Autopilots, while made famous by aeroplanes, are actually used to automatically control all sorts of vehicles, including cars, trucks and boats. In fact, the first ship to use a basic autopilot was the J.A. Moffett oil tanker in 1920.
The first pilot to fly around the world solo, the games Wiley Post, used a Sperry Corporation autopilot in his record-setting eight-day journey in 1933. Sperry is credited as the company to have officially invented the autopilot in 1912.
Autopilots are used on board spacecraft to counteract minor disturbances caused by micrometeorites, radiation pressure from the Sun, and minor irregularities in the gravitational fields of nearby planetary bodies.
The International Civil Aviation Organization breaks down autopilot landings into five categories, dependent upon visibility levels and the degree of automation. Categories range from CAT I through to CAT IIIb.
Autopilots are built to be fail-safe, with manual overrides always given precedent over the system’s actions. the major cause of autopilot failure is with an aircraft’s servomotors, the machines that physically adjust its components.