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Modern Avionics: Beneficiaries and Victims

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About five years ago, when I was doing some research on used airplane prices, I had a disquieting revelation. When late-model Cessna 172s were listed, they were inevitably described as “G1000 Skyhawks.” It was as though we had crossed some invisible divide and the venerable old Hawk--really not much changed from the original collection of aluminum and rubber Cessna stamped out in 1956--was now relegated to second fiddle; a mere conveyance to squire a radio from Point A to Point B. The act of flying had suddenly become subservient to a device whose sole job was to efficiently (and expensively) abstract what was once the most fun you could have with your clothes on. A trend was maturing.

I actually first noticed it nearly two decades ago when I began instructing people in the then-emerging moving map GPS navigators. Standard practice was to clap the airplane on autopilot and then bury two sets of eyes in the boxes’ menus and pages. At the time, it seemed like fun, but now I’m not so sure. What I did not foresee is that an almost religious devotion to further abstraction and complexity in the design of these devices would have a hand in making flying ever more unreachable for many and a frustration for more than a few.

The other day, my colleague, Larry Anglisano, and I were dissecting why it can be such an agita-inducing pain to fly a G1000 airplane. Neither of us are exactly Luddites, since Larry has fixed these products and taught people to use most of them. I’ve flown them off and on since they first appeared more than a decade ago. I’ve evaluated all of the training courses, too. “Off and on” is the key phrase in the foregoing. Glass systems like the G1000 aren’t exactly hard to operate, but they have a definite learning curve and an unforgiving requirement for regular usage to retain proficiency. For some reason, G1000 sharpness seems as perishable as dead trout in August.

But because they are undeniably more expensive to install, own and operate, the regular usage part gets reduced to occasional usage and then less and then none at all, further playing into the trend that flying new airplanes is increasingly a game for either the very rich or those devoted enough to spend heroic proportions of their income on aviation. These expenses seep down through every level, from purchase, to training to rental checkouts.

And in return for this, what’s the payoff? Moderately better autopilots, some improved reliability, marginally improved situational awareness over a portable GPS—maybe none at all over a tablet app—nice weather displays, dancing engine bars and traffic detection that may or may not actually enhance safety. Overall, no measureable impact on safety, economy or efficiency. (Yet, at least.)

All advancing technology is a tradeoff and so it is with glass. I’m not arguing for a return to steam gauges by any means and don’t mistake this for a debate about digital versus analog. I am merely noting that we’ve paid a price for these advances that I, for one, didn’t see coming 20 years ago and which I’m convinced has dented growth in aircraft sales by driving prices. As consumer electronics matured and developed, they became cheaper and more inclusive. A Somali goat herder can afford a cellphone. Modern avionics are just the reverse; in certified form, they tend toward more exclusivity every year.

Glass does something else: It changes the rules of engagement. When I fly a new airplane, it sometimes feels like I’m doing so on Novocain. If I’m marginally current on the G1000, which is usually the case, then I have the accompanying demo pilot operate the EFIS. But this is exactly wrong because it disengages me from the totality of operating a modern airplane and, to an extent, hobbles the ability to evaluate it accurately for a reader or a viewer. The reality is that flying something like a new Cirrus is much more mentally demanding than it was 12 years ago. That applies to the Skyhawk, too, or any other airplane with big glass. Although it should not be, the mental meld with the avionics is, increasingly, a dominant part of the flying experience and one that requires more ongoing cognitive maintenance than a GNS 430 ever did. But there’s little evidence to suggest that this unavoidable attachment to the avionics does much for safety and perhaps not even for the enjoyment of flying.

You might argue that this was true when iron gyros replaced a compass and turn needle and when LF ranges displaced the watch and pencil. There’s truth to that, but even in high-tech 1940, when we momentarily didn’t need the gyros, we still looked out the window more than we worshiped the abstraction that gyros introduced.

There will be no turning back, either, only an acceleration into the virtual world which will become the reality of flying for many. Redbird has acknowledged the idea that simulators could be their own end; you might go to the mall not to train for how it will be in a real airplane, but to fly a sim for the sake of flying a sim, perhaps competing with others in networked contests of skill. Here’s a video glimpse of what this might look like. You can see how it could be effective training or just diversion.  I’m not sure if that appeals to me, but I can’t say it doesn’t, either. Last week, my dinner grew cold while I was absorbed in a competitive game on the tablets they’re starting to put in Chilis these days. But flying it ain’t.

All of which serves to frame for me something I couldn’t quite figure out. I fly our little Cub a lot. Never go anywhere worth mentioning and the only technology that intrudes is a scratchy radio and the occasional iPad.  And the more I fly it, the more I enjoy it, which is a bit puzzling considering how easily bored I am. But the Cub represents for me the reason I got into flying in the first place: It’s the change of perspective that comes from looking out the window. A real one. I like to see the houses get smaller. I like to see how dirty my neighbor’s swimming pool is.

As the virtual world gallops forward, the next generation of pilots will likely be people who don’t much care about shrinking houses or how ground fog snakes along a river on a cool fall morning. They won’t draw the distinction between the real world and a digital designer’s convincing rendering of it. I place no value judgment on that, but just acknowledge its inevitability. There is no point but to embrace this reality and move on. Otherwise, we all risk devolving into cranks who yell at the kids to get off the lawn.

