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The operating principle of these compasses, and indeed of the systems just referred to, is
based on established fundamentals of magnetism, and on the reaction between the magnetic
field of a suitably suspended magnetic element, and the field surrounding the earth. It is
useful at this stage therefore, to briefly study these fundamentals.

Magnetic Properties (Fig 4.1 )

First of all let us consider the three principal properties of a permanent magnet:

(i) it will attract other pieces of iron and steel,

(ii) its power of attraction is concentrated at each end, and
(iii)when suspended so as to move horizontally, it always comes to rest in an approximately
North-South direction.

The second and third properties are related to what are termed the poles of a magnet, the end
of the magnet which seeks North being called the North pole and the end which seeks South
the South pole.
When two such magnets are brought together so that both North poles or both South poles
face each other, a force is created which keeps the magnets apart. When either of the magnets
is turned round so that a North pole faces a South pole again a force is created, but this time
to pull the magnets more closely to each other. Thus, like poles repel and unlike poles attract;
this is one of the fundamental laws of magnetism. The force of attraction or repulsion
between two poles varies inversely as the square of the distance between them. The region in
which the force exerted by a magnet can be detected is known as a magnetic field. Such a
field contains magnetic flux, which can be represented in direction and density by lines of



Figure 4.1 Fundamental magnetic properties.



The conventional direction of the lines of flux outside a magnet is from the North pole to the
South pole. The lines are continuous and unbroken, so that inside the magnet their direction is
from South pole to North pole. If two magnetic fields are brought close together, their lines of
flux do not cross one another but form a distorted pattern, still consisting of closed loops. The
symbol for magnetic flux is ɸ, and its unit is the weber(Wb).The amount of flux through unit
area, indicated by the spacing of the lines of flux, is known as magnetic flux density (B); its
unit is the weber per square metre, or tesla (T).
Magnetic flux is established more easily in some materials than in others: in particular it is
established more easily in magnetic materials than in air. All materials, whether magnetic or
not, have a property called reluctance which resists the establishment of magnetic flux and is
equivalent to the resistance of an electric circuit. It follows that, if a material of low
reluctance is placed in a magnetic field, the flux density in the material will be greater than
that in the surrounding air.
Magnetic field strength, H, or the strength of a magnetic field at any point is measured by
the force, F, exerted on a magnetic pole at that point. The force depends on the pole strength,
i.e. the flux 'emanating' from the pole as well as on the field strength. In symbols,
H =E newtons per weber.
Thus the unit of H is the newton per weber (N/Wb). A unit that is more familiar to electrical
engineers is the ampere per metre (A/m).
It can be shown that 1 N/Wb = 1 A/m.

Magnetic Moment

The magnetic moment of a magnet is the tendency for it to turn or be turned by another
magnet. It is a requirement in aircraft compass design that the strength of this moment be
such that the magnetic detecting system will quickly respond to the directive force of a
magnetic field, and in calculating it the length and pole strength of a magnet must be
In Fig 4.2, suppose the pivoted magnet shown at (a) is of pole strength and the length of its
magnetic axis is l, then its magnetic moment m is equal to the product of the pole strength
and magnetic length, thus : m = lɸ.
If now the magnet is positioned at right angles to a uniform magnetic field H, the field will
be distorted in order to 'pass through' the magnet. In resisting this distortion, the field will try
to pull the magnet into alignment with it. Each pole will experience a force of ɸH newtons,
and as the forces act in opposite directions they constitute a couple. Now, the torque, M, of a

couple is the product of one of the equal forces and the perpendicular distance between them,
M = lɸH; but Iɸ = m, so that M = mH.
From the foregoing it is thus evident that the greater the pole strength and the longer the
magnet, the greater will be its tendency to turn into line with a surrounding magnetic field.
Conversely, the greater will be the force it exerts upon the surrounding field, or indeed upon
any magnetic material in its vicinity.
In Fig 4.2 (b), the magnet needle is shown inclined at an angle ɵ

Figure 4.2 Magnetic moment.

(a)Magnet at right angles to a uniform field;
(b)Magnet at angle ɵ to a uniform field



to the field H. The force on each pole is still ɸH, but the perpendicular distance between the
forces is now SQ. Now SQ/SN = SQ/I = sin ɵ; therefore SQ = l sin ɵ. Thus the torque acting
on the magnet at an angle ɵ is lɸH sin ɵ, or mH sin ɵ.

