Autopilot is an automatic flight control system that keeps an aircraft in level flight or on a set course. It can be directed by the pilot, or it may be coupled to a radio navigation signal. Autopilot reduces the physical and mental demands on a pilot and increases safety. The common features available on an autopilot are altitude and heading hold.
The autopilot system also incorporates a disconnect safety feature to disengage the system automatically or manually. These autopilots work with inertial navigation systems, global positioning systems (GPS), and flight computers to control the aircraft. In fly-by-wire systems, the autopilot is an integrated component.
Additionally, autopilots can be manually overridden. Because autopilot systems differ widely in their operation, refer to the autopilot operating instructions in the Airplane Flight Manual (AFM) or the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH).
Because flight control systems and aerodynamic characteristics vary greatly between aircraft, it is essential that a pilot become familiar with the primary and secondary flight control systems of the aircraft being flown. The primary source of this information is the AFM or the POH. Various manufacturer and owner group websites can also be a valuable source of additional information.