VC10 Air Data Sensor

Technical Information

Catalogue No: C1311
Category: Air Data
Object Type: Sensor/Transducer
Object Name: VC10 Air Data Sensor
Part No: 81-D-56-A-2
Serial No: 124/65
Manufacturer: GEC Avionics
Division: Unknown
Platform(s): VC10 
Year of Manufacture: 1965
Width (mm):
Height (mm):
Depth (mm):
Weight (g):
Location: Archive Object Store

GEC Avionics Ltd
Air Data Sensor
Type No. 81-D-56-A-2
Ref No. 6TK 2191677
Ser No. 124/65
E.B.L.R Aug. 96
GMAv SD(R) 44


This unit is a primary Air Data Sensor. In the Air Data Sensor static and dynamic pressure are sensed and three components are derived. The main outputs from the Air Data Sensor are duplicated but the outputs of the actual sensing capsule servos are compared with identical outputs from the Comparison Air Data Sensor designed by Elliott Bros. The alarm and disconnect circuits are activated when a discrepancy between the two signals exists.
The aircraft system has duplicated Air Data Sensors.

Air data systems provide accurate information on quantities such as pressure altitude, vertical speed, calibrated airspeed, true airspeed, Mach number, static air temperature and air density ratio. This information is essential for the pilot to fly the aircraft safely and is also required by a number of key avionic subsystems which enable the pilot to carry out the mission. It is thus one of the key avionic systems in its own right and forms part of the essential core of avionic sub systems required in all modern aircraft, civil or military.

The air data quantities; pressure, altitude, vertical speed, calibrated airspeed, true airspeed, Mach number etc. are derived from three basic measurements by sensors connected to probes which measure:

Total (or Pitot) pressure
Static pressure
Total (or indicated) air temperature

The total pressure, PT, is measured by means of an absolute pressure sensor (or transducer) connected to a Pitot tube facing the moving airstream. The Pitot pressure is a measure of ram air pressure (the air pressure created by vehicle motion or the air ramming into the tube). When airspeed increases, the ram air pressure is increased, which can be translated by the airspeed indicator.

The static pressure of the free airstream, PS, is measured by an absolute pressure transducer connected to a suitable orifice located where the surface pressure is nearly the same as the pressure of the surrounding atmosphere. The static pressure is obtained through a static port which most often is a flush-mounted hole on the fuselage of an aircraft located where it can access the air flow in a relatively undisturbed area. Some aircraft may have a single static port, while others may have more than one. When the aircraft climbs, static pressure will decrease.

High performance military aircraft generally have a combined Pitot/static probe which extends out in front of the aircraft so as to be as far away as practicable from aerodynamic interference effects and shock waves generated by the aircraft structure. A Pitot-static tube effectively integrates the static ports into the Pitot probe. It incorporates a second coaxial tube (or tubes) with pressure sampling holes on the sides of the probe, outside the direct airflow, to measure the static pressure. Some civil transport aircraft have Pitot probes with separate static pressure orifices located in the fuselage generally somewhere between the nose and the wing.

From the measurements of static pressure PT and total pressure PS it is possible to derive the Pressure Altitude, Vertical Speed, Calibrated Airspeed and Mach number. Measurement of the air temperature is made by means of a temperature sensor installed in a probe in the airstream and from this a function called Total Air Temperature can be calculated.

From the early days of the company it had been hoped to enter the civil aircraft flight control field, in order to reduce dependence on military projects. The late 1950s was a time of significant change in the automatic flight control field. Elliott made a major contribution to this evolution by the design and development of actuation systems which integrated the electronic control input with the hydraulics of the main flying control power actuator.

