Cirrus Goes With Garmin…But This Time, It’s Different

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Garminís G1000 is arguably the King Dog of all light aircraft EFIS. Itís capable, has terrific displays and lately, with the G700, it leads the league in autopilot integration. Itís also overly complex, expensive and not always easy to use, which is why Iíve had a largely ambivalent feeling about it. I encounter the G1000 several times a year when testing airplanes for review and because I donít use it regularly, I dread having to operate it occasionally, so I let the demo pilot worry about it.

Yeah, I know, itís learnable. I have learned it. But once learned, you need to stay current on it and I usually canít. Frankly, I just donít want to work that hardóall of that head work should yield a major payoff and, frankly, with the G1000, it just doesnít. It turns out that Alan Klapmeier has a similar notion about the G1000, which is one reason why Cirrus has stuck with the not-quite-as-capable-but-easier-to-use Avidyne Entegra. Klapmeier figured, evidently rightly, that complex glass was just fine for airplanes with two pilots who train often and fly often, but not for weekend owner-flown airplanes used for serious IFR.

Cirrus has built quite a little airplane empire on the fundamental notion that airplane operation should be as transparent and intuitive as possible, which the Cirrus models certainly are, glass cockpits and all. Other airplane manufacturersóCessna, Mooney, Diamond and Beechóoffer airplane-specific versions of the G1000, but customers of those companies have had to just suck it up and learn the G1000 complexities whether they liked it or not.

So it was with a slight seismic shift that Cirrus announced this week at EBACE that it will offer a version of the SR22 with what Klapmier calls a ďCirrusizedĒ G1000. This is not quite a clean-sheet rethinking of the G1000, but itís a large enough leap to represent a glimpse of what the second-gen G1000 could be. Strike that: what the second-gen technologically advanced airplane (TAA) should be.

The Cirrus version of the G1000 will be offered in a new model of the SR22 called the Cirrus Perspective, which, in addition to the Garmin EFIS, also sports some airframe additions such as improved environmental controls, a revised electrical system, a CO detector and a new exterior color scheme. But the real centerpiece is the G1000 in the mode of What Cirrus Wrought. It will be interesting to see how new owners warm up to this product, but for the time being, here are my impressions of it from a brief demo flight in frosty Duluth two weeks ago.

First, the displays are largeró12 inches versus 10 inches for the first-gen G1000. Second, the new EFIS has Garminís fabulous synthetic vision, including a flight path indicator that graphically depicts where the airplane is going, regardless of where the nose is pointing. Very handy. At Cirrusís behest, Garmin has also made some changes in display layout and symbology.

In our pre-flight briefing with Ian Bentley at Cirrus, he put his finger on something I never liked about the G1000. Itís a busy thing to deal with and the fact that itís so far away from the pilot in the Cirrus, given the spacious cockpit, thereís a long reach to twiddle the G1000ís keys and knobsóand you have to do a lot of that. Again, for me, more work than itís worth.

The Cirrus solution for the Perspective is an alphanumeric keypad mounted on the pedestal, along with about half of the G1000ís concentric/push knobs. This means the critical controls are readily at hand, the reach is shorter and the entire affair feels more integrated. And speaking of integration, the Perspectiveís autopilot control is right under the keypad and is labeled lucidly with dedicated keys for rate, airspeed and pitch-priority climbs. Very capable stuff here.

The neatest thing is a little blue button labeled LVL, which can best be thought of as the Cirrus Easy Button. When you push it, the autopilot drops everything and whether it was flying or not, takes over and levels the wings on the current heading. Itís utterly Klapmeierian, but Cirrus says Garmin may migrate it to other airplanes. (But just so everyone knows where it came from, Cirrus will have it first.)

So what have we got here? In a nutshell, the Perspective SR22 is probably the first truly no-compromise automated and integrated light aircraft built with available technology. Except for the speed Delta, itís what Eclipse set out to do, but hasnít quite achieved. Itís a little too soon to say if the Perspective will tamp down the G1000ís hunger for pilot button mashing, but my initial flight in the airplane suggests that itís easier to use, or at least more logical. In any case, the payoff is a display that doesnít just ape what a steam-gauge panel does. You actually get something for all that head work and button twiddling.

