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This article was published in the June 2001 edition of the USF PADD

The Flight Control console, often referred to as Conn or Helm, is responsible for the actual piloting and navigation of the spacecraft. Although these are heavily automated functions, their criticality demands a human officer to oversee these operations at all times. The Flight Control Officer (also referred to as Helm) receives instructions directly from the Commanding Officer.

There are five major areas of responsibility for the Flight Control Officer:

  1. Navigational references/course plotting
  2. Supervision of automatic flight operations
  3. Manual flight operations
  4. Position Verification
  5. Bridge liaison to Engineering department

During impulse-powered space flight, Helm is responsible for monitoring relativistic effects as well as inertial dampening system status. In the event that a requested maneuver exceeds the capacity of the inertial damping system, the computer will request Helm to modify the flight plan to bring it within the permitted performance envelope. During Alert status, flight rules permit Helm to specify maneuvers that are potentially dangerous to the crew or the spacecraft.

Warp flight operating rules require Helm to monitor subspace field geometry in parallel with the Engineering department. During warp flight, the Flight Control Console continually updates long-range sensor data and makes automatic course corrections to adjust for minor variations in the density of the interstellar medium.

Because of the criticality of Flight Control in spacecraft operations, particularly during crisis situations, Conn is connected to a dedicated backup flight operations sub processor to provide for manual flight control. This equipment package includes emergency navigation sensors.

Specific Duties

Navigational references/course plotting. The Flight control console displays reading from navigational and tactical sensors, overlaying them on current positional and course projections. Helm has the option of accessing data feeds from secondary navigation and science sensors for verification o primary sensor data. Such crosschecks are automatically performed at each change-of-shift an upon activation of alert status.

Manual Flight Operations. The actual execution of flight instructions is generally left to computer control, but Conn has the option of exercising manual control over helm and navigational functions. In full manual mode, Conn can actually steer the ship under keypad control.

Reaction control system (RCS). Although the actual vector and sequence control of the systems is normally automated, Conn has the option of manually commanding the RCS system or individual thrusters.

Helm also serves as a liaison to the Engineering department in that he/she is responsible for monitoring propulsion system status and providing system status reports to the commanding officer in the absence of an engineering officer's presence on the bridge.

Flight Information Input

There are five standard input modes available for specification of spacecraft flight paths. Any of these options may be entered either by keyboard or by vocal command. In each case, Flight Control software will automatically determine an optimal flight path conforming to Starfleet flight and safety rules. Conn then has the option of executing this flight plan or modifying any parameters to meet specific mission needs. Normal input modes include:

Destination planet or star system. Any celestial object within the navigational database, although the system will inform Helm in the event that a destination exceeds the operating range of the spacecraft. Specific facilities (such as orbital space stations) within the database are also acceptable destinations.

Destination sector. A sector identification number or sector common name is a valid destination. In the absence of a specific destination within a sector, the flight path will default to the geometric center of the specified sector.

Spacecraft intercept. This requires Helm to specify a target spacecraft on which a tactical sensor lock has been established. This also requires Helm to specify either a relative closing speed or an intercept time so that a speed can be determines. An absolute warp velocity can also be specified. Navigational software will determine an optimal flight path based on specified speed and tactical projection of target vehicle's flight path. Several variations of this mode are available for use during combat situations.

Absolute heading. A flight vector can also be specified as an azimuth/elevation relative to the center of the galaxy. In such cases, 000-mark-0 represents a flight vector from the ship to the center of the galaxy.

Galactic coordinates. Standard galactic XYZ coordinates are also acceptable as a valid input, although most ship's personnel find this cumbersome.