What Is An Altimeter & How Do I Read It?
When you attend Arizona flight school, one of the most important instruments you’ll learn to use is an altimeter. This device tells you the altitude of your plane, measured from either mean sea level (MSL) or above the ground (AGL). Your instructors will help you learn how to read your altimeter, what types of altimeters you may find in different airplanes, and what to do if your altimeter fails.
What Is An Altimeter?
One of the 6 major instruments on your panel, an altimeter tells pilots their vertical distance from the ground. Altimeters are essentially pressure gauges. They use pressure from the atmospheric static port and the barometric pressure to measure how high you are above the ground.
These technical devices use the principle of decreased air pressure as you gain altitude. The formula is a decrease of 1 millibar for every 10 meters of altitude that you gain. As you gain altitude, reduced pressure on the gauge will cause your altimeter’s reading to increase. You’ll first learn about altimeters in ground school and will be able to gain increased knowledge as you expand your studies. Although altimeters can be tricky, they are critically important. Understanding how they work and how to read them will be extremely important during your career as a pilot.
How Do I Read An Altimeter?
In the small planes that are typically used by new pilots, most altimeters are called pressure altimeters, which work through the principles of air pressure. The gauge looks similar to a clock, with a smaller hand indicating an altitude of 10,000 feet, a medium-sized hand measuring 1000 feet, and the long, skinny hand measuring changes every 100 feet. Pressure altimeters are reliable and relatively easy to read. Your Arizona flight training will spend a significant amount of time discussing altimeters and other instruments on your panel.
What Other Types Of Altimeters Exist?
Another common altimeter is a GPS altimeter, which works the same way as a GPS does. Although these types of altimeters have become better as technology advances, they can still be inaccurate by 500 to 1000 feet. With their digital numerical display, GPS altimeters have the advantage of being very easy to read.
Pilots may also encounter radar altimeters. These instruments measure frequencies from the belly of the plane to the surface of the ground and are especially effective when the plane is close to the ground. Radar altimeters are complex to read, so pilots should carefully consult the aircraft’s operating handbook before flying to ensure they are reading this gauge correctly.
What Should I Do If My Altimeter Malfunctions?
Although altimeters are usually reliable, it’s important to know what to do if it stops working during a flight. A malfunctioning altimeter can quickly become a serious emergency and make it very difficult for pilots to fly the aircraft. If an altimeter is not working prior to your flight, you cannot fly. If the altimeter stops working during your flight, you’ll need to land as soon as possible.
Until you can safely land the plane, you’ll need to focus on flying your aircraft. Although this may seem obvious, new pilots can become overly distracted by malfunctioning instruments and forget to focus on flying safely and properly. Maintain a safe altitude while you work toward landing the plane in an appropriate location according to your aviation courses.
Under visual flight conditions, it can be easier to fly your aircraft without losing your sense of direction. If you are flying under instrument meteorological conditions, flying without an altimeter can become more difficult. You’ll need to request a heading ATC and get to visual conditions as soon as you are able. In the meantime, you can reference a backup altimeter if you have one. If you do not have a backup altimeter, focus on your vertical speed indicator (VSI), which can help you keep your aircraft level while you get to visual conditions.
What Else Can I Do If My Altimeter Fails?
Your Arizona flight school will teach you that redundancy is key and prepare you for these types of situations. If your altimeter fails mid-flight, try these solutions:
- Check the barometric pressure settings: Sometimes an altimeter gives the wrong reading because the barometric pressure reading is incorrect.
- Pull the alternate static air valve: After you’ve checked the barometric pressure, pull the alternate static air valve. Sometimes, something is blocking the static airport that provides information to your altimeter. Pulling the alternate static air valve can fix the problem immediately if there is a blockage. If you discover there is ice blocking the port, you’ll need to seek warmer air as soon as you are able.
- Use your electronic flight bag or transponder: If you have a GPS or similar instrument, you can use it to find your altitude. A transponder should have an altimeter function as well that can provide a reading even if your static port is blocked or malfunctioning. Although it may be less accurate, you’ll be able to get an altitude reading that can help you safely fly and land your plane.
Learn About Altimeters At Arizona’s Top Rated Flight School
Whether you’re interested in ground school, becoming a hobby pilot, or seeking a career as a commercial pilot, Classic Air Aviation is ready to help you succeed. Our experienced instructors will guide you through our aviation class options to provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to become an excellent pilot. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our flight school!
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Mesa, AZ 85215