The developmental project also sheds some oblique light on a peculiar problem in the avionics industry. Garmin is so dominant that its engineering culture drives basic design considerations in such an overwhelming way that OEMs seem to take products like the G1000 on face value, without any consideration of the philosophical context. But Cirrus doesnít work that wayóit doesnít view itself as building just airplane, but an integrated transportation product that has a larger purpose. Because of its strong engineering bentóthatís a good thingóGarmin often loses sight of the forest for the trees. In the Perspective, Cirrus has done a little selective thinning and, thus far, I like the new view.

Comments (6)

Nice write up. I would like to have seen close up pictures of the PFD, MFD and the keypad. Cirrus's pictures are a little too small to see all of the detail.

Posted by: STEPHEN SHIRLEY | May 21, 2008 1:17 PM    Report this comment

I have to agree with Paul, after having flown the G1000 in a number of aircraft I was doing reviews of, it is very capable, but far too complex. The training requirements on the G1000 exceed that of the rest of the aircraft by a large amount. Once trained on the G1000 you must fly a lot to stay current on it.

This all adds up to ejecting rental and other casual pilots from aviation - the growing ubiquitousness of the G1000 means that you either fly a lot or not at all. You would be surprised how many pilots flying G1000 equipped aircraft are using the "back-up" instruments.

The G1000 requires a lot of "head-down-and-locked" button pushing, leaving no time to fly the aircraft or even relax and enjoy the flight.

My impression has been that it appeals to people who like computers more than it appeals to people who like airplanes and flying.

I am concerned that the proliferation of this hard-to-use, if capable, system is proving to be a barrier to flying and is, in fact at least partially responsible for getting people out of flying, not into it.

Posted by: Adam Hunt | May 22, 2008 6:29 AM    Report this comment

Makes me want to go out, rob a bank, and buy one of these little hot things from Duluth :-)

Posted by: R. Doe | May 22, 2008 7:13 AM    Report this comment

The G1000 is not a difficult system to learn, nor to fly. VFR transition to the G1000 entails 3-5 hours of home study, 2-3 hours of ground briefing, and 2 hours or so in the aircraft. Hey, all you have to know is where to look on the PFD for flight data, how to use the Nav/Com radios and the Com panel. For your trouble (if reading and studying a bit about flying sounds like trouble at all!) you are rewarded with an integrated cockpit with impossible to miss warnings of abnormal situations (low oil, low fuel, door open, alternator failure, etc. etc.) and terrific situational awareness.

Left out in the above discussion of the Avidyne/Cirrus simplicity is the requirement for the pilot to learn the Garmin 430/530 Nav/Com system as well as the Avidyne systems. That doesn't sound simple to me...

Hey, I teach this stuff, and it really is not that hard to learn!

Cirrus has made the right decision in embracing a very good fully integrated glass cockpit solution in the G1000.

Posted by: FRANK ERVIN | May 28, 2008 12:35 PM    Report this comment

This kind of blindsided me. I assumed that Cirrus would eventually move away from Avidyne, but I really thought that they had their long term sights on L-3's Smart Deck.

Posted by: JOHN MININGER | May 29, 2008 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Glass panel technology has developed rapidly in the last five years. Every year aircraft manufacturers and OEMs come out with a new or slightly different package. The information is more and in different places on the screen display and with more buttons to push sometimes more than once before getting to where the pilot needs to go in the glass cockpit.

In short, the pilot is staying more inside the cockpit looking for access to information and interpretation. The user needs to understand that all this requires more structured training and specific glass panel proficiency to the square while looking outside to see and avoid traffic and rocks.
Eventually, glass panel operational history will help establish training requirements compatible with the complexity of the systems. By my experience as an instrument and basic flight instructor the hours of ground and flight training in the G1000 exceed 40 for VFR and 60 for IFR safe practices. Optimistically, Glass panel technology in the air can become a handful with a need to make pilots aware that these systems are not "plug and play".

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | June 4, 2008 11:17 AM    Report this comment

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