Aircraft Cockpit Instruments: The Six Pack

The cockpit, or flight deck, is the area in an aircraft from which the pilot controls the aircraft. It contains the flight instruments on an instrument panel, as well as the controls that allow the pilot to fly the aircraft. While every cockpit features dozens of instruments, there are a few that are more important than others. These instruments are the airspeed indicator, altitude indicator, altimeter, vertical speed indicator, heading indicator, and turn coordinator. Together, these instruments are known as the ‘six pack’ and make up the most basic instruments found in virtually all aircraft cockpits. The six pack was first established by the Royal Air Force in 1937, but has since been adopted worldwide. This blog will explain each of the six pack instruments and their functions.

The first instrument in the six pack is the airspeed indicator. Essentially a speedometer for aircraft, the airspeed indicator, or ASI, denotes the speed at which the aircraft is moving through the air. In most cockpits, the ASI is mounted in the upper-left corner of the instrument panel.

Located next to the ASI is the second six pack instrument, the altitude indicator. The altitude indicator is also known as the artificial horizon and serves to show the orientation of the airplane. The altitude indicator allows the pilots to determine whether or not they are flying parallel to the earth, and if not, the degree to which they are not.

The third member of the six pack is the altimeter. This instrument is used to measure the aircraft’s altitude. Specifically, the altimeter lists the height at which the airplane is flying above mean sea level. In an average cockpit, the six pack is organized as two rows of three gauges each. The altimeter is typically the final gauge on the far right side of the top row.

The next instrument is the vertical speed indicator, or VSI. The VSI is similar to the ASI, but it specifically denotes the speed at which an aircraft is ascending or descending, rather than the speed when flying level. It is used so pilots can be sure they aren’t ascending or descending at a dangerous rate.

The penultimate instrument of the six pack is a magnetic compass known as the heading indicator. The heading indicator shows the direction the aircraft is flying. As aircraft are commonly affected by wind, even if it is flying in the right direction, a strong gust of wind can change its trajectory. The heading indicator helps pilots maintain the correct trajectory and keep the aircraft on course.

The final instrument in the six pack is the turn coordinator. As its name makes obvious, it is used to help the pilot with turning the plane. A turn coordinator consists of two separate parts: one part that displays the aircraft’s rate of turn, and the other that denotes the slip or skin of the aircraft’s turn.

Each part of the six pack has an important role in the safe and proper operation of the aircraft as a whole. As such, when buying six pack instruments, be sure you are getting them from a top source. For any of the six pack instruments and much more, look no further than Aerospace Store, a trusted supplier of parts for a wide range of industries. We are an online distributor of aircraft parts in addition to parts pertaining to the aerospace, civil aviation, defense, electronics, and IT hardware markets. We’re always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7-365. For a quick and competitive quote, call us at 1-714-705-4780 or email us at


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