A flight management system (FMS) is not a navigation system in itself. Rather, it is a system that automates the tasks of managing the onboard navigation systems. FMS may perform other onboard management tasks, but this discussion is limited to its navigation function.

FMS is an interface between flight crews and flightdeck systems. FMS can be thought of as a computer with a large database of airport and NAVAID locations and associated data, aircraft performance data, airways, intersections, DPs, and STARs. FMS also has the ability to accept and store numerous user-defined WPs, flight routes consisting of departures, WPs, arrivals, approaches, alternates, etc. FMS can quickly define a desired route from the aircraft’s current position to any point in the world, perform flight plan computations, and display the total picture of the flight route to the crew.

FMS also has the capability of controlling (selecting) VOR, DME, and LOC NAVAIDs, and then receiving navigational data from them. INS, LORAN, and GPS navigational data may also be accepted by the FMS computer. The FMS may act as the input/output device for the onboard navigation systems, so that it becomes the “go-between” for the crew and the navigation systems.

Function of FMS

At startup, the crew programs the aircraft location, departure runway, DP (if applicable), WPs defining the route, approach procedure, approach to be used, and routing to alternate. This may be entered manually, be in the form of a stored flight plan, or be a flight plan developed in another computer and transferred by disk or electronically to the FMS computer. The crew enters this basic information in the control/display unit (CDU).

Once airborne, the FMS computer channels the appropriate NAVAIDs and takes radial/distance information or channels two NAVAIDs, taking the more accurate distance information. FMS then indicates position, track, desired heading, groundspeed, and position relative to desired track. Position information from the FMS updates the INS. In more sophisticated aircraft, the FMS provides inputs to the HSI, RMI, glass flight deck navigation displays, head-up display (HUD), autopilot, and autothrottle systems.
Flight Management Systems (FMS)
Typical display and control unit(s) in general aviation. The Universal UNS-1 (left) controls and integrates all other systems. The Avidyne (center) and Garmin systems (right) illustrate and are typical of completely integrated systems. Although the Universal CDU is not typically found on smaller general aviation aircraft, the difference in capabilities of the CDUs and stand-alone systems is diminishing each year