With a moving map, the pilot can see a 2-D representation of the airplane and the station. This capability, to know where we are and where we’re going, is what we really want to know. OBSs, RMIs, ADFs and to/from indicators are technological relics, mechanisms that were once the best way we had of doing something technologically complicated. Computers can do all that better, more simply and more intuitively. Thank goodness.
One element of the computer that’s taken a while to make its way into the cockpit is ease of use. Happily, that is changing, thanks to advances from major avionics manufacturers, noteably Garmin, with its G2000, G3000 and G5000 cockpits, and Rockwell Collins, with its scalable Fusion platform. This is to take nothing away from the remarkable hardware innovations that both companies continue to make. Collins’ advances are arguably most noteworthy in terms of HUD development and communications, and Garmin has pioneered in envelope protection and ADS-B, among others.
While features are important, ease of use is arguably the new frontier of avionics design.
Rockwell Collins, which has enjoyed tremendous success with its Pro Line 21 range of flat-panel avionics products, has for the past several years been developing Fusion, which seeks to turn Pro Line on its head. While Pro Line 21 has numerous advanced safety utilities, it is in terms of architecture an old-fashioned FMS-based avionics system. Fusion is a completely different take on what avionics are and what they should be. With touch-screen displays, graphical flight planning, HUD symbology that matches that on the PFD, one-button attitude deviation recovery button and much more, Rockwell Collins has re-envisioned its avionics and put itself in a leadership position in the process.
Garmin doesn’t advertise the fact very much, but many of the features on the new graphical interface for its Aera portables, its GTN panel-mount navigators and its next-gen flat-panel suites have their roots in consumer products, like portable auto navigators, smartphones and outdoor GPS products. With consumer gear, the key is to make the learning curve as easy as possible, so people with no specialized training or expertise can use the equipment quickly and without a lot of study. How you do that is no secret. You create a highly graphical user interface with multiple ways to do the same chore — touch screen, hard keys, soft keys, etc. — and you keep the menu system as shallow as possible, something that’s a hard lesson for some manufacturers.
Garmin has applied all of these lessons on all of its latest products. To operate the G2000, for instance, you can use the touch controller to activate a graphical icon representing what you want to do. A simple home-screen icon takes you to a page of icons that lead you in your intended direction. A hard button for “direct to” navigation is on every box, and the menus are so shallow and intuitive, it’s impossible to get lost.
Contrast that with the G1000, with its chapters and pages menu system with functions, such as vertical navigation, located several levels below the surface. Knowing the lay of the land with G1000 is absolutely essential to a successful experience. With G2000, all that complexity is gone. It’s easy in a case like this to miss the revolution. The fact is, Garmin doesn’t want you to notice it. It wants it to be so easy you miss it altogether while you’re enjoying your flying.