How Aircraft Autopilot Systems Automate Control

The autopilot systems that aid aircraft have revolutionized how we conduct flight, allowing pilots to operate such vehicles without continuous hands-on control. While this may make some believe that pilots are then allowed to sit back and relax, autopilot systems are simply implemented to increase safety and efficiency while reducing the workload of pilots so that they may focus on the most important aspects of an operation. Autopilots also differ in design from aircraft to aircraft, featuring varying degrees of automated control and features.

While autopilots may range in their capabilities and features, all operate on the basic concept of mimicking pilot control and actions. In order to do this, such systems rely on a number of electrical and mechanical linkages, devices, and apparatuses for operating flight controls. While early autopilot systems took advantage of pneumatic force for actuation, most modern systems now use reliable electromechanical means for adjusting the aileron, rudder, elevator, and other controls.

The installation of autopilot systems is also required by many international mandates for aircraft that feature more than twenty seats, and there are three levels of control that may be used. Single-axis autopilot systems, or wing levelers, are systems that are only capable of managing the roll axis during flight. Two-axis systems introduce the ability to manage pitch alongside roll, allowing for a degree of pitch oscillation-correction or automatic flight guidance after takeoff and prior to landing. The final type is the three-axis autopilot system, featuring the ability to manage yaw which is not often required by small aircraft.

For more complex aircraft and autopilot systems, the three-axis autopilot system is commonly used and flight operations are broken up into separate phases in order to optimally carry out procedures. Many modern systems also take advantage of computer software to carry out automated processes, relying on sensors that detect current positions so that flight control systems may be adjusted. Autopilots are regularly a part of the flight management system (FMS), that of which is a specialized computer system that may automate various in-flight commands through the use of avionics and instruments. The flight management system is typically composed of the Flight Management Computer (FMC), CDU, and cross talk bus.

As many large aircraft utilize an inertial guidance system in order to determine position and attitude, it is important to know that errors may accumulate over time. To remedy such situations, many assemblies will take advantage of carousel systems that rotate every minute for the means of nullifying errors. When traveling along routes that have a specific required performance factor, pilots must be adamant about monitoring errors. Alongside carousel systems, many aircraft also utilize GPS systems or radio aids such as DME and DME updates for correcting position readings.

While many autopilot systems ensure increased safety through the automation of flight control surface actuation, they are unable to directly affect speed. To automate such procedures, one may use an autothrottle system that can automatically manage power settings based on varying flight characteristics. Many autopilot systems are also unable to execute full landing, rollout, and taxi operations despite CATIIIc systems technically being able to as such systems have not been used to date and are still under development.


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