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!

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