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Mastering Cessna 172 Autopilot: A Beginner’s Guide to Flying with Ease


Written by Jack Lin

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Cessna 172 Autopilot

In this Cessna 172 flight simulator tutorial, we explain every important move about it. If you are new to Cessna 172 autopilot, this content will be very useful for you.

So, you may continue reading and learn how to handle Cessna 172 g1000 seamlessly.

We hope you have done at least a little bit of research on the Microsoft Flight Simulator. If yes, you already know that only some of the planes in it come with the autopilot feature. Therefore, learning how to fly a plane manually is compulsory.

But the number of planes that have the autopilot feature is not that small either. Knowing how to handle it and how the whole system works is a pretty difficult challenge, especially for novices.

So, in this guide, we do our best to explain how the Cessna 172 g1000 works. If you are new to FS2020, keep reading and get to know the most important details.

How to Engage Cessna 172 Autopilot Key

First, let’s learn how to engage Cessna 172 autopilot key before moving into other areas. In fact, one of the most basic forms of the FS2020 autopilot is just a walk in the park.

All you need is to locate the button called “AP” on the dashboard of the Cessna 172 flight simulator. Since you are using a Cessna 172, you should look for it toward the left of the screen.

Important notice: please note that not all the autopilot features can take control of the plane you fly. Well, you cannot find a feature to control the throttle in Cessna 172 as well. Please keep that in mind when you start following this guide.

How to Engage Cessna 172 Autopilot Key

Cessna 172 Autopilot – HDG Key (Heading Select)

The term Heading Select is used to represent the exact purpose. That means this mode instructs the plane to follow the heading you have already specified. You can identify this mode on FS2020 with the blue-color ticker on the navigation pane. Do not confuse it with the purple line, as a lot of beginners do.

All you need is to move the ticker’s location with the help of the knob. The ticker should be moved over the buttons that are labeled with the text “HDG.”

For instance, assume that you have switched on the heading mode. And, you are pointed at 40 degrees. You change it to 60 degrees. As a result, your Cessna 172 will change its course and get assigned to the new heading. This specific feature becomes very handy if you need to stay on a predefined track.

If you miss a couple of degrees, you might end up somewhere else and miss the destination significantly. That’s a shame. However, thanks to the HDG feature, you will not face such a catastrophe.

However, there’re novice users who often get confused with the HDG key because of the way the value chances. When you use the scroll wheel, that will change the nob only by 10’s increments.

So, if you need to change it by single digits, you should use a mouse click only. In addition to that, you can increase the values by one by clicking and holding.

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Cessna 172 Autopilot – NAV Key (Navigation Mode)

Assume that you are in a smart plane that comes with proper GPS features. In that case, your destination might be programmed. If you put the plane in navigation mode, it will take you to the destination automatically.

In addition to that, you can use the same feature with VOR and LOC. Those aspects will be explained in detail in a future article.

For planes that have advanced features and direct routes, the NAV key will be the ideal option.

Cessna 172 Autopilot – APR Key (Approach Mode)

With approach mode, you will be able to make your plane read the navigation data automatically. Then, it can utilize that navigation data to approach the destination in a proper manner.

Frankly, we were unable to use this feature yet. So, we are not going to describe this feature further. We will get back with an update after using this feature at a future date.

Cessna 172 Autopilot - APR Key (Approach Mode)

Cessna 172 Autopilot – VS Key (Vertical Speed Mode)

Assume that you want to have your plane descend to 3,000 altitudes from 5,000. If that’s the case, what you should do is set your plane to the respective altitude value. That should be done before clicking on the Vertical Speed Mode.  

Just like with the Heading Mode, you will be able to locate this key right below the “ALT” buttons. After locating the button, you can click on it. Then – since you want to descend – use nose-down keys to set the feet per minute value.

For instance, assume that you want to decent at a speed of 600 feet per minute. In that case, you should hit the nose-down key six times. Approximately five minutes later, you will reach the 3,000-altitude level.

