Aspen’s flexible MFDs

New displays help product line evolve

January 1, 2010

With the release in late 2009 of its EFD1000 MFD multifunction display and the less expensive EFD500 MFD, Aspen Avionics’ Evolution Flight Display product line has done just that—evolved from a single primary flight display (PFD) to a comprehensive glass panel. In the process it has set the standard for simplicity in retrofit installation and scored very high marks for flexibility.

Our introduction to the Aspen EFD1000 PFD Pro was in AOPA’s 2008 Get Your Glass Sweepstakes airplane, a refurbished 1976 Piper Archer II ( see “AOPA’s Get Your Glass Sweepstakes: Glass Evolves,” April 2008 AOPA Pilot). There, we installed the EFD1000 PFD in place of the directional gyro and converted the attitude indicator to a standby instrument. The PFD provided an electronic replacement for the DG—and brought new capabilities such as a built-in radio magnetic indicator, altitude pre-select, course deviation indicator, and horizontal situation indicator. Even better, it was installed in the existing instrument holes.

The EFD1000 MFD shares that design philosophy, as does the similar EFD500 MFD. (The EFD1000 MFD includes its own air data attitude and heading reference system and can fully replicate the PFD’s functionality as a backup instrument; the EFD500 lacks ADAHRS but offers all of the MFD’s other functionality.) They share the same knobology of the Aspen PFD.

The Evolution MFDs can display a wide variety of information, including a pilot-configurable navigation map, XM WX satellite weather, terrain and obstructions, traffic, and Stormscope WX-500 data. Airport diagrams and approach charts, in both FAA and Jeppesen formats, are coming in 2010. The nav display can employ an IFR base map or a VFR chart showing terrain; weather, traffic, and other data can be overlaid. Pilots can view any display on a full screen; two displays on a split screen; or three at once—with two shown as thumbnails in the upper corners. And that’s just the flexibility that one Evolution MFD can offer. What if you had two of them? Even with a second MFD, the Evolution panel is affordable by glass cockpit standards. The EFD1000 Pro PFD is $9,995; add the EFD500 MFD for $4,995, or an EFD1000 MFD for $7,995; or buy the PFD Pro and both MFDs for $22,985. (These prices are for the avionics only and don’t include installation.)

Climbing east-northeast out of Albuquerque International Sunport, the terrain display showed a wall of red that slowly turned yellow and then disappeared as we ascended. A glance out the windshield confirmed that we were topping the Sandia Mountains. My first thought on seeing the EFD500 MFD to the left of the PFD and EFD1000 MFD on the right was that the third display wasn’t necessary and would only hasten the sense of information overload that can accompany glass panels. I started cycling through the many display options, however, and by the end of our short 90-nm hop to Santa Fe Municipal Airport and back, I found myself depending on the “extra” display for additional situational awareness.

Aspen’s transflective displays were crisp, clear, and easy to read, both in direct sunlight and indirect lighting conditions (I did not fly them at night). “With a strictly transmissive display, you’re fighting against the sun—but when you have a strictly reflective display, the brighter the sun, the easier it is to see,” explained Bill Brodegard, an Aspen test pilot and senior principal systems engineer.

On almost every screen, Aspen offers “Push for back”—a one-touch exit from a menu structure that doesn’t go that deep to begin with. Instead, menu selections are generally wide and flat, “so you don’t have to think about it,” Brodegard said.

Because they use common avionics interface standards, Aspen’s displays are compatible with most popular GPS receivers, autopilots, and other avionics. “That’s a huge value proposition for our company, building a product that relates well with other avionics,” said Brad Hayden, Aspen’s director of marketing.

Can Aspen’s displays replace all your steam gauges? Yes, if you opt for the $1,000 EBB58 emergency backup battery. The EFD1000 PFD’s standard backup battery is nominally guaranteed for 30 minutes of use, which isn’t long enough to meet FAA requirements. “With that battery and the dual installation, you have the ability to remove the altimeter and airspeed [indicator],” Hayden said.

Since our flight, Aspen has released the Version 2.0 software upgrade for EFD1000 primary flight displays. Dealers can install the new software using a field upgrade kit, and there is no charge for the new software. Many of the enhancements to the previous Version 1.1 software resulted from Aspen customer feedback. New features include support for multidisplay PFD and MFD configurations, enhanced GPSS performance and annunciations, and improved screen dimming for night operations.

Version 2.0 also allows the addition of Evolution Hazard Awareness (EHA) to EFD1000 flight displays. The EHA upgrade for the EFD1000 Pro PFD lists for $795 and integrates datalink weather, lightning detection, and traffic into the navigation display. The EHA upgrade for the PFD also is available bundled with Aspen’s EWR50 Evolution Weather Receiver for $2,995.

Sporty’s Pilot Shop partnered with Aspen to produce the first training video for the Evolution product line. Flying the Aspen Evolution, part of Sporty’s What You Should Know series, runs the gamut from basic setup to menus, handy shortcuts, and advanced functions.

The program goes beyond operation of both the Aspen PFD and MFD—including use of terrain, traffic, and weather overlays—to explain the Aspen system’s architecture, including the backup battery and GPS, as well as backup display of PFD information on the MFD. It offers a generous amount of real-world application, complete with the knobology and button pushing.

While the well-produced program will serve Aspen owners well, it also will be appreciated by aircraft owners considering the Evolution for a panel upgrade. The program is introduced by Phil Boyer, former AOPA president and a member of Aspen’s board of directors.

Flying the Aspen Evolution, Sporty’s first DVD to be formatted for widescreen televisions, is available for $29.95 in DVD format or as a downloadable video; see the Web site or call 800-SPORTYS.

E-mail the author at mike.collins@aopa.org.