From the Tecnam Sierra S-LSA featuring the OP Technologies EFIS to the burgeoning options for King Air and PC-12 retrofits on the turboprop side, if it flies, you can fly it with glass.
Glass technology began on the high end in aviation, with EFIS (electronic flight information system) in commercial airliners and large business jets. And as is often the case, the first general aviation applications of glass into light aircraft happened on the experimental side, with companies like Dynon Avionics and Blue Mountain Avionics producing compact EFISs for kitbuilders to install. The early ones may have been not quite ready for production time, but important lessons were learned about what levels of redundancy, integrity, and backup instrumentation were appropriate, safe, and smart for personal aviation. By the time Cirrus Design introduced its SR line in the mid-1990s with a large glass multifunction display (MFD) from ARNAV (now Sagem Avionics), and then with the first primary flight display (PFD) from a mainstream manufacturer in Avidyne's FlightMax Entegra at Oshkosh in 2002, the pump was primed.
Garmin's entrance into the retrofit market signals that demand from pilots is high enough to warrant the investment. Indeed, most production singles go out of the factory today with glass cockpits; the option to upgrade a used aircraft with the latest functionality naturally follows. But it's a different question to go boring into a panel built for six analog gauges (and their requisite pitot-static- and vacuum-system plumbing) than it is to start from scratch and install the magic on a production line. The size of the available real estate in most GA panels drives the display size - with equal area given to the PFD, which houses attitude, airspeed, and altitude information, among other data, and the MFD, which features the almighty moving map, traffic, weather, and engine monitoring features.
The G600 is a prime example, and you can put it in direct comparison to the company's new glass option for the experimental market, the G900X. Since the builder of an airplane has more choice from the outset on what she puts in her panel, Garmin chose to introduce a glass option for certain high-performance kitbuilt singles (such as the Lancair IV-P and Van's RV-10) that is based on the architecture and sizing of the G1000 integrated flight deck for production aircraft. The G600, on the other hand, fits neatly in the footprint of a standard six-pack.
Retrofit glass is now going into even larger cockpits: the turboprops. Innovative Solutions & Support is showing off its proprietary PFD and MFD system in a Pilatus PC-12 at AirVenture this week. The company has done high-end glass retrofit work on aircraft such as the Boeing 747-200 and 737-500; the 15-inch displays in the PC-12 make use of the panel space and all manufacturer-installed inputs such as traffic and radar. Garmin also is displaying its partnership effort with Executive Beechcraft on a retrofit G1000 for certain King Air 90s. In the instance of the King Air, used by many corporate and Part 135 operations, there is strong demand for EFIS, MFDs - even GPS in the case of some older models - to replace aging dials.
The kitbuilt market continues to show strong demand and acceptance of glass cockpit systems, with technology advancing along with reliability, user-friendliness, and capability. Whether you want a big screen or a small one, there's something out there. Very popular at the show this year - and a great example of where the market for kitbuilt glass is now - has been the Grand Rapids Technology booth, with the debut of the company's Sport EFIS, sized just right for tighter panels and VFR flight. A single-screen system, with a PFD, is only $2,800, while the two-screen system that adds an MFD runs $6,200. Either option utilizes a single AHRS (attitude and heading reference system), air data computer, and magnetometer and can accept XM WX satellite weather, TIS (traffic information system) data, and engine monitor-type inputs. Another option is an internal GPS.
Portable EFIS-style systems, whether on an electronic flight bag (EFB) or handheld device, are also an option for pilots. Several companies have debuted new products or upgrades this week. Mercury Computer Systems' VistaNav, an EFB with synthetic vision and 3D terrain depiction, now displays a unique 3D view of traffic and approach information. Traffic information is shown on a sphere for more immediate pilot understanding of traffic azimuth and altitude.
Yep, glass is here to stay. - Julie K. Boatman