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The Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering

Division of Automation and Aeronautical Systems



Mechanical Gyroscopes

Written by:
M.Eng. Janusz Gajda

WARSAW, 2010

The purpose of the class is to acquaint students with construction and

operation of aeronautical instruments, in which mechanical gyroscopes are
used. The students will be familiar with instruments for determination both
aeroplane orientation and rate of course changes. They will get acquainted
with attitude indicators (artificial horizons), gyrocompasses, heading
indicators, gyrosyn compass systems, turn co-ordinators, and turn and slip
indicators. Necessary corrections which have been made in the instruments
will be discussed in detail. During the class the students will be able to
observe, discuss and measure typical errors of the instruments.



horizontal plane

 x

yg 
The orthogonal projection
of the x-axis 
onto horizontal plane
Oxz plane
Origin of the aeroplane-centered
coordinate system

Fig. 1 Angles of orientation

Aeroplane-centred co-ordinate systems originate at a fixed point in the vehicle, called the
reference point. The choice of the reference point is arbitrary. In particular, the centre of
gravity (CG), the leading edge of the root chord, or the aerodynamic centre of the wings can
serve as a reference point.

We will use the following co-ordinate systems:
- Oxgygzg - orthogonal co-ordinate system fixed with respect to ground and with origin fixed
to the aeroplane,
- Oxyz – orthogonal co-ordinate system fixed with respect to the aeroplane.

Body axes are fixed with respect to the aeroplane. If the aeroplane moves, the body axes
move with it. By convention, the x-axis points towards the front of the aeroplane, the y-axis
points to the right, and the z-axis points to the bottom.

Yaw angle Ψ - angle of turn around the Ozg axis, which turns the Oxg axis into the Ox axis
projected onto the Oxgyg horizontal plane.

Pitch angle Θ - angle of turn in the Oygzg vertical plane, which turns turned previously by the
Ψ angle the Oxg axis into the Ox axis.

Roll angle Φ - angle of turn around the Ox longitudinal axis, which turns previously by the Ψ
angle the Oyg axis into the Oy axis.


- laws of gyroscopes (Resal's theorem),

- typical structure,
- gyroscopic vertical,
- gyroscopic vertical corrections,
- typical errors (Cardan's error, unbalance error, friction error),
- direct and indirect correctors (ball correctors, pendulum correctors, angle transmitter and
torque motors),
- erection mechanism,
- remote artificial horizon,
- reserve attitude indicator,
- indicator conventions.


- typical structure,
- horizontal and azimuth corrections,
- gyrocompasses,
- gyrosyn compass systems.


- Turn and slip indicators,

- turn co-ordinators,
- typical structure,
- role of damping.



To determine attitude of aeroplanes the following instruments are used:

- instruments for determination the aeroplane's attitude in relation to the surface of the Earth
(attitude indicators),
- instruments for determination the aeroplane's heading (magnetic compasses,
gyrocompasses, gyrosyn compass systems - gyromagnetic and gyroinductive compasses),
- integrated attitude systems - IRU, IRS, AHRS (Cardan systems or strap-down systems).


Attitude indicators are used to

determine aeroplane's pitch and roll in
relation to the horizontal plane and present
them to the pilot. Because the heart of the
instrument is a gyroscopic vertical so
accuracy of attitude indicators depends on
accuracy of the vertical. The most popular
version of such instruments is gyroscopic
vertical with an astatic gyroscope and special
correction system.
The general structure of the attitude
indicator is presented in Fig.2. Rotor of
vertical spin axis is mounted in gimbals Fig. 2 The general structure of the attitude
system including two gimbals: outer and indicator
inner gimbals. The rotor is powered 1 - torque motors, 2 - synchro-transmitters,
electrically or pneumatically. Until any resolvers or mechanical indicators (pointers), 3 -
external moment acts to the gimbals the rotor outer gimbal axis, 4 - inner gimbal axis, 5 - pitch
will remain fixed in inertial space, regardless and roll transmitters (e.g. electrolytic levels)
of any motion of the platform on which the
gimbal system is mounted. So, pitch and roll angles are measured as rotation angles of the
rotor with respect to the platform. Possible deviation of spin axis from vertical axis is detected
by sensors (5 in Fig. 2). Received signal is used to control proper torque motor, which move
the rotor to previous position. If the rotor back in the initial (vertical) position, the control
signal fades, and correction motors are switched off.

