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Attitude Directional Indicator

hile there are many ver- least understood of the flight instru-
sions of the attitude direc- ments. This is for good reason on both
tional indicator (ADI) that counts. It gives the pilot a visual indi-
provides the pilot with verity of flight cation of the aircraftʼs attitude in rela-
information, one thing that is common tion to the surface of the earth, and has
to all of them is their ability to indicate more factors affecting its operation
the aircraftʼs attitude in pitch and roll than any instrument in the aircraft.
in relation to the surface of the earth To aid us in understanding the oper-
The basic functions of this flight in- ation of the ADI we need to start with
strument have been with us for a very some basic aircraft instrument theory.
long time and have carried a variety of The primary purpose of any instru-
names such as, Attitude Gyro, Gyro ment system is the transformation of
Horizon, Artificial Horizon and oth- certain information or condition into a ADI
ers. I like the name Artificial Horizon useful visual indication on the aircraft lished or known point to the desired
because it best describes the primary instrument. In most cases, there are at unknown, and provide us with a vi-
function of the instrument. That is, to least two parts to any indicating sys- sual indication of some measurement
provide the pilot or pilots with an arti- tem: the “Sensor” that senses or mea- from this known, established reference
ficial horizon when the true horizon is sures the information for the indicator; point. If this established, or known ref-
not visible to them. and the “indicator” that converts this erence point changes, so does the vi-
In the AID indicator (center) is a information into a visual analog or sual indication of the instrument, pro-
recent panel-mounted ADI. The two digital display. Like most systems, any viding us with an erroneous pictorial
cut-a-way instruments are from an era instrument system is only as good as indication.
past, when manufacturers wanted their its weakest point. There is a misconception accepted
customers to see what their products I think it could be said that all air- by many of those personnel who use
were made of. craft instruments could be classified as and service aircraft instrument systems.
It has been my conception that the differential instruments because they In our modern aviation society, and the
ADI is the most widely used and the indicate changes from some estab- public in general, there is a general

Gyro Assembly Rotor and Shaft

Gimbal Ring and
Rotor Housing
Horizon Bar
Gimbal Ring
Caging Mechanism Assembly
Gyro Horizon Erection System Attitude Gyro


consensus that any digital indicator is Type of Gyro Used
much more accurate than any analog with ADI Indicators
indicator. This theory does have merit;
in most cases when the accuracy issue
is restricted to the indicators only, the
digital indicators are the best in almost
every case. In many cases, the sens-
ing portion of the instrument system is
the same if it is used with a digital or
analog indicator and will indicate the
same correct or incorrect information
on either type of instrument display.
is used in the ADI to establish a ref- tion. When the rotor axis is turned left
Aircraft Gyros
erence point to measure change in the or right and parallel to the gimbal axis,
They may use different names, but
attitude of the aircraft around the air- the gimbal will rotate in a direction that
at least in theory there are only three
craftʼs longitudinal (roll) axis and the is 90 degrees from the rotor axis. The
basic types of gyros with a rotor that
literal (pitch) axis of the aircraft. Any rigidity of the rotor and the tension of
provide us with a reference point to
movement of the aircraft around the the spring will determine the amount
measure the attitude of the aircraft, in
pitch or roll axis of the aircraft will be and rate of gimbal ring rotation. This
relation to the earth.
transferred mechanically or electroni- change and rate of the change is trans-
One is a universally-mounted three-
cally to a miniature airplane and an ar- ferred mechanically or electronically
axes gyro with the rotor axes parallel
tificial horizon on the face of the ADI to the aircraft instruments or autopilot.
to the earthʼs surface, used in the di-
indicator, mimicking the actual rela- This is most often used in, but not re-
rectional gyro to establish a reference
tion of the aircraft to the true horizon. stricted to, turn and banks or turn co-
point to measure change in direction
The third type of aircraft gyro is ordinators.
of the aircraft around its vertical (yaw)
the rate gyro. This consists of a rotor In a perfect world, this is all one
axis. The directional gyro has no di-
mounted in gimbal ring 90 degrees to would need to know about the gyro in-
rection seeking properties and must be
the axis of the gimbal ring. A spring strument systems in our aircraft. How-
set to or slaved to a magnetic compass
holds the gimbal ring in a neutral posi- Continued on following page
heading. Once it has been set or slaved
to a heading, it will sense deviations
from that reference point. Type of Gyro Used
with T&B and T/C
Second is a universally-mounted
three-axes gyro with the rotor axes
perpendicular to the earthʼs surface. It

