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Flight Director

in Automated Flight Control

Flight Director Functions

An FD is an extremely useful aid that displays cues to guide pilot or autopilot control inputs along a selected and computed flightpath. [Figure 4-5] The flight director usually receives input from an ADC and a flight data computer. The ADC supplies altitude, airspeed and temperature data, heading data from magnetic sources such as flux valves, heading selected on the HSI (or PFD/multi-function display (MFD)/ electronic horizontal situation indicator (EHSI)), navigation data from FMS, very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR)/distance measuring equipment (DME), and RNAV sources. The flight data computer integrates all of the data such as speed, position, closure, drift, track, desired course, and altitude into a command signal.

Figure 4-5. A flight director.

Figure 4-5. A flight director.

The command signal is displayed on the attitude indicator in the form of command bars, which show the pitch and roll inputs necessary to achieve the selected targets. To use the flight director command bars, which are usually shaped as inverted chevrons, or V-shaped symbols, the pilot simply flies to the bars. Some older models use crossed bars, leading the pilot to the selected point. In both types, you simply keep the aircraft symbol on the attitude indicator aligned with the command bars, or allow the autopilot to make the actual control movements to fly the selected track and altitude.

Using the Flight Director (FD)
Flight Director Without Autopilot

The FD and autopilot systems are designed to work together, but it is possible to use the flight director without engaging the autopilot, or the autopilot without the FD, depending on the installation. Without autopilot engagement, the FD presents all processed information to the pilot in the form of command bar cues, but you must manually fly the airplane to follow these cues to fly the selected flightpath. In effect, you “tell” the FD what needs to happen and the FD command bars “tell” you what to do. This adds to your workload, since you must program the FD for each procedure or maneuver to be accomplished, while actually flying the aircraft. In many cases, you will have a decreased workload if you simply disable the FD and fly using only the flight instruments.

Flight Director With Autopilot

When the aircraft includes both a flight director and an autopilot, you may elect to use flight director cues without engaging the autopilot. It may or may not be possible to use the autopilot without also engaging the flight director. You need to be familiar with the system installed. When you engage the autopilot, it simply follows the cues generated by the flight director to control the airplane along the selected lateral and vertical paths.

Common Error: Blindly Following Flight Director Cues

The convenience of flight director cues can invite fixation or overreliance on the part of the pilot. As with all automated systems, you must remain aware of the overall situation. Never assume that flight director cues are following a route or course that is free from error. Rather, be sure to include navigation instruments and sources in your scan. Remember, the equipment will usually perform exactly as programmed. Always compare the displays to ensure that all indications agree. If in doubt, fly the aircraft to remain on cleared track and altitude, and reduce automation to as minimal as possible during the problem processing period. The first priority for a pilot always is to fly the aircraft.

Common Error: Confusion About Autopilot Engagement

Pilots sometimes become confused about whether or not flight director cues are being automatically carried out by the autopilot, or left to be followed manually by the pilot. Verification of the autopilot mode and engagement status of the autopilot is a necessary technique for maintaining awareness of who is flying the aircraft.


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