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Flight Instruments

C1 Panel

The instrument panel of a Diamond C-1 training aircraft.

Aircraft instruments are an important aid to pilots. The information is useful to the pilot who flies under visual flight rules (VFR) or under instrument flight rules (IFR). The VFR pilot flies the aircraft with primary reference and information from vision outside of the airplane, but it is still required to occasionally glance at important aircraft instruments in the cockpit, including the altimeter, airspeed indicator, and engine instruments.

The IFR pilot is entirely dependent on aircraft instruments to fly in poor weather conditions. It’s possible to fly from an airport in almost zero visibility conditions, fly in cloud cover for the entire flight, and then land at an airport with the runway lights and centerline visible just prior to landing. An instrument rating is required to act as the pilot in these types of flights.

Here are some important aircraft instruments with their primary function.

Instrument name Purpose
Airspeed indicator Reports speed of airflow in knots, kilometers, or miles per hour
Altimeter Displays altitude (usually in reference to sea level)
Magnetic compass Displays direction in reference to magnetic north

Heading indicator

Displays direction or heading
Vertical speed indicator Indicates trend of increase or decrease in altitude at a rate of feet per minute
Attitude indicator or artificial horizon Displays rate of pitch and bank of aircraft
Navigation instruments A wide variety of instruments display radio, satellite, or inertial navigation information
Tachometer Reports engine speed in revolutions per minute
Outside air temperature (OAT) gage Measures the temperature of air outside the aircraft

This lesson will help you understand how these instruments work and why they are so important for flight under VFR and IFR conditions.