Sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft can be intimidating to a newbie. There are a ton of instruments and communication equipment and one might wonder where to start. Most pilots start off by learning about the six basic flight instruments that are in every aircraft: the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, turn coordinator, direction indicator, and the vertical speed indicator.
An airspeed indicator displays the indicated airspeed knots and, less commonly, miles per hour. There are different colors on this instrument used to let the pilot know whether their flying at safe speeds. The green band indicates that the aircraft is operating at safe speeds. The white band indicates a safe speed to fly with deployed wing flaps. The yellow band is cautionary: it tells the pilot that they are flying faster than the speed the aircraft is designed for. The red bar should never be exceeded because it is beyond the maximum safe speed the aircraft was designed to operate at.
The attitude indicator, or artificial horizon, is useful when flying in low visibility conditions or practicing instrument flying. It displays the position that the aircraft is flying relative to the horizon. Because pilots can become disoriented during flight, this instrument should always be trusted over personal senses. During low visibility, the marks around the edge of the indicator can be used to reference the angle of bank during a turn.
The altimeter displays an aircraft's altitude. The large hand indicates hundreds of feet and the small hand indicates thousands of feet. This instrument also includes a pressure setting, which should be adjusted according to the area the aircrafts flying through. Doing this is important to ensure that the aircraft is maintaining separation from other aircraft.
The turn coordinator shows the level of bank of the wings. The turn coordinator also includes a small white box with a balance ball in the center. It shows whether the aircraft is in balance or whether it’s slipping or skidding in a turn. The ball should be kept in the center. It’s simple to do this using the rudder pedals. If the ball is swinging to the right, press on the right rudder pedal, and vice versa.
The direction indicator shows the current heading. It is like a compass but doesn’t suffer from the same external forces. It is, however, prone to getting out of sync. Therefore, there is a knob underneath the instrument that is used to realign it with the correct heading using the compass. It’s important to do this when the compass is completely accurate, so it should be done during straight and level flight, or before takeoff.
The vertical speed indicator needle displays how many feet per minute in a climb or descent. It can be used during a controlled descent or when trimming the aircraft for straight and level flight.
When initially introduced to a cockpit, it can be overwhelming to try and understand what each instrument is for. Start off by learning about the six basic flight instruments that are in every aircraft: the airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, turn coordinator, direction indicator, and the vertical speed indicator. Understanding these instruments is imperative during flight, especially under instrument flight rules (IFR) conditions.
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