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Brief Insight into Autopilots in Airplanes

Brief Insight into Autopilots in Airplanes

What is the autopilot on airplanes?

Pilots often prefer to call it an auto flight system instead of autopilot. There is an array of subsystems that help control various parts of the flight, i.e., altitude, speed, power, direction, course, heading, thrust, etc. The different parts are used either separately or simultaneously, depending what is necessary and they are also used at different times, some with others, etc.

There is something called the autopilot which allows you to take your hands off the controls of the plane. There is also a thing called the autothrottle which controls the thrust of the engine. This system “controls” these aspects of the flight but they get told what to do by the crew. The crew inputs instructions that they have been trained to.

What’s the biggest myth about autopilot?

One of the myths that frustrate many pilots is that once autopilot is engaged, they just sit there and the plane flies itself. This is definitely not true. Planes do not and cannot fly themselves. The crew present, will fly the plane through the autopilot. In other words, the crew puts information into the autopilot that controls the plane. A plane cannot fly itself any more than a car can drive itself. Yes, the automation and equipment does make things easier but at the end of the day, the plane is still controlled by humans.


Drones are a neat piece of tech that allows humans to fly them by not being inside the aircraft at all. They are flown by remote control and are heavily used in the military for surveillance purposes. A lot of people say, but why can’t you blow up the technology and fly people around inside unmanned aerial vehicles. A drone is far simpler in design to an aircraft and a lot more can go wrong with an aircraft that needs human judgement to sort out mid-flight. We are still far away from having that type of technology.

Is there a stage in the flight where you have to use manual controls without a choice?

The landing requires the pilot to physically control the plane. Almost 100 percent of airplane landings are performed manually. There are exceptions where pilots have used autoland to land an aircraft. They would have to set up an auto approach and then the plane will land by itself. This type of landing is very uncommon and is only used when visibility is near zero. The airport, pilot and airplane have to be certified in order for the pilot to attempt this landing.

Century Avionics stock several types of autopilots, including, single axis autopilots, primary 2 axis autopilots, full function 2 axis autopilots. Drop by our offices in Lanseria for advice on autopilots and other aviation equipment.

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