There are several key questions that need to be addressed when choosing the right autopilot for your aircraft. In general they come down to your typical mission profile, what kind of aircraft you fly, what equipment is available for your aircraft, and of course your budget. The amount of VFR flying you do as opposed to IFR flying is also an important consideration.
How to Choose Your Autopilot
We will start with the basic assumption that having an autopilot is an essential safety component of all flying. It does not replace the pilot but it eases pilot workload significantly, especially during difficult weather, challenging approaches, and long flights. It’s especially important for a single-pilot operation. A secondary consideration is that a good autopilot system adds value to the aircraft when you get ready to sell it.
Some people prefer the term "autoflight system" instead of "autopilot" because it’s not just aircraft heading or altitude that the unit is controlling. Aircraft heading, altitude, speed, pitch, climb and descent rate, and engine power are all potential components controlled by the autopilot—dependent on inputs from various systems in the aircraft and on the level of sophistication of the equipment.
The number of surfaces controlled by the autopilot determines its number of axes. A single-axis autopilot controls an aircraft in the roll axis only. A two-axis autopilot controls an aircraft in the pitch axis as well as roll. A three-axis autopilot adds control in the yaw axis and is not required in many small aircraft.
Again, mission profile should play a large part in deciding which autopilot to buy. If you typically fly short hops in VFR weather, you may opt for a single-axis system to help hold heading or altitude as you fly to your next destination. For light IFR on short cross country flights, a standard two-axis autopilot with heading, track and altitude hold is ideal to really enjoy the flight as a stress-free experience, especially when flying with friends and/or family.
For pilots that enjoy challenging IFR flying, then a full functioning two-axis system with yaw damper and auto trim is recommended. The full functioning system will hold altitude, heading and NAV with GPSS capability. GPSS allows for waypoint sequencing throughout the flight plan. It also allows for flight down to minimums on precision and non-precision approaches including LPV approaches.
In addition to the above capabilities, turboprop twins and light jets may require further capabilities such as Indicated Airspeed hold (IAS) and three-axis capability.
Getting the Right Autopilot
When you have decided which type of autopilot is best for your mission profile, Genesys Aerosystems offers a large variety of analog and digital autopilot systems for Part 23 and Part 25 aircraft. We have earned autopilot STCs on nearly 1,000 aircraft—from light piston-powered singles through medium twins and light jets—and manufactured more than 40,000 units.
For additional information on selecting an autopilot, please visit our Autopilot Selection Guide.