Throughout the history of advancing technology, there have been brief pauses, revolts of sorts, in the headlong dash to what’s next. The mind-numbing tedium of factory work and the office labor that supported it ignited the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century. A resurgence of manual craft labor was seen as restorative by some, moving author T.J. Jackson Lears to offer an observation that applies yet today: “Toward the end of the 19th century, many beneficiaries of modern culture began to feel they were its secret victims.”

I doubt if we'll see the Arts and Crafts equivalent in aviation, my romance with the Cub notwithstanding. With our appetite for expensive gadgetry, we’ve made ourselves too small, too rarified and too exclusive for that, as we produce ever more expensive, albeit impressive, products that ever fewer people can afford. There are inklings that the industry has realized this and is struggling for alternatives, at least in avionics. BendixKing has pledged an interest in less expensive and easier-to-operate avionics. But none have appeared yet. Aspen will shortly roll out a modest version of its glass system at an attractive low price. I hear the pledges, like everyone else. But as the AEA show opens this week, I hope to see actual products. If other people feel what I feel, there’s a niche there.

Then the question becomes, will the inhabitants of our asylum really respond to cheaper and lesser with sufficient enthusiasm to grow the herd? Or will we, in our moneyed taste for driving avionics into ever more dazzling automated renderings of what’s beyond the windows, ignore the modest but perfectly capable avionics that lower prices portend? If so, we’ll continue to be both the beneficiaries and the secret victims Lear was writing about.

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Comments (36)

There is a reason Mr. Frank Robinson did not include a glass cockpit in the last helo model his company designed before he retired. None of the systems out there at that time are intuitive to use. That was a quote from him during an interview he did with an aviation publication. I have flown 2 different Collins Proline systems and the Honeywell system in the Citation Ultra and none of them were easy to learn as the Garmin 430/530 or intuitive to use. If the G1000 system is not as easy as the 430 was then Garmin did not learn anything either. All that complicated electronics is great when IFR but is a waste for VFR flying. What ever happened to looking out the window! Nothing like having an FO with his/her head buried in the electronics on the panel rather than looking outside for traffic when VMC.

It would be interesting to hear the opinions of examiners on how private pilot candidates do on their checkrides when all of that magical "stuff" goes blank, vs candidates 15-20 years ago when moving maps were unheard of in training airplanes. And then there is the issue of database updates. It may be old fashioned but 2 VORs and an ADF never needed an $300+ update every 56 days. What about any inspections on AHRS or ADC equipment and that cost.

All that fancy electronics has its place but designers and engineers still have a lot of work to do to make these systems intuitive and easy to use.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 9, 2014 9:39 PM    Report this comment

Good article. I agree, Glass Deck cockpits are more complicated, extensive and expensive and about as safe as round dial cockpits. At times, Glass can be an operational handful as they demand constant currency and proficient, especially under IFR/IMC - too many knobs, too many functions.

In addition, Glass Deck' cockpits can be somewhat or very different even if the aircraft model is the same, an example is the Cirrus conversions from round dials to Avidyne to G1000s - flying an Avidyne is not the same as flying a G1000 or any of the many other aftermarket glass panels. I see the need for additional and specific system training yet there are no restrictions or regulations, any pilot can jump in and fly away without statutory training. Perhaps an aircraft accident attributed to Glass Panel technology isvwhat may bring a minimum number of hours of training and endorsement similarly to the Tail Wheel requirement.

When the Glass Panels were first being introduced one of the selling points was that the technology would offer greater safety and a cost reduction due to the intergrated system packaging. It didn't happen - the race for a better mouse trap in avionics Is more expensive and different or somewhat different from the last model even from the same OEM all requiring update fees.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 10, 2014 1:39 AM    Report this comment

I was trying to woo a former student to rent our Warrior this weekend. It's a pretty plane, low time, well maintained and clean inside. He's been flying a rental at another outfit that has over 15,000 hours on it. He took a look and said "There's no GPS". I guess I just don't get it.

On the other hand, the G300 Skycatcher we have on the line is a popular plane. We initially thought that the market would be the medical-less private pilots, but it's getting a lot of traction in the initial training area. We have 3 very nice 152s that rent for less than the Skycatcher, but it seems to be the plane of choice anyway. I expect it's the old vs. new look of the panel that draws new students to it. But, there's no future in the Skycatcher...

Posted by: Jerry Plante | March 10, 2014 8:04 AM    Report this comment

The manufacturers' business models are incongruent with value-producing utility / safety models.

Most pilots want ease-of-use and typical-world utility. The manufacturers want profits. Nothing wrong with that, but the manufacturers also seem to want differentiation, rather than commonality. Plenty wrong with that. The manufacturers fear that commonality would lead to commoditization; declining prices; and ultimately, declining profits. They may be right about that.

Ultimately, everybody's user interface is going to consist of "Where do you want to go, today?" Spoken or keyboard; probably both. Buckle your seatbelts in your rearward-facing seats, and watch a nice movie; we'll let you know when "you have arrived at your destination."