Magnet in a Deflecting Field

In Fig 4.3, a magnet is situated in a uniform magnetic field H1 and a uniform deflecting field,
H2, is applied at right angles to H1. When

Figure 4.3 Magnet in a deflecting field.

magnet is at an angle ɵ to field H1 , as already shown, the torque due to H1 is mH1 sin ɵ. The
torque due to H2 is mH2 cos ɵ. Thus, for the magnet to be in equilibrium, i.e. subjected to
equal and opposite torques, mH1 sin ɵ = mH2 cos ɵ , so that the strength of the deflecting field
is H2 = H1 tan ɵ .

Period of a Suspended Magnet

If a suspended magnet is deflected from its position of rest in the magnetic field under whose
influence it is acting, it at once experiences a couple urging it back into that position, and
when the deflecting influence is removed the magnet, if undamped, will oscillate backwards
and forwards about its equilibrium position before finally coming to rest. The time taken for



the magnet to swing from one extremity to another and back again, i.e. the time for a
complete vibration, is known as the period of the magnet.
As the magnet gradually comes to rest, the amplitude of the vibration gradually gets less but
the period remains the same and it cannot be altered by adjusting the amplitude. The period
of a magnet depends upon its shape, size or mass (factors which affect the moment of inertia),
its magnetic moment, and the strength of the field in which it vibrates. The period varies with
these factors in the following ways:
(i) it grows longer as the mass increases;
(ii) it becomes shorter as the field strength increases.

The vibrations of a magnet acting under the influence of a magnetic field are very similar to
those of an ordinary pendulum swinging under the influence of gravity; the period T of a
pendulum is given by

where l is the length of the pendulum and g the acceleration due to gravity.
When a magnet of magnetic moment m is displaced through an angle ɵ then, as already
shown, the torque, T, restoring it to the equilibrium position is mH sin ɵ. If l is the moment of
inertia of the vibrating magnet about an axis through its centre of gravity perpendicular to its
length, then its angular acceleration is

α= =

If the displacement is small, sin ɵ and ɵ do not differ appreciably,

so that
may be written

and is constant. The motion is simple harmonic, having a period given by


Hard Iron and Soft Iron

'Hard' and 'soft' are terms used to qualify varieties of magnetic materials according to the ease
with which they can be magnetized. Metals such as cobalt and tungsten steels are of the hard
type since they are difficult to magnetize but once in the magnetized state they retain the
property for a considerable length of time; hence the term permanent magnetism. Metals
which are easy to magnetize (silicon iron for example), and generally lose their magnetic



state once the magnetizing force is removed, are classified as soft. These terms are also used
to classify the magnetic effects occurring in aircraft.

Terrestrial Magnetism

The surface of the earth is surrounded by a weak magnetic field which culminates in two
internal magnetic poles, situated near the North and South true or geographic poles. That this
is so is obvious from the fact that a magnet freely suspended at various parts of the earth's
surface will be found to settle in a definite direction, which varies with locality. A plane
passing through the magnet and the centre of the earth would trace on the earth's surface an
imaginary line called the magnetic meridian as shown in Fig 4.4. It would thus appear that
the earth's magnetic field is similar to that which would be expected at the surface if a short
but strongly magnetized bar magnet were located at the centre. This partly explains the fact
that the magnetic poles are relatively large areas, due to the spreading out of the lines of force
and it also gives a reason for the direction of the field being horizontal in the vicinity of the
equator. However, the origin of the field is still not exactly known, but for purposes of
explanation, the supposition of a bar magnet at the earth's centre is useful in visualizing the
general form of the magnetic field as it is known to be.
Figure 4.4 Terrestrial magnetism. Lines AA, BB and CC are isoclinals.



