The flight instrument panel is the place in front of the pilot in a cockpit which contains the instruments which provide the pilot with information to safely fly their plane. On this panel are a lot of different dials (circular instruments like clocks). These dials provide the pilot with different types of information (e.g. speed, altitude, how much a plane is turning etc...).

flight instrument panel image

Image of a standard flight instrument panel with the main 8 instruments circled in red.

Knowing both what these different instruments are called and what they are used for is fundamental for either any pilot or anybody who wants to become a pilot.

To help you both learn what they are and (more importantly) remember it, I have created the below online exercise. Through first reading a text and then doing a quiz/test, you will learn the English names of the most important 8 instruments on an aircraft's flight instrument panel (each shown with a red circle around them in the above image), what they show and how they are used.

To learn the vocabulary for different parts of an airplane, do our exercises on parts of a plane vocabulary.

To see our other exercises on aviation English vocabulary, go to our aviation English exercise menu.


Exercise: Instruments for flying a plane

In the following conversation, Peter (a professional pilot) explains to Juan (a Spanish trainee pilot) the names in English and uses of the different instruments on a flight instrument panel.

From using both the context in the text and the instruments circled in red in the image of the flight instrument panel above, try to guess what each instrument in bold in the text is and what it's purpose is. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Peter:'So now I'm going to ask you about 8 of the main instruments on the flight instrument panel that you need to use to fly a plane safely. Ok?'

Juan:'Fine.'

Peter:'So, tell me what the name of the instrument you use to know what altitude you are flying at?'

Juan:'That's called the altimeter and it shows the altitude in hundreds of feet.'

Peter:'Perfect. Many people think it's called the altitude indicator, but it isn't. The altitude indicator is the dial which is half blue and half black with a representation of the wings of an aircraft in the middle. This is used to show if a plane is flying level or not. And if it isn't, how much it is turning (left or right) and pitching (the nose of the plane pointing up or down).

So what's the name of the dial on the instrument panel used to show what the speed of the aircraft is?'

Juan:'In a car it's called a speedometer.'

Peter:'That's right, but not in a plane.'

Juan:'In a plane, it's called the airspeed indicator. And it shows the speed not in miles or kilometres per hour, but in knots per hour. '

Peter:'Yes it does. There's another dial which shows how much power the engine or engines are making (how many revolutions per minute they are turning at). What is this called?'

Juan:'This has a strange name. It is called a tachometer.'

Peter:'Perfect again. So, what instrument does a pilot use when they want to see how fast they are climbing or descending?'

Juan:'The altimeter?'

Peter:'No, that just shows the speed. If they want to know how many hundreds of feet per minute the aircraft is climbing or descending at, they use the vertical speed indicator. This is the dial where zero ('0') is positioned at the left side in the middle and then it has numbers (normally from 1 to 20) which go around the dial both from above it and below it.'

Juan:'I know which one you are talking about now.'

Peter:'And which instrument is used to see how much the plane is turning (either to the left or right) and if it is doing it safely?'

Juan:'That's the dial with an image of an aircraft seen from the back in the middle of the dial with a black ball that can move from side-to-side at the bottom. It is called the turn coordinator.'

Peter:'That's right. So what instruments does the pilot use to know in what direction the plane is flying in?'

Juan:'There are two. The first isn't on the panel, but above it. This is called the magnetic compass. And this shows in what compass direction the plane is heading in (i.e. north, south etc...). But pilots don't normally use this for navigating because it makes a lot of errors. So instead, they use a dial which has an aircraft in the middle which points to the compass direction which the plane is currently heading in. And it is called the heading indicator.'

Peter:'That's right. Well done.'


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Quiz:

Below is a photo/picture of each of the instruments written in bold from the above text. Now choose the name from the question's selection box which you believe matches the photo/picture. Only use one name once. Click on the "Check answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, two icons will appear next to the question which you can press/click on. In the first icon, , you can find extra information about the instrument (e.g. what it is, how it is used etc...) and a Spanish translation. In the second, , is where you can listen to the pronunciation of the name and do a pronunciation test (to make sure you can say it correctly).


1. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a             

Airspeed indicator:
(noun) Also called an 'airspeed gauge'. Like in a speedometer in a car, this instrument measures the speed at which the plane is flying at. Like with most speedometers in cars, the current speed the plane is moving at is shown by the number at which the hand on the instrument points to. With most 'airspeed indicators' this is measured in knots (1 knot equals 1.852 kilometres per hour).

But this will only give you the 'indicated airspeed', which may not be the 'true airspeed' (the actual velocity the plane is moving at). The is because of what the 'airspeed indicator' uses to calculate the speed the plane is flying at (the flow of air as the plane moves). As a result, many 'airspeed indicators' have a dial that can be adjusted to show the 'true airspeed' on a part the instrument.

To find out why and to see an example of an 'airspeed indicator' which shows the 'true airspeed' watch this video on YouTube.

There are also other markings on 'airspeed indicators' (around the sides) to advise the pilot of safe flying speeds. To find out what these are, watch this video on YouTube.

In Spanish: "indicador de la velocidad del vuelo".

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Airspeed indicator:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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2. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Magnetic compass:
(noun) This is used to show the heading direction of a plane (i.e. north, east etc...). Because of the earth's magnetic field, in certain circumstances 'magnetic compasses' don't show the true heading in which a plane is going. This happens when planes are either accelerating or decelerating and when they are turning. As a result, the 'heading indicator' is used instead for knowing in what direction a plane is heading in.

