The autopilot control panel of a Boeing 747-200 aircraft

An autopilot is a system used to control the trajectory of an aircraft without constant 'hands-on' control by a human operator being required. Autopilots do not replace human operators, but instead they assist them in controlling the aircraft. This allows them to focus on broader aspects of operations such as monitoring the trajectory, weather and systems.[1]

The autopilot is often used in conjunction with the autothrottle, when present, which is the analogous system controlling the power delivered by the engines.

The autopilot system on airplanes is sometimes colloquially referred to as "George".[2]

First autopilots

A World War II-era Honeywell C-1 autopilot control panel

In the early days of aviation, aircraft required the continuous attention of a pilot to fly safely. As aircraft range increased, allowing flights of many hours, the constant attention led to serious fatigue. An autopilot is designed to perform some of the tasks of the pilot.

The first aircraft autopilot was developed by Sperry Corporation in 1912. The autopilot connected a gyroscopic heading indicator and attitude indicator to hydraulically operated elevators and rudder. (Ailerons were not connected as wing dihedral was counted upon to produce the necessary roll stability.) It permitted the aircraft to fly straight and level on a compass course without a pilot's attention, greatly reducing the pilot's workload.

Lawrence Sperry (the son of famous inventor Elmer Sperry) demonstrated it in 1914 at an aviation safety contest held in Paris. At the contest, Sperry demonstrated the credibility of the invention by flying the aircraft with his hands away from the controls and visible to onlookers of the contest. Elmer Sperry Jr., the son of Lawrence Sperry, and Capt Shiras continued work after the war on the same autopilot, and in 1930 they tested a more compact and reliable autopilot which kept a US Army Air Corps aircraft on a true heading and altitude for three hours.[3]

In 1930, the Royal Aircraft Establishment in the United Kingdom developed an autopilot called a pilots' assister that used a pneumatically-spun gyroscope to move the flight controls.[4]

Further development of the autopilot was performed, such as improved control algorithms and hydraulic servomechanisms. Also, inclusion of additional instrumentation such as the radio-navigation aids made it possible to fly during night and in bad weather. In 1947 a US Air Force C-54 made a transatlantic flight, including takeoff and landing, completely under the control of an autopilot.[5][6] Bill Lear developed his F-5 automatic pilot and automatic approach control system, and was awarded the Collier Trophy for 1949.[7]

In the early 1920s, the Standard Oil tanker J.A. Moffet became the first ship to use an autopilot.

Other Languages
العربية: طيار آلي
azərbaycanca: Avtopilot
беларуская: Аўтапілот
български: Автопилот
čeština: Autopilot
dansk: Autopilot
Deutsch: Autopilot
한국어: 오토파일럿
հայերեն: Ավտոպիլոտ
Bahasa Indonesia: Pilot otomatis
қазақша: Автопилот
lietuvių: Autopilotas
magyar: Robotpilóta
norsk: Autopilot
norsk nynorsk: Autopilot
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Avtopilot
português: Piloto automático
română: Pilot automat
русский: Автопилот
slovenščina: Avtopilot
српски / srpski: Аутоматски пилот
svenska: Autopilot
тоҷикӣ: Автопилот
Türkçe: Otomatik pilot
українська: Автопілот
中文: 自動駕駛