The Fascinating World of Helicopter Instruments: Enhancing Your Flying Experience

Kind Reader, today we will discuss helicopter instruments. Helicopters rely on many complex instruments to operate safely and efficiently. From the altimeter to the compass, a pilot must be skilled in reading and interpreting these instruments to navigate safely through the air. Even minor changes in airspeed or altitude can have a significant impact on the helicopter’s performance, making it critical that pilots have a thorough understanding of these instruments and how to use them effectively. In this article, we will explore the different types of helicopter instruments and their importance in flying a helicopter.

Types of Helicopter Instruments

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Helicopter instruments are designed to help pilots safely operate the aircraft and navigate during a flight. They can be broken down into three main categories: flight instruments, engine instruments, and navigation instruments. Each type of instrument has a specific function and helps the pilot in different ways.

Flight Instruments

Flight instruments provide the pilot with information about the helicopter’s altitude, airspeed, vertical speed, and attitude. This information is critical to safe operation of the aircraft, especially during takeoff and landing. Flight instruments include:

  • Altimeter
  • Airspeed Indicator
  • Vertical Speed Indicator
  • Attitude Indicator
  • Turn Coordinator
  • Heading Indicator

Engine Instruments

Engine instruments provide the pilot with information about the helicopter’s engines. This information is critical to safe operation of the aircraft. Engine instruments include:

  • Tachometer
  • Oil Pressure Gauges
  • Oil Temperature Gauges
  • Fuel Gauges



The altimeter is one of the most critical helicopter instruments. It measures the altitude or height of the helicopter above mean sea level (MSL) by detecting changes in atmospheric pressure. This instrument has a dial or display, which provides a reading in feet or meters. Noteworthy, the altimeter does not measure the height of the helicopter above ground level (AGL) but instead measures the aircraft’s height above MSL.

Functions of the Altimeter

The altimeter performs a variety of functions in the helicopter. These include:

  1. Providing the pilot with vital information about the altitude of the helicopter which aids in maintaining the flight level
  2. Enabling accurate determination of flight level changes and hence ensures no danger of colliding with other aircraft flying at the same level
  3. Functional in areas where there are no radio altimeters.

Types of Altimeter

There are two main types of altimeters: the traditional or mechanical altimeter and the digital altimeter.

No Type of Altimeter Description
1 Mechanical Altimeter Mechanical altimeters use an aneroid system that measures atmospheric pressure, and as the atmospheric pressure decreases, the height above MSL increases and vice versa.
2 Digital Altimeter Digital altimeters are more accurate than mechanical altimeters and provide an accurate digital reading of the aircraft’s height above MSL. The digital altimeter uses a barometric pressure sensor which is more accurate than the aneroid utilized by mechanical altimeters.

Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)

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The Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) is a sensitive aircraft instrument that depicts the rate of climb/descent of a helicopter. The VSI displays the vertical speed of the aircraft in feet per minute (FPM) or meters per minute (MPM). The VSI helps the pilot to navigate the helicopter vertically as its name suggests. The VSI provides information on the altitude, airspeed, and vertical speed of the aircraft that are crucial to maintaining a safe flight.

Functions of the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)

The VSI performs multiple functions in the helicopter. These include:

  1. Providing the pilot with an indication of the aircraft rate of climb/descent (vertical speed) in feet per minute
  2. Enabling pilots to maintain cruise altitude
  3. Monitoring the helicopter performance

Types of Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)

There are two types of VSI that are currently used in helicopters: the single-pointer VSI and the six-pointer VSI.

