How does autopilot work on an airplane?

There are essentially a few types of features that different autopilots have. Some autopilot only have some of these features while the more powerful autopilots do it all.

  1. Heading hold - There’s a small indicator that the pilot can set on the desired heading and the airplane will fly that heading. This feature doesn’t take the need for wind correction to desired routing into account, that’s left to the pilot.
  2. Heading and Navigation - In addition to holding a heading, this version will take an electronic navigation input (e.g. GPS or VOR) and will follow (fly) that navigation reference. It’s sort of like an automated car in that it follows the navigator’s input and the pilot monitors.
  3. Altitude hold - Again, in addition to the above, a desired altitude can be set and the aircraft will fly at that altitude. Some autopilots have the capability for the pilot to select a desired altitude and a climb or descent rate and the aircraft will automatically climb or descend to that altitude and then hold the altitude.
  4. Instrument approaches - Autopilots with this capability will fly preprogrammed instrument approaches to the point where the pilot either takes control and lands or has the autopilot execute a missed approach.

The autopilot is a powerful computer that takes input from either the pilot or a navigation device and essentially does what it is told to do. GPS navigators, for example, can have a full flight plan entered from departure to destination and the autopilot will follow the navigator’s guidance.

These are the majority of the controls on the autopilot installed in my airplane.

HDG Knob = Heading knob - Used to set the desired heading

AP = Autopilot - pressing this turns the autopilot on

FD = Flight Director - A form of navigational display that the pilot uses

HDG = Heading - Tells the autopilot to fly the heading set by the Heading Knob

NAV = Tells the autopilot to follow the input from the selected navigator

APR = Tells the autopilot to fly the chosen approach

ALT = Tells the autopilot to manage the altitude - controlled by the following:

VS = Vertical Speed - Tells the autopilot to climb or descend at the chosen rate

Nose UP / Nose DN = Sets the climb/descent rate in Feet Per Minute

FLC = Flight Level Change - an easy manual way to set the autopilot

ALT Knob = Used to enter the desired altitude

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

Have you learned something new about airplanes today?

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What are your thoughts on this subject?
Herman Kanter
Mars Ochoa, All take-offs are handled by the flying pilot, and the autopilot can be engaged during climb out. Some planes are equipped with sophisticated autopilots coupled with the auto-throttle which when engaged, are capable of performing the landing approach and the landing flare onto the runway. When available, these so-called "Autoland" capabilities are selected when runway visibility is very low and the wind speed and direction are certain within limits.
Oct 11, 2021 4:19PM
Mars Ochoa
Is there autopilot that handles landing and take-off?
Jan 27, 2020 6:26PM
Ilias Tsiabardas
At my Age I am not intent to become a pilot ,but it's very interesting information about the Auto pilot functions
Jan 5, 2020 8:30PM
Very informative
Oct 30, 2019 12:24AM
Ian Swindale
You learn something new every day
Jun 11, 2019 7:24AM
Otto Pilot in the movie Airplane.
Apr 9, 2019 9:29AM
Keith Scholl
30 Rock Quotes ‏@30_Rock_Quotes "Maybe u just want to fly the plane yourself? Well good luck pressing take off, then auto pilot, then land!" -Carol, Liz's pilot BF (5.14)
Mar 25, 2019 1:01AM
Don Racette
nadamrajan The pilots flirt with the female flight attendants
Jan 3, 2019 4:44PM
John Nestor
James Webb, are you sure James? I had an idea Sperry did in the 1930s maybe with the gyro compass.
Jul 4, 2018 5:52PM
James Webb
The first Auto pilot was developed in 1912 by Sperry.
Jul 3, 2018 8:12PM
Alex Drego
Very interesting.
Jul 3, 2018 2:37AM
Steve Gash
Good to know
Jul 1, 2018 2:41AM
Chrissy Krainock Luders
Chrissy Krainock Luders, get up*
Jun 29, 2018 8:42PM
Chrissy Krainock Luders
Very interesting! I always knew the pilots could ge tup and walk around- or even take a nap on long flights!
Jun 29, 2018 8:41PM

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