An automatic pilot is a device that can operate an aircraft. Used as a relief for the human pilot, it was initially developed by Elmer Sperry, founder and CEO of the Sperry Gyroscope Company, after WWI. However, it was too large to be put into a fighter or private aircraft. In 1929, William Green developed the first automatic pilot used on an airliner. It was also too large for fighters and other small aircraft.

Bill Lear (during WW II alone, Lear filed 43 patents) was the first to create miniature autopilots reliable and rugged enough for fighter jets, and he also developed the first fully automatic landing system. That neat trick won Lear the FAA's Collier Trophy, which was awarded to him by President Truman in 1950. He also developed an automatic direction finder, combining the two to make what we know today as an automatic pilot.

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