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Flight Instruments: Angle of Attack Indicators

Today’s post on flight instruments comes from the brand-new Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (FAA-H-8083-25B)!

The purpose of an angle of attack (AOA) indicator is to give the pilot better situational awareness pertaining to the aerodynamic health of the airfoil. This can also be referred to as stall margin awareness. More simply explained, it is the margin that exists between the current AOA that the airfoil is operating at, and the AOA at which the airfoil will stall (critical AOA).

Speed by itself is not a reliable parameter to avoid a stall. An airplane can stall at any speed. Angle of attack is a better parameter to use to avoid a stall. For a given configuration, the airplane always stalls at the same AOA, referred to as the critical AOA. This critical AOA does not change with:

  • Weight
  • Bank Angle
  • Temperature
  • Density Altitude
  • Center of Gravity

aoa
An AOA indicator can have several benefits when installed in General Aviation aircraft, not the least of which is increased situational awareness. Without an AOA indicator, the AOA is “invisible” to pilots. These devices measure several parameters simultaneously and determine the current AOA providing a visual image to the pilot of the current AOA along with representations of the proximity to the critical AOA. These devices can give a visual representation of the energy management state of the airplane. The energy state of an airplane is the balance between airspeed, altitude, drag, and thrust and represents how efficiently the airfoil is operating.

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