In addition to that, you can use the same feature to gain altitude and ascend. But we should suggest that it is better to use the following tool to ascend.

Flight Level Change Mode (FLC Key)

It is true that descent speed matters only a little. However, the optimal climbing speed of the plane is considerably low in pretty much all cases. When it comes to a flight like Cessna 172 g1000, the optimal climbing speed is 75 knots. With the assistance of flight level change mode, you can expect your plane to do it.

Once again, you are supposed to set the altitude you want before clicking on the Flight Level Change button. After that, you should click on it so you can either increase or decrease the speed. That is done with the help of the Nose Up and Nose Down buttons, respectively.

Your plane will then start to ascend to gain the specified altitude. It will maintain the speed that is already determined.

In addition to that, you can perform the same action in reverse. Then, you can have it to let you descend. When you set the lower altitude, you will be able to notice that plane does nothing.

Well, that’s particularly because the plane expects you to manage the descend rate using the throttle. In other words, you can control the descent using the throttle, and the plane itself will control the speed. So, you are basically controlling your plane’s descend rate with the throttle.

ALT Key (Altitude Mode)

Assume that you have reached a specific height. In that case, you don’t have to worry about how to adjust the pitch of the plane you fly. You don’t have to use the trim and speed to change the pitch. Instead, you can expect the plane to do it automatically.

To make it happen, all you need is to click on the ALT key. You will be able to find this tool on autopilot mode. As a result, your plane will hold to the present altitude.

VNV Key (Vertical Path Tracking Mode)

If truth be told, this is not a frequently used tool for many users. The Vertical Path Tracking Mode will let your plane descend along a path that has already been programmed.

BC Key (Backcourse Mode)

Here’s another key that will not be used frequently. BC Key or the Backcourse Mode is used to assist you if you land wrongfully on your runway. In other words, it is there to help you when you land in the wrong direction.

It is true that you will not use the autopilot mode to land in most cases. However, you can use it when you are in simulator mode. But the navigation will utilize a specific localizer antenna to get the exact location of the runaway. This antenna sends a signal in advance. As a result, you can see that the plane aligns perfectly with the destination path.

In addition, it sends another back course signal in the opposite direction. Well, if you come from the exact direction, the Backcourse mode should be activated in advance.

If not, the plane you fly will go around the land in the opposite direction. Well, if you don’t get what is explained here, don’t worry. Just try to work it around practically. The process is somewhat complicated.

Nose Up and Nose Down Keys

Just like we have explained above, these buttons will change their functionality based on the currently activated mode. Sometimes, those buttons will help you gain altitude or change the target. Also, in some cases, they will help you set a specific airspeed.


  1. Is the Cessna 172 autopilot system available in all models?
    • Yes, the autopilot system is typically available as an optional feature in most Cessna 172 models.
  2. Can the autopilot system perform fully automated landings?
    • The autopilot system can assist with instrument approaches, but it does not perform fully automated landings. The pilot must still take control during the landing phase.
  3. Are there any limitations to using the autopilot system?
    • The autopilot system has certain limitations, such as restrictions on its use during takeoff and landing. Always consult the aircraft’s operating manual for specific limitations.
  4. Can the autopilot system be overridden in case of an emergency?
    • Yes, the autopilot system can be disengaged at any time, allowing the pilot to take immediate control of the aircraft.
  5. Do I need special training to use the Cessna 172 autopilot system?
    • It is recommended to undergo training specific to the Cessna 172 autopilot system to fully understand its features and operations. Consult with a certified flight instructor for appropriate training opportunities.


Well, that’s basically it. What we have mentioned above are the basics of the Cessna 172 flight simulator for your reference.

As you can see, playing around with Cessna 172 autopilot mode is not difficult. As long as you can follow the basics, you can easily take off, ascend and work with other functions.

Do you have any other questions about Cessna 172 g1000? If so, you can ask them below so we will explain them in a future post.


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