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 10, 2014 8:12 AM    Report this comment

Great column, Paul. I attended an ADS-B briefing last weekend and as I understand the present time line, I will be required to have ADS-B capabilites in my Comanche to fly into Class B airspace (I live in California and often fly into and through LA and SF Class B airspace) on Jan. 1, 2020. Someone in the audience said no big deal because Garmin has a slide in transponder that will take care of the equipment requirement. But I do believe I'll also have to add a WAAS capable navigator to sync with the transponder. The mandate means I will have to add "moving map" avionics to continue to use airspace I now fly into. The other option is to stay clear of Class B airspace and below 10,000 feet--which turns out to be right in the LSA sweet spot. I have to say the most fun I've had flying in the last 5 years was the 7 hours I flew to get a float plane rating. Low and slow stick and rudder flying--Affordable, fun and fulfilling.

Posted by: Steve Ells | March 10, 2014 9:13 AM    Report this comment

I have been thinking about this very issue for some years now. The airplane I flew for work has an EFIS set up with an FMS. It isn't a straight six pack as everything is RVSM certified but it ins't full glass either. Still, we hand fly every approach using the HSI and Command bars on the EFIS. Then I got my ATP rating. The airplane i flew had a Garmin G1000 system in the airplane. I was not impressed. Admittedly I was new to the system and I didn't have very many hours on the system by the time I took my checkride. Still, I pretty much flew the checkride fighting with the G1000. I would load the approaches and hit activate. However the approach never activated the first time so I had go back into the system after realizing the command bars weren't showing the proper info and reactivate the approach. Then I had to reload the holding three times after doing a missed approach because the system didn't want to go where I told it to go and I had to delete the whole thing and reload the procedure. All I wanted to do was just fly the airplane. Was I flying the airplane? Obviously I did fly well enough because I passed the checkride but I felt more like a systems manager than a pilot. Of the various glass panels out there, the one liked the best was the King KFD-840. it was basically a big glass six pack. It had the option of adding checklists to see on the panel and it had a built in Weight and Balance program for preflight. It got panned for not having all the latest and greatest stuff (no highway in the sky, terrain, traffic, synthetic vision, insert techno wizardry here) and I do think it was too expensive. Yet it did exactly what I would need it to do. It would show me all of my primary flying instruments on a electronic screen while giving me the enhanced reliability and safety of an AHARS system. Moving map? Terrain? Traffic? Isn't that what your GPS/WAAS moving map all in one navigator is for? I think the closest in production concept to the KFD-840 is the Aspen 1000 system which gives me everything I would need but not any of the extras that are nice but NOT necessary. If I could get an electronic compass and attitude indicator for a reasonable price (in effect EFIS), I don't know why I would need all those other systems. I wish to fly an airplane, not manage the electronics.

Posted by: KARL VOGELHEIM | March 10, 2014 9:54 AM    Report this comment

I'm getting back into flying after a hiatus, and flying a G1000 172. I have no problem interpreting the basic PFD symbology (and I actually really appreciate some of its features, like the speed bugs and trend lines for altitude and airspeed, etc).

The MFD is a challenge to use for a newbie, and some of its usability designs are questionable. I can't count how many times I've clicked the rotary knob to try to enter data, or turned the little knob instead of the big one and launched myself into no-man's land.

For what it's worth, I've logged a few hours in the Avidyne Entegra-equipped Cirrus with an instructor, and I found the Avidyne to be far easier to use. Of course, many of the nav/comm functions in that airplane are handled by the 430s.

I would like to fly an Avidyne R9 just to see how Avidyne's fully integrated flight deck compares to their competitors from Olathe.

Posted by: MICHAEL KOBB | March 10, 2014 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Paul,

I wouldn't want to see your reference to the nineteenth century go completely unnoticed although I must admit that it probably won't make me log on to Amazon to buy copies of all of T. J. Jackson Lears books to find your quote!

As for the direction that certified glass is taking us, I feel that it does improve our ability to operate safely at a cost. That cost was high twenty or more years ago when the 430 first came on the scene, and is much higher today when one wants to repair their 10-12" display or the components that drive it. (I'm guessing as I try to stay a distance away from having to care and feed them.) The problem is that to be safe you almost have to have a two person crew, assuming that both know how to fly an aircraft and understand the gadgets. The investment in training and proficiency is worth it and can even be fun, but the cost of the equipment is exorbitant. At least flying with a crew of two gets more people to share the value of the investment (if you can still get two and the gear into the J-3!)

The real rub comes when we find that you can almost get the same bennie's from a low (relatively) cost tablet with a few well chosen apps. and add-on's.

So enjoy the AEA gathering and let us know of all those promises that will probably not be fully kept.

We in the trenches (90% of the time below FL180) will continue to emphasis training rather than the expenditure of funds on high priced glass. If you have it flaunt it (by learning how to use it.). Also you might save a moment or two along the way to look out the window and take a side low(er) level tour to see the sites from the air before our daddy does takes the T-Bird away or maybe it will be momma next term, who takes our Kodachrome away! (Non caps on daddy and momma intentional!)

