## Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI)

The VSI, which is sometimes called a vertical velocity indicator (VVI), indicates whether the aircraft is climbing, descending, or in level flight. The rate of climb or descent is indicated in feet per minute (fpm). If properly calibrated, the VSI indicates zero in level flight. [Figure 1]
 Figure 1. Vertical speed indicator (VSI)

### Principle of Operation

Although the VSI operates solely from static pressure, it is a differential pressure instrument. It contains a diaphragm with connecting linkage and gearing to the indicator pointer inside an airtight case. The inside of the diaphragm is connected directly to the static line of the pitot-static system. The area outside the diaphragm, which is inside the instrument case, is also connected to the static line but through a restricted orifice (calibrated leak).
Both the diaphragm and the case receive air from the static line at existing atmospheric pressure. The diaphragm receives unrestricted air, while the case receives the static pressure via the metered leak. When the aircraft is on the ground or in level flight, the pressures inside the diaphragm and the instrument case are equal, and the pointer is at the zero indication. When the aircraft climbs or descends, the pressure inside the diaphragm changes immediately, but due to the metering action of the restricted passage, the case pressure remains higher or lower for a short time, causing the diaphragm to contract or expand. This causes a pressure differential that is indicated on the instrument needle as a climb or descent. When the pressure differential stabilizes at a definite ratio, the needle indicates the rate of altitude change.

The VSI displays two different types of information:
• Trend information shows an immediate indication of an increase or decrease in the aircraft’s rate of climb or descent.
• Rate information shows a stabilized rate of change in altitude.
The trend information is the direction of movement of the VSI needle. For example, if an aircraft is maintaining level flight and the pilot pulls back on the control yoke causing the nose of the aircraft to pitch up, the VSI needle moves upward to indicate a climb. If the pitch attitude is held constant, the needle stabilizes after a short period (6–9 seconds) and indicates the rate of climb in hundreds of fpm. The time period from the initial change in the rate of climb, until the VSI displays an accurate indication of the new rate, is called the lag. Rough control technique and turbulence can extend the lag period and cause erratic and unstable rate indications. Some aircraft are equipped with an instantaneous vertical speed indicator (IVSI), which incorporates accelerometers to compensate for the lag in the typical VSI. [Figure 2]
 Figure 2. An IVSI incorporates accelerometers to help the instrument immediately indicate changes in vertical speed

### Instrument Check

As part of a preflight check, proper operation of the VSI must be established. Make sure the VSI indicates a near zero reading prior to leaving the ramp area and again just before takeoff. If the VSI indicates anything other than zero, that indication can be referenced as the zero mark. Normally, if the needle is not exactly zero, it is only slightly above or below the zero line. After takeoff, the VSI should trend upward to indicate a positive rate of climb and then, once a stabilized climb is established, a rate of climb can be referenced.

## Airspeed Indicator (ASI)

The ASI is a sensitive, differential pressure gauge that measures and promptly indicates the difference between pitot (impact/dynamic pressure) and static pressure. These two pressures are equal when the aircraft is parked on the ground in calm air. When the aircraft moves through the air, the pressure on the pitot line becomes greater than the pressure in the static lines. This difference in pressure is registered by the airspeed pointer on the face of the instrument, which is calibrated in miles per hour, knots (nautical miles per hour), or both. [Figure 3]
 Figure 3. Airspeed indicator (ASI)
The ASI is the one instrument that utilizes both the pitot, as well as the static system. The ASI introduces the static pressure into the airspeed case while the pitot pressure (dynamic) is introduced into the diaphragm. The dynamic pressure expands or contracts one side of the diaphragm, which is attached to an indicating system. The system drives the mechanical linkage and the airspeed needle.
Just as in altitudes, there are multiple types of airspeeds. Pilots need to be very familiar with each type.
• Indicated airspeed (IAS)—the direct instrument reading obtained from the ASI, uncorrected for variations in atmospheric density, installation error, or instrument error. Manufacturers use this airspeed as the basis for determining aircraft performance. Takeoff, landing, and stall speeds listed in the AFM/ POH are IAS and do not normally vary with altitude or temperature.
• Calibrated airspeed (CAS)—IAS corrected for installation error and instrument error. Although manufacturers attempt to keep airspeed errors to a minimum, it is not possible to eliminate all errors throughout the airspeed operating range. At certain airspeeds and with certain flap settings, the installation and instrument errors may total several knots. This error is generally greatest at low airspeeds. In the cruising and higher airspeed ranges, IAS and CAS are approximately the same. Refer to the airspeed calibration chart to correct for possible airspeed errors.
• True airspeed (TAS)—CAS corrected for altitude and nonstandard temperature. Because air density decreases with an increase in altitude, an aircraft has to be flown faster at higher altitudes to cause the same pressure difference between pitot impact pressure and static pressure. Therefore, for a given CAS, TAS increases as altitude increases; or for a given TAS, CAS decreases as altitude increases. A pilot can find TAS by two methods. The most accurate method is to use a flight computer. With this method, the CAS is corrected for temperature and pressure variation by using the airspeed correction scale on the computer. Extremely accurate electronic flight computers are also available. Just enter the CAS, pressure altitude, and temperature, and the computer calculates the TAS. A second method, which is a rule of thumb, provides the approximate TAS. Simply add 2 percent to the CAS for each 1,000 feet of altitude. The TAS is the speed that is used for flight planning and is used when filing a flight plan.
• Groundspeed (GS)—the actual speed of the airplane over the ground. It is TAS adjusted for wind. GS decreases with a headwind and increases with a tailwind.