No Type of VSI Description
1 Single-Pointer VSI This type of VSI has only one pointer that moves either up or down, showing the rate of descent or climb of the helicopter. It is simple to read and one of the most commonly used types of VSI.
2 Six-Pointer VSI The six-pointer VSI is the most advanced type of instrument for monitoring helicopter performance. The extra pointers function as secondary indicators and provide the pilot with useful information about the aircraft’s performance.
No Name Description Function
1 Attitude indicator (AI) Shows the helicopter’s pitch and bank attitude relative to the horizon Helps maintain a safe flight attitude during flight
2 Airspeed indicator (ASI) Measures the speed of the helicopter relative to the air it is flying in Helps the pilot maintain a safe airspeed during flight and to avoid stalling or overspeeding the helicopter
3 Altimeter Indicates the current height above sea level Helps the pilot maintain a safe altitude during flight and to avoid terrain and airspace violations
4 Vertical speed indicator (VSI) Displays the rate of climb or descent of the helicopter Helps the pilot maintain a safe ascent or descent rate during flight
5 Heading indicator (HI) Displays the direction the helicopter is heading, relative to magnetic north Helps the pilot maintain the desired heading during flight and to navigate to a specific destination
6 Turn and bank indicator (T&B) Shows the roll rate and direction of turn of the helicopter Helps the pilot maintain a coordinated turn and to avoid overbanking or stalling during turns
7 Compass Shows the direction the helicopter is heading, relative to magnetic north Used as a backup to the heading indicator and for navigation purposes
8 Engine instruments (EGT, CHT, RPM, oil pressure, oil temperature, fuel gauges) Measure the various parameters of the helicopter’s engine, such as temperature, pressure, and fuel level Helps the pilot monitor the engine’s performance and to ensure that it is operating within safe limits

Lighting Instruments

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Lighting is a crucial component for pilots to fly at night or in low-light conditions. Lighting instruments are essential for safety and maintain situational awareness at all times. These instruments come in a variety of types, such as instrument panel lighting, floodlights, and navigation lights. The cockpit lighting illuminates the instrument panels, allowing pilots to read the gauges and other important parameters. Floodlights are installed to provide additional light inside the cockpit or cabin during boarding or unloading. Navigation lights are designed to improve the visibility of aircraft in the air or on the ground.

Instrument panel lighting

The instrument panel lighting is installed on the instrument panel, which illuminates the gauges and other instruments needed during flight at night or in poor visibility. The brightness of the panel can be adjusted by using a dimmer switch to prevent it from interfering with pilots’ vision or causing eye strain.


Floodlights are installed to provide additional lighting inside the cockpit or cabin during boarding or unloading. These lights can also be used during flight if any emergency situation occurs, or crew members need more lighting to perform the tasks.

Flight Data Recorder

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Flight Data Recorder, also known as a Black Box, is a specialized recording device installed in the helicopter to record parameters, such as altitude, speed, and other critical instrumentation. The data recorder helps investigators to detect the cause of accidents or incidents by analyzing parameters before and during specific events. Data Recordings are stored in non-volatile memory, ensuring that they are not lost during sudden power failure or abrupt aircraft failure.

Cockpit Voice Recorder

Cockpit Voice Recorder is installed to record all sounds, voices, or communication from the cockpit. The data can later be used to investigate incidents. The cockpit recorder stores the data in non-volatile memory to prevent data loss or damage during sudden power failure or crash.

Importance of Flight Data Recorder

Flight data recorder helps aviation officials to improve aviation safety standards by learning from previous accidents or incidents. The data helps in modernizing aviation safety standards and improving technology. It may help in detecting the fault in engines or other critical instruments.



One of the essential instruments in a helicopter is the altimeter, which measures the altitude. The altimeter uses atmospheric pressure to calculate the distance between the helicopter and the ground. The instrument has a gauge that displays the altitude in feet or meters, which makes it easier for the pilot to monitor the altitude. Accurate readings of the helicopter’s altitude are critical for a safe flight and landing.

Types of Altimeters

There are two types of altimeters used in helicopters, and these are the sensitive altimeter and the radar altimeter. A sensitive altimeter measures the small variation in atmospheric pressure, while a radar altimeter uses radio waves to calculate the distance between the helicopter and the ground. A sensitive altimeter is more accurate but has a shorter range, while a radar altimeter can operate at low altitude but is affected by weather conditions and terrain.

