When determining the altitude, altitude trend, or airspeed of a given aircraft, pilots rely on measurements that have been gathered from the capturing of atmospheric air and flight deck instruments. With a device known as the pitot tube, ram air pressure can be measured by instruments in order to attain flight pertinent information that benefits safety and efficiency. To understand how instruments such as the airspeed or altitude indicator function, one must first be knowledgeable of the pitot tube and its operations.
By themselves, pitot tubes are flow sensor instruments that may be used to measure the velocity of moving liquids or air. By aligning a tube into the flow of fluids, fluids will move into the inlet before stagnating due to no outlet being present. The pressure caused by stagnating fluids is referred to as stagnation pressure, total pressure, or pitot pressure. With such a capability, pitot tubes can be used for aircraft, boats, liquid measurement, and various industrial applications.
When implemented on an aircraft, the pitot tube acts as a sensor that is used to measure ram air pressure, or the pressure caused by air forcing its way into the inlet as the vehicle is in motion. Most commonly, the pitot tube will be situated on the wing of the aircraft or on the front section of the fuselage so that the opening is aligned with the flow of air. With such a placement, ram air pressure can be accurately measured without the worry of obstructions deterring or distorting flow.
Depending on the aircraft, pitot tubes may be combined with static tubes with two openings to accommodate airflow. While this may seem detrimental to the readings of instruments relying on such components, static and stagnation pressure can both be measured with ease. Additionally, combined systems can also save money through having less equipment and assemblies.
Measuring conditions such as the airspeed of a vehicle and its altitude is essential for any operation, allowing pilots to safely govern the vehicle. While groundspeed measurements may be beneficial for automobiles and other systems, they may not account for the resistance caused by headwind and air density. Without airspeed indications, pilots may travel at slow speeds that can cause a stall due to a lack of lift generation. When flying at speeds that are too high, on the other hand, the aircraft can face damage if it is incapable of traveling with such velocity. Furthermore, airspeed is very useful for plotting out flight routes, ensuring that there is always enough fuel for a given operation.
When using pitot tubes and their related systems, it is crucial that they are always free of any debris or blockages that may cause incorrect readings or a lack thereof. In cold weather conditions where ice may form, such as in northern locations or when flying high in the atmosphere, liquids can potentially freeze over the pitot tube and obstruct any readings from being carried out. As a lack of airspeed or altitude readings can prove highly dangerous for flight, pilots should always divert the aircraft as soon as possible if there are any issues with the pitot port or related instruments.
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