Safety Publications/Articles

Tale of the tape

Glass cockpit training, Part II

It's virtually impossible to buy a new airplane with a conventional "six-pack" instrument panel any more, 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 weeklong course for the Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) Skylane, and he has since guided more than 20 pilots through their own all-glass transition. This two-part series relates his experiences, both in learning and teaching TAA. Last month, the author detailed his own sometimes-painful move to TAA; this month, he reveals the tips and tricks for teaching in TAA.

When transitioning more than 20 Civil Air Patrol (CAP) pilots to a TAA, I found some key instructional differences between a conventional aircraft checkout and TAA. For instance, the positional cues a pilot uses with conventional instruments to judge the need for control input are different. As an example, maintaining altitude in a conventional airplane is achieved by the holding the relative position of the "big needle" on the altimeter in a 6 or 12 o'clock position. Likewise, if the needle on the airspeed indicator is at about the 4 o'clock position on approach in a single-engine aircraft, the pilot is close to nominal approach speed. These subliminal clues are not there in a primary flight display (PFD)-equipped TAA.

Also, even though the PFD presents the flight data in about the same location as conventional six-pack instruments, the pilot--at least in the early stages of transition--requires more mental gymnastics to acquire and digest the data. Unlike round "steam dial" conventional gauges, a PFD's vertical "tape" presents numbers for airspeed, altitude, and vertical speed for the pilot to read and interpret. And although a set of indicators (bugs) can be set to establish desired altitudes and airspeeds, interpreting information depictions on the PFD requires a different mental process from the analog gauges.

In addition, trend vectors on PFD altimeter and airspeed displays are available and are very precise. But they are so subtle that unless pointed out, the transition pilot typically never notices them--nor has the feedback been useful, at least in the early stages of training. This new way of assimilating flight data causes "automation surprise," and it affects experienced pilots far more than primary students, who have no preconceived notions of subliminal data and trend information. When starting new pilots in TAA, I've found that directing attention to the PFD early enhances their ability to focus on the task at hand.

For transitioning pilots, I've found it helpful to cover the traditional standby instruments installed in TAA (airspeed, AI, altimeter) to prevent the transitioning pilot from using them instead of making the switch to the PFD display. The large PFD attitude indicator sits on the large background that functions as the horizon and is a joy to use. The HSI can be readily mastered with a little reading, some PC simulator time, and some practical knowledge supplied by the instructor.

A PC-based procedures simulator is essential for teaching automation competence to transitioning pilots, because virtually all TAA features are accessed by buttons, knobs, and switches. Garmin has produced a computer simulator program for the G1000, complete with a moving map and overlay data. The program greatly helps pilots become accustomed to the new ways of interpreting aircraft and engine performance while entering data and commands into the flight and navigation systems.

Virtually every pilot I have taken through the transition program has had the same reaction after the first flight--"Wow, there's a lot of stuff going on." But it doesn't have to be mastered overnight or on a single flight. CAP pilots can complete a VFR signoff, which requires competence only with the primary flight display, engine performance display, basic VOR and GPS navigation, terrain avoidance, and traffic information systems. For IFR privileges, the pilot must demonstrate competence not only with all primary flight displays, but also all critical multifunction displays (MFD) including GPS navigation, as well as ILS, VOR, and GPS approaches and the use of the autopilot. The IFR transition must involve the MFD and a more elaborate checkout because there are failure modes in which its use is critical. Regardless of how the training is performed, the result must be "proficiency based qualification"--competency based on demonstrated performance.

I've found that the only way to ease the automation surprise burden is preparation--but reading the instruction manuals or flying the aircraft is not my preferred way to start! View the manufacturer's introductory DVD. Garmin's G1000 DVD gives a great overview to the basic unit layout and functionality. Get a copy of the PC simulator. Use FITS scenarios starting with relatively simple flight profiles on the simulator. Then use the instruction manual to help you set up for each task. Only after you can perform the various tasks on the ground should you consider flying.

Ted Spitzmiller holds an FAA commercial pilot certificate for airplanes, single and multi-engine 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

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports