Introduction: Pitot - Static Tube DIY

Picture of Pitot - Static Tube DIY

Last year I got a surplus airspeed indicator as a collectible item, airplanes instruments look cool although they are usually not that useful on the ground. But do they are necessarily useless? maybe not.

I discovered that the thread of the 2 connectors was actually compatible with the brass push-in connectors used in industrial automation pneumatics I had avaiable from other past projects involving pneumatic cylinders and control valves. These have the standard(in almost the entire globe, maybe with a remarkable exception) G 1/8" (BSPP) thread.

Therefore I though to put the airspeed indicator to use, for example as airspeed indicator on my car: this is not something unheard outside aerospace applications, F1 racing cars do have pitot tubes too; and it's not completely useless too (can give you an hint about the slipstream of the vehicle ahead).

The simplest test was performed blowing gently in the gauge inlets: the indicator movement confirmed that the instrument was working although gave no indication about the calibration.

The next step was then building a pitot-static tube to be installed on my car and connected to the airspeed indicator.

Step 1: How It Works

The Airspeed indicator works as a differential pressure sensor. It measures the difference between total pressure and static pressure. The difference between total and static pressure is called dynamic pressure and depends on air velocity(squared) and air density. With a regular differential pressure sensor giving the measures in some pressure units(pascal, bar, psi etc) you should have to do the math but the airspeed indicator already does the math and shows the speed associated with the pressure difference in knots (nautical miles per hour, not exacly a road "friendly" unit).

Anyway the nautical mile is 1852 m, therefore multplying knots times 1.85 you get the speed in km/h (or multiplying by 1.15 you get about the speed in mph), that's anyway much easier to do in your mind easier than the math in the case of a regular differential manometer (calculate 2 times the difference of total pressure minus the static pressure all divided by air density and finally and then get the square root of the result, which would be probably in m/s and then you have to multiply by 3.6 to get km/h).

What we need to know is that the airspeed indicator needs 2 pipes carrying an information via pressure, one is the static line the other the pitot line. The pitot is a pipe ending with a hole facing direcly in the airspeed direction (facing forward of course). The static pressure is obtained by pressure sampling holes placed on the sides of the probe.(or sometims flush-mounted holes on the fuselage).

Step 2: Material and Tools

Picture of Material and Tools

As always you can adapt measures to your own project according to your needs and avaiability but this is what I used:

Copper Pipe diameter 4 mm
Copper Pipe diameter 1.5 mm (or 2 mm if I were able to find it)
(I was able to find these pipes in model shops, they were about 50 cm long. I actully ended up using about 25 cm of the thinner and 30cm of the thickest)

Soldering Wire

Soldering Iron


small Drillbit (I actually used the Dremel 125 conical drillbit)

a small file and optional sandpaper(I used a small diamond file sold as knife sharpening tool that was alredy fine enough and not sandpaper)

Step 3: Step 1

Picture of Step 1

Since I want to use the pitot-static tube on my car and I don't want the airspeed probe protruding ahead like on the nose of a jet fighter (I don't want the instrument to be damaged by blood samples from cyclists and pedestrians, I'm kidding, but that would be actually dangerous also for someone just walking around the parked car) so I want to install the pitot-static probe elsewhere, probably on the hood, and then I have to bend the probe.

Bend the bigger pipe as desired (actually anything from 0° to 90° can be ok if the bend is done properly) with the help of a round object. I bent the pipe about 15 cm from the end.

Since my bend wasn't exaclty spectacular I decided to make the smaller pipe come outside the bigger one before the bend. Therefore I drilled a small hole (about 2 mm) about 2 cm from the bend.
I made the smaller pipe pass inside the bigger one and then pass through the hole and then run along the bent section of the pipe.

Since the probe has to be connected to the gauge with flexible tubes of the same size (I will because it's easier to find and to connect) I will need something to adapt the smaller pipe to the larger tube. I placed a short (3 cm) piece of 4 mm copper pipe on the end of the smaller one (overlaying for 2 centimeters) and then I squeezed the pipe using pliers and then soldered.

Check the connection to be airtight(blow air in the small pipe at one end and use the finger to close the other end, if air escapes it's not airtight) but also that air can flow(the pinching and soldering did not obstructed the pipe).

Step 4: Solder the Holes

Picture of Solder the Holes

Use the soldering iron to make the hole(the one near the bend) in the bigger pipe airtight too.

Step 5: Static Pressure Holes

Picture of Static Pressure Holes

I used the dremel conical drillbit to open 4 tiny holes around the larger pipe, about 2.5cm from the tip(close but far enough to stay clear from the solder that might obstruct the holes later)

Step 6: Prepare and Solder the Tip

Picture of Prepare and Solder the Tip

I placed a small coil of soldering wire(coiled directly on the small pipe) on the small pipe and slided along untill entering the bigger, It was intended to keep the smaller pipe centered inside the bigger one. I should have used also a small ammount of iron or copper wire (or anyway something not melting so easily) to achieve this.

Then solder the tip adding a generous ammount of soldering wire.

Step 7: Cut the Smaller Pipe and Finish the Tip

Picture of Cut the Smaller Pipe and Finish the Tip

Cut the small pipe at the desired length. be careful that the cut section is perpendicular to the axis.

then file and sand the soldering until the excess is removed and the transition from the small to the large diameter is nice and smooth.

Step 8: Final Steps

Picture of Final Steps

Solder the thin pipe along the external surface of the larger pipe

then file and sand the excess.

bend the 2 connectors away from each other since they need enough distance to accomodate the thickness of the flexible tubes.

Step 9: Testing

Picture of Testing

I tested the contraption in a temporary configuration.

The airspeed indicaotor is held in place by a smartphone holder with suction cup attached to the windshield.

