A gyroscope is a device used to measure and maintain orientation and angular velocity. It is a spinning wheel or disc wherein the spinning axis of rotation is free to assume any orientation by itself. While in rotation, the orientation of the axis remains unaffected by tilting and rotation of the mounting. Gyroscopes have many applications, from the Hubble telescope, to submarine navigation to flight instruments in the aerospace industry. This blog will focus on two gyroscopic flight instruments: the heading indicator and the attitude & heading reference system.
The heading indicator is a mechanical instrument intended to supplement the use of the magnetic compass. Magnetic compasses are prone to error, making straight flight and precision turning more difficult to accomplish, especially during turbulence. The heading indicator is able to assist the function of the magnetic compass because it is not affected by the same forces that hinder the performance of the magnetic compass.
Operation of the heading indicator relies on the principle of rigidity in space, which states that a gyroscope remains in a fixed position in the plane which it is spinning. The heading indicator's rotor turns on the vertical plane, with a compass card affixed to it. The rotor remains in rigid space, meaning the card holds the same position in space relative to the vertical plane of the gyro. This means that the aircraft actually rotates around the gyro, rather then the gyro itself rotating. While the aircraft and all instruments are rotating, the card remains still and provides reliable heading information.
Advanced electronic flight systems have replaced the gyro with laser systems capable of flight at any attitude without failure. The capabilities of these laser systems is the result of the development of the attitude and heading reference system (AHRS). The AHRS sends information to the primary flight display (PFD) to generate the pitch and bank information of the attitude indicator. This information is subsequently processed and delivered to the PFD to create the heading display.
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