The first aircraft autopilot was developed by Sperry Corporation (USA) in 1912. It permitted the aircraft to fly straight and level on a compass course without a pilot’s attention.
An aircraft automatic pilot system controls the aircraft without the pilot directly manoeuvring the controls. The autopilot maintains the aircraft’s attitude/altitude & direction and returns the aircraft to that condition when it is displaced from it. Automatic pilot systems are capable of keeping aircraft stabilised laterally, vertically, and longitudinally.
The primary purpose of an autopilot system is to reduce the work strain and fatigue of the cockpit crew controlling the aircraft during long haul flights. Most autopilots have both Selective and Managed modes of operation.
Selective mode: In the Selective mode, the pilot selects each manoeuvre and makes small inputs into an autopilot controller. The autopilot system moves the control surfaces of the aircraft to perform the manoeuvre.
Managed mode: In Managed mode, the pilot selects the attitude and direction desired for a flight segment like climb/cruise/descent/landing. The autopilot then moves the control surfaces to attain and maintain these parameters.
A- 320 Particular
The Automatic Flight System (AFS) of Airbus-320 gives pilots functions that reduce their workload and improve safety and regularity of the flight. The AFS is designed around:
2 Flight Management and Guidance Computers (FMGCS)
2 Flight Augmentation Computers (FACS)
2 Multipurpose Control and Display Units (MCDUS)
1 Flight Control Unit (FCU)
The Airbus cockpit is highly automated and allows technology to handle much of the normal pilot workload.
Automation, however, can lead to “Automatic Complacency.”
Guard against it by synchronising with the Autoflight System.
Plan, program, confirm, monitor, and correct if necessary.
Do not change your piloting priorities when the Autoflight System is in use.
Did you know – Recently Airbus demonstrated the first fully automatic vision-based take-off!!