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The cockpit of an aircraft is a typical location for avionic equipment, including control, monitoring, communication, navigation, weather, and anti-collision systems. The majority of aircraft power their avionics using 14 or 28 volt DC electrical systems; however, larger, more sophisticated aircraft (such as airliners or military combat aircraft) have AC systems operating at 400 Hz, 115 volts AC.[2] There are several major vendors of flight avionics, including Honeywell (which now owns Bendix/King), Rockwell CollinsThales GroupGarmin and Avidyne Corporation.

International standards for avionics equipment are prepared by the Airlines Electronic Engineering Committee (AEEC) and published by ARINC.


Communications connect the flight deck to the ground and the flight deck to the passengers. On-board communications are provided by public address systems and aircraft intercoms.

The VHF aviation communication system works on the airband of 118.000 MHz to 136.975 MHz. Each channel is spaced from the adjacent ones by 8.33 kHz. VHF is also used for line of sight communication such as aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ATC. Amplitude modulation (AM) is used, and the conversation is performed in simplex mode. Aircraft communication can also take place using HF (especially for trans-oceanic flights) or satellite communication.

See also: Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System


Main article: Radio navigation

Navigation is the determination of position and direction on or above the surface of the Earth. Avionics can use satellite-based systems (such as GPS and WAAS), ground-based systems (such as VOR or LORAN), or any combination thereof. Navigation systems calculate the position automatically and display it to the flight crew on moving map displays.


Main article: Glass cockpit

Glass cockpits started to come into being with the Boeing 767 in 1982 and the Gulfstream G-IV private jet in 1985. Display systems provide sensor data that allows the aircraft to fly safely. Much information that previously was displayed on mechanical gauges now appears on electronic displays in newer aircraft.

Aircraft flight control systems

Main article: Aircraft flight control systems

Aircraft have means of automatically controlling flight. They reduce pilot workload at important times (like during landing, or in hover), and they make these actions safer by ‘removing’ pilot error. The first simple auto-pilots were used to control heading and altitude and had limited authority on things like thrust and flight control surfaces. In helicopters, auto stabilization was used in a similar way. The first systems were electromechanical.

The advent of fly by wire and electro-actuated flight surfaces (rather than the traditional hydraulic) has increased safety. As with displays and instruments, critical devices which were electro-mechanical had a finite life. With safety critical systems, the software is very strictly tested.

Collision-avoidance systems

Main article: Aircraft collision avoidance systems

To supplement air traffic control, most large transport aircraft and many smaller ones use a TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system), which can detect the location of nearby aircraft, and provide instructions for avoiding a midair collision. Smaller aircraft may use simpler traffic alerting systems such as TPAS, which are passive (they do not actively interrogate the transponders of other aircraft) and do not provide advisories for conflict resolution.

To help avoid collision with terrain (CFIT), aircraft use systems such as ground-proximity warning systems (GPWS), which use radar altimeters as a key element. One of the major weaknesses of GPWS is the lack of “look-ahead” information, because it only provides altitude above terrain “look-down”. In order to overcome this weakness, modern aircraft use a terrain awareness warning system (TAWS).

Weather systems

Main articles: Weather radar and Lightning detector

Weather systems such as weather radar (typically Arinc 708 on commercial aircraft) and lightning detectors are important for aircraft flying at night or in instrument meteorological conditions, where it is not possible for pilots to see the weather ahead. Heavy precipitation (as sensed by radar) or severe turbulence (as sensed by lightning activity) are both indications of strong convective activity and severe turbulence, and weather systems allow pilots to deviate around these areas.

Lightning detectors like the Stormscope or Strikefinder have become inexpensive enough that they are practical for light aircraft. In addition to radar and lightning detection, observations and extended radar pictures (such as NEXRAD) are now available through satellite data connections, allowing pilots to see weather conditions far beyond the range of their own in-flight systems. Modern displays allow weather information to be integrated with moving maps, terrain, traffic, etc. onto a single screen, greatly simplifying navigation.

Aircraft management systems

There has been a progression towards centralized control of the multiple complex systems fitted to aircraft, including engine monitoring and management. Health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) are integrated with aircraft management computers to give maintainers early warnings of parts that will need replacement.

The integrated modular avionics concept proposes an integrated architecture with application software portable across an assembly of common hardware modules. It has been used in fourth generation jet fighters and the latest generation of airliners.

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