Type of Gyro Used in

Directional Indicators


Continued from page 53
ever, we donʼt live in a perfect world
so we know we have to accept some
bad with the good. Gyro precession
is one of those undesirable conditions
of a gyro. All gyros precess to some
degree and the ADI is no exception.
Basically, we have two types of pre-
cession—real and apparent.
Apparent gyro precession is based
on the fact that the earth rotates and the
gyro maintains its position in space. In
this situation it appears that the gyro is
precessing, when, in fact, it is holding
Figure #1 Figure #3
its position. It is only apparent that the
gyro is precessing as the earth spins by
its position. Although it is only appar-
ent that the gyro is precessing, it is a
factor we have to compensate for.
Real gyro precession is that prop-
erty of a gyro that causes the rotor axis
to be displaced, not in line with the
applied force, but 90 degrees away in
the direction of rotor rotation. This is
caused by friction in the gyro rotor and
supporting gimbal ring bearings. This
resistance to the rotation of the rotor
or the supporting gimbals will result
in rotor precession. An out of balance
condition of the rotor or supporting
gimbal rings will also be the cause of
rotor precession.
Rigidity is another important prop-
erty of a gyro. The primary trait of
a rotating gyro rotor is its rigidity in
space, or gyroscope inertia. Newtonʼs
first law states in part: A body in mo- Figure #2
tion tends to move in a constant speed
and direction unless disturbed by some as large and as heavy as is practical. surface as the aircraftʼs center of grav-
external force. They are also designed to spin at high ity (CG).
The rotor of the gyro instruments speed. All gyros precess to some degree,
maintains a constant attitude in space To compensate for real or apparent and the ADI gyros are no exception.
as long as no external force changes it. precession in the ADI gyro, we add The precession of the ADI gyro is
This stable quality of the rotor depends weight or torque to the gyro gimbals to constantly corrected by the erection
on the mass and speed of that rotor. induce a reverse precession. mechanism to the aircraftʼs CG. Vari-
Thus, the larger and heavier the rotor In the ADI gyro, we have no direct ous erection mechanisms are used to
and the faster we spin it, the greater the connection to the surface of the earth correct this gyro precession, but one
stability or rigidity. This is why most to use as a perpendicular position from thing that is common to all of them is
aircraft gyrosʼ instrument rotors, both it. In this case we use what should be a their ability to apply a force to oppose
electrical and pneumatic driven, are perpendicular position from the earthʼs the force causing the precession. The


