Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Garmin G1000 - Multi-function display

In the last post, I talked about the replacement of traditional instruments with the primary flight display, now, I'll talk about the multifunction display - the panel on the right.

The MFD contains a plethora of engine instruments, an incredible moving map GPS, weather information, terrain detail, and best of all, TRAFFIC.

The Garmin controls are very easy to use. I've been flying a Skyhawk with the Bendix/King GPS coupled to a KLN94 Autopilot and the Garmin GPS is significantly more intuitive and easier to use. Entering a flight plan is very similar to entering one on my old Garmin GPS Pilot III. It is a bit easier with the G1000 because of the use of knobs that don't exist on my portable. An identical set of controls is found on both the PFD and the MFD. In fact, you can enter a flight plan on either display. On the PFD, you get a small window in the lower right of the display for the flight plan. From the pilot's seat, accessing the controls of the MFD is a bit difficult because the knobs are on the far right side of the display and you have to maneuver around the co-pilot's yoke. If I had any complaints, that would be the only one. If I was a Cessna/Garmin designer, I'd move the communications controls from the narrow vertical stack between the two displays down below the two right above the autopilot, then move the co-pilot's MFD control from the right to the left between the two panels. Maybe just switching the Nav and Com controls on the MFD would do the trick. There would rarely be a case where the pilot would need to tune radios from the MFD, but there is often the need to use to controls to access weather, maps, airport info, flight plans, etc. While this would make the basic controls on the MFD exact opposites of the PFD, so what? The push-to-talk button is already reversed on most of the planes I've flown.

Anyway, the MFD shows a large moving map that contains varying levels of detail depending on what declutter setting has been applied. In addition to the map info, Approaches can be overlayed once they are selected as part of a flight plan. Nexrad weather can be selected and this can be very useful in Florida. When we left Saturday night, we immediately saw a large rainstorm approaching from the east...it hit the airport about 30 minutes after we left. The weather was good to the north, and I could verify this by zooming out until I saw the huge line of storms running from Louisiana through Pennsylvania.

The MFD also has the ability to display traffic information provided that the controller's radar shares the information with the system...or so I suppose. South of Vero Beach, no traffic info was available going and coming. The rest of the way, we used the information to our advantage. It is not always easy to spot other aircraft. If they are lower than you, they can easily blend in with the ground. If they are higher, they can be obscured by a cloudy background. The farther away they are, the smaller they get. Even when ATC announces traffic, the direction is usually very general and I usually don't see traffic unless it is at my altitude and within a half mile. But, with the traffic system on the G1000, I usually saw traffic long before ATC called it out. The display shows the direction of the other aircraft and it's relative altitude. If it gets within 34 seconds, bitchin' betty calls "Traffic! Traffic!" in a calm but authorotative voice. It was very useful when flying home at night. Although most traffic can be spotted miles away at night due to the use of strobes, there was one Bonanza that only had a beacon - no nav lights, no strobes and worse, he was flying 500 feet below me, so the lights on the ground easily obscured him. The traffic display told me where to look, and I eventually spotted him. ATC had called the traffic at 7 miles (!), but it still took a while to spot him.

Traffic, terrain, map, etc. can also be displayed on the PFD in an inset box about 1.5 inches square on the lower left of the PFD. It is a bit small to be truly useful for traffic, but for moving map, it isn't bad.

There is a definite temptation to keep one's head inside the cockpit when flying with this remarkable equipment. With the easily programmed GPS and a very convenient auto pilot, safety is greatly enhanced. Set it and then let the equipment fly the plane while you monitor the situation inside and out. It will even get you set up on your approaches. I punched up the ILS 32 at CRG and switched the autopilot to HDG mode while ATC gave me vectors. Passing St. Augustine, I was given a course of 020, which I dialed on the heading bug, then switched the autopilot from NAV mode to HDG mode. Meanwhile, I activated the approach on the GPS. ATC told me to turn to 350 and cleared me for the approach. I turned the bug to 350 and the plane made a nice, smooth turn to the heading. Once I was established on that heading, I put the autopilot back in NAV mode and it made the turn to the approach course perfectly. After it established the approach, I killed the autopilot and flew the HSI until I intercepted the glideslope. I dropped the first notch of flaps, flew down to 700' and made my circling approach to runway 5. The high intensity beam of the halogen landing light illuminated the runway nicely. We touched down smoothly - which can be a challenge at night with many pilots flaring too high, but this one was perfect.

I loved flying the 2003 Skyhawk with the Bendix King GPS and the traditional gauges, but what an experience flying the 2005 'hawk and the incredible G1000. It was definitely worth the extra $116. I can't wait to fly again this weekend!

This was a great weekend for flying - I had 2.0 hours for the checkout, followed by 2.3 for the flight down to F45. Coming home we got an unexpected tailwind - even throttling back, I was still getting 120 knots of groundspeed and buring only 7.2 gallons per hour! The return took 2.2 hours with about .2 of actual instrument.

Flying Life is Good!

Garmin G1000 Glass panel

In the early 1980s Microsoft released Flight Simulator. This computer program was intended to make a personal computer's display resemble the instrument panel of an airplane. In the early 21st century, Garmin created the G1000 instrument panel which uses a computer display to present flight information. We've come full circle.

I flew N1464F for the first time last Friday. This 2005 Cessna Skyhawk SP is equipped with the NavIII option that replaces the traditional six-pack of instruments instruments inlcuding airspeed, turn coordinator, altimeter, heading indicator, vertical speed indicator, and attitude indicator with a computer panel. But, it does much more than that. Instead of a heading indicator, there is a horizontal situation indicator that can be linked to the integrated GPS and the two NAV radios. The gyro for this device is a solid state gyro - which means that there really isn't a spinning gyro at all, therefore there's no precession. No more matching the heading to the compass and the inherent inaccuracy of doing so. There are still back ups for the altimeter, attitude indicator and airspeed indicator, but they are mounted low on the panel beneath the autopilot and between the yokes.

