A Glass Cockpit Buyer’s Guide
By Hank Gibson, Gold Seal, CFI, CFII, MEI
I’m a Garmin guy, through and through. Most of my glass panel experience is with Garmins, but I’ve been flying an Avidyne setup a lot lately, so I consider myself unbiased. I’ll let you be the final judge in the end, but I’ll try and present a bipartisan view of both systems as best I can. Now, just sit back and get ready to form an opinion. (Note: The Avidyne Entegra discussion below is specific to a Cirrus SR22)
The Avidyne Entegra
Avidyne has done many things well with their venture into the glass cockpit arena (brief side note: I find it humorous that even Avidyne still uses Garmin’s GPS. As usual, I digress). On the PFD, there are eight bezel keys, four on each side, each with it’s own function. On the bottom of the display are two knobs, one on each side, that are used to input information into each of the different fields next to the bezel keys.
The instrumentation display on the PFD is unique. The attitude, airspeed, and vertical speed indicators are all displayed in the top half of the display. The typical coloring for the attitude indicator (sky is blue, ground is brown) remains only in the top portion of the display. The HSI along with the bezel keys are all in the lower half of the display, with black being the background color here. Your course lines are displayed in the lower half as well. Whatever you input into your flight plan in the GPS will be underlayed on the HSI and the surrounding black screen.
Moving to the MFD, the knob on the lower left gives you the ability to scroll through a myriad of different pages, depending on what your plane is equipped with. The default page that comes up upon startup is the engine page. Typically, as do almost all pilots, I keep the map page up on the MFD. The Cirrus I fly has a TAWS terrain system on the second page. There is also a trip page, a chart page (assuming you have the subscription), an electronic checklist page, which allows more streamlined checklist usage (and takes away flipping through a booklet), and the nearest page.
Now, looking through that list, some of what will be in your airplane largely depends upon what you want to put in there. I would highly recommend the electronic checklist and the CMAX Jeppesen chart subscription. The TAWS is nice to have, but not a necessity. Situation awareness is always a priority, and the more you have the better.
You’re probably thinking at this point, what about traffic alerts? Well, for those, you have to go through the Garmin GPS. Sorry, I’m talking about Garmin again. Let’s get back to Avidyne.
The ten bezel keys control many different functions depending on which page you are on. To learn each of the bezel keys, you’ll really have to just go through the different pages, exploring and discovering all the complexities of the system. There are a few online simulators that you can play with, too (Avidyne Trainer).
Here’s the problem with Avidyne that I have found. It is a little simpler and a little more user friendly, but the integration is lacking. The nice thing about a G1000 setup is the way everything is integrated within the actual system. There isn’t a GPS built into the glass panel in this system. You still have to get either a Garmin GPS and a second Com radio, or two Garmins. With a G1000, the GPS is already in the system, as well as the audio panel. You’ve got your frequencies on the screen already, instead of having to look elsewhere for them.
I’ve heard the knock on the G1000 is that the soft keys perform many different functions, making it hard to keep them straight. Apparently, the nice thing about an Avidyne is all the bezel keys perform one action. Now, on the PFD, this remains true, but on the MFD, I disagree. Every separate page brings up different bezel key functions, so I don’t count that as a valid argument. Albeit, Garmin has a steeper learning curve because of all it’s functionality, but it has a whole lot more power then the alternative.
Avidyne does seem to be a little more user friendly because of the simplicity of the system. As mentioned above, a G1000 has a lot of functions, therefore causing a steep learning curve.
After reading all that, I will let you come to your own conclusion. My unbiasedness went out the window somewhere in the previous section. I hope it doesn’t stick to the side of the plane like gum or something. Anyway, in this pilot’s opinion, Garmin has mastered the art of the glass panel. There is some more learning to be done when getting into a G1000 cockpit, but, it is so very worth it. Plus, if you’ve been flying with a 430 or 530 GPS anyway, a lot of the functions are the same, just on a larger scale.
But, remaining bipartisan, go check out both systems. If you’re able to fly each, give them each a shot and see what you think. If money is a factor, well, money is a factor. But, seriously, you can’t go wrong with a Garmin.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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