During correction process the Resal's theorem
derived from the Law of Gyroscopes is used. In accordance
with it the linear velocity V of the end of angular
momentum vector H is equivalent to the vector of the
external forces moment M . It means that the rotor rotates
under the influence of the external forces moment M with
the angular velocity  p so as to the end of the angular
momentum vector H moves with the linear velocity V . As
a result of the angular velocity  p the angular momentum
vector H pursues in the shortest way to the external forces Fig. 3 Resal's theorem
moment M . presentation
Information on values of pitch and roll angles is presented in symbolic indication
system. An aeroplane attitude with respect to horizon plane is presented as mutual position of
aeroplane silhouette and horizon line (Annexe 1). Many types of presentation are used but
most popular are as follows:
- horizon indicator is movable and aeroplane silhouette indicator is immovable (so called
inside-outside presentation). This visualisation corresponds to situation observed by the
observer from an aeroplane. Because it assures compatibility of real horizon and horizon
presented at the instrument so such type of presentation is preferred during flights close to
ground and it facilitates the pilot transition from IFR flights to VFR flights,
- horizon indicator is immovable and aeroplane silhouette indicator is movable (so called
outside-in presentation). This presentation is better from the point of view of aeroplane
control because during the control the pilot expects change of aeroplane position with
respect to horizon line.
Sometimes mixed types of presentation are used, for example pitch angles are presented
in "immovable silhouette" convention but roll angles in "movable silhouette" convention. The
reason of it is to facilitate the pilot an instrument reading. Compatibility of the real horizon
and the horizon presented at the instrument (existing in "immovable silhouette" convention) is
very convenient for example during approach phase but for bigger pitch angles a bigger part
of the horizon at the instrument would be out of indication area and - by reason of it - less
suggestive for the pilot.
Attitude indicators are made in two versions:
- as direct instruments, i.e. gyroscopic vertical and presentation system are mounted in the
same enclosure,
- as remote instruments, i.e. measurement system is separated from presentation system; in
this version the gyroscopic vertical is mounted close to centre of gravity and indicator is
mounted on instrument panel in pilot cockpit.
Measuring range is limited by "putting together" gimbals phenomenon. The
phenomenon can occur during manoeuvre flights. The point is that for certain attitude of
aeroplane (for example for pitch angle equal to 90º) one of degree of freedom is lost because
of two gimbals are parallel one to each other. In this case the gyroscope does not keep steady
orientation and when any turn around the axis perpendicular to the plane of gimbals occurs we
can observe precession. To avoid such phenomenon the turn of gimbal with respect to another
gimbal is limited or additional gimbal is added. Taking it into consideration, attitude
indicators are made in three design versions:
- basic version, which enables accurate indications for pitch angles up to ± 60º and roll
angles up to ± 85º,

- acrobatic version, which enables accurate indications for pitch angles up to ± 85º and roll
angles up to ± 180º,
- with additional trace gimbal, which enables accurate indications for any attitude.
To minimize readiness time the erection mechanism is used. For that purpose the
erection button has to be pressed. During erection process the gimbals are set up
perpendicularly one to each other, and the spin axis of the gyroscope is set vertically with
respect to the co-ordinates system fixed to the aeroplane. It means that erection process should
be done during horizontal flight only.

Fig. 4 General view of the AGK-47 Fig. 5 Structure of the AGK-47 attitude indicator
attitude indicator

Fig. 6 Torque motors in the AGK-47 attitude Fig. 7 Two-axes electrolytic level
indicator in the AGK-47 attitude indicator

Fig. 8 General view of the AGD-1 attitude indicator
1 – gyroscopic transmitter, 2 - indicator

Fig. 9 Kinematic scheme of the AGD-1 attitude indicator

1 – gyroscope rotor, 2 – tracing gimbal, 3 – induction transducer, 4 – commutator, 6, 17 and 23 – motors with
rate feedbacks, 7 – electrolytic correction transmitter, 8, 9 – torque motors, 10 – electrolytic longitudinal
correction circuit-breaker, 11 – electrolytic lateral correction circuit-breaker controlled by rate gyro, 12, 13 –
synchro– transmitters, 14 – commutator, 15, 16 – synchro-receivers, 18 – gear, 19 – pitch angle scale, 20 – roll
angle scale, 21 – zero index, 22 – aeroplane silhouette, 24 – gear, 25 – vertical adjustment knob


- 27 V DC,
- 36 V AC 400 Hz,
Vertical accuracy ± 15’
Correction switch-breaker:
- for lateral correction – for turns of angular rate greater than 0,1 ÷ 0,3 º/s and existing
longer than 7 ÷ 10 s,
- for longitudinal correction – for longitudinal accelerations greater than 1,67 m/s2.


