Modern aircraft take advantage of numerous systems and instruments to provide pilots with crucial flight data, ensuring that they have everything they need to maintain a safe and efficient flight from takeoff to landing. There are numerous types of instruments that are commonly found in aircraft, each of which perform varying roles based on their design and capabilities. Gyroscopic instruments in particular are those featuring mechanical gyroscopes, allowing them to determine deviations from a desired orientation. For an aircraft, gyroscopic instruments often come in the form of the attitude indicator, heading indicator, and turn and slip indicator, all of which are necessary for safety. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of the three main gyroscopic instruments and their role in aviation.
Whether one is circling a singular area or traversing across the globe, one of the most important data values to constantly be aware of during flight is one’s attitude. Not to be confused with altitude, attitude is an aircraft’s orientation and control in terms of a three-dimensional scale. As such, attitude indicators track the general orientation of the aircraft during flight, allowing pilots to maintain awareness of the angle and banking of their aircraft in relation to the ground below. While the gyro itself determines rolls and pitches as a result of deviation, its readings are displayed onto a gauge featuring an artificial horizon and angular markings.
Heading indicators are more simplistic in their readings, allowing pilots to be aware of the direction they are heading in terms of a compass display. For a gyroscopic heading indicator in particular, the gyro is mounted on a double gimbal with a horizontal spin axis, meaning that it can detect any rotation along the aircraft’s vertical axis. As gyro heading indicators do not naturally seek north like a magnetic compass does, they must be manually set to the appropriate heading with a magnetic compass as a reference. While magnetic compasses may be a more simple solution as compared to using a heading indicator, such options are often faced with numerous errors that are not present in the use of a gyroscopic heading indicator.
While not the most commonly talked about instrument, the turn-and-slip indicator is actually a modern interaction of the first gyroscopic aircraft instrument. These instruments are actually two flight instruments in one device, those of which are the turn indicator and inclinometer. The turn indicator relies on the principle of precession with a gyroscope mounted on a gimbal, and allows for readings to be made for turns on the yaw axis. Meanwhile, the inclinometer features a ball placed within a curved glass tube, allowing for slipping and skidding to be detected through the movement of the ball. When the ball is situated in the middle of the tube, the aircraft is in coordinated flight. Meanwhile, any movement toward the wind down side indicates a slip while movement toward the wing up slide indicates a skid. While the turn and slip indicator is a common instrument, some aircraft utilize a turn coordinator which is a more advanced version with a different display and mounting axis which results in quicker readings.
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