Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting Lost in the Cockpit: Adventures in Glass

Today I took my first solo flight in a G1000 equipped C172, which was rather interesting.  I took a brief flight in this same airplane during my primary training so that my instructor and I could fly back a DA-20, and then completed a VFR checkout in it a few weeks ago.  This coupled with several viewings of Sporty's G1000 Checkout videos should have prepared me for today's flight.

Holy crap.  There is just so much going on with these displays, and I was warned that it is easy to get lost inside the cockpit trying to figure out how something works while the plane does all kinds of bad things.  I won't say I totally resisted the temptation to get lost, but I did heed the instructor's advice about using the autopilot and making sure it's doing what you expect it to before going on a pushing, twisting, and cursing mission.

Some advice for transitioning to glass:

1.  Review one of the educational offerings such as from Sporty's or the Kings before trying to take this on.  I confess that this is a blessing and a curse, though.  There were things I was trying to get the system to do that I just could not remember how to accomplish. 

2.  Use that autopilot.  Although the 172s that I fly all have something resembling an autopilot, I tend not to use them to build stick and rudder skills and I find that those systems that only hold a heading or following your GPS track are annoying.  But this keeps you from practicing CFIT if you get distracted, and N97VA has a real autopilot that will maintain course and altitude.

3.  Always know how to go back to the basics.  The instructor who checked me out said that if I can't figure out how to make the system do what I want it to, use the ways that I know.  For example, the Sporty's video says that selecting frequencies from the waypoint menu is the preferred way to enter frequencies, but I still have not figured out how to do that.  Fortunately, there is a method that anyone who is familiar with a 430 or 530 will immediately recognize.

4.  Today, I tried to do everything that a VFR pilot might want to do.  Instead I should have simply reviewed the basics that I had previously mastered and then chosen one or two of the more useful or important things to add on.

5.  Don't totally rely on the MFD to provide you weather.  While on the leg between KVPZ and KARR, I attempted to pull up the METAR for KARR.  I think that I was successful in telling the system what I wanted, but it simply told me that there was no data.  Sigh.  Thank goodness for the old fashion method.

6.  I think that Garmin has a simulator that can be downloaded from its website, and that is probably worth spending some time with before trying to fly the plane while you're at it.

7.  Remember that you may have more than one instrument to adjust.  With any G1000, you have at least two altimeter settings and in my case three (7VA does not have the fancy Garmin flight director, but a  KAP140 that works pretty well but requires a third barometer setting). 

Conclusion: I'm not sure yet that I actually LIKE the G1000.  Yes, it has many very powerful tools and I can see being very useful.  But I did not like how I got away from enjoying the scenery and flying the plane and instead got fascinated with gizmos.  Yet having on-board weather from XM being relatively easily able to access airspace information relative to your position is very handy. 

So, how was the flight?  I departed KUGN and followed the Chicago shoreline to KVPZ where I executed a bouncing go-around and a decent landing that was just a bit longer than I would have preferred it.  I then headed west to KARR and had a go-around (gust just as I was about to touch down made me nervous) and a smooth landing.  Finally, back to KUGN with "calm" winds being defined as direct 5-knot crosswind across runway 5.  While I appreciate a straight in approach as much as the next guy, it would have been easier to take 32.  However, my landing was pretty nice overall and I quit while I was ahead.  Things were fairly bumpy and 5-10 knot gusts were enjoyed at VPZ and ARR.    

I got some pictures of downtown Chicago that I'll post later.  As I headed from VPZ to ARR, I crossed paths with a couple of jets (a Southwest 737 and an RJ) going into Midway (KMDW).  I would have gotten a picture or two, but I was hand flying at this point and a bit worried that I had crossed up some airspace given where I was in relation to where those aircraft were.  By the time I confirmed that I was clear of ORD's Bravo and MDW's Charlie as I believed I was all along the opportunities had passed. 

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