Let’s take a giant step back for a moment.
Autopilot is not actually derived from the two words you see. It is not a pilot, and it does not do anything automatically. In short it has no mind of its own and regardless of the things you said about it to your friends in the bar, it is not going to try to kill you.
The AP is simply a tool to control the aircraft based on the commands you give it. It is going to try to maintain safe control inputs to achieve the commands as best it can within the limitations built in by the manufacturer.
Unfortunately, like any tool, if used incorrectly, it can “cause severe injury or death”
Checklist for safe AP use…
- Altimeter - SET to current field elevation
- Flight Director - ON
- Altitude Mode(ALT) - ARMED
- Cleared or Planned altitude - SET
- Vertical Speed Mode (VS) - ARMED
- Planned Vertical Speed - SET
- Heading Mode (HDG) - ARMED
- Auto Pilot Heading - SET to runway heading (do this when lined up)
- Directional Gyro - SET to runway heading (do this when lined up)
- Gear - UP (if equipped)
- Maintain Runway Heading
- Establish climb rate as selected
- Flaps - UP (as required as airspeed increases to climb speed)
- Climb Power - SET
- Trim - SET to stabilize climb rate and airspeed
- 500 FT AGL - AP - ENGAGE
- When cleared enroute - Select NAV mode (or Adjust Heading Select to achieve a 30 degree course intercept. When autopilot has leveled the wings after establishing heading, Select NAV mode)
If using the TOGA feature of the AP, do NOT engage the AP until established in the climb as indicated by the Flight Director (usually about a 7 degree climb gradient) at that point select Flight Level Change (FLC) Mode and the AP will default to the current speed.
This is applicable to most small GA aircraft. Each aircraft will have its own requirements and this is by no means a definitive guide to autopilot use, but you should be able to safely use most available autopilots if you follow this simplified guide.
Be aware there IS a bug in the sim AP that will zero the selected VS if VS mode is engaged after the AP is active. This should not happen. The VS selected should default to the current VS when the mode is armed.
NEVER engage the autopilot until stable flight is achieved and ALL parameters are set correctly!
Remember, the autopilot is not an Auto Pilot. Do not expect it to recover the aircraft from poor airmanship. I do not recommend engaging the autopilot with flaps extended. If flaps will be required while AP is engaged make sure the aircraft is in stable flight without flaps before engaging the AP and gradually introduce flaps while the AP is active to allow the system to adjust safely.