Now I know what a dog feels like watching TV…
— A DC-9 captain trainee attempting to check out on the “glass cockpit” A-320.
If you have not yet migrated to a glass cockpit equipped aircraft, David Megginson, the blogger behind the Land and Hold Short blog, has a post that is a great cheat sheet for understanding where the needles should be on analog (steam) gauges. After all and as David pointed out, many pilots just look at the position of the needle rather than actually “read” the gauges. Hence, David created the following useful graphics:
Vertical Speed Indicator
David went into considerable detail about each of the above sets of graphics plus at the end of his post, he noted that even pilots with fancy glass cockpits tend to not read the numbers on their displays and instead, opt to just set a bug on the displays.
General Aviation News recently had an article about new research from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Foundation’s Air Safety Institute (ASI) that revealed that the increase in glass panel cockpits in general aviation aircraft has not had a dramatic impact on safety (Be sure to check out this blog post from 2010: NTSB study: Glass cockpits do not make planes safer). Specifically, the ASI report found:
It was also noted by General Aviation News that there is a lack of standardization and model-specific training with glass cockpits plus there are many variations with glass panel displays. For those reasons, ASI recommends that general aviation pilots take the time to master all of the systems in their aircraft and preferably they should do this on the ground rather than in the air.
A full copy of the ASI report is available here and would be worth a quick browse by steam gauge and glass cockpit pilots alike.
If you are flying with a glass cockpit or other state-of-the-art avionics, sooner or later you may start choking on the escalating costs to keep all of these fancy gadgets running with the data they require. In fact, the rising costs associated with all of this data was the subject of a recent AVweb post by Paul Bertorelli.
Paul began his post by noting that he received a few irritated emails from readers who were annoyed that when he reported on Garmin’s new GTN-series navigators, he failed to mention anything about database costs. He then commented how the modern cockpit has become a “data-sucking black hole” full of databases that do not communicate or share much information with each other.
Moreover, all of this data adds up to the point where, if you include the cost of any portables or paper charts, you can easily spend a few grand a year on data alone. Worst, it appears that the cost of data is only heading in one direction and that is up.
In the US where many of the innovative iPhone and iPad apps originate from, the FAA will stop offering free digital chart data next year – meaning you can say goodbye to any new iPad or iPhone apps that are free or inexpensive as many rely on this free FAA data.
And then there is the proliferation of GPS approaches with the FAA planning thousands more of them. In fact, Paul wrote that:
One reader wrote me and said he noticed that a couple of GPS approaches for Ft. Myers, Florida were dropped from his current navigation database. Jeppesen confirmed this. Why? Too much data to process for that cycle; those procedures were dropped to be picked up for the next revision cycle. This begs the question: Why have all this infrastructure if the system to process the data chokes in getting it to users?
Paul ended his post by writing that the aircraft industry and aircraft owners need to figure out a better path because as data costs begin to rival what is paid insurance, many pilots will not be able to afford to be aircraft owners anymore.
Vincent has recently posted some interesting observations on Plastic Pilot about Steve Jobs, the iPhone and glass cockpits – noting that a big part of Apple’s success comes from simplicity and product ease of use (in other words, anyone can understand and use them). However, he also noted how difficult it is to actually create a product with good design.
Vincent then turns his attention to the cockpit by saying that:
From a user experience point of view a cockpit is not exactly simple or easy to understand. Electronics, and particularly integrated glass-cockpits, allowed for some standardization, but the overall complexity is still overwhelming. If you’re familiar with the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, or with any other Garmin unit, you probably eared the term “buttonology” a couple of times, don’t you? The sole existence of this term proves that despite all their efforts, the design guys at Garmin have not solved the complexity.
However, Paul from AskaCFI.com then noted in the comments section:
I would guess to say that Garmin has probably some really cool ideas that they have run past the FAA but that the FAA has said, “No way.” It is one thing for your iTouch to be cool and easy to use but your life isn’t dependent on it working (well for some of us anyway). If I were to change the quote above I would say “Regulation makes simplicity complicated.”
An interesting and probably an accurate observation!
At the end of the post, Vincent commented that he still thinks that glass cockpits with touch screens (a subject he wrote about last August) would help to improve the usability of airplane cockpits and make them more easier to understand. He ended his post by saying that if “Steve Jobs gets bored working for Apple and Pixar, I’m sure he could find new challenges and express all his love for good design in the glass-cockpit area…” – an idea we aren’t going to argue with!
Max Trescott has recently posted a review of the Husky A-1C and the the Garmin G500 and G600. In his review, Max stated that the Husky is a “good-looking airplane that can turn heads on any ramp” and then he proceeds into a discussion about glass cockpits. Max ends his post with the following statement:
If you haven’t yet joined the glass cockpit revolution, consider jumping on board soon. Manufacturers continue to provide increased value at ever decreasing costs. Even a tail dragger like the Husky is more fun to fly with a glass cockpit. Consider getting your own piece of glass in 2010!
However, blogger Patrick Flannigan noted in the comments section:
This article highlights one of my concerns about glass cockpits: there is too much variety. There’s the G500 and G600, or you could have the good old Avidyne Entegra, or perhaps the Aspen Evolution, or maybe you’ve got the standard G1000. Let’s not forget about the G3000 coming around the corner.
A very good point indeed! Although Max gave an excellent overview of the options available, the options he mentioned will cost anywhere from US$7,000 to US$30,000 - a very big investment to consider in order to join the “revolution.”