### Airspeed Indicator Markings

Aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less, manufactured after 1945, and certificated by the FAA are required to have ASIs marked in accordance with a standard color-coded marking system. This system of color-coded markings enables a pilot to determine at a glance certain airspeed limitations that are important to the safe operation of the aircraft. For example, if during the execution of a maneuver, it is noted that the airspeed needle is in the yellow arc and rapidly approaching the red line, the immediate reaction should be to reduce airspeed.
 Figure 4. Single engine airspeed indicator (ASI)
As shown in Figure 4, ASIs on single-engine small aircraft include the following standard color-coded markings:
• White arc—commonly referred to as the flap operating range since its lower limit represents the full flap stall speed and its upper limit provides the maximum flap speed. Approaches and landings are usually flown at speeds within the white arc.
• Lower limit of white arc (VSO)—the stalling speed or the minimum steady flight speed in the landing configuration. In small aircraft, this is the power-off stall speed at the maximum landing weight in the landing configuration (gear and flaps down).
• Upper limit of the white arc (VFE)—the maximum speed with the flaps extended.
• Green arc—the normal operating range of the aircraft. Most flying occurs within this range.
• Lower limit of green arc (VSI)—the stalling speed or the minimum steady flight speed obtained in a specified configuration. For most aircraft, this is the power-off stall speed at the maximum takeoff weight in the clean configuration (gear up, if retractable, and flaps up).
• Upper limit of green arc (VNO)—the maximum structural cruising speed. Do not exceed this speed except in smooth air.
• Yellow arc—caution range. Fly within this range only in smooth air and then only with caution.
• Red line (VNE)—never exceed speed. Operating above this speed is prohibited since it may result in damage or structural failure.

### Other Airspeed Limitations

Some important airspeed limitations are not marked on the face of the ASI, but are found on placards and in the AFM/POH. These airspeeds include:
• Design maneuvering speed (VA)—the maximum speed at which the structural design’s limit load can be imposed (either by gusts or full deflection of the control surfaces) without causing structural damage. It is important to consider weight when referencing this speed. For example, VA may be 100 knots when an airplane is heavily loaded, but only 90 knots when the load is light.
• Landing gear operating speed (VLO)—the maximum speed for extending or retracting the landing gear if flying an aircraft with retractable landing gear.
• Landing gear extended speed (VLE)—the maximum speed at which an aircraft can be safely flown with the landing gear extended.
• Best angle-of-climb speed (VX)—the airspeed at which an aircraft gains the greatest amount of altitude in a given distance. It is used during a short-field takeoff to clear an obstacle.
• Best rate-of-climb speed (VY)—the airspeed that provides the most altitude gain in a given period of time.
• Single-engine best rate-of-climb (VYSE)—the best rate-of-climb or minimum rate-of-sink in a light twin-engine aircraft with one engine inoperative. It is marked on the ASI with a blue line. VYSE is commonly referred to as “Blue Line.”
• Minimum control speed (VMC)—the minimum flight speed at which a light, twin-engine aircraft can be satisfactorily controlled when an engine suddenly becomes inoperative and the remaining engine is at takeoff power.

### Instrument Check

Prior to takeoff, the ASI should read zero. However, if there is a strong wind blowing directly into the pitot tube, the ASI may read higher than zero. When beginning the takeoff, make sure the airspeed is increasing at an appropriate rate.

## Blockage of the Pitot-Static System

Errors almost always indicate blockage of the pitot tube, the static port(s), or both. Blockage may be caused by moisture (including ice), dirt, or even insects. During preflight, make sure the pitot tube cover is removed. Then, check the pitot and static port openings. A blocked pitot tube affects the accuracy of the ASI, but a blockage of the static port not only affects the ASI, but also causes errors in the altimeter and VSI.

