Avionics & Instruments


  • Aircraft became a practical means of transportation when accurate flight instruments freed the pilot from the necessity of maintaining visual contact with the ground
  • Flight instruments are crucial to conducting safe flight operations and it is important that the pilot have a basic understanding of their operation
  • Various types of air navigation aids are in use today, each serving a special purpose
    • These aids have varied owners and operators, namely: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the military services, private organizations, individual states and foreign governments
    • The FAA has the statutory authority to establish, operate, maintain air navigation facilities and to prescribe standards for the operation of any of these aids which are used for instrument flight in federally controlled airspace as tabulated in the Chart Supplement U.S.
Airspeed Indicator
The Basic Six-Pack
Figure 1: Standing Tall Being All I Can Be Blog,
The Basic Six-Pack

Basic Six Pack:

  • The core of the instruments in an aircraft center around what is often referred to as "the six-pack"
  • These instruments enable the pilot to maintain spatial orientation during flight
  • Airspeed Indicator:

    • The airspeed indicator provides the pilot with a means of determining the speed of the aircraft
  • Altimeter:

    • The altimeter reads the altitude of an aircraft
    • Generally, altimeters are configured to show height above sea level (an aviation standard) however, other types of altimeters do exist which can measure other heights, such as height above ground
  • Attitude Indicator:

    • Attitude indicators display the orientation of the aircraft with regards to its roll (angle of the wings) and pitch (angle of the nose)
  • Heading Indicator
  • Turn Coordinator
  • Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)


  • Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast:

    • The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is the most recent leap in Next Generation (NextGen) modernization technology
    • "Real-time precision, shared situational awareness, advanced applications for pilots and controllers alike – these are the hallmarks of ADS-B NextGen surveillance"
  • Distance Measuring Equipment:

  • Emergency Locator Transmitter:

    • Safety is the primary concern with everything aviation
    • The Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was designed with safety in mind, when luck is at its worst, allowing pilots to broadcast their position when in distress
  • Global Positioning System:

    • Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system composed of a network of satellites placed into orbit by the United States Department of Defense (DOD)
    • GPS provides a very precise, global navigation service, which is unaffected by weather, allowing for point-to-point navigation
    • In conjunction with GPS, another system called the Wide Area Augmentation System is used as well
  • Non-Directional Beacon (NDB)
  • Magnetic Direction Indicator:

    • The Earth is a huge magnet, spinning in space, surrounded by a magnetic field made up of invisible lines of flux
      • These lines leave the surface at the magnetic North Pole and reenter at the magnetic South Pole
    • Lines of magnetic flux have two important characteristics:
      • Any magnet that is free to rotate will align with them, and
      • An electrical current is induced into any conductor that cuts across them
    • Most direction indicators installed in aircraft make use of one of these two characteristics
    • One of the most common types of magnetic direction indicators is the Magnetic Compass
  • Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN)
  • Transponder
  • VHF Omni-Directional Range (VOR)
  • Instrument Landing System (ILS)
  • Long-Range Navigation (LORAN)

Instrumentation: Moving into the Future:

  • Until recently, most GA aircraft were equipped with individual instruments utilized collectively to safely operate and maneuver the aircraft. With the release of the electronic flight display (EFD) system, conventional instruments have been replaced by multiple liquid crystal display (LCD) screens
    • The first screen is installed in front of the pilot position and is referred to as the primary flight display (PFD)
    • The second screen, positioned approximately in the center of the instrument panel, is referred to as the multi-function display (MFD)
  • These solid state instruments have a failure rate far less than those of conventional analog instrumentation. [Figure 3-18]
  • With today’s improvements in avionics and the introduction of EFDs, pilots at any level of experience need an astute knowledge of the onboard flight control systems, as well as an understanding of how automation melds with Aeronautical Decision-Making (ADM)
  • Training for avionics:

    • Companies often create simulators which can be downloaded on their websites:
  • Whether an aircraft has analog or digital (glass) instruments, the instrumentation falls into three different categories:
    • Performance
    • Control
    • Navigation
  • Airspeed Indicator
    Figure 2: Performance Instruments
    Airspeed Indicator
    Figure 2: Performance Instruments
  • Performance Instruments:

    • The performance instruments indicate the aircraft’s actual performance. Performance is determined by reference to the altimeter, airspeed or vertical speed indicator (VSI), heading indicator, and turn-and-slip indicator. The performance instruments directly reflect the performance the aircraft is achieving. The speed of the aircraft can be referenced on the airspeed indicator. The altitude can be referenced on the altimeter. The aircraft’s climb performance can be determined by referencing the VSI. Other performance instruments available are the heading indicator, angle of attack indicator, and the slip-skid indicator [Figure 2]
  • Airspeed Indicator
    Figure 3: Control Instruments
    Airspeed Indicator
    Figure 3: Control Instruments
  • Control Instruments:

    • The control instruments display immediate attitude and power changes and are calibrated to permit adjustments in precise increments. The instrument for attitude display is the attitude indicator. The control instruments do not indicate aircraft speed or altitude. In order to determine these variables and others, a pilot must reference the performance instruments [Figure 2]
  • Navigation Instruments:

    • The navigation instruments indicate the position of the aircraft in relation to a selected navigation facility or fix. This group of instruments includes various types of course indicators, range indicators, glideslope indicators, and bearing pointers. Newer aircraft with more technologically advanced instrumentation provide blended information, giving the pilot more accurate positional information. Navigation instruments are comprised of indicators that display GPS, very high frequency (VHF) omni-directional radio range (VOR), nondirectional beacon (NDB), and instrument landing system (ILS) information. The instruments indicate the position of the aircraft relative to a selected navigation facility or fix. They also provide pilotage information so the aircraft can be maneuvered to keep it on a predetermined path. The pilotage information can be in either two or three dimensions relative to the ground-based or space-based navigation information. [Figures 3-21 and 3-22]