Safety Publications/Articles

An instructor meets the future

Glass cockpit training, Part I

Today it's virtually impossible to buy a new airplane with a conventional "six-pack" instrument panel, so CFIs competent to instruct in all-electronic glass panel aircraft are in demand. Are you ready for the transition? Long-time CFII Ted Spitzmiller of New Mexico recently completed Cessna's week-long course for the Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) Skylane, and he has since guided more than 20 pilots through their all-glass transition. This two-part series relates his experience in learning and teaching TAA. This month, the author details his own sometimes-painful move to TAA; next month he will reveal the tips and tricks for teaching in TAA.

My first experience with the glass cockpit left me shaking my head in disbelief--the demo pilot moved his hands across the various buttons and knobs like a concert pianist and produced astounding displays. I thought, No way I'll ever be able to master that panel, much like the time 40 years earlier when I first saw an IFR Cessna 182 panel. (I'm not what techies call "an early adopter.") A year later I was training in that same airplane for an instrument rating.

According to Cessna, 2007 will be the last year that it offers the traditional round dial/six-pack/steam gauge analog presentation of flight instrumentation. Piper has likewise indicated that the end of the line is in sight, while Cirrus and Columbia airplanes are available only as Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA). While it may be some time before the GA fleet is populated with large numbers of TAA, the future is now!

Last year, the Civil Air Patrol here in New Mexico asked me to go to Wichita and take the week-long Cessna training program for the Garmin G-1000-equipped glass-cockpit Cessna 182T that provides new navigational, traffic, and terrain awareness capability. It also places new demands on pilot skills in flight management and decision making.

If you're an old dog worried about your ability to learn new tricks, my experience in learning--and then teaching--in a TAA may be of interest.

Cessna requires that CAP attendees of its TAA programs already be qualified and current in the aircraft to be used, in my case the Cessna 182. The TAA is still a conventional airplane, responding to pitch, power, and trim inputs, and TAA training concentrates on teaching use of the aircraft as an integrated component of the autopilot--using data from the multi-function display (MFD) to prepare and monitor the flight plan while maintaining situational awareness with position, terrain, traffic, and weather information. Cessna's TAA program does this with scenarios, which are a fundamental feature of the FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) program.

In my training at Cessna, one of the first surprises was discovering that TAA like the 182T are to be flown almost exclusively with the autopilot, requiring automation competence--the ability of the pilot to understand and operate the systems. Only landings and takeoffs are hand-flown. But hand-flying instrument approaches using the primary flight display (PFD) is a joy. The more accurate presentations of pitch and power give a pilot the opportunity for better performance control, even though the instrument scan of a PFD is somewhat different. The attitude indicator (AI) display spans the PFD, so while checking speed or altitude, the AI is still in the scan field.

All pitch information is on a horizontal line that connects the displays of the airspeed, AI, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator. Directional data is on a vertical line, with the horizontal situation indicator (HSI) providing heading and course guidance, aided by bearing pointers and information windows--a plethora of navigational data. Once you settle in with the PFD, there is no need to search for flight data. Even the flight plan may be displayed in the lower right corner of the PFD.

How significant is the difference between the PFD and the traditional six-pack? Enough so that Southwest Airlines, which still has some conventional-panel 737s in its fleet, insists that an electronic version of the trusty old six-pack be displayed on the PFDs of its newer aircraft. Pilots are not expected to move from one cockpit to another with a different presentation.

The CAP also recognizes the possibility of problems for pilots moving between conventional six-pack panels and the new glass displays, and it requires that pilots who expect to fly IFR in CAP TAA airplanes must divide their six approaches for currency between the six-pack and the glass--three and three. It will be interesting to see what the FAA will require as it gains more insight into the differences between flying TAA and conventional aircraft.

Pilots learning to fly TAA need not necessarily become computer literate, but they must understand the source and time lag of display information, and which buttons to push. Of course, flight instruments such as the attitude and heading reference system (AHRS--pronounced a-hars) are essentially real-time, but other presentations will have some lag, varying from several seconds for Mode S traffic information to a number of minutes for the weather displays and, of course, weeks for the database updates.

Next month, I'll relate the tips and tricks I've found useful in helping other pilots transition to the brave new world of all-glass cockpits.

Ted Spitzmiller holds an FAA commercial pilot certificate for airplanes, single- and multiengine land and sea, with instrument privileges. He has been a Gold Seal CFII for 34 years, logging more than 4,000 hours in more than 62 different types of aircraft. He is a check pilot for the New Mexico Wing of the Civil Air Patrol.

By Ted Spitzmiller

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