My wife and I visited Bell Helicopter in Texas recently for recurrent training in the Bell 407. The day following completion of our training, we had the opportunity to make a 90-minute flight in the new Garmin G1000-equipped Bell 407GX.
I have extensive Garmin experience, and have flown G1000-equipped fixed-wing aircraft since Cessna first offered it in the piston product line. I presently fly a two-display G1000 installation in a T206 and a three-tube installation in a Caravan. While I love the G1000/GFC 700 autopilot installation in IFR-equipped fixed-wing aircraft, I had mixed feelings about how useful G1000 would be in a VFR helicopter. In particular, I was concerned about whether the new panel would obstruct the pilot’s view in off-airport operations, if the engine power gauges would be hard to use, and since helicopters need to be actively controlled at all times, often with two hands, how much “heads down” button pushing would be required. Having followed the G500H certification program in the 407, and being thrilled by how that turned out, I frankly wondered whether the G1000 would be a step forward or backward.
Since I often fly off airport and in the mountains in a 407, I couldn’t wait to get in the right seat of the 407GX and see whether the new, enlarged panel obstructed my view outside. Despite my concerns, Bell got it right, as the panel is cut so as to allow a view of the outside below, above and to the side of the panel.
With that big concern out of the way, Randall Parent, Bell’s 407GX demonstration pilot, hooked up a ground power unit so we could study the helicopter specific features of this G1000 installation. My first impression was how clean the G1000 installation was. I fly a late model 407, and its various engine and power gauges look simultaneously cluttered and antique by comparison with the two large G1000 displays, incorporating most all aircraft instrumentation and navigation in the 407GX.
The 407GX engine starting procedure is done with both the PFD and MFD switched on, which means most communication and navigation tasks can be completed before engine start, reducing rotors turning time prior to departing. Instead of checking various annunciators and systems as you do on the legacy 407 prior to start, you now have CAS messages on the G1000 displays. While I was concerned about the engine instruments presentation on the G1000, again I was quite pleased with how Bell and Garmin integrated all the various information into a single limit display.
Prior to lifting into a hover, we displayed the new rear-facing camera on the Garmin MFD, allowing us to look back toward our tail rotor and the area behind the helicopter. After we were established in a hover, and prior to departing the Alliance Airport on our flight, we pressed a button on the MFD, and the G1000 system calculated a power check of the engine. Previously, pilots would perform a power check by taking off and, once in flight, noting engine parameters, altitude and temperature, and later go to the RFM to determine the health of the engine. How sensible in a single-engine helicopter that you can get a quick check on the health of the engine prior to leaving the hover.