Posted by: Donald Knight | March 10, 2014 10:46 AM    Report this comment

While I was doing my initial private pilot training, about 30 hours or so were spent in a 172 G1000, primarily because it was $20/hr more expensive and so it was almost always available at the times that worked best for me. Of course, the large moving map display and fancy capabilities (admittedly, most of which I didn't use, being all VFR flying) were impressive and nice to have. But once I go to the end of my training, the plane became popular again, so I was back to using the older 1990s-vintage 172s with steam gauges for the last few hours and the checkride. Interestingly, with a G430 in the steam gauge 172s, I didn't feel like I was missing anything at all from the G1000 (other than the fact that the G1000 was bought brand new by the school, and so the interior wasn't beat up).

Fast forward to today, where I've flown everything from the G1000-equipped 172 (172-equipped G1000?) to a Cub on floats with only the minimally-required instrumentation on it, and an old Seneca I with only dual-VORs, and I can say I agree with Paul's sentiment above that the lack of fancy instrumentation gives more joy to the act of flying. But I regularly fly IFR (though rarely in sustained IMC) and use my plane (and the occasional club plane) for travel purposes, so at minimum a Garmin 430W is pretty much a requirement of mine. I use the 430 enough to be able to input and edit a flight plan without thinking about it, so in my case it's a useful workload-reducing tool (especially when coupled with my tablet to have it do the airway routing and provide me all the intermediate waypoints that I need to input into the 430). But on the same token, I don't feel a full glass cockpit display is necessary, or even desirable.

There's also the subject of user distraction. I recall during my primary training how often, I would become fixated on chasing a specific altitude or airspeed on the 6-pack display, and had to be reminded to just look outside the window. These days, there's also the added distraction of having to pull one's eyes away from the moving map display, and even worse, the tablet sitting on one's lap. Often times, I find pilots so engrossed in looking up information on their tablets that loss of situational awareness becomes a real concern.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 10, 2014 10:49 AM    Report this comment

Aviation is reflecting the rest of the world in this regard: we are forgetting that the computer interface is less important than the underlying activity.

Apply for a job as an accountant and you'll get asked more questions about your Excel proficiency than about your ability to make good value judgments as an accountant. Buy a new car and you'll be confronted with a computer just to turn on the defroster. Music is computer-generated, not practiced to perfection.

A friend of mine had been a graphic designer for 30 or 40 years. He found himself needing a new job, and he found that in all his job interviews, all they wanted to know was how well he could drive the software -- not what his designs looked like.

Posted by: John Schubert | March 10, 2014 10:50 AM    Report this comment

The avionics companies' marketing departments have done a terrific job convincing pilots who fly for pleasure that they need all these expensive glass. I fly about 100 hours a year in a C-172 K with two handheld GPS units and, frankly, I don't need the expensive glass. If pilots who fly like me are buying these sophisticated pieces of equipment, it is their fault that they are not capable of independent thinking and buy whatever the media and the ads tell them they must need.

On the other hand,you can get nice glass on an experimental cheaper than steam gauges. If you are building, maybe that is the way to go. In the meantime, those of us flying certified airplanes are doomed to double the value of the airplane if we want to install anything that is remotely not obsolete. Maybe one day the FAA will release aircraft older than 25 years from the absurdity of old requirements in type certificates and realize that a non-certified Dynon, for example, is better than the old stuff, without costing $50K.

Posted by: Alberto Silva | March 10, 2014 11:25 AM    Report this comment

Another downside (depending on your point of view) of the G1000 equipped airplanes, not mentioned, is the absolute lock that Garmin has on the configuration of your airplane. Want to change the engine in your G1000 equipped 182 from a Lycoming to a Continental or some such other alteration and have that alteration integrate with the G1000? Good luck, without Garmin's full support it won't happen. The OEMs don't mind this too much since they never liked alterations anyway (and for good reason in most cases), but for the individual that is inclined to that sort of thing; you can't do it.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | March 10, 2014 11:35 AM    Report this comment

"Maybe one day the FAA will release aircraft older than 25 years from the absurdity of old requirements in type certificates and realize that a non-certified Dynon..." I agree Alberto Silva.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 10, 2014 11:37 AM    Report this comment

Waaaay back in the dawn of GPS navigators when moving maps were not yet available, I participated in an on-line discussion (DOS text only with a 300 BAUD modem) concerning GPS approaches. I cannot reproduce it here, but I made two points: The first was that with every avionics manufacturer defining a vastly different set of operating procedures for their particular GPS box requiring specialized training and frequent use (the King boxes were a nightmare in contrast to navigating with VOR/ILS units that vary little) there was no way that operational safety was going to be enhanced. I argued for a standard core set of common capabilities with similar operational mechanics. If the manufacturers wanted to include a microwave oven in their box as an added feature, the market would rule on the advisability.

The second prediction was that the GA cockpit was going to be the next geek playground with every computer capability imaginable combined into a cockpit too complex for mere mortals to comprehend or within which to maintain currency, never mind allowing the time to actually look out the window and fly the damn plane.

I still feel the same way. For 12 years I owned a 1965 C210 that had a panel that was populated with steam gauges apparently by using a scatter-gun. No auto-pilot. After 10 years of filing IFR for any cross-country flight, I installed a 530W GPS. I had a Garmin 496 as backup. While the 530W was not too bad at sucking up brain cycles that would be better used for flying the aircraft, I didn't really ever entirely feel that it enhanced safety in terms of actually aviating. Compared to the current crop of tablets, the 530W at least didn't mess with my scan too much since it was panel mounted.

