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Aircraft Instruments

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Aircraft instruments have made spectacular advances since General Jimmy Doolittle (a former Diceman) made the first “blind flight” over 60 years ago. Instruments allow aircraft to fly safely in most weather conditions and to fly literally anywhere on the globe. For example, the Instrument Landing System (ILS) allows a pilot to land at airfields with ceilings (the bottom of a cloud deck above the ground) below 200 feet and visibility less than one fourth of a mile. The following is a summary of the three basic categories of aircraft instruments -- Control, Performance, and Navigation. The Heads Up Display (HUD) is a relatively new instrument that can provide data from all three categories on one screen.

Control Instruments

These instruments display the aircraft’s attitude and readings on the engine(s). The power indicators depend on the type of powerplant. Jet engines normally have tachometers (engine speed indicator), fuel flow indicators, oil pressure, and temperature readings of the engine.

Attitude Indicator

Performance Instruments

Performance instruments provide the basic parameters of the aircraft. They provide current airspeed, altitude, rate of climb/descent and angle of attack.


Airspeed Indicator

Vertical Velocity Indicator

Navigation Instruments

These instruments inform a pilot where the aircraft is in relation to a navigation facility or a selected point on the ground. For years, most aircraft navigated by referencing ground based navigation aids (transmitting radio signals). Today, many aircraft use the United States Air Force’s Global Positioning Satellites (GPS). This system allows pilots to fly direct to their destination, saving fuel and time.

Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI)

Heads Up Display (HUD)

A HUD is a glass plate that allows the pilot to view many control, performance, and navigation displays while continuing to look outside the cockpit. It provides a wealth of information superimposed on the glass plate located in front of the pilot. This technology is now being used on products ranging from automobiles to camcorders.

Typical HUD Presentation F-15E HUD

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Updated: March 12, 2004