The Looking Glass

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This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, Nov. 2005.

Airmanship

Things have progressed quite a bit since Garmin International first released its certificated version of the G1000 in the Cessna C182T Skylane. Garmin was certainly not the first to come up with a glass-cockpit display for general aviation -- Avidyne's Entegra/Flightmax EX5000 holds that distinction -- but Garmin incorporated an internal GPS sensor rather than relying on a conventional, panel-mount GPS. Since it was announced in August 2004, the G1000 has migrated to four different aircraft manufacturers. Meanwhile, Avidyne was Cirrus Design's choice for many years -- even New Piper offers it for many of their models. While current and future owners have an excellent selection of primary flight displays (PFDs) and very large multi-function displays (MFDs) from which to choose, getting an airplane with the equipment installed is only half the battle. Pilots still need to get from them the information they paid for.

Looks Great; How's It Work?

Garmin International's G1000 is depicted here in the Diamond DA42 TwinStar. (Click here for larger version -- 150 KB.) Even if you have experience in a technically advanced aircraft, some specialized training on these systems is strongly recommended.

Very quickly, these and other PFDs have substituted just about every round, analog instrument in your old panel and converted them to digital values on moving tapes. But that's not all. For example, both the Entegra and the G1000 are built around a 10-inch diagonal display, the top half of which displays heading, attitude, airspeed (calibrated and true), altitude and vertical-speed information. While even an inexperienced pilot should have no real trouble understanding and assimilating this data, it will take a few hours of flying to fully understand and comprehend its organization and presentation. And that's the stuff we already know about. One thing radically different for most pilots will be the trend vector. This is a variable line providing a six-second prediction of the aircraft's position based on airspeed (G1000), altitude, heading, etc. When the trend vector is as small as possible, the aircraft is in stable flight. But understanding the trend vector and what it can mean for, say, energy management may not be readily understood by most pilots. For those fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to fly airplanes with PFDs from different manufacturers, it gets even more interesting. For example, the Avidyne Entegra allows the pilot to set the S-Tec 55x autopilot/flight director's vertical-speed bug and current barometer, and to pre-select an altitude. On the Garmin G1000 paired with the Honeywell KAP 140 in a typical light plane installation, you can only change the heading bug. All other functions must be changed on the KAP. Of course, these details will differ from one aircraft model to another, from one manufacturer to another and, as other equipment is installed and removed, over time.

References Available

The training perspective is where things become more radical than even the displays themselves. For the G1000 (used by Cessna, Diamond Aircraft, Mooney and New Piper), Garmin's collection of PFD pilot guides, MFD pilot guides, supplements, cockpit reference-guides, addenda, system overviews, quick-reference cards and other paperwork adds up to 16 volumes of documents, totaling 662 pages. Oh, and that does not include the pilot guide for the KAP 140 flight computer. That's a lot of documentation to learn; the good news is the G1000 and other similar systems place a great many individual tools all in one box. On the Avidyne Entegra side (used by Cirrus Design, Lancair and New Piper), the numbers are similar: Manuals for the Entegra PFD and EX5000 MFD total 112 pages in two volumes, to which must be added 204 pages covering the paired Garmin GNS430s in typical installations and 70 pages for the S-Tec 55x.

The Education Investment

Now that we've identified what portion of the Library of Congress is going to be used for your avionics transition course, where does it get done and how much does it cost? As with so many questions, the answers depend on whether you purchased the aircraft or just want to rent it. If you went to your friendly local Cessna store and bought a 2005 Cessna 182T Skylane with the G1000 package, you would get three days of factory training when picking up your $330,000 magic carpet, up from 1.5 days in August 2004. During those three days, you'll be presented with many Powerpoint images, use G1000-simulator software on a PC, get about eight hours of flight time, and then be given a heading to your home airport. As one pilot put it, the criteria used for assessing progress through the course seems to be handling of the aircraft -- are all the parts still attached after each landing? -- and the ability to perform some light instrument work. Many G1000-equipped 182T owners have leased back their aircraft for rental use at Cessna Pilot Centers. How much training you get depends on what you feel is necessary versus what the rental facility is willing to provide. There is no Cessna-designed course for the Cessna Pilot Centers (CPC) to follow. Until recently, Cessna did not even have a program to get CPC instructors qualified in the G1000. Research for this article had me calling all over Florida, California and New England asking about a C182T/G1000 transition course. One Palm Beach, Fla., facility said there was a five-hour checkout for pilots who did not have complex time. If I had the 25 hours of complex time, there would be no training requirement. I asked about training material on the G1000 and was told there is none available. A facility in South Florida renting a G1000-equipped Diamond DA40-180 requires a five-hour training program for insurance reasons. However, no training material is available on-site; the renter has to buy the cockpit reference guide (one of the 16 volumes on the G1000) mail-order. After two hours of instruction, one renter felt that he knew more about the G1000 than the instructor. Air Orlando, a Cessna and Diamond Aircraft training facility, was a breath of fresh air. They admitted the three-day program on the G1000 was not enough but they did have their own training material to use. Max Trescott of San Jose Flight Center also had an extensive G1000 training program for owners as well as non-owners. Cirrus Design has had a different idea, probably because they have been getting more SR20s/SR22s out the door than Cessna. Their program is also multi-day in duration but involves cross-country flights, where decision-making and use of the Avidyne/Garmin software is required. Your safe handling of the aircraft is, of course, still paramount; but with Cirrus, safe decision-making also has to be shown. Cirrus' program is mandatory for coverage by most, if not all, insurers and is available at the company's Duluth, Minn., facility and conducted by University of North Dakota instructors. Alternatively, Cirrus-approved instructors can come to your location, at about $700/day, plus expenses. Comments from owners and non-owners who have attended the SR20/SR22 transition course indicate it gets a pilot comfortable enough to be willing to learn more. In technically advanced aircraft, moderate proficiency is where the pilot can get to the page or function within two seconds half the time, rather than 30 minutes of futility.

Self-Reflection In The Glass

As always, deciding whether one is proficient or merely safe for a given operation is the decision that each pilot -- owner or non-owner -- is going to have to make for his or her self. Can you handle the aircraft so that its insured value is the same after each landing? Can you spend the time required to read and understand the pilot guides' many pages so that you have an idea of what the software can do and how it can be done? Did you download (or buy) all the training volumes? Are you depending on any in-cockpit materials? Trust me -- the pilot guides in the aircraft are always the least-read, and there is no opportunity to read them when one is supposed to be flying the plane. Are you willing to spend several days flying VFR on training trips so that you can actually learn how to get results, rather than descend into a purgatory of button mashing?

Conclusion

Once one completes the factory-sponsored initial training, where and from whom can an owner or renter obtain proficiency training? The first suggestion would be not to go to the nearest FBO and look for someone sitting on the couch. It's more than likely that, if you have 10 hours in a glass-panel cockpit, you have 10 hours more than he or she does. Quite simply, it's impossible to learn software and teach it to someone else at the same time. Because Cessna has gotten out the door only a very few instructors qualified with the G1000 -- and Diamond has done a better job but has yet to publish training material -- your best bet is to seek out instructors with experience in your particular system. In the three to five days it will take, you'll see what the software can do, how to make sure that your autopilot does not argue with your PFD, and you'll learn how to make the equipment display the information that you want/need to see rather than the factory settings. And that's what it's all about.
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