Airspeed and altitude are represented by moving tapes with indicators showing the changes. For the altitude, a bug can be set to a target altitude with the setting appearing above the tape on the right side of the display. To the right of the tape is a pointer that represents the VSI. The actual vertical speed is shown inside the pointer in 50 fpm increments, but the pointer also moves up or down depending on the direction of the change. To the immediate left of the altimeter is an indicator for the glideslope for ILS approaches. There's much more space between the high and low of the glideslope and I think this will lead to more precise control of altitude during approaches.

The attitude indicator takes up the majority of the central portion of the screen and it truly resembles something from a video game. The pitch angle scrolls up and down and the bank is shown with notches across the top. This is the easiest part of the transition, in my opinion. There is no specific turn coordinator with the bank angle and ball of the traditional gauge. Instead, coordination is shown by a small bar that moves left or right at the top of the attitude indicator. It is synched with the pointer and replaces the ball. The rate of turn is shown by a magenta line that appears on the compass heading of the HSI. Two notches shows a 2 minute turn.

One of the best things about the panel is the HSI. Three separate indicators can be superimposed on the compass card to show three different navigation devices. During my flight to F45 - North Palm Beach County - I used the primary to show the GPS course, and used the two additional indicators to back up the GPS with VORs and to triangulate my position with VORs that were not on my course. Since there's a GPs involved, the boxes that appeared next to the HSI also showed the distance to the selected position. With this much navigation information, anyone who gets lost in a G1000 aircraft has absolutely no business flying.

Flying an ILS is a little different and requires a different scan. But, without the traditional six pack to scan, and a well-conceived interface, you get the same information with less mental digestion. With the traditional ILS approach, you have a single gauge that shows your position relative to a horizontal course and a vertical path. Keep the two needles centered, and you are perfectly on course. However, the other information you need, such as attitude, heading, airspeed and rate of descent are on different gauges, so you have to break your concentration momentarily to glance at the other gauges. With the G1000, the display is very different. Your horizontal course is displayed on the HSI. At a glance you get both the heading, the course and your relative position to the course from a single indicator. Now glance up and to the right slightly and you've got your altitude, rate of descent, and your glideslope from a single composite indicator. Attitude is right in the center and airspeed to the left of that. You could just keep looking in a circle and everything would be there.

I flew the ILS 32 at Craig in daylight -or at least part of it until the tower said we had to break off due to traffic. I also flew the ILS 31 at St Augustine up to 3 miles also broken off due to traffic. At Palm Beach, I flew the ILS 8R to a full stop. Coming home, I flew the ILS32 Circle to 5 at Craig at 10pm. I never deviated more than half a ball from the VSI and hardly that on the HSI. I believe these instruments will make for a much more precise flying situation.

I've spent all this time talking about the primary flight display...in my next post, I'll talk about the multi-function display.

Glass Panel Skyhawk with the Garmin G1000

I didn't realize so much time had passed since my last entry. Since the last entry I've been to Germany, Rhode Island, Ohio, Homossassa, Tallahassee, and a few other places that I've forgotten about. I flew myself and my golf partner to Myrtle Beach for the first time in August. It was a challenge figuring out how to load two sets of clubs in the cargo area of a Skyhawk, but we managed. Having a travel bag around the clubs makes a huge difference.

Now for the subject of this post...Maureen and I wanted to go to Palm Beach for the weekend to visit her parents, but all of the planes I would consider flying cross-country were booked. I want something with modern avionics, decent airspeed, a reliable engine, and I prefer an autopilot or at least a wing leveler to ensure the smoothest flight possible. Maureen tends to get motion sickness in all but the smoothest air. Sterling recently added a brand new Cessna 172SP to its fleet. This one has the Garmin G1000 glass panel - aka the Cessna NavIII option. To fly this aircraft, an additional 2 hour checkout is mandatory.

I did a little research and discovered a number of articles that discussed the difficulties associated with transitioning from traditional panels to the PFD/MFD (Primary flight display/multi-function display). Not being one to cut corners, I purchased Garmin's G1000 simulator from their website and printed out their entire manual. I then spent my evenings reading through the manual and flying the simulator to ensure that I was comfortable with it before my checkout ride.

I had never flown with the instructor before. He joined Sterling after I completed my instrument training. Chase Rider is a great guy to fly with. He knew a great deal about the panel and showed me several things that I didn't remember from looking over the book including the METAR page that will show the latest METAR for the selected airport. I think there was only one thing that I knew that he didn't. When using the Direct-to option on the GPS, you can specify a course for the destination and the direct-to button will plot a course to intercept the desired approach course. This could be very useful for lining up with a runway that doesn't have an instrument plate.

Anyway, we flew down to Flagler and flew the GPS approach ending in a landing and taxi-back due to the ridiculous rules against touch and goes. Then we tried to request an approach at St. Augustine, but they asked us to break off at 3 miles - - not much of an approach, but it gave me a chance to at least intercept the localizer and fly the glideslope. We then went on to Craig where we requested the ILS 32 approach, but the tower had too much traffic going the opposite direction and due to time constraints, we had to land VFR.

The next post will have details about the equipment, etc. For now, the flight was enjoyable and amounted to 2.0 hours of dual cross-country with 0.2 simulated instrument. The two hours were enough to get me signed off so I could take the plane down to F45 for the weekend.