The heading indicator is fundamentally a mechanical instrument designed to facilitate the use of the magnetic compass. Errors in the magnetic compass are numerous, making straight flight and precision turns to headings difficult to accomplish, particularly in turbulent air. A heading indicator, however, is not affected by the forces that make the magnetic compass difficult to interpret. [Figure 7-25]
The operation of the heading indicator depends upon the principle of rigidity in space. The rotor turns in a vertical plane and fixed to the rotor is a compass card. Since the rotor remains rigid in space, the points on the card hold the same position in space relative to the vertical plane of the gyro. The aircraft actually rotates around the rotating gyro, not the other way around. As the instrument case and the aircraft revolve around the vertical axis of the gyro, the card provides clear and accurate heading information.
Because of precession caused by friction, the heading indicator creeps or drifts from a heading to which it is set. Among other factors, the amount of drift depends largely upon the condition of the instrument. If the bearings are worn, dirty, or improperly lubricated, the drift may be excessive. Another error in the heading indicator is caused by the fact that the gyro is oriented in space, and the Earth rotates in space at a rate of 15° in 1 hour. Thus, discounting precession caused by friction, the heading indicator may indicate as much as 15° error per every hour of operation.
Some heading indicators referred to as horizontal situation indicators (HSI) receive a magnetic north reference from a magnetic slaving transmitter, and generally need no adjustment. The magnetic slaving transmitter is called a magnetometer.
Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS)
Electronic flight displays have replaced free-spinning gyros with solid-state laser systems that are capable of flight at any attitude without tumbling. This capability is the result of the development of the Attitude and Heading Reference System (AHRS).
The AHRS sends attitude information to the PFD in order to generate the pitch and bank information of the attitude indicator. The heading information is derived from a magnetometer which senses the earth’s lines of magnetic flux. This information is then processed and sent out to the PFD to generate the heading display. [Figure 7-26]