Planes today are built to essentially fly themselves.
Autopilot refers to a collection of systems that automate a plane’s operations.
The most common reason for plane crashes is human error, so it can be reassuring to know that aircraft are designed to be automated and, frankly, smarter than humans.
Airplanes are built with redundancies, so that if one system fails, there’s another to back it up. And today’s planes are built not only to operate normally, but to read changes in abnormal operations and adjust accordingly.
The airplane's complex computer matrix tells your plane how to fly, including navigation, altitude, speed, and engine thrust, which controls the force by which the plane moves through the air. When these systems are engaged—after a human enters the flight destination information, autopilot culls data about the flight route, location, and navigation—the navigation harnesses the same GPS technology that’s on your cell phone and spits out an optimized flight plan. This allows the pilot to remain hands-free for the duration of the flight.
The first rudimentary autopilot system can be traced back to nearly the beginning of flight, when in 1912 the Sperry Corporation created a system that allowed a plane to fly straight without a pilot’s control. The development was a significant one, as it set the course for air travel as we know it today, and gave both mental and physical space to the pilot to increase focus on other aspects of operating a flight or combat, as the case may be.
Following World War II, the U.S. manufactured a plane, the F-5 fighter jet, that could take off and land on its own.
The system receives data from the aircraft’s various mechanisms and responds by inhibiting a particular action in response to another action.
For instance: If the wings are no longer level, the autopilot receives data telling it that, and it activates to correct the problem. Once the wings are level, the loop closes and that communication essentially stops. This repeats with all of the functions of a plane inflight including steering, speed, altitude, and more.
The Pilots are monitoring closely to mind for any issues or inconsistencies.
Autopilots are a useful tool to help pilots manage their cockpit workload, however they require continuous monitoring and pilots must continue their normal cockpit cross check to verify expected and proper operation.
Pilots are trained to fly planes manually and some put in manual flying time every month. Still, there is concern that the automation allows pilots to get rusty at actually knowing how to fly.
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