Compasses (Part Two)

Remote Compass Transmitter

The remote compass transmitter is the magnetic-direction sensing component of the compass system when the system is in operation as a magnetic-slaved compass. The transmitter is located as far from magnetic disturbances of the aircraft as possible, usually in a wing tip or the vertical stabilizer. The transmitter senses the horizontal component of the earth’s magnetic field and electrically transmits it to the master indicator. The compensator, an auxiliary unit of the remote compass transmitter, is used to eliminate most of the magnetic deviation caused by the aircraft electrical equipment and ferrous metal when a deviation-free location for the remote compass transmitter is not available.


Directional Gyro (DG)

The DG is the stabilizing component of the compass system when the system is in magnetic-slaved operation. When the compass system is in DG operation, the gyro acts as the directional reference component of the system.


The amplifier is the receiving and distributing center of the compass system. Azimuth correction and leveling signals originating in the components of the system are each received, amplified, and transmitted by separate channels in the amplifier. Primary power to operate the compass is fed to the amplifier and distributed to the systems components.

Master Indicator

The master indicator is the heading-indicating component of the compass system. The mechanism in the master indicator integrates all data received from the directional gyro and the remote compass transmitter, corrects the master indicator heading pointer for azimuth drift of the DG due to the earth’s rotation, and provides takeoff signals for operating remote indicators, radar, navigation computers, and directional control of the autopilot.

The latitude correction control provides a means for selecting either magnetic-slaved operation or DG operation of the compass system, as well as the proper latitude correction rate. The latitude correction pointer is mechanically connected to the latitude correction control knob and indicates the latitude setting on the latitude correction scale at the center of the master indicator dial face.

The synchronizer control knob at the lower right-hand corner of the master indicator face provides a means of synchronizing the master indicator heading pointer with the correct MH when the system is in magnetic-slaved operation. It also provides a means of setting the master indicator heading pointer on the desired gyro heading reference when the system is in DG operation. The annunciator pointer indicates the direction in which to rotate the synchronizer control knob to align the heading pointer with the correct MH.

Gyro-Magnetic Compass Indicators

The gyro-magnetic compass indicators are remote-reading, movable dial compass indicators. They are intended for supplementary use as directional compass indicators when used with the compass system. The indicators duplicate the azimuth heading of the master indicator heading pointer. A setting knob is provided at the front of each indicator for rotating the dial 360° in either direction without changing the physical alignment of the pointer.

Slaving Control

The slaving control is a gyro control rate switch that reduces errors in the compass system during turns. When the aircraft turns at a rate of 23° or more per minute, the slaving control prevents the remote compass transmitter signal from being transmitted to the compass system during magnetic-slaved operation. It also interrupts leveling action in the DG when the system is in magnetic-slaved or DG operation.


Gyro Basics

Any spinning body exhibits gyroscopic properties. A wheel designed and mounted to use these properties is called a gyroscope or gyro. Basically, a gyro is a rapidly rotating mass that is free to move about one or both axes perpendicular to the axis of rotation and to each other. The three axes of a gyro (spin, drift, and topple) shown in Figure 3-9 are defined as follows:

  1. In a DG, the spin axis or axis of rotation is mounted horizontally;
  2. The topple axis is that axis in the horizontal plane that is 90° from the spin axis;
  3. The drift axis is that axis 90° vertically from the spin axis.
Figure 3-9. Gyroscope axes.

Figure 3-9. Gyroscope axes.

Gyroscopic drift is the horizontal rotation of the spin axis about the drift axis. Topple is the vertical rotating of the spin axis about the topple axis. These two component drifts result in motion of the gyro called precession.

A freely spinning gyro tends to maintain its axis in a constant direction in space, a property known as rigidity in space or gyroscopic inertia. Thus, if the spin axis of a gyro were pointed toward a star, it would keep pointing at the star. Actually, the gyro does not move, but the earth moving beneath it gives it an apparent motion. This apparent motion is called apparent precession. [Figure 3-10] The magnitude of apparent precession is dependent upon latitude. The horizontal component, drift, is equal to 15° per hour times the sine of the latitude, and the vertical component, topple, is equal to 15° per hour times the cosine of the latitude.

