/ Boulder

Glass Cockpit Flight

When Garmin's G1000 "glass cockpit" instrumentation system came out last year, I sort-of did a "whatever". At the time, I still owned niner-three-fox, my beloved little 1966 Cessna 150 with basic cockpit instrumentation (and my handheld Garmin 196 which was impressive enough). The G1000 is something on the order of a $60K option on new aircraft, and I figured I'd never fly behind one of those. Hence my blase attitude about how cool they may be.

Boy was I wrong.

On Saturday, I got checked out in another aircraft available for rent over at Aviation Services, the local airport FBO. Sure, it's just a 172, but sitting behind a G1000, wrapped in a shiny new panel with that aircraft grey paint (on a leather seat that still smells like new), I felt like a jet captain.

The G1000 incorporates just about all of the old traditional flight instruments, navigation and communications radios, GPS with moving map, terrain and traffic awareness, and rolls them into two large, bright displays and a central control panel. What's more is that the traditional "six pack" of primary flight instruments (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter, turn coordinator, heading indicator and rate-of-climb indicator) has been distilled into one cohesive display that shows those six pieces of information -- and a whole lot more -- in a single presentation right in front of the pilot. If you get lost, run out of fuel or fly into something with all this info, you suck.

Weather and schedules meshed once again and I booked 914DB for an hour so "fam flight", or familiarization flight. I'd downloaded the manual for the G1000 installed in Cessna Aircraft (called the "NavIII package", which is marketing-speak for sixty thousand friggin' bucks), and read about 200 pages of knob twiddling factoids, realized I had half a manual to go, and went to bed.

Saturday dawned sporting an uncharacteristically overcast sky, and I initially thought I may not get to fly. But the Boulder Airport AWOS was reporting a 1500' ceiling over the airport -- just high enough to legally launch -- and the weather to the north at Greely was already burning off. So, off we went.

It's still a 172, the same type of plane I did all my primary training in, but there are a few differences. The extra 20 horsepower in the SP model is welcome, the ten extra fuel drains (the result of some bullshit court ruling and too many lawyers in general) are not welcome. But the big difference on the preflight checklist is all the extra steps directly related to the G1000. There is a battery backup system that can power the unit in the event of a total electrical failure -- this is nice, since everything is on that damned G1000. So, we test that. And we make sure that the avionics bay cooling fans are working; you have to shut off BusA just to hear the BusB fan in the rear of the plane; this stuff gets hot. But all in all, it's not too much more to worry about and it's damned fun working with brand-new equipment -- 914DB has 340 hours on the hobbs meter since new. Most planes I fly have thousands of hours on them.

After a little button pushing and knob twiddling to make sure I knew how to accomplish the basics, my instructor and I launched into the grey. The temptation to gaze at that panel is strong, but I managed to fly like I was taught by looking out the damned window, stealing occasional glances at the panel to confirm all was well, but also to just marvel at how inteligently the display is designed. After a few miles or so a hole in the overcast revealed itself, so we climbed up through it and were bathed in sunshine and smooth air, with a fabulous view of the mountains. (Once again, I have nothing but shitty pictures to document my aerial explorations. I will get better. I promise.)

Some maneuvers, stalls and steep turns, and a few touch and goes at Longmont later, and it was back home to Boulder. Another plane at my disposal now. Next up, mountain flying instruction!

P.S. The altimeter reads =~ 7,800'; Brenda & I topped that today -- under our own power, no less -- when we climbed to the top of Green Mountain, 8,144' above sea level! Even saw some hawks doing their thing in the canyon as we started down.

Longs Peak