Everything at your fingertips—the avionics interface revolution
Not just for smartphones any more, touchscreens are quickly becoming ubiquitous in bizjet cockpit panels.
Garmin GTN series allows pilots to program routes, manage communication and navigation radios, and manipulate the map display—all by the touch of a finger.
You want to change or insert a waypoint? An alphabet keypad shows up with 5 letters, in alphabetical order, with a small whole alphabet underneath.
If you need a different letter, just tap the section of the alphabet in which it resides and a new series of 5 letters shows up.
Worried about your fingers going wild in turbulence? No worries—there are finger grips on each side of the unit for stabilization.
The GTN units have graphical flight planning, which truly is the best thing since sliced bread. Just touch a waypoint and the unit will ask you if you want to add it to the flightplan.
Finally, airways are accessible for input—so no more inputs of a million waypoints for a trip. You can also "rubber band" your route, ie, you can drag your route line to include whichever waypoints you wish. For those who don't wish to give up knob twisting and button pushing, there is a knob that can be used for data entry and there still is, of course, the old direct key. A home key is also installed, making getting back to the important pages easy.
The units also come with enhanced airport diagrams that include taxiway identification. They can also come with safe taxi, flight charts and chart view. The GTN units have an extensive terrain and obstacle database which can be superimposed on the moving map.
Terrain awareness and warning system (TAWS) alerts are also given when a threat is identified. Of course, weather and traffic overlays are also available. Advertised base prices are $11,495 for the 650 and $16,995 for the 750.
Avidyne IFD 540
Avidyne's response is the IFD 540 (IFD standing for integrated flightdeck). Currently, Avidyne is evaluating which interface works best, but the demo model appeared to be a capacitive-type.
The great thing about this unit is that it can slide right into a GNS 530 slot, making installation a piece of cake. The interface allows pilots to choose between buttons and touches.
The familiar direct, procedure, nearest, enter and other intuitive buttons are available. At the same time, touch selections at the bottom of the screen allow for flightplan entry and modification, route information and nearest waypoint selection.
Toggling between VLOC, GPS and heading select is easy, as each has its own button for selection.
Avidyne's IFD allows for touch-based route planning, including "rubber band" route design. It also allows pilots to manage datalink, communication and navigation systems by touch.
Data entry is another piece of cake, with a QWERTY keyboard that pops up for use. Geofill, which uses smart logic of one's geographic location to assist in waypoint entry, reduces the interface time autofilling nearby waypoints that the unit thinks you are trying to insert.
Flightplan entry and changes are easy with graphical flight planning.
Simply touch the points you need or "rubber band" your route. Airways are also available for easy route insertion. Want to know something about airspace or a navaid? Simply touch it and an info box pops up. An FMS preview function allows you to review the route prior to execution.
And the FMS-vectors function allows for a smooth transition from a vector to intercepting a course, drawing a curved dashed line, much like sophisticated FMS units in airliners. JeppView and airport diagrams are available. Also, the TAWS system has a sophisticated and aesthetically pleasing topographic display. List price for the IFD 540 is $16,995.
Pro Line Fusion, the touchscreen system developed by Rockwell Collins, is intended more for larger aircraft, from the corporate scene on up to the Boeing 787. (Although Rockwell Collins has not provided any details, it appears to use capacitance for sensing.) Huge flat screen displays make up the system. Similar screens can also be used to replace FMS/FMC control display units (CDUs).
The monster-size primary flight display (PFD) is more like a multifunction display (MFD). Simply touch the PFD and you can access traffic, terrain, synthetic vision system (SVS) and enhanced vision system (EVS), if installed.
You can also bring up system synoptics, checklists and a top-down map view. These each get their own box on the PFD or are superimposed on the HSI, while there is always a smaller version of the attitude indicator on display.
Fusion also has graphical flightplan functions. One neat feature is that you can move the map around with your fingertip, scrolling to any desired location. Zoom is controlled by a ring on which you slide your finger—move in one direction to zoom in, and vice versa. Another nice feature is a crosshair that appears to show where the system thinks your finger is trying to push, making misses less likely.
A variety of map display options are available on the MFD. You can ask to see VORs and airports as well as any altitude or speed restrictions associated with a particular waypoint. One unique function is the side view vertical navigation display.
This shows your vertical profile per the flightplan, your actual vertical flightpath and where terrain is below you. Coupled with the terrain mapping on the PFD, there should never be a case of CFIT again.
No pricing information was available for Fusion, but it is likely to be pretty expensive.
There really is nothing like seeing the real thing to understand how much of a leap in technology, and ease of use for pilots, these new systems represent.
Certainly any pilot used to twisting and turning knobs to get from point A to point B will easily be sold, but it is hard to imagine how any pilot could avoid falling in love with touchscreens. With such advanced functions and ease of interface, there is little doubt that touchscreen avionics are here to stay.
David Ison has 24 years of experience flying aircraft ranging from light singles to widebody jets. These days he is an assistant professor of aviation at Rocky Mountain College in Billings MT.
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