What are the Six Basic Flight Instruments?

If you’ve ever been inside the cockpit of an aircraft, you’ve seen that there are many different aircraft instruments, controls and dials available at the helm, which, to the average person, might seem a tad overwhelming to understand. Thankfully, any pilot sitting in the cockpit has undergone years of training with many flight hours under their belt. Their training has prepared them enough so that they are not only able to understand what the controls can do, but also enough to respond quickly to them. While it can take many months to truly grasp everything there is to know about the controls, you can still understand the basic concept behind the controls. Below is a brief outline of the six most important flight instruments.  

  1. Airspeed Indicator - The airspeed indicator is a dial that displays the aircraft’s speed in knots (kn), miles per hour (MPH), or meters per second (m/s). It can do this by measuring the difference in pressure between the static pressure of the static port and total pressure from the pilot tube.
  2. Attitude Indicator - Also known as artificial horizon, the altitude indicator shows the aircraft’s relation to the horizon, which indicates whether or not the wings are level or if the nose of the aircraft is pointing above or below the horizon pitch.
  3. Altimeter - The altimeter displays the aircraft’s altitude above sea level. It does this by measuring the difference between the atmospheric pressure obtained through the static system and the pressure in a stack of aneroid capsules inside the altimeter.
  4. Turn Coordinator - The turn coordinator works in conjunction with the Heading Indicator and the Turn-and-Slip Indicator to detect rolling, yawing, and turning movements in the aircraft.
  5. Vertical Speed Indicator - The VSI (also sometimes called a variometer, or rate of climb indicator) senses changing air pressure, and displays that information to the pilot as a rate of climb or descent in feet per minute, meters per second or knots.
  6. Heading indicator - Sometimes referred to by its older name, the directional gyro or DG, the heading indicator (also called an HI) is a flight instrument used in an aircraft to inform the pilot of the aircraft's heading.

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