For the manufacturers every complex feature generates margin dollars. For GA single-pilot operations those features have generally become cost and attention diverting baggage with the added problem that they can become single points of failure. So we still need the gauges as backup.

I'm not a Luddite; I spent my career in technology research and application, but there is a reason that steam gauge six-packs remain the most intuitive, and the least affected by individual failures of individual units, electrical or vacuum systems. That lets me fly the plane as my primary task. It also encourages the skill in partial panel flying the lack of which has seemed recently to have contributed to avoidable crashes.

Time for a re-think and some common sense in offering basic systems with an industry standard of operational procedures at a reasonable cost if we are committed to a move away from the steam gauges. For GA there is no reason that these could not be offered for $5,000 or less and be certified.

Posted by: David MacRae | March 10, 2014 11:42 AM    Report this comment

"G1000 sharpness seems as perishable as dead trout in August." I will post this in my hangar.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 10, 2014 11:58 AM    Report this comment

Donald, I actually picked up the reference to Lears from Shopcraft as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford. Should be required reading for anyone contemplating the impact of advancing technology on daily life.

It will also explain why you can't fix your toaster.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 10, 2014 12:26 PM    Report this comment

After retiring 5 years ago from a job where I got to fly a Citation with a Universal FMS and EFIS, I've flown DA40s and Cherokees with G1000, Avidyne Entegra/430 systems and Aspen PFDs and I like all those systems. I have flown steam gauge light aircraft for 48 years. I fly IFR in the winter in Florida and VFR on floats in Canada in the summer and enjoy both tremendously. For IFR, the G1000 and Entegra systems offer more capabilities and better displays than the Citation. The AHARS beats vacuum pumps hands-down; I won't fly IFR any more with a single vacuum pump. I also like having an artificial horizon that stretches right across the PFD. I do feel though that the new systems have many features that just aren't needed. When I fly the G1000 I enter the flight plan in the lower right corner of the PFD, set the MFD to show the map with the nearest airport and go. In flight the only thing I do with the MFD is change the map scale. It's good to have to confirm that the picture matches the flight plan I enter or amend, but not as good as my iPad's ForeFlight map otherwise. I'd be just as happy to fly IFR with an Aspen PFD, a 430 and my iPad. For VFR on floats, my iPad or iPhone do the job, but I only use them on a cross-country. The key of course is to fly the aircraft and look outside as much as possible, and all the new systems can interfere if we let them - we don't have to let them if we keep it simple and use them to get the job done without all the frills.

Posted by: Ross Bowie | March 10, 2014 12:37 PM    Report this comment

"I'm no Luddite", seems to be a common refrain. I too would say that. In fact, I love glass. No, not in my airplane, at least in the meaning we have been using, but actually flat panel displays. In fact, it is my chosen profession. I have spent many hours in a clean room fabricating displays. I've spent even more hours in front of a computer designing flat panel displays. I'm very well known in this field (i.e. I invented PenTile technology... google it.)

But though I could afford it, I WON'T replace my steam gauges. It is not the fault of the physical displays, but the user interfaces, each different, and each designed to confound and confuse the pilot. Even the readouts of basic information are bad human factors designs. Tapes for altitude and airspeed? Bad. Multipage menus? Bad. Touch panels in turbulent air? Bad. I could go on... but everyone who has used these systems knows what I mean. Human factors design suggests that important information should be bold and simple to interpret. Everything that you should be able read and see and adjust should ALWAYS be available all of the time. Each knob and button should do one or only a limited number of things, all similar. They should be in unique locations and shapes (think automobiles, save for your radio and gps, every knob or switch is unique.

Is this to say that Glass panels shouldn't exist? No... they just need to be rethought. My suggestion would be that synthetic vision is always on. That the horizon line is long and easy to interprete. That tapes, etc. be permanently banned, replaced by computer generated versions of the familiar steam gages, slightly transparent save for the needles. One should be able to fly an approach to the ground as though it was VFR, using only the basic synthetic vision, augmented by prompts for guidance. Only one approach should be available for each runway, totally dedicated to Glass representation. Non-IFR rated pilots should be able to fly a synthetic vision approach as part of the Private Check Ride... that's how simple and intuitive it should be.

I would also add that ADS-B in should automatically set the Baro setting... or even replace baro with pure WAAS/LAAS altitude.

--Candice H. Brown, CFI, CFII, MEI

Posted by: Candice Brown Elliott | March 10, 2014 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Avidyne, before launching the Entegra, did experiment with digital renderings of analog instruments. And some of the experimental equipment has the option.

What do you think of the GNS 430/530 interface?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 10, 2014 1:53 PM    Report this comment

Paul (and Candice, too),

My musings lead me to believe that for a fraction of the cost of certified glass, I could go buy 2 iPads for full redundancy, slide them into powered and integrated trays on the panel, with software for EVERYTHING (and designed by Candace!) loaded and integrated, all for a couple grand and some annual data subscriptions. Each tray would have its own set of nav/com antennas, and share one set of engine monitoring sensors, GPS and ADS-B gear, and audio panel. I could practice at home with simulation software, and I would never worry about integration between disparate manufacturers, because all of them would be in the software business and work off a standard.

