77 votes
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How can pilots fly inside a cloud?

When aircraft fly inside clouds, they fly under "instrument rules". It doesn't matter whether the visibility is reduced (at night) or totally blocked (in a thick cloud), this mode of flying ...
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  • 67.7k
72 votes
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Can we replace an attitude indicator with a ball half full of liquid?

Nope. In a perfectly flown turn, the ball of liquid would appear to indicate level flight. You might argue that it could replace the "ball" of a turn & bank indicator, but that's about it. It ...
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72 votes
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How could "aggressor" pilots fly foreign aircraft without speaking the language?

A couple of things come to mind that enable this: you don't become a fighter pilot if you are not intelligent and highly motivated you are not learning a new skill, just doing what you are already ...
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56 votes
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What do pilots landing on aircraft carriers do when the ship is not visible due to weather?

My experience is circa 1990s, but I can offer some perspective on US fixed wing operations. Besides TACAN and ASR for non-precision approaches, there are (were) 3 precision instrument approach options ...
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  • 16.3k
53 votes
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Why is there a difference between GPS Speed and Indicator speed?

The speed indicator in the cockpit shows indicated airspeed. Indicated airspeed is usually different than GPS speed, due to wind and aerodynamic effects. GPS speed is your speed with respect to the ...
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  • 74.8k
51 votes
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What is this object in the cockpit of an ultralight?

It's an airspeed indicator for ultralights. The pitot inlet is at the bottom and the pitot air pushes a little red plastic disc up and down on a central rod, with a calibrated clearance between the ...
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51 votes
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What is the purpose of the Dash 8’s “TOUCHED RUNWAY” warning light?

The light is a tail-strike indicator. Touched Runway system The Touched Runway system provides a warning light in the flight compartment. It illuminates when the aft fuselage ...
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  • 1,244
48 votes
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Why do digital flight instruments seem to fluctuate/flicker during landing or takeoff?

In short: The reason you see this is two-fold: Usual CRT flicker by principle, CRT frames are not displayed in their entirety at any time, but this is not visible to the naked eye, due to the ...
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  • 67.7k
45 votes

How could "aggressor" pilots fly foreign aircraft without speaking the language?

You don't need to speak(1) fluent(2) Russian(3): In fact you don't need to speak at all, just understand. You don't need to be fluent, just understand enough to not crash the plane. It's not about ...
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42 votes

What are N1 and N2?

N1 and N2 are the rotational speeds of the engine sections expressed as a percentage of a nominal value. It is similar to the revolutions per minute (RPM) of a piston engine, expressed in percentage ...
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  • 1,660
42 votes
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What do these instruments do?

For the panel image that you provided, I should be able to identify all major instruments: A: Magnetic Compass - Pretty self explanatory. Note that in the real aircraft, A and K may have been ...
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  • 16.1k
41 votes
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How does the head-up display on a spitfire work?

It's not a head-up display, it's a reflector gunsight. (Follow that link to learn how they work.) It just displays a fixed reticle to aim the cannon, not any flight instrumentation. Some (but not all)...
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39 votes
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What are N1 and N2?

Conceptually, N1 is the fan (or, fan speed) and is most related to your thrust (since the fan produces more thrust than the core on today's big motors). The N2 is the engine core, and the N2 gauge is ...
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  • 41.9k
39 votes

Why are cockpit instruments white on black dials?

For night flying the white on black scheme emits probably 1 or 2% of the light that a black on white display does. This will make a very significant difference in cockpit light levels and night vision....
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  • 1,244
39 votes

Low visibility spins and spirals: difficult-to-understand explanation of false perception

Your vestibular system can only recognize acceleration. Your brain combines that with visual inputs to produce spatial orientation. (If the two disagree, you may get motion sickness.) When you are in ...
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  • 26k
38 votes
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What was the first flight instrument ever used in an airplane?

It's the yaw string: The yaw string dates from the earliest days of aviation, and actually was the first flight instrument. Picture: Source
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38 votes

What was the first flight instrument ever used in an airplane?

The Wright Flyer, arguably the first controllable aircraft, had three instruments: A stopwatch to measure air time. A crude tachometer to gauge engine speed And an anemometer, to make an estimate ...
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  • 8,567
37 votes
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Why do airplane indicators start at 12 (o'clock), unlike cars that start at 7?

Most old-style indicators (RPM, cyl. head temperature, outside air temperature, oil pressure, etc.) are geared in such a way as to present their full operating range over a needle swing of 270 degrees....
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36 votes

How did planes measure their speed relative to the ground before GPS?

The other answers seem to make a simple thing way too complicated. Yes there are DMEs or TACANs, that are sometimes used to get a ground speed, but it's only accurate if you're tracking exactly to or ...
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  • 11.5k
35 votes
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Can instruments be fixed via a swift punch?

If the static port gets blocked in an aircraft with no alternate static port, you can break the glass of the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) to allow air from inside the cockpit in the static system. ...
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  • 74.8k
34 votes

Why are the colors of the MiG-15's attitude indicator inverted?

That attitude gyro reacts in the opposite manner to pitch movement (pitch down = horizon line rolls DOWN) compared to the "conventional" manner (pitch down, horizon line rolls UP). This is ...
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33 votes
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Why is a clock necessary for IFR?

There are several reasons: For departure clearances. An IFR clearance may have a void or release time so that clearance is only valid between certain times. For holding pattern legs. A standard ...
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  • 70.2k
32 votes
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What is the advantage of combining the rudder and brake pedals in aircraft?

All of the aircraft that I have ever seen have the rudder and braking functions combined into one set of two pedals. To operate the rudder you press on the bottom part of the pedals, so that they ...
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  • 336
32 votes
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Identification of this control panel for a four-engine plane

This is almost definitely the cockpit of a Short Stirling of unknown mark, a 4-engine British heavy bomber from World War II. The RAF Museum's website has an (admittedly low-resolution) photo that ...
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  • 23.1k
32 votes

Is it normal for gliders not to have attitude indicators?

Yes, it is normal. With very rare exceptions, gliders are not allowed to operate in IMC (instrument Meteorological Conditions) and must remain clear of clouds. There are also powered aircraft that do ...
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  • 11.2k
31 votes
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What is this INOP instrument and when is it safe to fly with INOP instruments?

It is a standby display, specifically a DDRMI (Digital Distance Radio Magnetic Indicator). The aircraft can be dispatched with inoperative equipment. The process is controlled by a Minimum ...
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  • 17.7k
31 votes

Why do aircraft stall warning systems use angle-of-attack vanes rather than detecting airflow separation directly?

The short answer is that we want to warn the pilots about an impending stall well prior to an actual stall condition. From a safety perspective, waiting until the airflow starts to separate, or at ...
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30 votes
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Why is the ball no longer centred in a multi-engine airplane with inoperable engine?

Asymmetric thrust means now you have more thrust on one side than the other. A yawing moment results. You want to balance this yawing moment in order to still fly straight. This means the airplane ...
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29 votes

How can pilots lacking instruments interpret vectors given by ATC?

14 CFR Part 25 describes the requirements for an airliner like the 737 to be certified by the FAA. §25.1303 Flight and navigation instruments. (a) The following flight and navigation instruments ...
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