Aircraft Instruments and Cockpit Configurations
From the very first powered flight to modern aviation operations, pilots have always known that having as much information as they can regarding flight conditions and aircraft health is pivotal for safety and efficiency. The instruments on the Wright Brothers aircraft were few in number, including an engine tachometer, anemometer, and stopwatch. Since then, many instruments have been developed and improved upon, allowing pilots to have information on everything ranging from the environment of the aircraft cabin to forward speed. In this blog, we will discuss aircraft instruments in brief detail, allowing you to better understand the use of such components.
With the increasing amount of information collection that has been made possible through advancements and new technologies, the aviation industry has always faced the challenge of how everything can be effectively, efficiently, and accurately conveyed to a pilot. As such, cockpit designs have been consistently worked on so as to provide a panel of readings that are in front of the pilot so that information is quickly conveyed without much distraction.
For many aircraft that came about prior to the 1990s, readings were provided through round dials known as analog gauges. With an analog cockpit, a collection of instruments known as the “six-pack” is provided, that of which includes the attitude, airspeed indicator, altimeter, turn coordinator, heading indicator, and vertical speed indicator instruments. Each individual gauge features its own dials and markings, making it fairly simplistic to gather information in a small space. While analog gauges can be cheaper to purchase up front, they tend to require more maintenance than other options.
By the 2000s, airliners and general aviation aircraft alike began to implement more advanced glass cockpits, those of which replaced conventional analog dials with electronic flight instruments and screens. With a glass cockpit, many instrument readings were combined onto a digital primary flight display (PFD), while others were transformed into digital tape displays. With the potential inclusion of a second multifunction display, further information such as weather and map displays can be conveyed. With glass cockpits, one is afforded increased control over information for ease and efficiency, alongside lower maintenance needs for cost savings. Despite this, glass cockpits are heavily reliant on electrical power, meaning that they can lose functionality in the instance of power loss, and backup instruments are necessary.
While the cockpit instrument panel may vary based on the aircraft in question, the sensing side tends to be similar. Generally, sensing elements come in the form of direct- and remote-sensing types, and information may be conveyed through electronic or pneumatic means based on the instrument in question. When data is transferred through wires, digital data buses are useful to reduce the issues that come with high complexity.
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