Gyroscopic Flight Instruments – Sources of Power

in Flight Instruments

Sources of Power

In some aircraft, all the gyros are vacuum, pressure, or electrically operated. In other aircraft, vacuum or pressure systems provide the power for the heading and attitude indicators, while the electrical system provides the power for the turn coordinator. Most aircraft have at least two sources of power to ensure at least one source of bank information is available if one power source fails. The vacuum or pressure system spins the gyro by drawing a stream of air against the rotor vanes to spin the rotor at high speed, much like the operation of a waterwheel or turbine. The amount of vacuum or pressure required for instrument operation varies, but is usually between 4.5 “Hg and 5.5 “Hg.


One source of vacuum for the gyros is a vane-type engine-driven pump that is mounted on the accessory case of the engine. Pump capacity varies in different airplanes, depending on the number of gyros.

A typical vacuum system consists of an engine-driven vacuum pump, relief valve, air filter, gauge, and tubing necessary to complete the connections. The gauge is mounted in the aircraft’s instrument panel and indicates the amount of pressure in the system (vacuum is measured in inches of mercury less than ambient pressure).

As shown in Figure 7-20, air is drawn into the vacuum system by the engine-driven vacuum pump. It first goes through a filter, which prevents foreign matter from entering the vacuum or pressure system. The air then moves through the attitude and heading indicators, where it causes the gyros to spin. A relief valve prevents the vacuum pressure, or suction, from exceeding prescribed limits. After that, the air is expelled overboard or used in other systems, such as for inflating pneumatic deicing boots.

Figure 7-20. Typical vacuum system.

Figure 7-20. Typical vacuum system.

It is important to monitor vacuum pressure during flight, because the attitude and heading indicators may not provide reliable information when suction pressure is low. The vacuum, or suction, gauge is generally marked to indicate the normal range. Some aircraft are equipped with a warning light that illuminates when the vacuum pressure drops below the acceptable level.

When the vacuum pressure drops below the normal operating range, the gyroscopic instruments may become unstable and inaccurate. Cross checking the instruments routinely is a good habit to develop.