Don't Forget About the MFD

March 25, 2013

Sweeps Update

Project Update: August 28, 2008

Don’t forget about the MFD

By Ian J. Twombly

While much of the focus of this year’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes Piper Archer may be on the Aspen Avionics EFD1000 primary flight display, one PFD does not a full glass panel make. What’s missing from the picture? A multifunction display, of course. And the Archer features one of the best—the Avidyne EX500.

Avidyne’s EX500 was one of the first mass-produced certificated MFD available for light general aviation airplanes. It features a 5.5-inch diagonal display, making it small enough to fit in most panels, but large enough to display very detailed information. The basic MFD is a moving map. It shows terrain, airports, airspace, and other information you would find on a chart. Except that it also shows the airplane’s current position in relation to the chart, along with speed, distance to a waypoint, time to a waypoint, and other flight data.

What makes the EX500 really great is its ability to interface with other pieces of equipment. In the Archer, we also installed Avidyne’s TAS600 active traffic system (Avidyne calls the EX500/TAS600 combo MHAS6000 for marketing purposes), and the MLB700 weather datalink. The display can also interact with equipment from other manufacturers, thanks to serial data. We put in an L-3 Communications Avionics System WX500 stormscope, and Jeppesen Cmax charts. Now this one display gives the basic moving map information, as well as near real-time datalink weather from WSI, traffic that’s nearly TCAS quality, instant lightning detection, and Jeppesen approach plates. It’s an incredible package that retails for north of $30,000. But the increased situational awareness is priceless.

Flying the EX500

Flying the EX500 is a joy. One of Avidyne’s core operating principles is ease of use, and it’s apparent when working with the EX500. The main MFD screen can overlay traffic, weather, and lightning on top of the terrain and flight plan information. For more detailed weather views, there’s a dedicated weather page. Charts and text weather are also on dedicated pages, all easily accessible with the turn of one knob on the left side of the display. A knob on the right rolls through different selections within a page. It’s as easy as that to learn.

Senior Editor Dave Hirschman flew the EX500 on the way back from EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh and was really taken back with the unit’s capabilities. “There's no way this trip would have been attempted, or completed successfully, without it,” he said. “The real-time weather display allowed me to confidently circumnavigate a large area of extreme rain, embedded thunderstorms, and lightning that covered southwestern and central Michigan and northern Ohio.

“The most eye-opening part of the flight, for me, came over eastern Michigan about 80 miles north of my planned fuel stop at Toledo, Ohio. An air traffic controller said the storms were likely to be approaching Toledo about the time that I arrived, and he suggested a 45-degree turn to the southwest would put me behind the squall line. But the cockpit weather display on the MFD showed ATC's suggested heading would put me squarely in the midst of a 100-mile-wide area of moderate rain, high winds, and lightning. The MFD gave me the situational awareness to decline the suggestion, select a new destination (Mansfield, Ohio), and land there at least 60 miles ahead of the storm.

“Without the Avidyne MFD, I would have blindly followed ATC into adverse weather conditions that would have pelted 208GG's paint with rain and/or hail and made for an extremely demanding approach and landing. The Avidyne unit allowed me to avoid all that. It was easy and pleasant to use, even for a person (like me) with little previous experience using Avidyne equipment.”

Options

There are obviously other MFD options out there on the market. Garmin’s GMX200 is a top contender, and Bendix/King does well with its KMD 150 and 250. Aspen is also expected to have its MFD certified at the beginning of next year, and everyone is anxious to see how it will interact with the EFD1000. But Avidyne is a pioneer in the MFD field, and the EX500 is a great unit. We think the combination of the Aspen and Avidyne is formidable and will be a great asset for the winner.

Next week: The S-Tec Fifty Five X autopilot

E-mail the author at ian.twombly@aopa.org