Figure 3-10. Apparent precession.

Figure 3-10. Apparent precession.

These computations assume the gyro is stationary with respect to the earth. If the gyro is to be used in a high-speed aircraft, however, it is readily apparent that its speed with respect to a point in space may be more or less than the speed of rotation of the earth. If the aircraft in which the gyro is mounted is moving in the same direction as the earth, the speed of the gyro with respect to space is greater than the earth’s speed. The opposite is true if the aircraft is flying in a direction opposite to that of the earth’s rotation. This difference in the magnitude of apparent precession caused by transporting the gyro over the earth is called transport precession.


A gyro may precess because of factors other than the earth’s rotation. When this occurs, the precession is labeled real precession. When a force is applied to the plane of rotation of a gyro, the plane tends to rotate, not in the direction of the applied force, but 90° around the spin axis from it. This torquing action, shown in Figure 3-11, may be used to control the gyro by bringing about a desired reorientation of the spin axis, and most DGs are equipped with some sort of device to introduce this force. However, friction within the bearings of a gyro may have the same effect and cause a certain amount of unwanted precession. Great care is taken in the manufacture and maintenance of gyroscopes to eliminate this factor as much as possible, but, as yet, it has not been possible to eliminate it entirely. Precession caused by the mechanical limitations of the gyro is called real or induced precession. The combined effects of apparent precession, transport precession, and real precession produce the total precession of the gyro. The properties of the gyro that most concern the navigator are rigidity and precession. By understanding these two properties, the navigator is well equipped to use the gyro as a reliable steering guide.

Figure 3-11. By applying an upward pressure on the gyro spin axis, a deflective force is applied to the rim of the gyro at point A (plane of force). The resultant force is 90° ahead in the direction of rotation to point B (plane of rotation), which causes the gyro to precess (plane of precession).

Figure 3-11. By applying an upward pressure on the gyro spin axis, a deflective force is applied to the rim of the gyro at point A (plane of force). The resultant force is 90° ahead in the direction of rotation to point B (plane of rotation), which causes the gyro to precess (plane of precession). [click image to enlarge]

Directional Gyro (DG)

The discussion thus far has been of a universally mounted gyro, free to turn in the horizontal or vertical or any component of these two. This type of gyro is seldom, if ever, used as a DG. When the gyro is used as a steering instrument, it is restricted so that the spin axis remains parallel to the surface of the earth. Thus, the spin axis is free to turn only in the horizontal plane (assuming the aircraft normally flies in a near-level attitude), and only the horizontal component (drift) affects a steering gyro. In the terminology of gyro steering, precession always means the horizontal component of precession.

The operation of the instrument depends upon the principle of rigidity in space of the gyroscope. Fixed to the plane of the spin axis is a circular compass card, similar to that of the magnetic compass. Since the spin axis remains rigid in space, the points on the card hold the same position in space relative to the horizontal plane. The case, to which the lubber line is attached, simply revolves about the card.

It is important at this point to understand that the numbers on the compass card have no meaning within themselves, as on the magnetic compass. The fact that the gyro may indicate 100° under the lubber line is not an indication that the instrument is actually oriented to magnetic north (MN), or any other known point. To steer by the gyro, the navigator must first set it to a known direction or point. Usually, this is MN or geographic north, though it can be at any known point. If, for example, MN is set as the reference, all headings on the gyro read relative to the position of the magnetic poles.

The actual setting of the initial reference heading is done by using the principle discussed earlier of torque application to the spinning gyro. By artificially introducing precession, the navigator can set the gyro to whatever heading is desired and can reset it at any time, by using the same technique.

Gyrocompass Errors

The major error affecting the gyro and its use as a steering instrument is precession. Apparent precession causes an apparent change of heading equal to 15° per hour times the sine of the latitude. Real precession, caused by defects in the gyro, may occur at any rate, but is typically very small in current gyros. Apparent precession is a known value depending upon location and can be compensated for. In some of the more complex gyro systems, apparent precession is compensated for by setting in a constant correction equal to, and in the opposite direction to, the precession caused by the earth’s rotation.

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