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Chad’s top 5 autopilot-operating tips.

As I shared in a previous blog, Oshkosh 2016 was one of the biggest and best ever. The Genesys Aerosystems booth was jam-packed pretty much all week. And while we got the usual plethora of questions, one subject seemed to come up a lot: “What are some tips for getting the most out of my Genesys/S-TEC autopilot.”

As he is one of our top autopilot gurus here at Genesys – and in the entire avionics industry for that matter – I asked Chad Howard, our field service engineer/pilot for his top insider’s autopilot operational tips.

#1: Set the Heading Bug first.

Before you engage the HDG mode, make sure the Heading Bug is set to the heading you intend to fly. Too often pilots press HDG mode first and the autopilot begins to turn the aircraft to the last position of the Heading Bug, which may be the opposite direction to which they intend to steer.

#2: Watch your airspeed.

In Pitch modes such as Vertical Speed (VS) or when tracking the Glide Slope (GS), be sure that you are monitoring your airspeed as the A/P is pitching the aircraft to maintain the target VS or Glide Slope. You may need to add power as required to maintain a safe airspeed. Many pilots don’t realize that, in an effort to maintain a set VS, some analog autopilots can put the aircraft in to a stall if the airspeed is allowed to bleed down too far.

#3: Stabilize your approach airspeed.

On an approach, keep your airspeed slightly faster than “normal,” as autopilots tend to be more stable with more airflow across the flight controls surfaces.

#4: Turn the autopilot off for hand flying.

When the A/P is engaged in a Pitch mode (VS, IAS, ALT hold, or GS), and the system is equipped with automatic trim, fighting the yoke in the pitch axis will cause the autopilot to sense an out of trim condition and attempt to trim the aircraft in the opposite direction. For example, if you push forward on the yoke, the auto trim will drive the trim tab “nose up”. If held a long time, the trim will run in that direction a long time and can cause a severe pitch up if the controls are released. If you intend to override the A/P intentionally, do your system a favor and disconnect the autopilot!

#5: It’s your responsibility to fly the airplane.

It’s easy to get in to this routine with all of the “G-Whiz” avionics equipment and tablet apps that pull our attention away from flying the aircraft, especially when we have an autopilot. Pilots constantly need to monitor the basic attitude, airspeed, altitude, and NAV track even though the A/P is engaged. Some autopilots have altitude alerters and even “envelope protection” however, don’t forget to keep your eyes up and aviate! 

Thank you Chad. Of course, these are just a few great tips to help you get the most performance and safety out of your autopilot system and we’ll be passing along more great tips in upcoming blogs. If you have any particular autopilot-related questions for Chad, please send them to me.


Until next time, fly safely,