It’s a well-known fact that in the cockpit you have a captain and a co-pilot. Yet a third person, whose nickname in the industry is known as ‘George’, is always there even if he’s almost invisible. Who is he? A flight mechanic? A flight attendant? Another pilot? A security agent? No, none of those.
In fact, George, the ‘third person’ is none other than the automatic pilot. A system that enables pilots to maintain, amongst other things, the right altitude, speed or direction in flight. With certain helicopters, for example, it enables them to stay stationary in flight. All this automation is programmed and supervised by the pilots. Their presence is therefore indispensable, as the automatic pilot can’t do everything.
On a historic note, the first automatic pilot that enabled a plane to maintain a constant direction and altitude was developed by an American aviation pioneer, Lawrence Sperry, in 1912. Since then, it hasn’t stopped evolving and is present on all commercial aircraft today.