Until recently, most GA aircraft were equipped with individual instruments utilized collectively to safely operate and maneuver the aircraft. With the release of the electronic flight display (EFD) system, conventional instruments have been replaced by multiple liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The first screen is installed in front of the pilot position and is referred to as the primary flight display (PFD). The second screen, positioned approximately in the center of the instrument panel, is referred to as the multi-function display (MFD). These two screens de-clutter instrument panels while increasing safety. This has been accomplished through the utilization of solid state instruments that have a failure rate far less than those of conventional analog instrumentation. [Figure 1]

aircraft instrumentation
Figure 1. Analog display (top) and digital display (bottom) from a Cessna 172
With today’s improvements in avionics and the introduction of EFDs, pilots at any level of experience need an astute knowledge of the onboard flight control systems, as well as an understanding of how automation melds with aeronautical decision-making (ADM). These subjects are covered in detail in Aeronautical Decision-Making, Automation.
Whether an aircraft has analog or digital (glass) instruments, the instrumentation falls into three different categories: performance, control, and navigation.

Performance Instruments

The performance instruments indicate the aircraft’s actual performance. Performance is determined by reference to the altimeter, airspeed or vertical speed indicator (VSI), heading indicator, and turn-and-slip indicator. The performance instruments directly reflect the performance the aircraft is achieving. The speed of the aircraft can be referenced on the airspeed indicator. The altitude can be referenced on the altimeter. The aircraft’s climb performance can be determined by referencing the VSI. Other performance instruments available are the heading indicator, angle of attack indicator, and the slip-skid indicator. [Figure 2]
aircraft instrumentation
Figure 2. Performance instruments

Control Instruments

The control instruments display immediate attitude and power changes and are calibrated to permit adjustments in precise increments. [Figure 3] The instrument for attitude display is the attitude indicator. The control instruments do not indicate aircraft speed or altitude. In order to determine these variables and others, a pilot must reference the performance instruments.
aircraft instruments
Figure 3. Control instruments

Navigation Instruments

The navigation instruments indicate the position of the aircraft in relation to a selected navigation facility or fix. This group of instruments includes various types of course indicators, range indicators, glideslope indicators, and bearing pointers. Newer aircraft with more technologically advanced instrumentation provide blended information, giving the pilot more accurate positional information. Navigation instruments are comprised of indicators that display GPS, very high frequency (VHF) omni-directional radio range (VOR), nondirectional beacon (NDB), and instrument landing system (ILS) information. The instruments indicate the position of the aircraft relative to a selected navigation facility or fix. They also provide pilotage information so the aircraft can be maneuvered to keep it on a predetermined path. The pilotage information can be in either two or three dimensions relative to the ground-based or space-based navigation information. [Figures 4 and 5]
aircraft instruments
Figure 4. A comparison of navigation information as depicted on both analog and digital displays


aircraft instruments
Figure 5. Analog and digital indications for glideslope interception