AS9120B, ISO 9001:2015, and FAA AC 0056B ACCREDITED

Heading Indicators : Going in the Right Direction

Pilots heavily rely on a variety of instruments to ensure a safe and accurate flight. One such instrument is the heading indicator, a primary flight instrument that provides crucial information about the aircraft's heading or direction of travel. In this blog, we will explore the ins and outs of the heading indicator, as well as its importance and what to do in case of part failure.

How Does It Work?

The heading indicator operates based on the principle of gyroscopic precession. More specifically, it consists of a gyroscope mounted in a gimbal mechanism that allows it to maintain a fixed position relative to the aircraft. The gyroscope is powered by the aircraft's electrical system, or by a vacuum system in older aircraft.

Inside the heading indicator, the gyroscope spins rapidly, maintaining its axis of rotation parallel to the Earth's surface. As the aircraft changes its heading, the gyroscope resists the change due to its gyroscopic stability. This resistance to change allows the heading indicator to accurately display the aircraft's heading on a compass card or numbered scale.

The compass card is a circular disk marked with 360 degree increments, representing the full range of possible headings. On this compass card, a lubber line, typically a small triangle or a reference mark, indicates the current heading of the vessel. Consequently, when the aircraft turns, the lubber line moves relative to the stationary compass card, reflecting the change in heading.

Advantages and Limitations

In comparison with a magnetic compass, the heading indicator offers several key advantages. Firstly, it is not affected by magnetic interference and provides a more stable and reliable indication of the aircraft's heading. It also eliminates the need for frequent compass corrections and allows for more precise navigation.

However, it is important to note that heading indicators are subject to certain limitations. In particular, they can drift over time due to gyroscopic errors and friction in gimbal mechanisms. To counter this, pilots must periodically reset the heading indicator using a magnetic compass as a reference. Additionally, the heading indicator is not suitable for determining the aircraft's orientation with respect to the Earth's magnetic field, as it only provides heading information.

Dealing with Heading Indicator Failures

In the event of a heading indicator failure, pilots must rely on other instruments like the magnetic compass and attitude indicator to maintain proper navigation. The magnetic compass can provide a general indication of the aircraft's heading, but it is susceptible to errors caused by magnetic interference and acceleration forces. The attitude indicator, on the other hand, provides information about the aircraft's pitch and roll but does not directly indicate the heading. In such situations, it is crucial for pilots to communicate with air traffic control and seek assistance. They might also consider using other navigation aids, such as GPS or radio navigation systems, to determine their heading and navigate safely to their destination.


Altogether, the heading indicator plays a vital role in the cockpit, providing pilots with accurate heading information to navigate the skies. Despite several limitations, it offers advantages over the magnetic compass in terms of stability and reliability, making it a popular option for aircraft. By understanding the workings of the heading indicator and following proper procedures, pilots can ensure a smooth and safe flight.

If you find yourself in need of replacement aircraft parts during regular inspection, Nascent Aviation has you covered. We are your one-stop shop for a plethora of aviation components, including reliable heading indicators. Explore our catalog of available items today and request quotes for your comparisons using our RFQ service. With representatives on standby 24/7x365, we guarantee quick responses that are catered to your specific requirements in 15 minutes or less.


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