March 25, 2013
By Ian J. Twombly
The 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Archer is all about the panel. Specifically, it’s all about an average owner being able to retrofit an aircraft with aftermarket electronic flight information displays. The first company to put this within reach to most owners was Aspen Avionics when it received certification of its EFD1000 PFD in March of this year.
Now that we’ve been flying the display for more than four months, we wanted to pass along some impressions and observations, both immediate and long term. For more detailed information on the Aspen, see the April 2008 AOPA Pilot.
The first thing one notices about the display is that it’s very familiar. At the root, this is simply an attitude indicator and horizontal situation indicator. The airspeed and altitude tapes, bearing pointers, flight plan, and pretty much everything else can be turned off if the pilot so desires. After the pilot gets comfortable with the minimalist approach, he or she can really start to load up the display. That’s when the situational awareness dramatically increases. Things like the minimums alerter, altitude alerter, and automatic CDI sequencing make flying on instruments much easier.
The key factor behind all this is how easy it is to turn the information on and off. Most of it doesn’t require going into a menu, making the learning curve very steady and without headaches. Becoming adept at using the unit happened in an hour or two, and becoming an expert took only a few hours.
Two other editors at AOPA have had the chance to fly the airplane and the Aspen lately and each offered their initial impressions. Senior Editor Dave Hirschman said: “There's a moment of truth that happens in actual IMC when pilots must totally give themselves over to trusting their new digital avionics. For me, that moment took place over western Michigan—and the result was that I got far more pertinent and timely information from the primary flight display than the steam gauges. I'd glance at the vacuum attitude indicator and turn coordinator from time to time—but the PFD proved it was for real during a solid hour in IMC that included constant rain and light-to-moderate turbulence. I had read the Aspen manual the night before and practiced some of the functions on the unit in the AOPA tent before flying the airplane. The knobology was easy to understand and simple to employ. Heading bug, altitude select, and barometric pressure adjustments became increasingly quick and natural as the flight progressed. And the tiny diamond that provides course guidance was extremely helpful given strong and shifting winds aloft.
Associate Editor Jill W. Tallman got one hour behind the display, which was some of her first glass experience. Here were her impressions: “It's a clean and easily discernible display that doesn't overload the user—very important for a pilot like me who hasn't had much exposure to glass. The placement of the PFD between the back-up steam gauges made it easy to cross-check without feeling as though you're spending too much time with your head down.”
Next week: Other glass options
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