attitude of the aircraft and the G forces The slower speed when the erection ing at various speeds and attitudes,
on the aircraft will vary this CG. To process is taking place allows the the G forces change the friction of the
add insult to injury, as the CG changes erection mechanism to erect the rotor gyroʼs bearings and the balance of the
and G forces are added to the formula, quickly because of less rotor rigidity. gimbals. The corrections or calibra-
we have changes in bearing friction, On the other hand, electrical rotors tions that were made on the ground
balance of the gyro and its gimbals to gain speed much faster, so the rotor ri- are no longer valid under these condi-
contend with. These factors can cause gidity is at its peak very quickly, mak- tions.
the erection mechanism to precess the ing the erection process much slower During take off and climb out,
rotor to position to the invalid CG, and than pneumatic rotors. the aircraft experiences the greatest
this provides the ADI indicator with To aid this slow erection of the elec- amount of thrust and G force. This
a less than true indication of the air- trical rotors many manufactures have force changes the load of the bear-
craftʼs actual attitude. added a “Quick Erect” or “Caging” ings in the rotor and its gimbals, which
As we increase mass and speed of mechanism. These systems will erect changes the friction of the bearings.
the rotor, the rigidity of the rotor will the rotor and its gimbals to a zero de- These forces also change the balance
increase. Greater rigidity will slow the gree pitch and roll position of the rotor of these gimbals and rotor.
precession of the rotor. This is a con- axis in the ADI gyro. Under these con- Now, the calibration that was made
dition that is good for maintaining our ditions the ADI will be indicating level when the ADI was tested on the
reference point in space. While it is flight regardless of the attitude of the ground is no longer valid. These forces
a good factor for maintaining the ri- aircraft. The caging or quick erect also change the aircraftʼs CG, and the
gidity of the rotor, it is a negative for should never be used unless the air- erection mechanism of the ADI will
our erection mechanism when using craft is in an attitude of “0” roll and be correcting for precession from an
reverse precession to compensate for “0” pitch. The erection mechanism invalid CG; resulting in erroneous at-
precession errors. will be applying a force to precess the titude indications often undetected by
As the name indicates, the ADI erec- rotor axis to be in line with the CG. In the flight crew.
tion mechanism on start up also erects time (some erection systems will pre- This description is not about a poor-
the rotor to the perpendicular position cess at a slow rate of less than three ly manufactured or serviced ADI. I am
from the surface of the earth—in line degrees per minute), the erection as- referring to one that has been manu-
with the CG position it has been cali- sembly will correct any error that had factured or serviced to meet all the
brated to operate in. been induced by actuating the caging specifications that are required by the
The exhausting air of the pneu- process. FAA to certify it airworthy. This ADI
matic erection vanes (Figure #3) or During manufacture or servicing of will never operate more accurately
the controlling mercury switches for these ADI gyros, balance of the gim- than it did when the manufacturer or
the torque motors (Figure #2) on the bals is used to compensate for some service shop last tested it. The quality
gimbal axis is the choice for most ADI unavoidable friction of the axis bear- of this ADI indicator can only decline
rotor erection systems. Regardless ings. While high precision bearings with age.
of what system is used, the erection and special lubricants are used in all As a technician, did you ever have a
system is continually correcting the three gyro axes, there is still some fric- pilot report an attitude directional in-
rotor axis to be in line with CG. ADI tion to deal with. The rotor and gim- dicator (ADI) error that he or she had
with a pneumatic driven rotor uses bals are precision balanced using qual- encountered in flight that you could
the pneumatic vanes, while we find ity balancing equipment and skilled not reproduce with the aircraft on the
both the pneumatic vanes and torque operators. ground? Or as a pilot, have you ever
motors used with ADI having electric To compensate for this friction, the been unable to duplicate on the ground
driven rotors. The electrical ADI lacks bearing axis weight or the static bal- what you thought to be a faulty ADI
the airflow used to power the rotor in ance of the gimbals supporting the indication while in flight? Maybe
the pneumatic type. Instead, it uses an gyro is moved to an unbalanced posi- some of the above information can
impeller developing air pressure that tion. This works well when the gyro is shed some light on why we have some
flows over the rotor, cooling it, and tested in the factory or repair station, of these conditions.
exhausts through pneumatic erection where the center of gravity is perpen- Several years ago, I was giving a
vanes (Figure #1). dicular to the surface of the earth, and lecture to a group of aircraft pilots. In
Pneumatic driven rotors gain their we have a G force of 1. With this gyro reference to the ADI, I made the state-
operating speeds at a very slow rate. mounted in the aircraft, and while fly- Continued on following page


Continued from page 55

ment, “The ADI has the privilege of

being the aircraft instrument with the
highest failure rate. Any instrument
rated pilot that is not capable of fly-
ing the aircraft without using the ADI
should not have an instrument rating.”
This brought many comments, and not
too many in my favor. Several pilots
said they had been flying for years and
never had an ADI fail, and would be
lost without it. I wonder if some of
these brave pilots are still with us. Af-
ter several years in the servicing end
of many gyro instruments I will still
stand by the statement I made to these
While the ADI is less than perfect,
it is the best we have (to date) for do-
ing what it does. After many years of
service and many fine tuned modifica-
tions, the ADI is a very reliable flight
instrument. With the proper knowledge
of the ADI limitations a pilot should
be able to determine if it is operating
within its designed specifications. It is
a hard sell trying to list all the short-
comings of the ADI to the pilots, with-
out destroying their overall confidence
in their flight instruments.
With proper care, all our calibrations
of the ADI made by the manufacturer
or repair station will remain intact after
it is properly installed in the aircraft.
As soon as the aircraft starts to taxi,
the calibrations that were made during
manufacture or overhaul are no longer
valid. The “G” force and the center of
gravity on the aircraft and instrument
have changed. ❑


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