Despite the widespread adoption of Garmin’s integrated avionics systems in a variety of airplanes from four-place piston singles to turboprops and business jets, never before has the company’s G1000 glass cockpit flown in a helicopter.
The conventional wisdom has always seemed to argue against shoehorning Garmin’s wide LCD flight displays into the tight confines of a small, Part 27 helicopter. I had to admit as I waited in the parking lot outside Orlando, Florida’s Orange County Convention Center for the arrival of Bell’s newest helicopter, the Model 407GX featuring the helicopter version of G1000, that I harbored those same doubts. Did the pairing of a midrange, light single-engine helicopter with G1000 flat-panel displays, each measuring 10.4 inches diagonally, really make sense? Wouldn’t a slimmed-down alternative — say, Garmin’s G500 avionics system — be a better fit in the 407?
I didn’t have to ponder these questions for long before a gleaming brown-and-gold 407GX swooped over the grass field at the parking lot’s edge and squatted down next to me. I climbed aboard and introduced myself to Randall Parent, a Bell demonstration pilot, who set about giving me a quick and dirty briefing on the G1000H package arrayed before us. (The H stands for helicopter, naturally.) There wasn’t much to say since the magic of G1000 can truly be appreciated only once airborne. But at first glance the pairing of the Garmin glass with the 407 seemed promising.
As we were preparing to depart and get our demo under way, the radio crackled, signaling the arrival of another helicopter, which settled onto the grass beside us. “Have you had a ride in the Bell 429 yet?” Parent asked, glancing over at the 407GX’s larger, pricier sibling nestled next to us. I had not. “It’s nice, but that’s a Cadillac,” he said. “This,” he announced, tightening his grip on the collective, “is a Corvette.”
With that, Parent smoothly lifted us off the ground and into a hover a few feet above the large white H painted on the grass. “There,” he said, pressing a button on his cyclic stick. “How’s that?” A full-color video image showing the view from the rear of the helicopter popped onto the LCD screen in front of me. Easing the cyclic toward him with slight, almost imperceptible pressure, Parent backed the helicopter out of its space.
“That’s a reassuring picture,” I said, impressed by the clarity of the video image, which had far better fidelity than those minivan and SUV rearview cameras I’ve seen.
“That,” he said, “is the kind of tech-nology we’ve incorporated into the 407GX that I’m convinced will save lives.”
Parent stepped on the left pedal to turn as only a helicopter can, pivoting 180 degrees. He eased the cyclic forward and we gathered momentum, wooshing across the empty field outside the site of this year’s Heli-Expo Convention. As Parent initiated a brisk climb over the restaurants and tourist attractions along International Drive, I thought to myself, Disney World may be nearby but I was already aboard my own personal amusement park ride.
Accelerating to 140 knots, the 407GX’s impressive top speed, Parent went straight to work showing off the G1000H’s capabilities.
“There’s one of our guys now,” he said, referring to another Bell 407 just returning from a customer demo flight. “I’ll put our nose on him so you can see the traffic alert on the synthetic-vision system.”
Parent banked left toward the small diamond-shaped target that blipped across the MFD. Immediately on the Garmin G1000H primary flight display, a similar target appeared on our virtual view of the world, exactly where it should have been. A digitized voice announced, “Traffic!”