What is a Mode Control Panel?

Airplanes are equipped with a variety of instruments and controls in the cockpit, one of the most important being a mode control panel. Most commercial airplanes feature a mode control panel. During flight, pilots will use it to control their respective airplanes. What is a mode control panel exactly?

Mode Control Panels Defined

A mode control panel is a collection of controls that allows pilots to set and adjust the airplane’s flight mode. Upon reaching cruising altitude, for instance, pilots may set the airplane to autopilot. Autopilot is available on the mode control panel.

Pilots can also the mode control panel to adjust the airplane’s speed and altitude. If the airplane is preparing to land, pilots may want to slow it down. If an airplane is taking off, on the other hand, pilots may want to increase its speed. Mode control panels are control systems that support flight adjustments such as these.

Mode Control Panel vs Flight Control Units

Some airplanes have a flight control unit instead of a mode control panel. Flight control units serve the same purpose. They provide pilots with a control system to make flight adjustments.

Flight control units are exclusive to Airbus airplanes. Airbus refers to its control systems as a flight control unit. Other aerospace manufacturing companies typically use the term “mode control panel” for their control systems.

Boeing coined the term “mode control panel.” Over the years, however, other aerospace manufacturing companies have adopted it. With the exception of Airbus, most aerospace manufacturing companies refer to their control systems as mode control panels

Common Features of a Mode Control Panel

Mode control panels are typically found directly in front of the pilot. They consist of a narrow panel of electronic controls. Because they support flight adjustments, mode control panels are located in front of the pilot. Most airplanes have a single mode control panel — or a flight control unit for Airbus airplanes — that’s found directly in front o the pilot.

Pilots can use the mode control panel to enable or disable autopilot. They can also use it for autothrottle. Autothrottle allows pilots to set a power level for the airplane’s engines. Once set, the engines will maintain this power level automatically.

The mode control panel supports a variety of flight adjustments. In addition to speed and altitude, for example, pilots can use it to control vertical navigation and lateral navigation.

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