A myriad of techniques and instruments exist to aid the pilot in navigation of the aircraft. An indication of direction is part of this navigation. While the next chapter deals with communication and navigation, this section discusses some of the magnetic direction indicating instruments.
Having an instrument on board an aircraft that indicates direction can be invaluable to the pilot. In fact, it is a requirement that all certified aircraft have some sort of magnetic direction indicator. The magnetic compass is a direction finding instrument that has been used for navigation for hundreds of years. It is a simple instrument that takes advantage of the earth’s magnetic field.
Figure 10-78 shows the earth and the magnetic field that surrounds it. The magnetic north pole is very close to the geographic North Pole of the globe, but they are not the same. An ordinary permanent magnet that is free to do so, aligns itself with the direction of the earth’s magnetic field. Upon this principle, an instrument is constructed that the pilot can reference for directional orientation. Permanent magnets are attached under a float that is mounted on a pivot so it is free to rotate in the horizontal plane. As such, the magnets align with the earth’s magnetic field. A numerical compass card, usually graduated in 5° increments, is constructed around the perimeter of the float. It serves as the instrument dial. The entire assembly is enclosed in a sealed case that is filled with a liquid similar to kerosene. This dampens vibration and oscillation of the moving float assembly and decreases friction.
On the front of the case, a glass face allows the numerical compass card to be referenced against a vertical lubber line. The magnetic heading of the aircraft is read by noting the graduation on which the lubber line falls. Thus, direction in any of 360° can be read off the dial as the magnetic float compass card assembly holds its alignment with magnetic north, while the aircraft changes direction.
The liquid that fills the compass case expands and contracts as altitude changes and temperature fluctuates. A bellows diaphragm expands and contracts to adjust the volume of the space inside the case so it remains full. [Figure 10-79]There are accuracy issues associated with using a magnetic compass. The main magnets of a compass align not only with the earth’s magnetic field, they actually align with the composite field made up of all magnetic influences around them, meaning local electromagnetic influence from metallic structures near the compass and operation aircraft’s electrical system. This is called magnetic deviation. It causes a magnet’s alignment with the earth’s magnetic field to be altered. Compensating screws are turned, which move small permanent magnets in the compass case to correct for this magnetic deviation. The two set-screws are on the face of the instrument and are labeled N-S and E-W. They position the small magnets to counterbalance the local magnetic influences acting on the main compass magnets.
The process for knowing how to adjust for deviation is known as swinging the compass. It is described in the instrument maintenance pages near the end of this chapter. Magnetic deviation cannot be overlooked. It should never be more than 10°. Using nonferrous mounting screws and shielding or twisting the wire running to the compass illuminating lamp are additional steps taken to keep deviation to a minimum.
Another compass error is called magnetic variation. It is caused by the difference in location between the earth’s magnetic poles and the geographic poles. There are only a few places on the planet where a compass pointing to magnetic north is also pointing to geographic North. A line drawn through these locations is called the Agonic line. At all other points, there is some variation between that which a magnetic compass indicates is north and geographic (true) North. Isogonic lines drawn on aeronautical charts indicate points of equal variation. Depending on the location of the aircraft, airmen must add or subtract degrees from the magnetic indication to obtain true geographic location information. [Figure 10-80]
The earth’s magnetic field exits the poles vertically and arches around to extend past the equator horizontally or parallel to the earth’s surface. [Figure 10-78] Operating an aircraft near the magnetic poles causes what is known as dip error. The compass magnets pull downward toward the pole, rather than horizontally, as is the case near the equator. This downward motion causes inaccuracy in the indication. Although the compass float mechanism is weighted to compensate, the closer the aircraft is to the north or south magnetic poles, the more pronounced the errors.
Dip errors manifest themselves in two ways. The first is called acceleration error. If an aircraft is flying on an east-west path and simply accelerates, the inertia of the float mechanism causes the compass to swing to the north. Rapid deceleration causes it to swing southward. Second, if flying toward the North Pole and a banked turn is made, the downward pull of the magnetic field initially pulls the card away from the direction of the turn. The opposite is true if flying south from the North Pole and a banked turn is initiated. In this case, there is initially a pull of the compass indicator toward the direction of the turn. These kinds of movements are called turning errors.
Another peculiarity exists with the magnetic compass that is not dip error. Look again at the magnetic compass in Figure 10-79. If flying north or toward any indicated heading, turning the aircraft to the left causes a steady decrease in the heading numbers. But, before the turn is made, the numbers to the left on the compass card are actually increasing. The numbers to the right of the lubber line rotate behind it on a left turn. So, the compass card rotates opposite to the direction of the intended turn. This is because, from the pilot’s seat, you are actually looking at the back of the compass card. While not a major problem, it is more intuitive to see the 360° of direction oriented as they are on an aeronautical chart or a hand-held compass.