Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS)
An aircraft autopilot with many features and various autopilot related systems integrated into a single system is called an automatic flight control system (AFCS). These were formerly found only on high-performance aircraft. Currently, due to advances in digital technology for aircraft, modern aircraft of any size may have AFCS.
AFCS capabilities vary from system to system. Some of the advances beyond ordinary autopilot systems are the extent of programmability, the level of integration of navigational aids, the integration of flight director and autothrottle systems, and combining of the command elements of these various systems into a single integrated flight control human interface. [Figure 10-112]It is at the AFCS level of integration that an autothrottle system is integrated into the flight director and autopilot systems with glide scope modes so that auto landings are possible. Small general aviation aircraft being produced with AFCS may lack the throttle-dependent features.
Modern general aviation AFCS are fully integrated with digital attitude heading and reference systems (AHRS) and navigational aids including glideslope. They also contain modern computer architecture for the autopilot (and flight director systems) that is slightly different than described above for analog autopilot systems. Functionality is distributed across a number of interrelated computers and includes the use of intelligent servos that handle some of the error correction calculations. The servos communicate with dedicated avionics computers and display unit computers through a control panel, while no central autopilot computer exists. [Figure 10-113]Flight Director Systems
A flight director system is an instrument system consisting of electronic components that compute and indicate the aircraft attitude required to attain and maintain a preselected flight condition. A command bar on the aircraft’s attitude indicator shows the pilot how much and in what direction the attitude of the aircraft must be changed to achieve the desired result. The computed command indications relieve the pilot of many of the mental calculations required for instrument flights, such as interception angles, wind drift correction, and rates of climb and descent.
Essentially, a flight director system is an autopilot system without the servos. All of the same sensing and computations are made, but the pilot controls the airplane and makes maneuvers by following the commands displayed on the instrument panel. Flight director systems can be part of an autopilot system or exist on aircraft that do not possess full autopilot systems. Many autopilot systems allow for the option of engaging or disengaging a flight director display.
Flight director information is displayed on the instrument that displays the aircraft’s attitude. The process is accomplished with a visual reference technique. A symbol representing the aircraft is fit into a command bar positioned by the flight director in the proper location for a maneuver to be accomplished. The symbols used to represent the aircraft and the command bar vary by manufacturer. Regardless, the object is always to fly the aircraft symbol into the command bar symbol. [Figure 10-114]The instrument that displays the flight director commands is known as a flight director indicator (FDI), attitude director indicator (ADI), or electronic attitude director indicator (EADI). It may even be referred to as an artificial horizon with flight director. This display element combines with the other primary components of the flight director system. Like an autopilot, these consist of the sensing elements, a computer, and an interface panel.
Integration of navigation features into the attitude indicator is highly useful. The flight director contributes to this usefulness by indicating to the pilot how to maneuver the airplane to navigate a desired course. Selection of the VOR function on the flight director control panel links the computer to the omnirange receiver. The pilot selects a desired course and the flight director displays the bank attitude necessary to intercept and maintain this course. Allocations for wind drift and calculation of the intercept angle is performed automatically.
Flight director systems vary in complexity and features. Many have altitude hold, altitude select, pitch hold, and other features. But flight director systems are designed to offer the greatest assistance during the instrument approach phase of flight. ILS localizer and glideslope signals are transmitted through the receivers to the computer and are presented as command indications. This allows the pilot to fly the airplane down the optimum approach path to the runway using the flight director system.
With the altitude hold function engaged, level flight can be maintained during the maneuvering and procedure turn phase of an approach. Altitude hold automatically disengages when the glideslope is intercepted. Once inbound on the localizer, the command signals of the flight director are maintained in a centered or zero condition. Interception of the glideslope causes a downward indication of the command pitch indicator. Any deviation from the proper glideslope path causes a fly-up or fly-down command indication. The pilot needs only to keep the airplane symbol fit into the command bar.