Aspen's Evolution EFIS: So Simple a Caveman Could Operate It

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EFIS displays are more or less standard equipment in new airplanes, but here’s an interesting fact: the vast majority of pilots haven’t flown them. We see them in the slick ads and in the trade booths at shows like Sun ‘n Fun, but unless you happen to own a new airplane, you fly behind steam gauges. (I certainly do.)

And this explains what I call the irritation factor with EFIS. I fly glass panel airplanes periodically to report and write about them and the irritation factor arises when I get into a cockpit and try to make an EFIS I haven’t seen for several months play right. It can be a frustrating exercise in hopeful button mashing.

Why can’t they make this stuff simple enough for anyone to operate with little or no training? Aspen Avionics has come close to that paradigm with its new and recently certified Evolution EFIS, a combination glass AI and HSI. I flew this system for the first time at Sun ‘n Fun this week. It was installed in an early model Cirrus SR22 with a pair of Garmin GNS430Ws for nav-side input. Aspen’s Scott Smith briefed me on the basics, but honestly, I think I could have taught myself how to operate it if I had 30 minutes alone in the cockpit. If you know how to play Garmin’s 430/530 series navigators, the Evolution is relatively easy to master.

As did Avidyne, Aspen resisted the urge to lard the Evolution up with too many high-level features most of us don’t use and the control set is both logical and minimal. A pair of push-to-set knobs on the bottom bezel, for instance, control a limited range of options and once you’ve been around the horn a couple of times with them, they’re easy to remember—were talking about course set knobs, bugs, altimeter setting and so forth.

Soft keys along the instrument’s right side aren’t immediately intuitive, but a simple press-to-test reveals the function of each one. On our quick flight, I didn’t find any blind feedback alleys that I couldn’t get myself out of. The display is bright and intense and didn’t wash noticeably in direct sunlight. My only complaint is the typography—for some elements on the display, I found it verging on impossibly small. Given that these products will be bought by a universe of presbyopes, Aspen will probably have to address that. I’m sure there are other minor quirks, but my first impression of the Evolution is that anyone can learn to operate it with minimal effort.

On the surface, the Evolution might look like just another glass display, but the potential game changer for the market is the price/capability ratio. Aspen plans a complete line of glass products specifically intended for the aftermarket, the EFD1000 variant is just the first and, as they say in the used car biz, it’s priced to sell. At $5995 for the basic unit, Aspen should find legions of buyers among Garmin 430/530 owners. Further, the company’s modular approach to aftermarket upgrades—you can add an MFD, weather and traffic capability, for example—means that an owner can get into one of these things without investing half the value of the airframe.

Yet to be seen is how well Aspen has crafted the all-important approval and installation process. It’s current approved model list covers more than 300 airplanes, but the acid test is how well the first installations wend their way through the approval hoops at the local FSDO. We’ll be watching this, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m favorably impressed.

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