### Blocked Pitot System

The pitot system can become blocked completely or only partially if the pitot tube drain hole remains open. If the pitot tube becomes blocked and its associated drain hole remains clear, ram air is no longer able to enter the pitot system. Air already in the system vents through the drain hole, and the remaining pressure drops to ambient (outside) air pressure. Under these circumstances, the ASI reading decreases to zero because the ASI senses no difference between ram and static air pressure. The ASI no longer operates since dynamic pressure cannot enter the pitot tube opening. Static pressure is able to equalize on both sides since the pitot drain hole is still open. The apparent loss of airspeed is not usually instantaneous but happens very quickly. [Figure 5]
 Figure 5. A blocked pitot tube, but clear drain hole
If both the pitot tube opening and the drain hole should become clogged simultaneously, then the pressure in the pitot tube is trapped. No change is noted on the airspeed indication should the airspeed increase or decrease. If the static port is unblocked and the aircraft should change altitude, then a change is noted on the ASI. The change is not related to a change in airspeed but a change in static pressure. The total pressure in the pitot tube does not change due to the blockage; however, the static pressure will change.

Because airspeed indications rely upon both static and dynamic pressure together, the blockage of either of these systems affects the ASI reading. Remember that the ASI has a diaphragm in which dynamic air pressure is entered. Behind this diaphragm is a reference pressure called static pressure that comes from the static ports. The diaphragm pressurizes against this static pressure and as a result changes the airspeed indication via levers and indicators. [Figure 6]
 Figure 6. Blocked pitot system with clear static system
For example, take an aircraft and slow it down to zero knots at a given altitude. If the static port (providing static pressure) and the pitot tube (providing dynamic pressure) are both unobstructed, the following claims can be made:
1. The ASI would be zero.
2. Dynamic pressure and static pressure are equal.
3. Because both dynamic and static air pressure are equal at zero speed with increased speed, dynamic pressure must include two components: static pressure and dynamic pressure.
It can be inferred that airspeed indication must be based upon a relationship between these two pressures, and indeed it is. An ASI uses the static pressure as a reference pressure and as a result, the ASI’s case is kept at this pressure behind the diaphragm. On the other hand, the dynamic pressure through the pitot tube is connected to a highly sensitive diaphragm within the ASI case. Because an aircraft in zero motion (regardless of altitude) results in a zero airspeed, the pitot tube always provides static pressure in addition to dynamic pressure.
Therefore, the airspeed indication is the result of two pressures: the pitot tube static and dynamic pressure within the diaphragm as measured against the static pressure in the ASI’s case.
If the aircraft were to descend while the pitot tube is obstructed, the pressure in the pitot system, including the diaphragm, would remain constant. But as the descent is made, the static pressure would increase against the diaphragm causing it to compress, thereby resulting in an indication of decreased airspeed. Conversely, if the aircraft were to climb, the static pressure would decrease allowing the diaphragm to expand, thereby showing an indication of greater airspeed. [Figure 6]
The pitot tube may become blocked during flight due to visible moisture. Some aircraft may be equipped with pitot heat for flight in visible moisture. Consult the AFM/POH for specific procedures regarding the use of pitot heat.

### Blocked Static System

If the static system becomes blocked but the pitot tube remains clear, the ASI continues to operate; however, it is inaccurate. The airspeed indicates lower than the actual airspeed when the aircraft is operated above the altitude where the static ports became blocked because the trapped static pressure is higher than normal for that altitude. When operating at a lower altitude, a faster than actual airspeed is displayed due to the relatively low static pressure trapped in the system.
Revisiting the ratios that were used to explain a blocked pitot tube, the same principle applies for a blocked static port. If the aircraft descends, the static pressure increases on the pitot side showing an increase on the ASI. This assumes that the aircraft does not actually increase its speed. The increase in static pressure on the pitot side is equivalent to an increase in dynamic pressure since the pressure cannot change on the static side.
If an aircraft begins to climb after a static port becomes blocked, the airspeed begins to show a decrease as the aircraft continues to climb. This is due to the decrease in static pressure on the pitot side, while the pressure on the static side is held constant.
A blockage of the static system also affects the altimeter and VSI. Trapped static pressure causes the altimeter to freeze at the altitude where the blockage occurred. In the case of the VSI, a blocked static system produces a continuous zero indication. [Figure 7] Some aircraft are equipped with an alternate static source in the flight deck. In the case of a blocked static source, opening the alternate static source introduces static pressure from the flight deck into the system. Flight deck static pressure is lower than outside static pressure. Check the aircraft AOM/POH for airspeed corrections when utilizing alternate static pressure.
 Figure 7. Blocked static system