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Variometers

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sailplane Instrument SystemVariometers measure the rate of change of altitude by detecting the change in air pressure (static pressure) as altitude changes. A simple variometer can be constructed by adding a large reservoir (a capacity bottle) to augment the storage capacity of a common aircraft rate-of-climb instrument. In its simplest electronic form, the instrument consists of an air bottle connected to the external atmosphere through a sensitive air flow meter. As the aircraft changes altitude, the atmospheric pressure outside the aircraft changes and air flows into or out of the air bottle to equalise the pressure inside the bottle and outside the aircraft. The rate and direction of flowing air is measured by the cooling of one of two self-heating thermistors and the difference between the thermistor resistances will cause a voltage difference; this is amplified and displayed to the pilot. The faster the aircraft is ascending (or descending), the faster the air flows. Air flowing out of the bottle indicates that the altitude of the aircraft is increasing. Air flowing into the bottle indicates that the aircraft is descending.

 

Newer variometer designs directly measure the static pressure of the atmosphere using a pressure sensor and detect changes in altitude directly from the change in air pressure instead of by measuring air flow. These designs tend to be smaller as they do not need the air bottle. They are more reliable as there is no bottle to be affected by changes in temperature and less chances for leaks to occur in the connecting tubes.