The attitude indicator, with its miniature aircraft and horizon bar, displays a picture of the attitude of the aircraft. The relationship of the miniature aircraft to the horizon bar is the same as the relationship of the real aircraft to the actual horizon. The instrument gives an instantaneous indication of even the smallest changes in attitude.
The gyro in the attitude indicator is mounted in a horizontal plane and depends upon rigidity in space for its operation. The horizon bar represents the true horizon. This bar is fixed to the gyro and remains in a horizontal plane as the aircraft is pitched or banked about its lateral or longitudinal axis, indicating the attitude of the aircraft relative to the true horizon. [Figure 7-23]
The gyro spins in the horizontal plane and resists deflection of the rotational path. Since the gyro relies on rigidity in space, the aircraft actually rotates around the spinning gyro.
An adjustment knob is provided with which the pilot may move the miniature aircraft up or down to align the miniature aircraft with the horizon bar to suit the pilot’s line of vision. Normally, the miniature aircraft is adjusted so that the wings overlap the horizon bar when the aircraft is in straight-and-level cruising flight.
The pitch and bank limits depend upon the make and model of the instrument. Limits in the banking plane are usually from 100° to 110°, and the pitch limits are usually from 60° to 70°. If either limit is exceeded, the instrument will tumble or spill and will give incorrect indications until realigned. A number of modern attitude indicators do not tumble.
Every pilot should be able to interpret the banking scale illustrated in Figure 7-24. Most banking scale indicators on the top of the instrument move in the same direction from that in which the aircraft is actually banked. Some other models move in the opposite direction from that in which the aircraft is actually banked. This may confuse the pilot if the indicator is used to determine the direction of bank. This scale should be used only to control the degree of desired bank. The relationship of the miniature aircraft to the horizon bar should be used for an indication of the direction of bank.
The attitude indicator is reliable and the most realistic flight instrument on the instrument panel. Its indications are very close approximations of the actual attitude of the aircraft.
Learn more about all of your flight instruments with the Instrument Flying Handbook. This is the FAA’s primary pilot resource for instrument flight rules (IFR) covering everything pertinent to operating an aircraft in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) or without reference to outside visuals, relying solely on the information gleaned from the cockpit.