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I'm trying to better understand how the rigidity in space principle works in relation to the attitude indicator. My understanding is a gyroscope is a spinning disc that is able to maintain orientation and not be disturbed (when spinning fast enough sort of like a toy top).

My understanding is that the gyroscope in the attitude indicator is supposed to stay upright to maintain orientation to the natural horizon. Where I am confused is what is actually moving on the attitude indicator (if anything) when the plane pitches and banks.

Does the attitude indicator face card move as the airplane pitches and banks and the gyro simply helps the face card to maintain a relative orientation to the natural horizon? Is the face card fixed and we are simply rotating around the face card as we pitch and bank the plane? Is the miniature airplane fixed or is it moving as well?

Hope my area of confusion is clear - just trying to get a dumbed-down explanation of what is going on with the instrument as the airplane moves. Thank you!

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  • $\begingroup$ This might help $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented Mar 15 at 6:55

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A good reference is the FAA Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge Chapter 8 "Flight Instruments".

The attitude indicator card is mechanically connected to the gyroscope, as shown in Attitude indicator from PHAK Chapter 8. So, the gyro stays (approximately) rigid in space, as does the card. The airplane (and body of the instrument) rotate in pitch and roll.

The "miniature airplane" is fixed to the body of the instrument at any point in time. But, can be adjusted in height (pitch) with a knob, by the pilot, for different conditions (ie changes in fuel).

You can see different examples in this figure Attitude indicator from PHAK Chapter 8

Note that the labeled "adjustment knob" raises and lowers the "miniature airplane" reference.

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