Most people are familiar with a vehicle’s autopilot system, as it’s a system that most people can try out for themselves with their cars. In motor vehicles, the autopilot system is designed so that the car can proceed in driving and steering without the promptings of the driver. What some people might not be familiar with is that aircraft and even some boats also have this in place. The thought that something that travels so far up in the sky has an autopilot system may cause a double take for some people, but the aviation autopilot system is a safe system that pilots have been trained to utilize responsibly.
The primary purpose for the aviation autopilot system is to reduce the amount of strain and tension that the pilot may feel as a result of having to control the aircraft during long flights (some which can last up to 18 hours). The way that autopilot works is that it can provide one, two, or three axis controls. The single-axis autopilot controls only the aileron. Known as wing-leveler systems, these are usually found on lighter aircraft. With two-axis systems, the autopilot controls the ailerons and elevators. The three axis autopilot system controls the aircraft aileron and elevators, and the rudder. Three and two axis systems can be found on aircraft of all sizes.
The main purpose for an autopilot system operation is to correct errors. So if an aircraft in flight has failed to meet preselected conditions, then the autopilot notices an error. The autopilot system automatically corrects that error and restores the aircraft to the flight attitude desired by the pilot. There are two methods by which the autopilot can correct the error. The first is position based while the second is rate based. A position based autopilot manipulates the aircraft’s controls so that any deviation from the desired attitude of the aircraft is corrected. This can be accomplished by memorizing the desired aircraft attitude and moving the control surfaces so that the aircraft returns to that attitude. Rate based autopilots use data about the rate of movement of the aircraft, and move control surfaces to counter the rate of change that causes the error. While the aviation autopilot system has received some updates throughout the past years, it has consistently helped pilots stay on track and guide their aircraft vessel through a trip safely.
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