Is there any kind of discussions in the industry about things moving in this direction? When i think that the cost of my Garmin NAV data alone each year can buy me a new iPad, Foreflight Pro and enough left over for a new Stratus ever 2-3 years, i choke on the notion that the cost of panel mounted glass is a reflection of real value. there must be something i'm missing, right?

Joe Goebel

Posted by: Joe Goebel | March 10, 2014 2:52 PM    Report this comment

Regarding using two IPads..... I use two portables but I specifically avoid using the same platform. I use an IFly and an Ipad. This way, I am using two independent hardware and software platforms. If there is an intrinsic hardware problem or a bug in the software, it will not happen to both systems. Redundancy is only available if the both, hardware and software are independent.

Posted by: Alberto Silva | March 10, 2014 5:14 PM    Report this comment

Paul, as usual, great article and timely subject matter. And -- for what it's worth -- I study and enjoy your writing style. You have a very readable and 'real world' method of keeping the readers attention ... you Cub driving steam guage owning 'luddite.' :-)

I've owned an 'antique' mid-70's steam guage 172 for 30 years. It is long overdue replacement of its OEM ARC navpack radios, I'd love to be able to replace the vacuum operated AH & DG with something a bit more modern when I update them but when I toss cost into the equation, I can't justify it for certificated choices. And, there really aren't many low end choices, as you say, either. Anything certificated is mostly out of the question yet there are even better non-certificated boxes now available.

The new Grand Rapids Technologies Mini-B and Mini-X, currently introductory priced at very tempting levels, can't be installed because they're not certificated. Dynon also has some similar tempting boxes. So do others. All cost almost an order of magnitude less than the cheapest certificated item. So I sure DO hope that the vendors take note and start offering something that doesn't have engine data on it, doesn't cost as much as a new car and can legally be installed in the very large number of certificated airplanes.

With ADS-B looming, I'm looking at various options and ways of updating and interfacing it all together. There are SO many subtle problems trying to make all the boxes in any given system installation 'hum' together ... no one talks about this. Shops would love to have you pull in with your certificated whatever, turn your checkbook over to them and spend about $40K plus for you ... but it isn't happening in large numbers. Unless and until the people inside the AEA recognize that not everyone wants OR needs OR can afford a G1000 like panel, things won't change. I hope they do figure out that there IS a market that they're missing.

And, while we're on the subject, the boys who are 'here to help' ought to allow Class I airplanes to update using some of those non certificated boxes as long as certificated primary instruments are still installed as backups. Even the slow moving military now uses COTS -- commercial off the shelf -- equipment and it all works just fine.

With respect to pulling back on the stick and making the houses get smaller, I summer on a small airfield near Oshkosh where there are no fences, no TSA, and everyone knows each other. On nice summer evenings when we all assemble at the Church of Aviation and defy the gravity gods to make sure the corn is still growing and the deer are still eating it, we wonder why everyone doesn't join ... too bad. After we're done, we turn into alchemists ... turning beer into ... well, you know. Your Cub be welcome anytime, Paul.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 10, 2014 8:38 PM    Report this comment

In addition to my portables, I have been using a Dynon D1 as a backup for instrument conditions in my steam gauge C172K. I use it all the time so if my vacuum ever goes away, I am comfortable with the instrument and can transition seamlessly. I agree with Larry, there is a big market for basic instrumentation that is not being tapped. The saying is true: if you own a 70's airplane and upgrade to current technology, the person who benefits is the next owner.

Posted by: Alberto Silva | March 10, 2014 11:14 PM    Report this comment

I think the new touch screen Garmin flight decks, panel mount nav/comms, and the portables (iPad/796) and other manufactuer's touch screen avionics are worth mentioning. I have flown the 430/530's and other twist-knob boxes, but when I first tried the touchscreen GTN750 at Sun n Fun a few years ago I thought its about time touch screens showed up in airplanes. Twisting 430 knobs to type and find pages has always been annoying, escpically when touch screens became intuitive to use for phones. Then the 430 looked really old. However, new panel mounts are incredibly expensive as mentioned above. I agree that this is partly why new airplanes are more expensive, and the notion that there is really no evidence to support how digital flight decks have drastically improved safety as some say.

I feel there will have to be a balance between the digital and the outside worlds. The huge 10-12'' screens in light planes seems too big and distracting for VFR or even IFR flying. But if the screen is too small then you struggle to see the data. Then there is the complexity of scrolling through multiple pages, menus, and sub menus. That is something that can be better. The new Garmin's seem to help this by including a home screen and button like the iPhone. With the twist-knob digital avionics the amount of time needed to learn and maintain a decent level of proficiency (much less using it to its full potential) is quite high. Also, the lag of an exact readout/needle movement of digital engine gauges makes them harder make adjustments in my opinion.

I do feel there are benefits to flying with digital avionics. Moving maps, geo referenced plates, checklists, POH's, weight&balance calculators, weather data, traffic, terrain, and airport info all in one box is much easier than all the paper charts that have to be folded and unfolded in a small space. However, there should be an emphasis on how to use digital avionics to increase a pilot's efficiency and safety instead of being head down all the time looking at pretty light boxes, newer touch screens help but there is still a lot of menus to sort through and learn. Training for if the screens ever go dark is another issue.