Many instruments and systems

are used for detection and presentation
current heading. Except magnetic
compasses there are various gyroscopic
instruments and systems, for example
gyrocompasses, heading indicators and
gyrosyn compass systems. The main
component of these systems is
directional gyroscope, i.e. two-degrees-
of-freedom gyroscope with horizontal
spin axis. The inner gimbal axis is
horizontal and usually it is parallel to
the longitudinal axis of the aeroplane.
The outer gimbal axis is parallel to the
vertical axis of the aeroplane. This axis
is measuring axis of heading. The
directional gyro does not measure the
absolute value of heading but detects
heading changes. For that purpose the
main axis of gyroscopes should remain
stable position with respect to defined
direction, for example to meridian. Real
precession, caused by manoeuvres and
internal errors, as well as apparent
precession caused by aeroplane
movement and Earth's rotation, may Fig. 11 Structure of gyrosyn compass system
1 – gyroscope, 2, 4 – horizontal correction torgue motor
cause the heading indicator to "drift". (stator and rotor), 3 – rotor of azimuth correction torque
To keep the stable position of the main motor, 5, 6 – rotor and stator of heading synchro-
axis in horizontal plane and with transmitter, 7 - heading dial-plate, 8 – heading mark, 9 –
respect to the meridian, the horizontal outer gimbal axis, 10 – initial heading motor, 11 –gear
and azimuth corrections have to be wheel of outer gimbal drive, 12 – collectors, 13, 14 –
erection mechanism, 15 – potentiometer
used. The horizontal corrections are
done by two methods: by levelling of
the inner gimbal or keeping gimbals perpendicularly one to each other.

GPK - 52
Since the Earth rotates, it appears to a
3 4 stationary observer on Earth that the main
gyroscope's axis is rotating once every 24 hours.
With the purpose of compensation of Earth's
rotation and unbalance of the inner gimbal the
azimuth correction is provided. It is realised by
1 the torque motor mounted to the inner gimbal
axis (3 in Fig. 11) and controlled by signal from
the control panel (2 in Fig. 11). This signal is
2 proportional to the latitude of aeroplane location.
The control panel consists of two knobs:
Fig.10 The GPK-52 gyrosyn compass the first one is used to set initial azimuth in
system remote way, and the second one - to set current
1 – directional gyro with gimbals system and latitude.
some components of horizontal and azimuth With the purpose of transmitting
corrections, 2 – control panel for azimuth measured heading to heading indicator (4 in Fig.
corrections and setting initial heading, 3 – 10) or other on-board systems (for example
coupling box, 4 – remote heading indicator
autopilot) in the upper part of the system the flat
synchro-transmitter is mounted. Its rotor is
mounted to the outer gimbal, and the stator - to the frame. Heading signal, dependent on
relative positions of both the rotor and the stator, is sent as electrical signal to the synchro-
receiver in the heading indicator and other receivers.
To minimize errors after aeroplane's turn, the horizontal correction can be switched off
automatically during turns of angular velocity greater than 0.3 °/s. It is realised by the WK-53
correction breaker.


Gyroscope drift approximately 2 °/h
Error after turn < 0.5°
Remote transmition accuracy  2°
Operation temperatures - 60 50 °C
Power 27 V DC  10%
Power 36 V AC 400 Hz  2%
Readiness time < 20 min
Moment of inertia of rotor 10 gcms2
Angular velocity of rotor 22 000 rpm

Fig. 13 Dial plate

Fig. 12 View of the control panel and the heading 1 – immovable mark, 2 – movable scale


The turn indicator is an instrument

dedicated to define turn direction and its
approximate angular velocity. The principle
of turn indicator operation is presented in
Fig. 16. As the aeroplane rotates about the
yaw, the principle of gyroscopic inertia
causes the gyroscope to resist the change in
its rotational axis about the free axis. This
resisting force works against a spring. Thus,
a slow rate of turn deflects the gyro slightly
while a higher rate of roll or yaw deflects it
more. The gimbal is linked to the indicator
dial on which is the rear view of the
miniature aeroplane. Motion of the gimbal is Fig. 16 The principle of turn indicator
damped by pneumatic damper. Thanks to operation
damper a motion of the pointer is fluent and 1 – pointer, 2 – spring, 3 – rotor, 4 – gimbal,
without oscillations. 5 – lever, 6 - gear
In practise, the turn indicator is used to
evaluate the quality of turn, i.e. the turn indicator indicates direction of the turn, and the
inclinometer, which is built-into the indicator, indicates if turn is "co-ordinated", with slip or
with skid. It is presented by the ball of the inclinometer. When the ball is centred within its
glass tube the manoeuvre is being executed in a co-ordinated manner. However, if the ball is
out of its centre location, the aeroplane is either slipping or skidding. The side to which the
ball has rolled indicates the direction of the slip or skid.
It is very important that turn indicators react to the turn around the z-axis only unlike the
turn co-ordinators, which react to the turn around the x-axis too. Because precession is used
during operation of turn indicators so use high angular velocities is unnecessary. Majority of
rotors spins with angular velocity about 6 000 - 7 000 rpm.
In steady state the indication of turn indicator is as follows:
H  cos 
u  ,
c H
1  sin 
where: H – angular momentum, c –
constant of spring, φ – roll, ω – rate of turn.
For co-ordinated turn with velocity v is
v 
tg  
(g – gravitational acceleration), so

- 10 -
Fig. 17 Inclinometer
a) horizontal flight, b) coordinated
turn, c) skid, d) slip
u  k   f (, v) ,
 v  v 2
1     k
 g  g
where k = H/c.

