The Helm Duty Post, (also known as Conn or Flight Control Officer) is responsible for the actual piloting and navigation of a spacecraft. Although these are heavily automated functions, their criticality demands a sentient being to oversee these operations at all times. The Flight Control Officer (also referred to as the Conn Officer) receives instructions directly from the commanding officer.
There are five major areas of responsibility for the Flight Control Officer:
- Navigational referrence/course plotting
- Supervision of automatic flight operations
- Manual flight operations
- Position verification
- Bridge liaison to Engineering department
During impulse powered spaceflight, Conn is responsible for monitoring relativistic effects as well as inertial damping system status. In the event that a requested maneuver exceeds the capacity of the inertial damping system, the computer will request Conn to modify the flight plan to bring it within the permitted performance envelope. During Alert status, flight rules permit Conn to specify maneuvers that are potentially dangerous to the crew or spacecraft.
Warp flight operating rules require Conn 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 subprocessor to provide for manual flight control. This equipment package includes emergency navigations sensors.
- Navigational referrence/course plotting: The Flight Control console displays readings from navigational and tactical sensors, overlaying them on current positional and course projections. Conn has the option of accessing data feeds from secondary navigation and science sensors for verification of primary sensor data. Such cross-checks are automatically performed at each change-of-shift and 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. Some vessels are also equipped with a joystick helm control device.
- Reaction control system (RCS): Although the actual vector and sequence control of the system is normally automated, Conn has the option of manually commanding the RCS system or individual thrusters.
Conn also serves as a liaison to the Engineering department in that he/she is responsible for monitoring propulsion system status and providing systems 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 plans. 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 is acceptable as a destination, although the system will inform Conn 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 Conn to specify a target spacecraft on which a tactical sensor lock has been established. This also requires Conn to specify either a relative closing speed or an intercept time so that a speed can be determined. 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. The computer will automatically adjust the course and speed, dependent on the parameters chosen, to maintain an intercept course. If necessary, it will also prompt the Conn to adjust, cancel, or approve any course changes that may have a bearing on the safety of the craft or the completion of the intercept.
- Relative bearing: A flight vector can be specified as an azimuth/elevation relative to the current orientation of the spacecraft. In such cases, 000-mark-0 represents a flight vector straight ahead.
- 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 combersome.