The flex tubes enter the car through the back door gasket

The pitot-static probe is attached to the roof railing using insulation tape.

Next I will conceive a way to place the probe in a better place, probably using a base with heavy duty suction cups and/or neodymium magnets(and maybe some safety line). And hopefully also find a better way to get the tubes inside the cockpit

Don't hesitate to leave a comment, and if you liked this instructable and you think it deserves don't forget to vote it in the "Sensors Contest 2017"


Leviathan17 (author)2017-01-30

too cool! If I could get my hands on an airspeed indicator I'd try this out. thanks for sharing

landimatteo (author)Leviathan172017-01-30

There are ways to get your hands on them, for example (not necessarily the best way)

Anyway let me give you a suggestion: "Cool" planes are usually faster, and faster planes need airspeed indicators with a wider scale (for example mine has a scale 40-260 kn, maybe from the "cool" SIAI-Marchetti SF-260). But driving a car, unless you have a very fast car you would barely reach 90-100 kn (assuming you are allowed to drive that fast).
Here (Italy) unless I go to a race track I'm limited by the speed limit of 130 km/h (about 70 kn) on the controlled-access highway. therefore more than 3/4 of the scale is useless to me, (and about half of the car speed range is lower than the minimum). Something from/for Ultralight would be better because of the lower speed (something like 20-120 kn would work much better) and because without certifications even a brand new instrument would be much more affordable.

JLJu (author)landimatteo2017-02-20

It is not my intention to criticize, I only report a couple of alternatives that I've tried myself. I'm involved in an online open and free basic air data project. I've experienced that the use of welds can be replaced with two components epoxy glue (check this Pitot-Static design out, static and total pressure pipes are sealed and fixed in place with epoxy glue). I found easy to bend an external aluminum pipe together with the internal brass pipe. You can use a manual pipe bender to do that. Regarding the pictures, you find one pitot-static probe with a 90 deg bend and another one straight in carbon fiber.

Thank you for sharing!

landimatteo made it! (author)JLJu2017-02-20

Thanks for your comment. You are right, I though I had mentioned this(but probably I forgot), this is just one of the possible ways, the one I happened to try and I can show, there are many others to achieve similar results, for example instead of soldering also epoxy glue or even hot glue would be fine too. Actually for a cruder prototype I used a 20mm PVC pipe , 6mm compressed air flex tube and the plastic cover of a multicolor BIC pen as tip, all sealed with insulating tape and worked fine.

When I turned to copper pipes I just thought that the soldering (sanded and polished) looked nicer than glue.(by the way "Assemblato 3D con flangia" sounds Italian, are you too?)

JLJu (author)landimatteo2017-02-20

Spoilers!:-)Of course, I'm Italian!. Nice to meet you.

Basic Air Data project has grown out of an Italian project! We've tested a discrete quantity of probes, really fun.

landimatteo (author)Leviathan172017-01-30 the way, As soon as you have done, don't forget to come back and leave a comment to let me see your results

nyffeler (author)landimatteo2017-01-31

You can use a simple U-tube manometer (has nothing to do with the video channel), also called liquid column.

landimatteo (author)nyffeler2017-01-31

Yes, I remember I used that in a windtunnel at university (I'm an aerospace engineer) and basically I included them in "other differential pressure sensors" including the aneroid based mechanical ones, the fluid(water,mercury) ones, the various electric/electronic ones (piezo-resistive, LVDT, capacitive, etc).

The U pipe is really easy to make but quite hard to read, especially while driving the car, and especially if the speed is not constant(you have to measure the difference in height of the fluid free surfaces, one going up and the other down, so you can't even use a fix graduation since the 0 is the free surface of the fluid that is constantly changing) and is also affected by accelerations(turns/acceleration/braking) and non-flat road surface.

Mjtrinihobby (author)2017-01-30

Excellent work. Voted!

dll932 (author)Mjtrinihobby2017-02-01

I used to work on aircraft instruments. Because the gauge is part of a system including the pitot tube, it won't be accurate till it's calibrated. You'll have to compared indicated speed with a speedometer or GPS. Also, the pitot tube has to be in calm air, not turbulent to read right. Get one that reads no higher than 100-140 so the scale is wide enough. Be aware it won't be real accurate at very low speeds and that driving into a headwind will make it read high.

landimatteo (author)dll9322017-02-01

As I already I'm an aerospace engineer and I'm aware of that to be a measure you can trust it would require much more attention to pitot placement and calibration, and that in general airspeed is not a good measure of ground speed in case of wind. So this is not something to be intended as a measure to rely on for example to respect speed limits. My primary goal was exacly to place this system in my car so I could drive at a known speed (for example 90 km/h according to speedometer / smartphone GPS) and read the related airspeed measure in a day with no wind at all (where I live, except for occasional storms, wind is extremely rare, especially in winter and summer).

Unfortunately I have no avaiable any CFD simulation of the aerodynamic of my car model but anyway from other simulations ranging from racecars to off-road ( ) , including similar stationwagon designs, the flow on the hood(at least the ones with no bumps like some muscle cars) is consistently laminar.

In addition as you can see the normalized pressure on the hood usually range from pressure higher(red/orange/yellow) than undisturbed flow (for example close to a steep windshield) to pressure lower(blue/cyan) than undisturbed flow (for example near the front end of flat hoods). Flow continuity implies that somewhere in between those 2 regions there must be a region with conditions equivalent to undisturbed flow and this is very convenient.

dll932 (author)landimatteo2017-02-02

Very good. I imagine if the wind velocity was constant, one could make two runs in opposite directions and average the reading. My last job was actually building and testing pitot tubes and static ports, BTW. It's an interesting project you propose.

geovas333 (author)2017-01-31

Great idea! Get a part of aircraft - one of my dreamboats!

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