I remember an AOPA article from a couple years ago that mentioned a small software developer working on a better way to enter and present data to pilots .One thing that sticks out to me was using a point of view method instead of the popular top-down moving maps. This would show weather, airspace, etc how it appears out the windshield. Kind of like synthetic vision does for terrain today. That sounds cool, and simpler than converting the 2-d image from the map to a 3-d model in my head. But, I've said before technology needs to be work properly if it is to help us and not hinder us. I wish I could find the link to that article.

One example of a company that is going about this right is Icon Aircraft. They are going to put a Garmin 796 or some equivalent for a moving map display in the A5, and with the right antenna wx, traffic, etc. But they are putting in traditional analog primary flying instruments because digital flight decks for now are complicated and distract from that airplane's mission of being a VFR only, LSA machine.

I think this hybrid concept can apply to IFR capable airplanes too. Have a intuitive to use touchscreen nav/comm and pair that with analog instruments, perhaps digital electronic gyros like the RC Allen 2600 with digital HSI's. IFR flying can be easier but still retain the standard scan and basic instrument flight techniques.

Posted by: Joshua Waters | March 10, 2014 11:21 PM    Report this comment

Paul, in view of all of the above I predict a lethargic near future for the OEM Glass Panel systems in GA and a somewhat stronger market for aftermarket or retrofits.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 11, 2014 12:10 AM    Report this comment

Yesterday somebody pulled out in front of my truck and I had to take evasive action to avoid a crash. The driver was head-down, texting. Last week I saw a woman trip and fall in a store parking lot; she was head-down on her smartphone and did not see the pothole. Go in any restaurant and count how many people are head down and texting at the dinner table (averages around 50%).

When I'm up in the air doing my scan, I constantly wonder how many pilots are head-down and not looking out the damn window. It has to be a lot; at the FBO office they used to talk about flying, now its mostly about the latest software release. I have over 30 years as an electronics design engineer (including avionics), but I prefer steam gauges to multi-level menus and head-down flying.

Posted by: A Richie | March 11, 2014 3:49 PM    Report this comment

Great article as usual Paul. This issue also affects airline flying. I stayed in the MD-80 until the end of my airline career even though I could have transitioned to the 777. The MD-80 is the last "real" airplane as the yoke is actually connected to the ailerons by cables and it flew Cat III approaches just fine on "steam gages". Having said that modern avionics are excellent and I love the 430 in my 182. The problem is when learning the avionics "suite" becomes primary to operating the airplane and requires constant training to stay proficient, I feel safety is not enhanced and may actually be reduced in GA operations. I still refuse to teach instrument students in airplanes with glass panels because I feel basic six pack scan is critical. From what I understand training in G-1000 airplanes focuses on autopilot operation and understanding the automation. Young airline pilots aspirants should understand that they will spend their careers watching the automation fly the airplane; not much fun in my opinion!. This is the reason so many of my airline pilot buddies have gone back to flying Cubs and C-185s in their time off. I fly float planes in Alaska and most Alaska bush planes are equipped with a comm, handheld GPS and a transponder. They have a lot of fun.

Posted by: Patrick McBurnett | March 11, 2014 4:35 PM    Report this comment

And the moral of the story: Of course, most here are speaking in terms of modern sophiticated avionics in higher performance birds other than your generic C-152, C-172, etc

Nearly 8 years ago, I was doing a little "primary" instructing for a friend at (FWD) NJ, and a student was preparing to go on his "3 legged X-county, about a 3 1/2 hr flight. The C-150 was equipped with a Nav/Com/VOR head, and a basic Garmin -296.

The student had prepared the "traditional" flight log; wind correction angle, CH, etc, however, he planned on using the "296" for the entire flight. The first leg went as planned and he called in after reaching the destination. That said, the second leg didn't go well at all - the GPS malfunctioned and 1 hour later called to inform us he had landed at Solbert Airport (N51) NJ, considerably off course from his departure from Pen Ridge (N70) PA. No problem; we directed him to merely fly OUTBOUND from the Solberg VOR (right on the airport) and an outbound heading of 10 degrees would get him back to Sussex (FWN) in about 38 minutes. About 2 hours went by and still not showing up at (FWN)! Then the phone rang; it was Westchester TWR and they directed him (radar vectors) to (HPN) after a "mayday" on 121.5, where he made a successful landing. Apparently, he "blew" right through Newark (EWR) and Teterboro (TEB) airspace - good thing this was a Sunday afternoon and pretty good VFR weather conditions!

Should GSP navigation aides be taught to private/primary students BEFORE certification - you be the judge?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 11, 2014 8:05 PM    Report this comment

As I subsequently thought of my previous remarks about updating -- but only to a point (hybrid) -- my 70's vintage C172, it hit me. The topic du jour these days is ADS-B and how to equip for it plus glass panels. At Sebring 2013, I took the Dynon intro VFR course and was overwhelmed by all the things that darn thing can do. I could easily see how a pilot could become mesmerized by all of that. As many have said, staying current on it and allowing it to become the center of attention vs looking outside and enjoying the scenery -- for VFR flight and occasional light IFR -- is nuts. Having a Dynon box controlling the radio, transponder and other items plus providing engine monitoring invites a single point failure mode centered around the 'box' or the electrical system. With an analog six-pack setup plus analog engine instrumentation, that's not possible. In fact, an airplane with steam gauges could potentially still be flown with the entire electrical system kaput ... you can't do that with a Dynon or G1000 airplane.

