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Aviation Glossary :: Pitot-Static System  Aviation Glossary :: Pitot-Static System FAA Written Test Preparation
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Pitot-Static System
Pitot-Static System
System that powers the airspeed altimeter and variometer by relying on air pressure differences to measure glider speed, altitude, and climb or sink rate. Placards. Small statements or pictorial signs permanently fixed in the cockpit and visible to the pilot. Placards are used for operating limitations (e.g., weight or speeds) or to indicate the position of an operating lever (e.g., landing gear retracted or down and locked).
source: FAA Glider Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-13A)
A pitot-static system is a system of pressure-sensitive instruments that is most often used in aviation to determine an aircraft's airspeed, Mach number, altitude, and altitude trend. A pitot-static system generally consists of a pitot tube, a static port, and the pitot-static instruments. This equipment is used to measure the forces acting on a vehicle as a function of the temperature, density, pressure and viscosity of the fluid in which it is operating. Other instruments that might be connected are air data computers, flight data recorders, altitude encoders, cabin pressurization controllers, and various airspeed switches.

The pitot-static system of instruments uses the principle of air pressure gradient. It works by measuring pressures or pressure differences and using these values to assess the speed and altitude. These pressures can be measured either from the static port (static pressure) or the pitot tube (pitot pressure). The static pressure is used in all measurements, while the pitot pressure is used only to determine airspeed.

Pitot Pressure

The pitot pressure is obtained from the pitot tube. The pitot pressure is a measure of ram air pressure (the air pressure created by vehicle motion or the air ramming into the tube), which, under ideal conditions, is equal to stagnation pressure, also called total pressure. The pitot tube is most often located on the wing or front section of an aircraft, facing forward, where its opening is exposed to the relative wind. By situating the pitot tube in such a location, the ram air pressure is more accurately measured since it will be less distorted by the aircraft's structure. When airspeed increases, the ram air pressure is increased, which can be translated by the airspeed indicator.

Static Port

The static pressure is obtained through a static port. The static port is most often a flush-mounted hole on the fuselage of an aircraft, and is 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. In situations where an aircraft has more than one static port, there is usually one located on each side of the fuselage. With this positioning, an average pressure can be taken, which allows for more accurate readings in specific flight situations. An alternative static port may be located inside the cabin of the aircraft as a backup for when the external static port(s) are blocked. 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. When aircraft climbs, static pressure will decrease.

Pitot Static Instruments:

The pitot-static system obtains pressures for interpretation by the pitot-static instruments. While the explanations below explain traditional, mechanical instruments, many modern aircraft use an air data computer (ADC) to calculate airspeed, rate of climb, altitude and Mach number. In some aircraft, two ADCs receive total and static pressure from independent pitot tubes and static ports, and the aircraft's flight data computer compares the information from both computers and checks one against the other. There are also "standby instruments", which are back-up pneumatic instruments employed in the case of problems with the primary instruments.

Airspeed Indicator

The airspeed indicator is connected to both the pitot and static pressure sources. The difference between the pitot pressure and the static pressure is called dynamic pressure. The greater the dynamic pressure, the higher the airspeed reported. A traditional mechanical airspeed indicator contains a pressure diaphragm that is connected to the pitot tube. The case around the diaphragm is airtight and is vented to the static port. The higher the speed, the higher the ram pressure, the more pressure exerted on the diaphragm, and the larger the needle movement through the mechanical linkage.


The pressure altimeter, also known as the barometric altimeter, is used to determine changes in air pressure that occur as the aircraft's altitude changes. Pressure altimeters must be calibrated prior to flight to register the pressure as an altitude above sea level. The instrument case of the altimeter is airtight and has a vent to the static port. Inside the instrument, there is a sealed aneroid barometer. As pressure in the case decreases, the internal barometer expands, which is mechanically translated into a determination of altitude. The reverse is true when descending from higher to lower altitudes.


Aircraft designed to operate at transonic or supersonic speeds will incorporate a machmeter. The machmeter is used to show the ratio of true airspeed in relation to the speed of sound. Most supersonic aircraft are limited as to the maximum Mach number they can fly, which is known as the "Mach limit". The Mach number is displayed on a machmeter as a decimal fraction.

Vertical Speed Indicator

The variometer, also known as the vertical speed indicator (VSI) or the vertical velocity indicator (VVI), is the pitot-static instrument used to determine whether or not an aircraft is flying in level flight. The vertical airspeed specifically shows the rate of climb or the rate of descent, which is measured in feet per minute or meters per second. The vertical airspeed is measured through a mechanical linkage to a diaphragm located within the instrument. The area surrounding the diaphragm is vented to the static port through a calibrated leak (which also may be known as a "restricted diffuser"). When the aircraft begins to increase altitude, the diaphragm will begin to contract at a rate faster than that of the calibrated leak, causing the needle to show a positive vertical speed. The reverse of this situation is true when an aircraft is descending. The calibrated leak varies from model to model, but the average time for the diaphragm to equalize pressure is between 6 and 9 seconds.

There are several situations that can affect the accuracy of the pitot-static instruments. Some of these involve failures of the pitot-static system itself—which may be classified as "system malfunctions"—while others are the result of faulty instrument placement or other environmental factors—which may be classified as "inherent errors".

source: Wikitionary / Wikipedia and Related Sources (Edited)

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Disclaimer: While this glossary in most cases is likely to be highly accurate and useful, sometimes, for any number of editorial, transcription, technical, and other reasons, it might not be. Additionally, as somtimes you may have found yourself brought to this page through an automated term matching system, you may find definitions here that do not match the cotext or application in which you saw the original term. Please use your good judgement when using this resource.

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