What Is the Airspeed Indicator and How Does It Work?

The flight instruments of an aircraft are indispensable for safe operations, allowing pilots to closely monitor a number of flight conditions that affect efficiency and safety. The airspeed indicator, or ASI, is a basic instrument of aircraft, and it is used to measure the forward speed of the vehicle. Airspeed can be important for a number of reasons, ranging from fuel management and flight planning to being aware of speed for conducting a safe turn or landing. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of the airspeed indicator so you may understand its use and functionality.

In order to garner measurements of speed, the airspeed indicator assembly relies on the pitot-static system. Comprising the pitot tube and static port, the pitot-static system utilizes openings located on the fuselage to gather pressure readings. The pitot tube is often placed in the flow of air, and it measures pitot pressure. The static port, on the other hand, captures static pressure from a relatively undisturbed section of the fuselage. Within the airspeed indicator assembly, the two pressures are compared against one another to find what is known as total pressure. As the installation features a dial and needle directly tied to total pressure changes, the airspeed indicator transfers data readings by moving a needle across a dial to indicate measurements. If the aircraft in question features a more modern glass cockpit, the readings from the airspeed indicator may be provided digitally on the primary flight display.

For readings, airspeed indicator knots are the most common form of measurement, though some may provide readings in miles per hour or kilometers per hour. It is important to note that the airspeed indicator will provide its readings in the form of an Indicated Airspeed (IAS), that of which is a straight pressure reading that does not account for any altitude and temperature variations, instrument errors, or other factors that affect measurements. Despite this, the IAS is important for finding the airspeed indicator max allowance for safe speeds. To retrieve a corrected measurement, known as a True Airspeed (TAS), pilots may use tools or calculations to amend the data to account for any factors affecting readings.

As the airspeed indicator serves as the sole instrument that relies on both the pitot tube and static port for measurements, it is crucial that such equipment does not become damaged or blocked during flight operations. If a pitot tube freezes over or a static port is blocked up, pressure measurements are unable to be made and thus the airspeed will either be inaccurate or unachievable. Before any flight, inspections should always be carried out for the pitot-static system to ensure its operability for the means of safety.

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