Traditional aircraft instruments include pitot instruments and gyroscopic instruments. These two designations simply categorize the instruments based on the system in which they receive the information. Gyroscopic instruments include the attitude indicator (AI), heading indicator (HI), and the turn coordinator (TC)— also known as the turn and bank (TB) indicator. Having knowledge of the instrument power system, gyroscopic principles, and individual operating principles of each instrument will help you understand how gyroscopic instruments operate.
Anything that spins exhibits gyroscopic principles. However, it is specifically titled a gyroscope if a wheel or rotor are mounted to utilize these properties. Gyros may be mounted freely, which allows them to rotate in any direction about its center of gravity. Restricted or semi-rigidly mounted gyros have one plane of freedom that is held fixed in relation to the base. Gyroscopes have high density and high speed with low friction bearings. Rigidity in space and precession are the two main properties of gyroscopic action. Rigidity in space is the ability of a gyroscope to remain in a fixed position in the plane that it is spinning. Precession is the tilting or turning of a gyro as a result of a deflective force.
Gyroscopes may be vacuum, pressure, or electrically powered. Usually, there are at least two sources of power used in order to ensure that one is available if the other fails during flight. Electrically driven gyroscopic instruments incorporate the rotor as the armature of an electric motor. Vacuum and pressure systems spin the rotor at high speeds by drawing a stream of air from the cabin and accelerate and directing it against the rotor vanes. There are separate instruments in the cockpit that display information about the vacuum pressure. If it drops below normal operating range, it indicates that the gyroscopic instruments may be unstable and inaccurate.
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