If a plane has a 'heading indicator', the 'magnetic compass' is normally used by the pilot to make sure that their 'heading indicator' is correctly aligned during the flight.

In Spanish: "compás magnético".

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Magnetic compass:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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3. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Altitude indicator:
(noun) Also called an 'artificial horizon'. It is used to show if the plane is flying level or not. It shows both the pitch of the plane (if the nose of the plane is pointing upwards or downwards) and the amount a plane is banking (how much the plane is turning to the left or to the right).

On the 'altitude indicator' there is a representation of the wings of a plane and an horizon bar (a straight line to indicate if the plane is level). The pilot of the plane uses this to see how much the plane is pitching (either pointing up or down) and banking (either left or right).

It doesn't show the altitude that the plane is flying at (this is shown by the 'altimeter').

In Spanish: "horizonte artificial".

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Altitude indicator:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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4. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Heading indicator:
(noun) Also called a 'HI', a 'directional gyro' (DG) or a 'directional indicator' (DI) in the UK. This instrument is basically a compass used to show in what direction the plane is heading in (e.g. north, east etc...).

On the 'heading indicator' there is a representation of a plane in the middle. Around the sides/edge of the instrument, the main four compass headings (i.e. north(N), east(E), south(S) and west(W)) and the degrees between (e.g. 30 degrees, 240 degrees etc...) are marked. The degrees on a 'heading indicator' are shown in single or double digits (so, 3 represents 30 degrees, 15 represents 150 degrees and so on).

In addition to the 'heading indicator', planes will also have a separate 'magnetic compass' which can also be used to assess direction. But the 'magnetic compass' is most commonly used to make sure that the 'heading indicator' is correctly aligned during the flight.

In Spanish: "indicador de rumbo".

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Heading indicator:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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5. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Turn coordinator:
(noun) This is two instruments in one. The first thing it shows (like the 'altitude indicator' is how much a plane is banking (or turning) and to which side (whether left or right). This is shown by the representation of a plane in the middle of the instrument where the wings of the plane can move left or right. The amount it is turning is shown by whites marks on either side, which indicate upto a 30 degree turn).

The second part of the instrument shows a black ball at the bottom of the instrument which can move from side to side. This is used to show the 'yaw movement' of the plane. This basically means the direction of the tail of the airplane.

When turning, the tail of an airplane may move (very much like the back wheels of a car if it is going round a corner at high speeds). This will affect the direction which the plane is heading in and could be dangerous (you could lose control). So, this part of the instrument shows if this is happening. The ball can move to the left or right to indicate if the tail of the plane is 'skidding' (moving towards the outside of the turn) or 'slipping' (moving towards the inside of the turn). The pilot can then make the appropriate adjustments to stop this happening.

To find out more, watch this YouTube video to see how this instrument is used.

In Spanish: "coordinador de virajes".

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Turn coordinator:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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6. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Vertical speed indicator:
(noun) Also called a 'VSI', a 'rate of climb indicator' or a 'variometer'. This measures the speed in which a plane is climbing or descending.

The instrument has a hand which when a plane is flying level remains horizontal and pointing to the left. When the aircraft starts to climb, the hand goes upwards. When the aircraft is descending, the hand goes downwards.

The speed at which the plane is climbing or descending is shown by numbers (normally 1-20) around the edge of the instrument. For most 'vertical speed indicators', each number represents a hundred feet per minute (so, 1 means 100 feet per minute, 2 means 200 feet per minute and so on). For some 'vertical speed indicators', the speed is measured in thousands of feet per minute (so, 1 means 1000 feet per minute, 2 means 2000 feet per minute and so on).

What scale of measurement is used will be written on the face of the 'vertical speed indicators'.

In Spanish: "variómetro".

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Vertical speed indicator:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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7. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Altimeter:
(noun) Also called an 'altitude meter'. This measures the altitude of an airplane above sea level (by measuring the pressure of air around the plane). This instrument looks similar to a clock (but has markings from 1 to 10, instead of 1 to 12) and measures the altitude in feet.

How the altitude is shown depends on the 'altimeter' in the plane: some show it by the position of three hands, while others show actual altitude in numbers (like with a digital watch) and have one hand to show rate of change.

The basic 'altimeter' (fitted in most small planes) has three hands. The long thick hand measures in hundreds of feet, the short thick (or fat) hand measures in thousands of feet and the long fine hands measures in tens of thousands of feet. By adding this altogether, a pilot can know what their altitude is.

Because it uses pressure to measure altitude, there is a problem: there is no constant pressure level. The pressure levels are different between areas of low air pressure and high air pressure and whether it is a hot or a cold day. As a consequence, the 'altimeter' can give the pilot the wrong altitude for the plane, which is very dangerous.

To solve this problem, on 'altimeters' you can change the base level of pressure to get a true measure of your actual altitude (called the 'true altitude'). You would do this by changing the pressure level in the 'setting window' in the 'altimeter' (the level is shown in a rectangular box on the right side of the 'altimeter').

In Spanish: "altímetro".

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Altimeter:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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8. flight instrument exercise photo

This instrument is called a              

Tachometer:
(noun) Like the 'revolution counter' in a car, this shows the level of power coming from the engine. Exactly like the 'revolution counter' in a car, the 'tachometer' measures the number of revolutions per minute (RPM) which the engines are making.

In Spanish: "tacómetro".

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Tachometer:

Pronunciation Speaking Test:
To check your pronunciation of this word/phrase, first click on the microphone icon () below. Then allow the browser to record your voice and then say the above word/phrase. Although this test is good, it sometimes does not recognise some of the words/phrases.

       

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Practice

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