How Autopilot Works

Modern Autopilot Systems

The newest autopilots can execute an entire flight plan.
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Many modern autopilots can receive data from a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver installed on the aircraft. A GPS receiver can determine a plane's position in space by calculating its distance from three or more satellites in the GPS network. Armed with such positioning information, an autopilot can do more than keep a plane straight and level -- it can execute a flight plan.

Most commercial jets have had such capabilities for a while, but even ­smaller planes are incorporating sophisticated autopilot systems. New Cessna 182s and 206s are leaving the factory with the Garmin G1000 integrated cockpit, which includes a digital electronic autopilot combined with a flight director. The Garmin G1000 delivers essentially all the capabilities and modes of a jet avionics system, bringing true automatic flight control to a new generation of general aviation planes.


Wiley Post could have only dreamed of such technology back in 1933.

For more information about autopilots, check out the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Cook, Marc E. "Meet Mechanical Mike." AOPA Pilot, October 1995.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica 2005, s.v. "automatic pilot." CD-ROM, 2005.
  • "How Things Work Today," edited by Michael Wright and Mukul Patel, Crown Publishers, New York, 2000.
  • McClellan, J. Mac. "Garmin Autopilots in New Cessnas." Flying Magazine, May 2007. id=805
  • McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 5th edition, s.v. "servomechanism."
  • National Transportation Safety Board report NYC99MA178. NYC99MA178&akey=1
  • World Book 2005, s.v. "automatic flight control system."
  • World Book 2005, s.v. "Post, Wiley."