Wait a minute ... isn't that what Paul does in his Cub?

I could see adding something like an Aspen pilot 1000 to my airplane but even that costs about $8K installed; even as an avionics/A&P type, they won't let me do it. It'd be nice but I doubt if I can justify it much less afford it. Ain't gonna make MY flying any more fun ... just more techie.

Think about how many electrical cords are running around loose in the cockpit these days. A portable GPS plus its antenna and maybe a RS232 traffic cable, an iPad and cables, antennas and boxes for ADS-B in, data cords and etc. We've lost track of the primary reason we fly ... which is to enjoy the scenery from above, be able to satisfactorily navigate increasingly complex airspace, communicate our intentions both via voice and data links and that's about it. Why we can't even put in a simple audio switching panel without having stereo and CD players and multiple music channels for our passengers. Nutty. OK for some but not for me.

Someone ought to come out with a transponder with a WAAS capable GPS sensor and a built in altitude encoder in an all-in-one box. A cord could feed the RS-232 to something like a 795/96 and you'd have an order of magnitude better equipment than I ever had over 40 years ago. Trig comes close with its TT22 except for the GPS sensor. That's about all I'd need ... plus some new radios. Even there, I don't need two ... just a good primary radio and an external antenna which I could hook to a handheld in an emergency.

I suppose airplane owners will become like sailboat owners vs motorboat owners ... purists vs techies. For ME ... I plan on enjoying the scenery with a few modern helps to do it. I hope that the avionics companies take note and start providing aftermarket upgrade equipment at reasonable prices for the thousands of airplanes in need of an update.

If somehow -- magically -- the third class medical requirement goes away partly, the used airplane market will suddenly perk up and there'll be a helluva market waiting to be tapped. Are ya listening AEA members?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 11, 2014 8:21 PM    Report this comment

The bottom line is if you keep buying the expensive avionics packages, companies will keep developing more of them. The cost keeps going up and our eyes are more interested in looking at fancy instruments rather than out the windshield. Combine that with robot airplanes or drones, as we call them nowadays, then flying becomes more of what we cannot afford to do. I prefer the Cub days, when looking outside the cockpit was the key to a safe memorable VFR flight.

Posted by: Brent Wagner | March 11, 2014 11:58 PM    Report this comment

The bottom line is if you keep buying the expensive avionics packages, companies will keep developing more of them. The cost keeps going up and our eyes are more interested in looking at fancy instruments rather than out the windshield. Combine that with robot airplanes or drones, as we call them nowadays, then flying becomes more of what we cannot afford to do. I prefer the Cub days, when looking outside the cockpit was the key to a safe memorable VFR flight.

Posted by: Brent Wagner | March 11, 2014 11:58 PM    Report this comment

Yes, frankly, I like you Brent, the REAL flying was "stick & rudder"; the "pilot" has left the cockpit!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 12, 2014 8:36 AM    Report this comment

See the movie "Her" for an example of engaging with technology rather than engaging with real life. It was very disturbing to me. Ultimately it's how we engage with the real world and real people, rather than virtual reality, that makes a full and meaningful experience.

Posted by: DENNIS WOLF | March 12, 2014 8:45 AM    Report this comment

Dennis; of course we all remember "Hal" from 2001 - A Space Odyssey"? Say Hal,(first officer) how about the old days when we could shut off the AP and hand fly it manually to the field?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 12, 2014 10:41 AM    Report this comment

From the 430 to the 1000, user interface design is the biggest problem I see. All of these devices have modal interfaces, which is precisely what confuses pilots -- Michael Kobb's comments above about entering "no-man's land" when turning the wrong knob illustrates the point.

As a pilot, I really appreciate the simplicity of my Hawk XP's HSI and KX-165 radios. Not much in the way of "modes" there; set a frequency and it does what you asked. The biggest "mode" switch I have is an input select switch on the DME.

I'm also an engineer, and design computer systems for a living, but it's not what I want in the air. I would definitely appreciate a dumbed-down box: one that just does exactly what I need, and when I need it, and leaves the rest of the work to me.

Unfortunately, making something that's simple to use is far more difficult than making something that dumps complexity onto the user, which is why we have much more of the latter than the former.

Posted by: James Carlson | March 13, 2014 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Well, I'll be doggone !! No sooner do I moan about simple upgrades for the VFR masses than AEA opens, SnF looms and Aspen Avionics comes out with a cheaper VFR glass entry level glass box ... the VFR 1000 PFD at around $5K. Depending upon what it'll do, how it'll interface and how it's received, this just might be the first of many reasonably priced retrofit offerings? With the cost of mechanical horizons and directional gyros continuing to climb, I predict this box will be a success.

We won't be going back to 'coffee grinder' days but finding a sweet spot in the middle will define who will succeed and who will fail in the retrofit aftermarket.

Now if someone would just build that Mode S transponder with encoder and WAAS GPS in one single box ...

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 13, 2014 3:44 PM    Report this comment

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