The opportunity to take this step came in the late 1950’s with the planning of the Vickers 'VC 10' for which Elliott Brothers secured an order to provide a complete automatic flight control system. This led to considerable shared responsibility with the airframe designs of the Vickers VC 10, where the main control surfaces were split into several separate units. From the outset, the 'VC 10' system was planned to make provision for fully automatic landing of the aircraft. For certification ever to be possible an extremely high standard of reliability was essential, and even in the case of failure of the equipment it was a requirement that the aircraft must not be subjected to violent manoeuvres. After a detailed study of possible alternatives, the solution chosen was to duplicate the whole of the major system, one half to be operative while the other was to be 'standing by', with a changeover mechanism of the utmost reliability to permit instant switching from one to another. By 1960 the basic development was substantially complete and the requirements for automatic landing were being explored in detail with full 'autoland' capability available from January 1963. Successful development of the 'VC 10' system resulted in the opportunity to supply broadly similar equipment for the British Aircraft Corporation 'BAC 111', which has been produced in substantial numbers. The automatic flight control system of the Standard and Super VC10 was designed to be capable of development to full blind landing. To meet this requirement the system had to be capable of failure survival and this includes associated services such as power supplies and flying controls. The method of autopilot failure survival chosen was to provide two monitored systems which are fail soft, i.e. there is negligible aircraft disturbance after a failure. Only one autopilot is used to fly the aircraft, and the two systems, including power supplies, are completely independent. Each autopilot has a comparison monitor which detects faults and, in flight, will disconnect the system if these faults are likely to lead to dangerous conditions. For autoflare the system provides for automatic changeover to the second monitored autopilot system, in the event of fault in the first. Under these conditions the second autopilot is primed and ready to take over. If for any reason the monitoring system fails to prevent an autopilot runaway, the control movement is limited to a safe amount by the yielding of a torque-limiting spring. Many of the needed components were already present in the autopilot fit on the Standard VC10s, to achieve the autoland capacity the system on the Super received some additional items. The system, supplied by Elliott Brothers (London) Ltd, was based largely on components of the well-proved Bendix PB-20 autopilot, made under licence by Elliott, and interchangeable with American built components as installed in Boeing 707s. However, the system as a whole i.e., the dual autopilot concept was novel, and designed entirely by Elliott.           

A comprehensive description of the VC10 systems will be found at this VC10 website.

The basic requirement for an automatic landing is that the equipment must survive a single failure and continue to operate. Fundamentally, this can be achieved by triplication of all equipment. But in providing and justifying redundant equipment in civil passenger aircraft, consideration must be given not only to overall safety, reliability and performance, but also to weight, installation difficulties, overall cost, maintenance problems and many other factors. Unnecessary redundancy must therefore be avoided.

It is essential that effective autopilot disconnection should occur in the event of a failure and that the pilot should be warned of the failure and the control runs automatically freed. The disconnection and warning unit can only be electrical and must be made truly fail-safe. In practice, failure of the system to disconnect following an autopilot failure will occur only if both the autopilot and the disconnection device fail. The likelihood of this is remote as it involves a product of small probabilities in the landing phase. The acceptance of an electrically actuated disconnect device permits further simplifications of the duplicate channel, with an increase in system reliability and a saving in weight.

The operation can be checked in a different way by comparing the demand of the second autopilot with the effective demand of the first which is obtained by suitably processing the actual control output with the approximate inverse transfer function of the servo motor control loop. This concept is called a "monitored-duplicate" system and is the design used by Elliotts on the VC10. The comparison concept is used throughout the Autopilot and the Flight Director system with the various flight parameters derived in a stand-alone units. Because the duplicate sensors are used for comparison and not for actual control, they can be considerably simplified and therefore made more reliable and lighter than those used in the autopilot; and the inherent differences make them less liable to fail from a common environmental cause.

Longitudinal and Lateral Computers have equivalent Comparison computers, the Vertical Gyro has a simple comparison unit and the Air Data Computer core elements are separated for this purpose. Not all the functional boxes are compared in this way; in some cases such as the Polar Path Compass the units are duplicated and are compared electro-mechanically but there is not a Comparison unit.

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