An altimeter is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level. The measurement of altitude is called altimetry, which is related to the term bathymetry, the measurement of depth underwater.
Digital barometric pressure sensor for altitude measurement in consumer electronic applicationsA pressure altimeter (also called barometric altimeter) is the altimeter found in most aircraft. In it, an aneroid barometer measures the atmospheric pressure from a static port outside the aircraft. Air pressure decreases with an increase of altitude—approximately 100 hectopascals per 800 meters or one inch of mercury per 1000 feet near sea level.The altimeter is calibrated to show the pressure directly as an altitude above mean sea level, in accordance with a mathematical model defined by the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA). Older aircraft used a simple aneroid barometer where the needle made less than one revolution around the face from zero to full scale. Modern aircraft use a "sensitive altimeter" which has a primary needle that makes multiple revolutions, and one or more secondary needles that show the number of revolutions, similar to a clock face. In other words, each needle points to a different digit of the current altitude measurement.Diagram showing the internal components of the sensitive aircraft altimeter.On a sensitive altimeter, the sea level reference pressure can be adjusted by a setting knob. The reference pressure, in inches of mercury in Canada and the US and hectopascals (previously millibars) elsewhere, is displayed in the Kollsman window, visible at the right side of the aircraft altimeter shown here. This is necessary, since sea level reference atmospheric pressure varies with temperature and the movement of pressure systems in the atmosphere.In aviation terminology, the regional or local air pressure at mean sea level (MSL) is called the QNH or "altimeter setting", and the pressure which will calibrate the altimeter to show the height above ground at a given airfield is called the QFE of the field. An altimeter cannot, however, be adjusted for variations in air temperature. Differences in temperature from the ISA model will, therefore, cause errors in indicated altitude.Kollsman-type barometric aircraft altimeter as used in North America displaying an altitude of 80 feet.The calibration formula for an altimeter, up to 36,090 feet (11,000 m), can be written as:where h is the indicated altitude in feet, P is the static pressure and Pref is the reference pressure (use same units for both). This is derived from the barometric formula using the scale height for the troposphere.
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