Flight Academy

Basic Flight Instruments

If you are to make yoursellf comfortable in the cockpit then make sure you know all about the six most important instruments in the cockpit. Scan these instruments continually while in flight and be safe!

Basic Flight Instrument

 The examples shown are from the Cessna aircraft, but you will find all these instuments in all aircraft. They may be of a different format, and some may be a combination of two or more instruments, but you will find them all.


The above image is a shot of the six main flight instruments from the Cessna 172 panel. Lets take a look at them in a little more detail.....


Attitude Indicator

Shows the aricrafts attitude relative to the horizon. The outer ring shows increasing bank angles of 10, 20, 30, 60 and 90 degrees, while the two white diagonal lines show bank angles of 15 and 45 degrees. The central scale indicates nose pitch above and below the horizon in 5 degree increments.


Heading Indicator

This instrument is a directional gyro and shows you the direction you are heading. The outer ring numbers are at 30 degree intervals with 5 and 10 degree increments between. When talking about headings it is important to understand their meaning. The image shows that we have a heding on the dial of 4, which is 40 degrees. This is normally spoken as Zero Four Zero degrees. Remember to always multiply the displayed heading by 10 and you wont go far wrong.


Airspeed Indicator

The airspeed indicator shows the speed of the air flowing around your aircraft, this does not mean the same as how fast you are moving. Speed in an aircraft is measured in knots (nautical miles per hour) and the instrument (left) shows your airspeed as 85 knots. You will hear terms such as IAS (Indicated Air Speed), TAS (True Air Speed) and GS (Ground Speed) when discussing aircraft speeds .. I'll leave this to you for additional research.



From a pilot's perspective the altimeter shows height above Mean Sea Level (MSL), the instrument actually measures changes in barometric pressure. It is important to calibrate this instrument (press the 'B' key) as it is affected by the current weather conditions. The instrument to the left is calibrated for 29.92 (two niner niner two) which is the standard pressure reading and shows a current altitude of 1,500 feet. Remeber this reading is Altitude MSL, if the ground underneath you is at 1,300 feet then you are only 200 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).


Vertical Speed Indicator

The VSI indicates your rate of climb (or descent) in feet per minute. This instrument is very sensitive and allows you to control a change in altitude. The image on the left shows we are in level flight (VSI = 0). Keep in mind that all aircraft tend to vary their altitude, even when trimmed for straight and level flight.



The Inclinometer or Turn Co-ordinator indicates the Roll and Yaw of the aircraft. The aircraft image shows the bank and its direction. The lower part of the instrument is a ball in a glass tube, when centered it indicates that the nose of the aircraft is pointing in the direction of the turn i.e a co-ordinated turn. To ensure the Ball stays centralised use the rudder control during turns.


In summary, the instruments above show that this aircraft is flying with a slight nose-up pitch attitude, heading 040, at 85 knots. We can also state that it is at 1,500 feet MSL, flying straight and level.


Further reading ... descriptions of all these instruments and their use can be found in the online documentation included with Flight Simulator.