The pitot static system is a network of pressure-sensitive pipes, sensors, and instruments that determine an aircraft’s airspeed, Mach number, altitude, and much more. All these measurements are displayed on calibrated instruments for the pilot to analyze and interpret.
The system consists of an L-shaped pitot tube with an opening at the front that measures airspeed, two static ports designed to measure ambient air pressure, and many other pitot static instruments such as air data computers, flight data recorders, and cabin pressurization controllers. As such, pitot static systems are charged with providing essential data to the pilot that can be critical to many standard aircraft safety operations. In this blog, we will provide a brief overview of the pitot static system so you have a better understanding of its importance.
As previously mentioned, pitot static systems provide critical data for several operations by using the principle of air pressure gradient. One of its main responsibilities is utilizing the static ports or pitot tube to measure pressure differences, allowing the pilot to use these values to assess the speed and altitude of the aircraft. Additionally, the system provides information for the altimeter, vertical speed indicator, and airspeed indicator. While the altimeter and vertical speed indicator only receive data from the static port (static pressure), the airspeed indicator utilizes both the pitot tube (pitot pressure), and the static port.
You may ask yourself, how does this system provide such information? Well, the pitot tube is placed facing forward and connected to an airspeed indicator with two inputs: one for the pitot tube and one for the static ports. The airspeed indicator provides data regarding the speed of the aircraft relative to the surrounding atmosphere, but most importantly, it measures dynamic pressure. Dynamic pressure is defined as the difference between ambient air pressure and the force of air produced by an aircraft’s forward momentum. In order to derive this information, you must attain ambient air pressure from the static port.
When using the static port to measure ambient air, exposure to air pressure would create a false baseline resulting in inaccurate readings. Moreover, the other instruments that read static pressure would be affected too. One way to remedy this issue is to place the static ports at a location on an aircraft where minimal air pressure is created during movement. Air pressure is not the only factor that can affect the pitot static system. In order to function properly, air pressure instruments must be calibrated according to the size and shape of their respective inlets. For this reason, if the size of the inlet is changed or obstructed, the instruments will not provide accurate readings.
There are a number of other obstructions which can block pitot-static inlets, including: the failure to remove covers, blockages from bugs and dust, and ice accumulation. The covers used for pitot-static systems consist of red flags that read “remove before flight.” If the covers are not removed, air cannot get into the lines and instruments. Ice accumulation is probably the most dangerous of the three, and typically happens once airborne. Modern aircraft are equipped with electrical elements installed within the pitot tube that can heat and melt the ice— risk from ice is greatly reduced when flying in warmer, drier climates.
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