot kneeboards come in many shapes and sizes, with many different features. They are handy for organizing your charts, notes, and other information in the cockpit and having it all readily accessible. Pilots have different needs, so do some research, work out what you want from a kneeboard, and then go out and buy the one most suitable for you. I definitely recommend the Flyboys IFR/VFR Pilot Reversible Kneeboard.
And after that….happy flying!
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Pilot Institute https://pilotinstitute.com/pilot-gear/
Sporty’s Pilot Shop. https://www.sportys.com/
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