How Does an Automatic Pilot in an Airplane Work?

Airplane pilots are considered as one of the best, the most hardworking, and the most attentive people out of all, but there will be instances where they will make mistakes, or something will go wrong in the plane. After all, pilots are still humans, so mistakes and mishaps can really happen sometimes.

Luckily, there is a great program that helps them fly safely and with more efficiency, and this program is called automatic pilot, which is better known to many as autopilot and to a few as robot pilot. What is this program? And how does it work? We will find out as we take a look at several details about the automatic pilot.

What is an Automatic Pilot?

An automatic pilot is a tool, which often comes in the form of software, that can help pilots navigate the plane under certain circumstances where the pilot may not be able to fly the plane on his or her own. The autopilot runs through a system, and this system could be hydraulic, electronic, or mechanical.

In order to fly safely, the autopilot would follow the flight plan, which is primarily set by the pilot before takeoff. In addition to following the flight plan, the autopilot is also capable of adjusting the speed of the plane as well as its height or altitude.

The autopilot can stabilize the plane by pinpointing the location of the front of the plane (called the heading) and moving it to a safe and stable location while the aircraft is flying. While autopilot does exist and is installed in different types of aircraft, they are more prominently used on passenger planes, where stabilization is crucial for the convenience and safety of the passengers.

pilots controlling the plane in the cockpit

How Does It Work?

The autopilot is allowed to control the movement of the plane while locating the center of gravity. After pinpointing the gravity’s center, it would then compare it to the safety parameters of the plane. From there, the autopilot does its best to fly the aircraft as safely as possible based on the center of gravity and the safety parameters so that it won’t fly too high or too low.

While the autopilot does have the ability to fly the plane on its own, it isn’t really capable of performing a takeoff, so the pilot has to be present during the beginning stages of flying a plane. The route data and the flight plan for the plane are uploaded to the autopilot’s database before takeoff, and the autopilot would then analyze the data and convert it into movement once it is activated.

After the autopilot is activated, it would then follow the flight plan and would have direct access to the plane’s controls. The pilot can turn off autopilot anytime, but the pilot would need to be prepared to adjust with the altitude and heading location set by the automatic pilot.

There are currently three types of autopilot that can be installed in planes. The first type is called single-axis (roll mode), an autopilot that can only control the roll of the plane (the angle of the aircraft’s wings).  The second type is the two-axis autopilot (roll and pitch mode), which is capable of controlling the roll of the plane and its pitch (the angle of the plane’s front and back). The third type and the most utilized autopilot in today’s era is the three-axis autopilot (roll, pitch, and yaw mode), a system that is allowed to control the roll, the pitch, and the yaw of the plane (the direction that the plane’s heading is pointing towards). As apparent in their descriptions, the three-axis autopilot is the most advanced of the three, and that is the reason why it is more commonly used for modern airplanes.

There are advancements applied to the three-axis autopilot, and these include performing classic maneuvers that can help it to have better control on the plane. However, most autopilots aren’t able to direct climbing and descent flights since they are focused on following the flight plan. So, in case of emergencies where the plane needs to descend or ascend, the pilot would need to guide the autopilot.

Landing a Plane Using Autopilot

Although it is impossible for the autopilot to perform a takeoff, it is capable of landing a plane if it does have the necessary features to do so. The feature needed by the autopilot for landing is called the automatic landing system, which coordinates with the Instrument Landing System or ILS to maneuver the plane safely while landing. Even though some autopilots have this feature, most pilots opt to land planes on their own.

These are just the most important details that you need to know about autopilot and how they work.  As seen on Netflix shows on robots and machines, autopilots are quite advanced in today’s era, and they may eventually be used to fly planes even without a human pilot. From reading this article, you will see how simple autopilots are, but behind its features are many parts and programs that took developers years to perfect. Through these developers’ hard work, we now have one of the greatest inventions in history.