It means that pointer's deflection depends not only on rate of turn but aeroplane linear
velocity too. Thus, the turn indicator provides qualitative data only, not quantitative data. For
that purpose turn indicator dials are without any angular velocity units.
Usually turn indicators are calibrated for two turn rates: 3 º/s and 1,5 º/s, what
corresponds to time of the 360º co-ordinated turn equal to 2 and 4 min respectively (Fig. 18b).
On the dial three marks of the same width are placed, and the pointer's deflection by one mark
responds to turn rate equal to 1,5 º/s.
In the turn indicators made in USSR (for example EUP-53 - see Fig. 19) there are dials

Fig. 18 Dials of turn indicators

a) Turn indicator with inclinometer, b) 4-minutes Fig. 19 The EUP-53 turn indicator
indicator, c) 2-minutes indicator
calibrated for specified linear
velocity (for example 500 km/h). Thanks to it roll angles can be calibrated but the
measurement will be correct for this one linear velocity only.



1. Before the class the students had to be familiar with „Safety

Regulations” validated in the division.

2. In this class the most dangerous factors are:

- electrical power of the instruments,
- spinning elements of the instruments (rotors and gimbals),
- huge kinematic energy of rotation gathered in rotors.
Spinning elements could be the reason of hair getting into spinning
elements, whereas huge kinematic energy of rotation can result in
violent and unexpected motion of gimbals.

Do not put fingers or any objects into gyroscopes !!!

- 11 -
Braking the gyroscopes is not allowed - they should stop by themselves !


The class is executed on four stands dedicated for gyroscopic vertical, attitude
indicators, heading indicators and turn indicators respectively. Usually the student group is
divided into four teams, which execute tests parallely on all stands. After finishing each test
the teams change stands in clockwise manner.


On the stand the gyroscopic vertical is mounted on movable basement. During the test
the students should observe typical motion of gyroscopes and check the law of gyroscopes.
Any measurement is done on this stand.


On the stand many various attitude indicators are presented (for example AGD-1 and
AGK-47B). When power is switched off the students should be familiar with design and
operation of these instruments. Special attention should be paid to the elements, which enable
operation of the instruments during aerobatics.


On the stand two heading systems are presented: GPK-52 and GPK-48. The students
should be familiar with design and operation of these instruments as well as systems of
horizontal and azimuth corrections. Then the following tests should be done:

Switch power on and test an operation of the GPK-52 system. Three tests for different values
of latitude corrections (proposed values: 0°, 30°, 52°, 90°) should be done. Operation of the
system should be test by rotating manually the gyroscope set on horizontal table by 90°
starting from heading Ψ = 0º. Note the heading values for four main directions and then repeat
the test for the heading equal to 0º. Wait 10 min after each 90°-turn.

Final results should be presented in the report in graphical form. The quality of the latitude
correction should be evaluated.


1. Measure angular velocity of the movable table.

2. Switch the turn indicator on and wait at least 2 min.
3. Note indications of the turn indicator for various gains.
4. Place the turn indicator on movable table switched off.

- 12 -
5. Note indications of the turn indicator for various gains for right and left turns. Repeat tests
three times.
6. Repeat no. 5 for non-zero roll.
7. Analyse and note operation of combined rate-of-climb indicator and turn indicator.

- 13 -
Annexe 1 View of dial-plates of attitude indicators
Annexe 2 Conventions of attitude indications
Annexe 3 The first page of report (example)

- 14 -
Annexe 1 View of dial-plates of attitude indicators

1 – aeroplane silhouette 8 – erection mark

2 – pitch scale 9 – inclinometer
3 – roll scale 10 – turn indicator's mark
4 – horizon line 11 – vertical adjustment knob
5 – malfunction flag 12 – movable pitch mark
6 – erection flag
7 – erection knob

- 15 -
Annexe 2 Conventions of attitude indications

Left roll Pitch down Pitch up







- 16 -
The Faculty of Power and Aeronautical Engineering

Department of Automation and Aeronautical Systems




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Group designation:

Date of laboratory:

Report delivery date:

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Being aware of my legal responsibility, I certify that this report has been written by me/us
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