Absolute Altimeter

Accurate absolute altitude is an important requisite for navigation, as well as for safe aviating. It is particularly important in pressure pattern navigation. Absolute altitude may be computed from the PA readings if the position of the aircraft is known, but the results are often inaccurate. Under changing atmospheric conditions, corrections applied to PA readings to obtain TAs are only approximate. In addition, any error made in determining the terrain elevations results in a corresponding error in the absolute altitude.


Radar Altimeter High-Level

A typical high-level radar altimeter is designed to indicate absolute altitude of the aircraft up to 50,000 feet above the terrain, land, or water. This altimeter does not warn of approaching obstructions, such as mountains, because it measures altitude only to a point directly below the aircraft. [Figure 3-19]

Figure 3-19. High-level radar altimeter.

Figure 3-19. High-level radar altimeter.

A typical set consists of the radar receiver-transmitter, height indicator, and antenna. The transmitter section of the receiver-transmitter unit develops recurring pulses of radio frequency (RF) energy that are delivered to the transmitter antenna located either flush mounted or on the underside of the aircraft. The transmitter antenna radiates the pulsed energy downward to reflect off the earth and return to the receiver antenna on the aircraft. The time consumed between transmission and reception of the RF pulse is determined only by the absolute altitude of the aircraft above the terrain since the radio wave velocity is constant.

The receiver antenna delivers the returned pulse to the receiver section of the receiver-transmitter unit where it is amplified and detected for presentation on the indicator unit. The radar altimeter indicator displays absolute altitude, which is used in pressure pattern navigation, terrain clearance, or as a backup for the PA.


This type altimeter provides a dial or digital indication of the altitude of the aircraft above the terrain. It is designed to eliminate the necessity of adding antennas or any other equipment external to the surface of the aircraft. This equipment may also be used in conjunction with automatic pilot or other devices requiring altitude limit data. [Figure 3-20]

Figure 3-20. Low-level radar altimeter.

Figure 3-20. Low-level radar altimeter.

Systems vary widely, but typically include a receivertransmitter, height indicator, and electronic control amplifier. The height indicator contains the only operating control on the equipment. This instrument normally gives altitude readings up to 35,000 feet. If the instrument has an analog scale, the markings are usually logarithmic, graduated for the low altitude portion of its range. A variable altitude limit indicator system is included to provide an indication of flight below a preset altitude.

To operate the equipment, turn the ON-LIMIT control to on. After warmup, the terrain clearance of the aircraft within the range of 0–20,000 is read directly from the single pointer on the indicator. [Figure 3-20] This pointer can be preset to any desired altitude by the ON-LIMIT control and is used as a reference for flying at fixed altitudes. The altitude can be maintained by observing the position of the pointer with respect to the small triangular marker instead of the actual altitude scale. In addition, a red light on the front of the indicator lights up when the aircraft is at or below the preset altitude. To turn off the equipment, it is only necessary to turn off the ON-LIMIT control on the indicator.

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