CHAPTER 4. Automated Flight Control

How Autopilot Functions Work

Once an autopilot mode has been engaged, the autopilot:

  • Determines which control movements are required to follow the flight profile entered by the pilot, and
  • Moves the controls to affect tracking of the flight profile.

Determination of Control Movements Required To Achieve Goals

Suppose you wish to use the autopilot/FD to turn to an assigned heading of 270°. The heading knob is used to select the new heading. Before any control movements are made, the autopilot/FD must first determine which control movements are necessary (e.g., left or right turn). To do so, the FD/autopilot must first determine the aircraft’s current heading and bank angle, determine amount and direction of the turn, and then choose an appropriate bank angle, usually up to 30° or less. To make these determinations, the FD gathers and processes information from the aircraft’s ADC (airspeed and altitude), magnetic heading reference instrument, and navigation systems.

Carrying Out Control Movements

Once the FD/autopilot has determined which control movements are necessary to achieve the flight change, the autopilot has the task of carrying out those control movements. Every autopilot system features a collection of electromechanical devices, called servos, that actuate the aircraft control surfaces. These servos translate electrical commands into motion, the “muscle” that actually moves the control surfaces.

Flight Director

Flight Director Functions

An FD is an extremely useful aid that displays cues to guide pilot or autopilot control inputs along a selected and computed flightpath. [Figure 4-5] The flight director usually receives input from an ADC and a flight data computer. The ADC supplies altitude, airspeed and temperature data, heading data from magnetic sources such as flux valves, heading selected on the HSI (or PFD/multi-function display (MFD)/ electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI)), navigation data from FMS, very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR)/distance measuring equipment (DME), and RNAV sources. The flight data computer integrates all of the data such as speed, position, closure, drift, track, desired course, and altitude into a command signal.

The command signal is displayed on the attitude indicator in the form of command bars, which show the pitch and roll inputs necessary to achieve the selected targets. To use the flight director command bars, which are usually shaped as inverted chevrons, or V-shaped symbols, the pilot simply flies to the bars. Some older models use crossed bars, leading the pilot to the selected point. In both types, you simply keep the aircraft symbol on the attitude indicator aligned with the command bars, or allow the autopilot to make the actual control movements to fly the selected track and altitude.

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