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Flight Instruments - Level 1


At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

Understand the basic instruments of flight which enable the pilot to maintain straight and level flight, fly on a determined course, maintain a safe distance above the ground and navigate on the aerial highway system.

Bonfire Airway System

Very early in the science of flight there were no sophisticated flight instruments in the airplane to assist the pilot in navigating. One of the earliest attempts to aid pilots was the "Bonfire Airway System". At predetermined times, farmers and ranchers would build fires along a certain route. The pilot would then fly from fire to fire across the country. With the advent of an airmail system and passenger travel, the need for a better guidance system became urgent. A system of light beacons and emergency airfields was developed. Pilots could visually fly from one beacon to the another. By 1929, this system covered over 10,000 miles. By 1927, experiments had begun with radio beams between two points. The airplane was equipped with a receiver. By dialing in the frequency of the radio beam in the airplane, the pilot could navigate between two points. The success of this system resulted in the establishment of a low frequency airway system across the country. Flight instruments which assist a pilot in navigating are numerous and some are highly sophisticated.

VFR Flying

An example of the instrument panel of an aircraft is the Beechcraft Skipper Instrument Panel.   The panel contains many instruments to help the pilot fly the plane.  The first four instruments - airspeed, altimeter, attitude indicator, turn and slip indicator - and the airplane's radio,  are basic equipment used for VFR (visual flight rules) flying. In VFR flying, the pilot is not allowed to fly through clouds.

Knowledge Review of Altimeter,Air Speed Indicator & Vertical Speed Indicator.

Knowledge Review of Attitude & Turn and Slip Indicator.

IFR Flying

The next four instruments in the module - VOR, ILS, ADF, and DME - are used in addition to all of the above for basic IFR (instrument flight rules) flying. In IFR flying, or "instrument flying," as pilots refer to it, the pilot is allowed to fly through clouds and to make an instrument approach to an airport.

Most flying with passengers is done in IFR - even in good weather. Many pilots with private aircraft are also qualified to fly IFR.

The next instrument - the autopilot - merely helps the pilot fly. The last two - transponder and ELT - are required of every airplane.

Radio Communications

Radio communications are a critical link in the Air Traffic Control System. The air traffic controllers must always know where each airplane is and what it is going to do. The pilot and ground controller talk to each other through the radio installation in the airplane and similar radio systems on the ground. There are ground radio sets in Control Towers at the airports and at stations throughout the air lanes. This is known as the Air Traffic Control System (ATC). All airliners and most business aircraft use this system for safe and efficient flight in the national airspace system.

The single most important thought in pilot/controller communications over the radio is clearly understanding each other.

The radio sets on the airplane instrument panel are designed to both send and receive on the same frequency. The airport controllers and air traffic controllers each have certain assigned frequencies to make it easy to set up communications between specific airplanes and ground control.

A standard phonetic alphabet has been designed to make sure both pilot and controller can clearly identify the letters and numbers used. A copy of this alphabet is produced below.

A - ALPHA         B - BRAVO             C - CHARLIE        D - DELTA         E - ECHO             F - FOXTROT

G - GOLF            H - HOTEL              I - INDIA             J - JULIETT       K - KILO            L - LIMA    

M - MIKE            N - NOVEMBER    O - OSCAR           P - PAPA             Q - QUEBEC      R - ROMEO   

S - SIERRA          T - TANGO             U - UNIFORM     V - VICTOR        W - WHISKEY   X - XRAY   

Y - YANKEE        Z - ZULU

1 - ONE                 2 - TWO                 3 - TREE                 4 - FOUR            5 - FIFE              6 -SIX   

7- SEVEN              8 - EIGHT              9 - NINER              0 - ZERO


Example:  "Tower, this is YANKEE ZULU ONE NINER NINER TANGO (YZ199T), ready for take off" **.


We would like to thank Jack Howard for reminding us about the proper pronunciation of the number 5 (FIFE).

We would like to thank Jacob Libby for reminding us about the proper pronunciation of the number 3 (TREE).

**We would like to thank André Becker, First Officer who writes the following: regarding the example above.

I’d like to point out that the term "take off" must NOT be used in radio communications except in ATC-clearances or when reading back an ATC-clearance. This is in order to avoid entering a runway or even taking off in error.

So your example "Tower, this is YANKEE ZULU ONE NINER NINER TANGO (YZ199T), ready for take off". should read "Tower, this is YANKEE ZULU ONE NINER NINER TANGO (YZ199T), ready for departure ".

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Updated: November 13, 2007