Sailplane Altimeter Tools to Show Flight Levels

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This Demonstration shows the use of two new tools that allow sailplane pilots to read off simultaneously their altitude (in meters) above Mean Sea Level (MSL), which depends on the local pressure at MSL, known as the QNH, as well as their height in Flight Levels (FLS), which is their height according to the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA). The basic idea behind these tools is that when the interior of the altimeter is turned to change the zero setting, a transparent disk fastened inside a nontransparent ring on the outside of the altimeter is turned by the same angle.

Contributed by: Jan L. de Jong and Wil J. P. M. Kortsmit (Dept. of Mathematics & Computer Science, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, the Netherlands) (March 2011)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA



In aviation, altimeters provide the height in the ISA that corresponds to the air pressure at the level at which the aircraft is flying. Most altimeters give the height in feet; sailplane altimeters in non-Anglo-Saxon countries usually give the height in meters. Air Traffic Control uses the ISA height expressed in units of 100 ft; these FLS are the common measure used for height separation of aircraft en route. Pilots in aircraft taking off and descending for landing—and sailplane pilots in particular—need another height indication, namely their actual height above MSL, which is usually called the altitude. This altitude can be provided by the altimeter when its interior is rotated within its casing so that the altimeter in theory shows 0 m at MSL. The theoretical air pressure at 0 m MSL is known as the QNH (pressure) and that pressure is shown in the little window in the scale of the altimeter when the interior of the altimeter is rotated. In that situation the FL indication on the altimeter is no longer available. By using either of the new tools, the FLS-disk or the FLS-ring, the FL indication can be restored.

Reference: Aerokurier, June, 2008 p. 92.

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