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I pretty much grew up watching Air Crash Investigation and Seconds From Disaster and every other episode had a mention of the aircraft’s gyroscopes, but I always wondered how did FAA rated industrial long use gyroscopes actually look like and where were they physically placed inside the aircraft?

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The first gyros were mechanical: A spinning wheel with gimbal mount and driven by air pressure. The picture below shows the innards of one which was used in the Supermarine Spitfire (picture source). The black disk on the right is the instrument background and the arm on top moves the vertical needle sideways in accordance with the turn rate of the aircraft. The white coating on the needle is phosphor to make it glow in the dark.

mechanical gyro

State of the art is to use a ring laser gyro. This is an optical device which sends a laser beam around a triangular or square track in both directions. Rotations will make the light path shorter in one direction and longer in the opposite direction, so the interference between the two beams shifts the place where the waves cancel each other. This shift is registered and interpreted as a rotation. An alternative design uses optical grade glass fibers for the light path.

The placement is important because flexing of the fuselage will give different results for different mounting positions. To my knowledge, in airliners gyros are mostly part of the avionics suite below the cockpit.

See here for a list of sample applications.

Laser ring gyro assembly

Ring laser gyro assembly with three gyros, one for each spatial axis (picture source).

More modern MEMS sensors are on the advance but mostly to be found in backup systems or on unmanned aircraft. They are much more compact and use less power, but their accuracy is lower than that of ring laser gyros.

Silicon sensing CRS03 MEMS gyro

Silicon Sensing CRS03 MEMS gyro (picture source).

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    $\begingroup$ It'd be cool if you added an old style pneumatic gyro $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Aug 9 '17 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ Enjoyed the picture of the ring laser gyro. I never have actually seen one on an airplane. The one they showed us in A&P school for an early 747 looked more like a small washing machine or bicycle wheel and was said to have 2mi of optic cable wrapped in loops. $\endgroup$ – jwzumwalt Dec 13 '17 at 2:29
  • $\begingroup$ The Honeywell Aerospace LASEREF VI Micro IRS is one of the most common for recent commercial aircraft. Page 11 of the linked PDF has a pic of the actual RLG. $\endgroup$ – Gerry May 23 '19 at 11:26
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Modern 'gyroscopes' are miniaturized, solid-state acceleration sensors, that work sensing the vibration of a very small mass. With an instrument having three vibration sensors set up in three perpendicular directions, you can always infer the rotation of that instrument in relation to the 'absolute' space...

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to answer the question @xxavier $\endgroup$ – GdD Aug 9 '17 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD Well, it hints at how they actually look like... $\endgroup$ – xxavier Aug 9 '17 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ Not really, I think the question is asking about what gyros actually look like physically, and not just solid state ones. $\endgroup$ – GdD Aug 9 '17 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GdD Well, may be that's your opinion... I have a different one... $\endgroup$ – xxavier Aug 9 '17 at 8:16

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