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. http://www.aopa.org/special/microsoft/articles/bbb9510.html
- 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. http://www.flyingmag.com/article.asp?section_id=17&article_ id=805
- McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 5th edition, s.v. "servomechanism."
- National Transportation Safety Board report NYC99MA178. http://www.ntsb.gov/NTSB/brief2.asp?ev_id=20001212X19354&ntsbno= NYC99MA178&akey=1
- World Book 2005, s.v. "automatic flight control system."
- World Book 2005, s.v. "Post, Wiley."