The "Big Ten Inch" -- Avidyne FlightMax Entegra
How'd you like to have the front office of your little SEL decked out better than many airliners? And for a fraction of the cost of electronic displays the bizjets have. Avidyne recently certified the first-in-class primary flight display for small GA aircraft, and Dave Higdon has our review.
"Now I've done it," I muttered into the left-seat microphone of the Cirrus SR22, forgetting that the factory pilot, my bride and my partner could nearly hear me think.
"Everything looks OK," the demo pilot assured me. "Everything is in the green on the engine monitor and we're clear of the special-use airspace ..."
"No," my Annie responded. "Now he wants one in our plane -- and it all your fault," she jokingly chided.
"Naw, it's not Cirrus' fault -- blame Avidyne," was my final word on the subject.
Blame the folks who made the nearly 20-inch span of SR22 panel occupied by Avidyne's certificated, TSO'd Entegra EFIS panel: a primary flight display (PFD) and a multifunction display (MFD), each measuring 10.4 inches diagonally.
(Click photos for larger versions)
|Avidyne Entegra PFD and EX5000 in Cirrus SR22|
There, on as crystal-clear a liquid-crystal display as I've seen in an aircraft, the two displays cover all the flight instruments, air-data gauges, navigation, attitude and heading information you're used to seeing. But with vivid 65,000-color clarity the information seems bigger, easier to discern and absolutely logically arranged.
Despite my aversion to copping an attitude about anything in life, well, I'm only human. After more than an hour flying off combined displays, I left the experience with something of an attitude about your garden-variety, industry-standard instrument set. Give me more ...
Well, more are coming, and fast. Following Cirrus's February approval, Lancair in June finished certifying the Entegra system in the Columbia 350, the new all-electric version of the Columbia 300 we reviewed three years ago as one of three composites flown in our "Plastic Planes" series. Diamond is offering Entegra in the DA40, another of our Plastic Planes. That's a hat trick, folks -- all three of our Plastic Planes now offer pilots the same modern EFIS panel, preserving the competitive balance between the three composite birds.
Avidyne's February certification of Entegra -- and Cirrus' parallel approval in its SR22 -- put the company first on the map to win approval for a light-plane EFIS/PFD system. But more contenders are heading to the piston-GA EFIS market. Approved since Avidyne: Chelton, with several hundred STCs for the retrofit market for its EFIS system. And no less than Garmin, Honeywell and BFGoodrich are each developing versions of their own.
Driving all this development effort is the trend toward equipment that simplifies the display of information, improves on reliability and generally modernizes what we're used to seeing in anticipation of the virtual-highway navigation system NASA envisions for the future.
Black-Box Basics: An Integrated System
|FlightMax EX5000 displays route, weather, engine parameters and more.|
The display also can show some data such as heading, ground speed and time to a waypoint or destination. The EX5000 offers goodies such as a Trip Page for flight planning, as well as text and graphical METARs. And, as we'll discuss farther down, the EX5000 also serves as the display for the optional Engine Management System.
The PFD, on which we're focusing most of this report, puts into one box everything it needs, including its sophisticated, solid-state ADAHRS (see below), air sensors and display screen. It all goes into the airplane together, as one unit, for installation simplicity.
|Avidyne Entegra Primary Flight Display -- intercepting an ILS|
Let's start with the screen. At 800 by 600 pixels, the PFD sharply displays all the dials and indicators of an advanced instrument-airplane panel in precise resolution and full color using the 65,000 colors the box can produce. The two instruments most critical for instrument flight -- the attitude and directional gyros -- give you somewhat more to see than the standard ATI-size gyro.
In this case, bigger really is better. The upper half of this vast PFD screen gives you an attitude-indicator horizon line more than double our typical electromechanical gyros -- a big eight-plus-inch horizontal line on a depiction that measures about 3.25 inches tall -- the size of the cases housing our current gyro faces. Overlaying the horizon depiction is the pitch scale you're used to seeing; curving across the top of the AI depiction you see an arc showing bank angle, while a skid ball display occupies the bottom of this half of the display.
Surrounding the AI depiction are several other useful pieces of information. On the left is a vertical strip gauge that shows true, not indicated airspeed, with a window at the center of the strip that highlights the speed indicated by the adjacent needle. Immediately below the speed strip is a wide black box with digital reads on both true airspeed and ground speed. To the right of the pitch indicator is another strip gauge, this one displaying altitude -- with another window that highlights the altitude digitally; at the bottom of this strip gauge you'll find the Kollsman window for setting the integral altimeter sensor; at the top, a target altitude set for an autopilot's altitude-capture function. Farther to the right of the altitude scale is a curved rate-of-change scale showing climb or descent rate with a needle that deflects above or below center.
|PFD Trend Lines -- blue bars indicate the situation six seconds from now: a decelerating, descending left turn.|
The Entegra PFD displays six-second trend data for airspeed, altitude and heading. Previously to Entegra's certification, trend indicators existed only in air-transport and business-turbine equipment, and predominantly in the high-end jets of the corporate fleet, at that. The advantage: The trend indicators help you see where you're going to be six seconds downstream, providing a tool to smooth your handling and fly more precisely, while reducing your workload whether changing or maintaining an airspeed or altitude.
