Climbing into a Cirrus SR22 equipped with Avidyne’s Entegra Release 9 avionics system after spending three hours flying in the left seat of a Diamond DA40 fitted with Garmin’s G1000 cockpit felt like stepping onto the surface of another planet. Arrayed before me in the Cirrus were two large flat-panel displays presenting all the usual flight-related information as well as various knobs and buttons, but that’s about where the similarities between the systems ended. I may as well have been on Pluto.
Besides the much-appreciated extra elbowroom in the Cirrus, the Avidyne cockpit immediately struck me as being a more buttoned-down and business-like alternative to the Garmin system, with which I am exponentially more familiar. What I noticed first in the SR22 was the inclusion of what appeared to be an honest-to-goodness flight management system incorporating a QWERTY-style keypad. While some versions of G1000 include keypads, entering flight plan information in the DA40 I fly can be a chore involving copious knob twisting and button pressing to select individual letters or input new waypoints. This looked promising.
Also of interest in the Cirrus were the series of rocker-style buttons on the displays’ lower bezels labeled PFD, FMS, MAP, SYS and CHKL — that certainly seemed straightforward. As the system powered on, I noted the usual self-tests and assortment of instrument readouts common in modern glass cockpits. I hoped that by playing around with the system in the air I’d be able to sort out most of the important features of R9 and quickly gain the confidence to command it to do as told — as opposed to merely mashing the keys and wondering what in the world the avionics would do next.
Avidyne claims R9 is dirt-simple to learn and use, but I wasn’t so sure I could instantly transition from G1000 without some help. Thankfully, Scott Crenshaw, founder and president of Next Dimension, the Greensboro, North Carolina, company that is performing installations in the Cirrus as part of its Worpe9 upgrade program, was right there beside me to demystify the Entegra R9 cockpit as we spent the afternoon putting the avionics through varied paces in the airspace north of Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport.
For most of our time aloft, I marveled over the fact that the Avidyne Entegra R9 cockpit really seems as easy to use as Avidyne claims, while still managing to be a highly capable system that can do pretty much anything a pilot could ask. Avidyne’s Geofill technology made entering waypoints a breeze as the system correctly guessed where I wanted to go. The rocker-style soft keys were a welcome addition as well, and I was able to zip around the system’s various menu pages with ease. By no means am I an R9 pro, but with more practice I could imagine becoming proficient with the system without too much hassle.
One of the only black marks against the Next Dimension Cirrus was the fact that we were stuck flying with a two-axis S-Tec 55X autopilot — the unfortunate result of my demo flight occurring about a week before Avidyne’s new DFC100 digital autopilot earned its FAA certification. To put it bluntly, the S-Tec autopilot did a poor job — bordering on unacceptable — of flying the airplane in any of its various modes, and so we spent most of our time aloft with the unit turned off. It struck me that having to make do with anything less than the DFC100 autopilot in an R9-equipped airplane is kind of like driving a Ferrari in the rain: Sure, you’ve got a 540-horsepower V-12 idling behind the seats, but what’s that worth when you can’t put even a fraction of that awesome power to proper use?
A Tale of Three Airplanes
As the original Entegra system evolved after its introduction in 2002, Avidyne rolled out successive releases known by their R designators, such as the R7 upgrade that added WAAS to Entegra and R8 that brought datalink weather capability. But what buyers really were waiting for was the introduction of the highly anticipated Entegra 2 system, which would finally introduce the full scope of Avidyne integrated products, including FMS, GPS receivers, radios and more.
Rather than unveiling Entegra 2, Avidyne in 2008 took the wraps off Release 9. For a while, confusion reigned as many assumed Entegra 2 was still in the works and R9 was merely another evolutionary change. But it turns out R9 was none other than the long-awaited Entegra makeover. In fact, R9 shares almost nothing in common with its predecessor. The new system incorporates entirely new hardware, new software and a completely different operating system. That Avidyne has succeeded in bringing so many new pieces together and making them function so well is no small accomplishment. Creating an avionics system that in many ways is superior to G1000 was a masterstroke.
Besides the Cirrus, I also took a closer look at the newly redone front offices of a fresh-from-the-factory Piper PA-46 Matrix and a 1982 vintage PA-32 Saratoga, both upgraded by NexAir of Mansfield, Massachusetts. All three airplanes would have benefited greatly from the DFC100 autopilot — and all three soon will; now that STCs are approved, installations have started.
The Next Dimension Cirrus I flew spent its early life with its original Entegra glass cockpit before undergoing the Worpe9 treatment at Next Dimension. Besides new avionics, the upgrade program also includes new paint and leather interior and a zero-time Continental IO-550 engine with the Tornado Alley turbonormalizing system. The result is a nearly good-as-new airplane for close to half the price of a new Cirrus with similar avionics capabilities and performance.