Flight Indicators

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Flight indicators provide information on the helicopter’s attitude and speed. These instruments include the airspeed indicator, vertical speed indicator, and the attitude indicator. The airspeed indicator measures the helicopter’s speed in relation to the air, which is vital for maintaining the desired velocity. The vertical speed indicator indicates the rate of change of altitude and is useful during takeoff and landing. The attitude indicator, also known as the artificial horizon, is used to determine the aircraft’s pitch and bank angles relative to its horizon.

Airspeed Indicator

The airspeed indicator provides the pilot with the current speed of the helicopter in relation to the air and is measured in knots. The instrument works through the use of pitot-static pressure. The speed of the incoming air is measured through the pitot tube. The static pressure port measures the atmospheric pressure to provide accurate readings. If the helicopter flies through turbulent weather conditions, the airspeed indicator may not be as accurate.

Vertical Speed Indicator

The vertical speed indicator measures the rate of change in the helicopter’s altitude and displays it in feet per minute. The instrument has a diaphragm that is sensitive to changes in atmospheric pressure. The changing pressure is translated into altitude changes and displayed on the gauge. The vertical speed indicator is used for maintaining a stable rate of climb or descent.

Clock and Compasses

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Helicopter pilots are required to navigate with great accuracy. Although GPS systems are common in modern aircraft, helicopter pilots must have the skills to navigate using traditional means, which includes the use of clocks and compasses. The clock and compasses are essential helicopter instruments that help a pilot constantly monitor flight progress and accurately follow a planned flight path. Helicopters are equipped with the vertical card compass, which displays different headings depending on the aircraft’s angle of roll and pitch.

Vertical Card Compass

The vertical card compass is designed to indicate the magnetic heading of the helicopter, based on the Earth’s magnetic field. It is named so because the magnetic heading is displayed on a vertical card, which rotates around a stationary lubber line.

Flight Clock

A flight clock is another crucial helicopter instrument, which allows a pilot to keep track of time in the air. The clock’s functions include a timer, stopwatch, and a countdown timer that can be used to schedule maintenance, calculate fuel burn rates, and determine the remaining fuel. The clock is also used in conjunction with the compass to determine the heading and speed of the helicopter.

Attitude Instruments

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Attitude is an essential element in flying and maintaining altitude, so it requires constant monitoring. The attitude indicator, or artificial horizon, is a crucial display that shows the aircraft’s attitude relative to the horizon. The instrument shows which way the aircraft’s wings are banked and its nose position, allowing the pilot to maintain straight and level flight. The attitude indicator is especially useful in low-visibility conditions and instrument flying, where the pilot cannot see the actual horizon.

Turn Coordinator

The turn coordinator is another crucial instrument that displays the aircraft’s rate of turn. The device includes a miniature airplane that indicates the direction and rate of turn. The rate of turn is depicted using a rate-of-turn indicator, which shows how quickly the kus and the aircraft are turning around the vertical axis.

Pitot-Static Instruments

Pitot-static instruments are used to verify the aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, and vertical speed. They are made up of pitot tubes, which measure the aircraft’s dynamic pressure, and static ports, which assess the aircraft’s static pressure. Airspeed indicators, altimeters, and vertical speed indicators are the three types of pitot-static instruments. The airspeed indicator measures the plane’s speed through the air.

No Pitot-Static Instruments
1 Airspeed indicators
2 Altimeters
3 Vertical speed indicators



The altimeter is an instrument that helps the pilot determine the helicopter’s height above sea level. It is crucial in making sure the helicopter maintains appropriate altitude to avoid collisions with terrain and other obstacles. The measurement of altitude helps the pilot to locate the helicopter and navigate it through cloudy environments

Working of the altimeter

The altimeter works based on atmospheric pressure. It calculates the change in air pressure as the helicopter ascends or descends. The altimeter shows the pressure as a virtual altitude, which is usually compared to the sea level altitude. The instrument consists of a dial that displays altitude and a small barometer that measures the pressure changes inside the helicopter’s cabin.