The screen also depicts the Localizer and Glideslope needles for your ILS receiver, with GS immediately to the right of the pitch indicator and LOC immediately below.
That concludes the tour of the upper half of the Entegra PFD display; take a look at what lives on the lower half: the HSI display, just as the DG or HSI of most planes resides immediately below the Attitude Indicator. You can display the HSI as a full 360-degree indicator, overlaid by the course needle, CDI needle, digital course display, navigation waypoints, a flight path indicator and a wind arrow that shows relative wind direction and speed -- mighty useful flying in the muck. Or, you can opt for a larger HSI display that shows only the 120-degree arc of space immediately ahead of you -- and still keep all the other items mentioned in the last sentence.
And there's more to see on the bottom half of the PFD display. Flags that indicate the current function of the PFD's eight soft keys are also shown, four on each side. An assortment of progress information is also available, including navaid selected, course, distance to a waypoint, heading, and more. Integration with all the available navigation systems, plus the autopilot and other systems, lets Entegra keep everything you need square in front of your field of view.
While grasping this overview might seem like information overload, the accompanying illustration should convince you that the whole presentation is more easily absorbed visually than by any abstract description. Flying behind the Entegra gave me the same conclusion: It was that easy to decipher and use.
ADAHRS And Other Mysteries
|ADAHRS -- Air data/attitude and heading reference system -- inside Entegra box|
At the heart of Avidyne's Entegra PFD is the company's own fully integrated, solid-state air data/attitude and heading reference system -- yep, that's where the mouthful of acronym "ADAHRS" came from. Very compact and extremely lightweight -- the entire Entegra box, with everything, weighs only 12 pounds -- Avidyne's ADAHRS sensor combines a 3-axis solid-state gyro and accelerometer system with a flux-gate compass to replace the traditional vertical and directional gyros.
Working in harmony as a single unit, Avidyne's state-of-the-art ADAHRS senses roll, pitch and yaw changes with reliability well beyond what we get from mechanical gyros -- but at a cost point well below similar solid-state gear used in high-end business-turbine aircraft. Entegra also employs an integrated air data computer to generate airspeed, altitude, vertical speed, and outside air temperature (OAT). With input through the familiar pitot-static system, Entegra's air data computer continually updates the winds aloft and true airspeed (TAS) indications on the PFD.
Working together, these systems are TSO'd to standards for the following instruments and gauges: airspeed; turn & slip; bank & pitch; magnetic direction; vertical velocity; barometric altitude; temperature; fuel-flow; manifold pressure; fuel, oil and hydraulic pressures; electric tach; flight director; fuel and oil quantity; thunderstorm detection; multipurpose displays; and traffic advisory systems.
Taken together, the installation is deceivingly simple: An IFR GPS and VHF navigation sources connect to both PFD and MFD inputs; autopilot, pitot and static connect to the PFD; traffic and Stormscope input to the PFD; Avidyne's new satellite-based weather datalink receiver hooks to the MFD; and you can even input a NTSC-standard video input. Compared to the maze of wires and connectors required to tie together the conventional panel, the fewer and simpler connectors needed for Entegra greatly simplify installation.
The only options available are a choice in orientation (horizontal or vertical) and the Engine Data Monitoring system.
In the certificated Columbia 350, Lancair opted to mount the Entegra and EX5000 in the "portrait" or vertical orientation. Cirrus and Diamond opted for the landscape (horizontal) orientation; and once the units become available for retrofit, owners will have the same choices.
Engine-Data Monitoring Gone Big-Screen
|EX5000 Engine Monitoring|
Gazing at the panel of the Entegra-equipped SR22, you might wonder what became of the engine instruments. Well, like so much else in the standard panel, the engine gauges have gone all-electronic, as well.
The FlightMax EX5000C Emax Engine Monitor takes everything you've ever seen on a graphic engine monitor and moves it all to a new, bigger, more-colorful level. Emax lets pilots track engine health and performance information on the MFD while still displaying the moving map. You eliminate any guesswork from your fuel and power management settings, thanks to a system with features such as graphical engine monitoring, a "lean acquire" mode and a "percent power" display. Integrated fuel monitoring gives you fuel flow, computes nautical miles per gallon, fuel remaining, fuel-to-waypoint, fuel-to-destination -- everything available from the best fuel totalizers on the market. And, of course, there's all the standard information most of us derive from multiple sources: individual cylinder head and exhaust gas temperatures, engine RPM and manifold pressure, oil temperature pressure, and outside air temperature.
Regardless of your, ahem, orientation preferences, the Entegra delivers a degree of capability and display quality unmatched in other displays currently available.
