Engine management became a breeze with EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) information for each cylinder being graphically displayed so that the pilot can use the automated “lean assist” system to lean back the mixture more accurately. Rate of fuel consumption, fuel remaining and time to fuel starvation all help the pilot manage the aircraft more wisely. The RPM, Oil Temp and Oil pressure gauges are clearly displayed as is the electrical positive/negative charge information. This last one is especially important in an electrically powered glass cockpit!
The flight instrumentation is what’s really great. RPM, VSI, DG, AH and Altimeter are all summarised on one clear screen directly in front of the pilot. The turn and balance took a little more getting used to as I endeavoured to keep the two small triangles matched up in turns (I personally like the simplicity of the ball bearing in a trough slide). What I really enjoyed was the autopilot and the ease in which it is integrated into the main flight display for setting the altitude, VSI and heading bugs. It’s an absolute breeze to link either of the Garmin 430s into the autopilot for directional control.
I ended up flying the Archer from Moorabbin to the Gold Coast and back and loved every minute of it. What I enjoyed the most was that it removed a lot of the pilot workload so that I could concentrate on other things such as enjoying the trip. Trust me when I say that as soon as you start up and the screens come to life you will still get the appropriate mouth-gaping response from your passengers.
Despite all of the technology and the incredible ease of using the glass I still find myself staring at the analogue ASI and Altimeter on the left hand as soon as I enter the circuit. There is just something about those older instruments that seem to engender a sense of confidence and familiarity that is missing from my experiences to date in a pure glass cockpit.
I think that the only way that I’ll completely move away from analogue instrumentation is if I cover them up with a sheet of cardboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if on finals the cardboard ends up in the back seat!
There is one thing that should never be replaced and that’s good old common sense. Let me give you a quick example. Flying by GPS is easy – just make the picture of the little plane go on the line in the right direction and everything should be OK (assuming you’re watching your LSALT). In a flight earlier this year I had to make a diversion to a point that wasn’t easily accessible in my GPS. I looked down at my map, drew some lines and let dead reckoning do its own special sort of magic.
This brings up an important point. I’ve known pilots that have become so dependent upon their glass that they’ve forgotten how to navigate by hand. I have a rule and that’s the GPS is confirmed by my map and my map is confirmed by the ground. It’s a nice circle that makes me feel that little bit safer.
My recommendation is to enjoy technology but don’t blindly follow it. After all, would Luke Skywalker blindly follow R2D2’s directions? The whole point of “Top Gun” was that flying still needed the inspirational human input. What would Spitfire aces think of us all if we couldn’t get back to base without a GPS?
So which is better, analogue or glass? There has been a really active discussion between pilots on Downwind.com.au in the “Pilot Training” area of the forum on this very topic. It’s fascinating reading on who likes what and the reasons why but what I personally believe is that it largely boils down to personal preference. For me, I love both and I’ll continue to use the technology available to confirm what the ground tells me is true.