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What is Avionics?

by in Aviation Electronics
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Avionics” is a combination of the words “aviation” and “electronics”, believed to have been coined by journalist Philip J. Klass in the 1970s.[i] It refers to any electrical systems used on an aircraft. This can be as simple as cabin lighting, or as complex as the automatic pilot. The different components of an aircraft’s avionics play critical roles in the craft’s flight, performance, and safety. Avionics History During the early history of aviation, electrical components were added to aircraft in an ad-hoc fashion, rather than under an organized system. As with many other developments in flight, the field of what would be known as avionics advanced greatly during World War II. German, British, and American aircraft all added radar systems to their planes. Additionally, US bombers adopted autopilot systems, first successfully tested in 1930[ii], in order to keep planes flying steadily while taking aim at targets. Today, the majority of a military aircraft’s price tag is spent on the avionics components, including radar, targeting, communications and countermeasure systems, rather than on the engines or other mechanical parts. Common Avionics Components Passenger aircraft have increasingly sophisticated avionics systems. These can include:

  • Navigation: While early pilots needed to use maps to determine and confirm their position, modern aircraft can use radio or satellite navigation to track their position and update their flight route.
  • Flight recorders: Also known as the “black box”, flight recorders track all data and communications during a flight.
  • Meteorological systems: These include instruments that track storms, lightning strikes, and air turbulence.
  • Collision Avoidance: As the skies become increasingly crowded, many larger aircraft have devices that automatically detect other planes in order to avoid crashes.
  • Communication: Pilots need to talk to their passengers and also to air traffic control. PA systems allow them to announce when it’s safe to move about the cabin. Radio communications let them talk to control towers.

All avionics systems are controlled from the flight deck via the cockpit. The display and control systems in the cockpit themselves are another important avionics component. Avionics CareersIn order to keep air travel safe, or to assure mission success for military pilots, skilled avionics technicians are needed. If this is a field that sounds interesting to you, you can train for entry-level roles in as little as 24 months. You should choose an FAA-Approved program that prepares you to earn your Airframe & Powerplant license (A&P). You should expect to study:

  • Applied physics, mathematics, and engineering courses
  • Electronics, including AC and DC systems
  • Radar systems
  • How to install and repair electrical components
  • How to read and interpret technical drawings of aircraft

The skills you learn in an avionics technology training program can prepare you to pursue exciting career opportunities in aviation. You will also have knowledge that can transfer to other industry sectors.



[i] McGough, Michael (August 26, 2005). "In Memoriam: Philip J. Klass: A UFO (Ufologist Friend’s Obituary)". Skeptic. http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-08-26/ Retrieved 30 May 2013.
[ii] "Now - The Automatic Pilot" Popular Science Monthly, February 1930, p. 22. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=4ykDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA22&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false Retrieved 30 June 2013.
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