The earth's magnetic field differs from that of an ordinary magnet in several respects. Its
points of maximum intensity, or strength, are not at the magnetic poles (theoretically they
should be) but occur at four other positions, two near each pole, known as magnetic foci.
Moreover, the poles themselves are continually changing their positions, and at any point on
the earth's surface the field is not symmetrical and is subject to changes both periodic and

Magnetic Variation

As meridians and parallels are constructed with reference to the geographic North and South
poles, so can magnetic meridians and parallels be constructed with reference to the magnetic
poles. If a map were prepared to show both true and magnetic meridians, it would be
observed that these intersect each other at angles varying from 0o to 180o at different parts of
the earth, diverging from each other sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other.
(The horizontal angle contained between the true and magnetic meridian at any place) is
known as the magnetic variation or declination.
When the direction of the magnetic meridian inclines to the left of the true meridian at any
place, the variation is said to be westerly. When the inclination is to the right of the true
meridian the variation is said to be easterly. It varies in amount from 0o along those lines
where the magnetic and true meridians run together to 1800 in places between the true and
magnetic poles. At some places on the earth where the ferrous nature of the rock disturbs the
earth's main magnetic field, local attraction exists and abnormal variation occurs which may
cause large changes in its value over very short distances.
While the variation differs all over the world, it does not maintain a constant value in any one
place, and the following changes, themselves not constant, may be experienced:

(i) Secular change, which takes place over long periods due to the changing positions of the
magnetic poles relative to the true poles.

(ii) Annual change, which is a small seasonal fluctuation superimposed on the secular

(iii) Diurnal change (daily).

Information regarding magnetic variation and its changes is given on special charts of the
world which are issued every few years. Lines are drawn on the charts, and those which join
places having equal variation are called isogonal lines, while those drawn through places
where the variation is zero are called agonic lines.

Magnetic Dip

As stated earlier, a freely suspended magnet needle will settle in a definite direction at any
point on the earth's surface and will lie parallel to the magnetic meridian at that point.
However, it will not lie parallel to the earth's surface at all points for the reason that the
lines of force themselves are not horizontal as may be seen from Fig 4.4. These lines emerge
vertically from the North magnetic pole, bend over and descend vertically into the South
magnetic pole, and it is only at what is known as the magnetic equator that they pass
horizontally along the earth's surface. If, therefore, a magnetic needle is carried along a
meridian from North to South, it will be on end, red end down, at the start, horizontal near the
equator and finish up again on end but with the blue end down.
The angle the lines of force make with the earth's surface at any given place is called the
angle of dip or magnetic inclination, and varies from 0' at the magnetic equator to 90° at the
magnetic poles. Dip is conventionally considered positive when the red end of a freely
suspended magnet needle dips below the horizontal, and negative when the blue end dips
below the horizontal. Hence all angles of dip north of the magnetic equator will be positive,
and all angles of dip south of the magnetic equator will be negative.
The angle of dip at all places undergoes changes similar to those described for variation and
is also shown on charts of the world. Places on these charts having the same magnetic dip are
joined by lines known as isoclinals, while those at which the angle is zero are joined by a line
known as the aclinic line or magnetic equator, of which mention has already been made.

Earth's Total Force or Magnetic Intensity

When a magnet needle freely suspended in the earth's field comes to rest, it does so under the
influence of the total force of the earth's magnetism. The value of this total force at a given
place &difficult to measure, but seldom needs to be known. It is usual, therefore, to resolve
this total force into its horizontal and vertical components, termed H and Z respectively; if
the angle of dip ɵ is known, the total force can be calculated. A knowledge of the values of
the horizontal and vertical components is of great practical value, particularly in connection
with compass deviation and adjustment. Both components are responsible for the
magnetization of any magnetic parts of the aircraft which lie in their respective planes, and
may therefore fluctuate at any place for different aircraft or for different compass positions in
the same aircraft. The relationship between dip, horizontal force, vertical force and total force
is shown in Fig 4.5.

Figure 4.5 Relationship between dip, Z, H and total force

a - c = Vertical component Z
c - b = Horizontal component H
a - b = Total force T
Given angle of dip ɵ and H,
=tan ɵ and Z =H tan ɵ

=cos ɵ and T = H cos ɵ

T2 = H2 + Z2

As in the case of variation and dip, charts of the world are published showing the values of H
and Z for all places on the earth's surface, together with the mean annual change. Lines of
equal horizontal and vertical force are referred to as isodynamic lines.
The earth's magnetic force may be stated either as a relative value or an absolute value. If
stated as a relative value and in connection with aircraft compasses this is the case; it is given
relative to the horizontal force at Greenwich.