Entegra Scores High On Functionality and Form
Even when the closest up-and-comers like Garmin and Chelton eventually match the Entegra in many ways, the Entegra does provide a benchmark against which the others will no doubt be compared. And the mark set by the Entegra is a high one.
Transitioning to flying behind the Entegra panel proved an easy move, thanks mostly to the user-friendly layout of the display symbology and, in small part, to prior exposure given me to EFIS systems in other aircraft, including the MAGIC EFIS in New Piper's Meridian, and Honeywell and Collins EFIS systems in a number of other turbine aircraft.
Everything on the PFD screen reacted at least as quickly as the comparable instruments in a conventional panel and some seemed to respond even more quickly. For example, taxiing to Lakeland's Runway 9 provided me with a preview of coming attractions, as the DG arc and skid-slip ball reacted exactly like the mechanical versions we're all used to using. Accelerating down the runway made the AI and air-data instruments respond as usual, with the trend indicators adding the bonus information of where speed and altitude would be six seconds later.
Once out and maneuvering, any slight airspeed change or altitude modification quickly illuminated the trend indicators, their sudden appearance providing me an instant cue that something was changing that instantaneously caught my attention. Likewise with the attitude and heading indicators and the electronically generated skid-slip ball; no missing the tilt of an 8-inch horizon line reacting to a slight change around the roll axis or the swing of the scale from a heading change -- not when the indicators are that large and bright.
Speaking of bright, reading both the PFD and MFD displays suffered not at all from the wash of bright light that can sweep across a panel on a morning or evening flight. The screens remained easy to read -- although a couple of times the strongest light seemed to shine off the glare-resistant screen to slightly wash out the intensity of the display, without making it unreadable.
|Entegra in portrait mode, as in Lancair 350|
Toggling between the terrain color-coded base map and an IFR navigation map on the MFD was easy and instantaneous, with no lag from waiting on the electronics to redraw the screen. And stacking the Emax engine screen with a navigation map on the MFD allows the pilot to see nearly everything critical at near eyeball level -- engine data, heading and air data, and navigation information.
Thanks to clear, sharp labels and familiar positioning, the PFD made identification of functions easy while I settled in to using them and pretty much automatic after just a few minutes. Nothing seemed out of place and everything was easy to read and use.
From the pre-flight check list screen on the MFD to the IFR display on the MFD, the weather and traffic overlays on the MFD and navigation data on the PFD, keeping track of what was going on was instinctive more quickly than I expected.
Harmony was the word that came to mind when working the dual Garmin GNS 430s and the S-Tec/Meggitt System Fifty-FiveX flight-control system -- and seeing the PFD and MFD respond accordingly. Everything seemed to harmonize with everything else, instantaneous response delivering real-time information with little more needed than a quick glance that required only small eye shifts off the outside world and no head movement.
And getting the most out of this level of capability really requires more time and practice available during a demo flight. But it's my suspicion that getting an advanced grasp on the Entegra won't challenge anyone capable of learning to use the Garmin GNS 430 and 420, already standard in the Cirrus SR22. Or of mastering the operation of the highly capable S-Tec/Meggit System Fifty-FiveX flight controller also available on the SR22.
Perhaps the toughest part of adapting to an Entegra EFIS system will be getting used to seeing blank screens and empty panel space prior to engine start.
Bottom Line: Under $60,000 Outright
Start with the $307,500 SR22, packaged with the standard EX5000C, the Sandel SN3308 EHSI, two GNS-430s, and the optional System Fifty-FiveX; add another $24,500 for the Entegra and $5,750 for the optional Emax package, and you have a $337,500 SR22. You lose the Sandel -- don't need it anymore -- along with all those air- and suction-powered gyros, mechanical air-sensor instruments, engine gauges and more. To take an Entegra panel to its highest level of capability, throw in weather -- from the Goodrich Wx-500 Stormscope and Avidyne Weather Datalink Receiver -- and traffic sensors such as those from Goodrich or Ryan and, soon, Garmin's GTX330 Mode S datalink transponder.
What you have is a high-end, cross-country piston mount paneled better than the majority of turboprops, light jets and, of course, other high-performance piston airplanes. For those of you interested in updating your bird to an Entegra system, Avidyne plans to STC the equipment for retrofit, both as a stand-alone PFD and as an integrated EFIS panel with the EX5000. Cost for the full-boat package should be under $60,000.
And this is only the start. Soon EFIS systems from Chelton, Garmin, Goodrich and Honeywell will come into being, expanding the options available to take a piston panel from 1950s quaint to 21st century sophisticated. As these players vie for market share, others are poised to follow.
With more competitors and more innovation should come more availability and lower prices. And that will make it harder for even the most tradition-bound among us to ignore the benefits of lower weight, higher reliability, increased capability and improved situational awareness available from EFIS hardware like Entegra.
And that availability will allow me to spread around the blame when the time comes to upgrade our bird into the current century. At least I won't have to explain why to my bride and business partner. She came away a believer, thanks to watching the big-screen action from the back seat of the SR22.