Care and Maintenance of the Altimeter

Regular calibration is essential for the instrument to work appropriately. The altitude scale needs to be modified according to the local atmospheric condition regularly. The instrument must not show an error of more than seventy-five feet of the actual altitude. The instrument also should be checked for accuracy before every flight.

Helicopter Instruments FAQ

Find answers to frequently asked questions about helicopter instruments.

1. What are helicopter instruments?

Helicopter instruments are devices that are used to measure various parameters that are critical for a safe flight. These instruments include altimeters, airspeed indicators, compasses, engine gauges, and navigation systems.

2. Why are helicopter instruments important?

Helicopter instruments are important because they provide critical information to the pilot during flight. This information includes altitude, airspeed, heading, engine performance, and navigation data.

3. How do helicopter instruments work?

Helicopter instruments work by using sensors or probes to measure different parameters. The readings from the sensors are then sent to a display unit, where the pilot can read the information.

4. What is an altimeter?

An altimeter is an instrument that measures altitude, or the height above sea level. It is an important instrument for maintaining the proper altitude during flight and for avoiding obstacles.

5. What is an airspeed indicator?

An airspeed indicator is an instrument that measures the speed at which the helicopter is traveling through the air. It is used to maintain a safe and efficient airspeed during flight.

6. What is a magnetic compass?

A magnetic compass is an instrument that shows the direction in which the helicopter is heading. It is an important navigation tool that is used to keep the helicopter on course.

7. What are engine gauges?

Engine gauges are instruments that measure the performance of the helicopter’s engine. They provide information such as engine temperature, oil pressure, and fuel levels.

8. What is a navigation system?

A navigation system is an instrument that helps the pilot navigate the helicopter from one location to another. It uses GPS technology to determine the helicopter’s location and provides guidance to the pilot.

9. What is a gyroscopic system?

A gyroscopic system is an instrument that uses a spinning rotor to maintain a stable reference point. It is a critical component of many helicopter instruments, including the altimeter and the attitude indicator.

10. What is an attitude indicator?

An attitude indicator is an instrument that shows the helicopter’s position relative to the horizon. It is used to maintain proper pitch and roll during flight.

11. How do I read helicopter instruments?

Helicopter instruments have different displays and markings, but they are generally easy to read with some basic training. In general, information is displayed in numerical or graphical format, with colors and symbols used to indicate critical readings.

12. Can helicopter instruments fail?

Yes, helicopter instruments can fail for a variety of reasons, including mechanical problems, electronic malfunctions, and sensor failures. It is important for pilots to be aware of any potential instrument failures and to have backup systems in place.

13. What should I do if I experience an instrument failure during flight?

If you experience an instrument failure during flight, it is important to remain calm and to rely on your training. Switch to backup instruments if you have them, communicate with air traffic control, and use your judgment to maintain a safe flight.

14. What can I do to prevent instrument failures?

To prevent instrument failures, it is important to follow proper maintenance procedures, including regular inspections and calibration. Pilots should also monitor instrument readings during flight and be aware of any unusual readings or abnormal behavior.

15. Where can I get more information about helicopter instruments?

There are many resources available for pilots who want to learn more about helicopter instruments. These include training programs, instructional videos, and online resources.

Learn about the different types of helicopter instruments and their functions in our comprehensive guide.

Airborne Adventures with Helicopter Instruments!

Kind Reader, thanks for flying with us! Now you have a better understanding of the critical instruments that keep helicopter pilots safe in the air. We hope you enjoyed this journey into the fascinating world of aviation technology. Don’t forget to visit us again, as we have many more adventures to share. Until then, safe and happy travels!

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