When Aspen launched its innovative glass-panel concept a few years ago, it sounded like a great idea. Take a typical six-pack panel, pull out the old analog gauges and replace them with Aspen's tall and narrow flat-panel units, designed so their working parts were housed in can-shaped enclosures that fit neatly into the holes vacated by the steam gauges. In theory, the approach would greatly cut down on installation time and the associated costs of going from old-school instruments to new, because the Aspen approach would allow a complete retrofit without any cutting of the panel.
The idea worked pretty much as advertised, and the Aspen's Evolution Flight Display (EFD) 1000 earned a Flying Editors' Choice Award last year. Sales of the $10,000 PFD were strong.
Recently Aspen earned certification for the second part of its panel plan, the EFD 1000 MFD ($7,995) and the EFD 500 MFD ($4,995). Both are available now.
The EFD 1000 MFD is a fully reversionary unit with self-contained ADAHRS and air data as well as a battery backup. An emergency backup GPS is an option as well.
The budget-priced EFD 500 eliminates the ADAHRS, so it can't take over for the PFD were it to fail. While most customers have been installing the 500 as a second MFD paired with a PFD 1000 and an MFD 1000, it can be installed as a single MFD alongside the PFD 1000, though again it won't work as a backup (reversionary) PFD.
Both MFDs act as moving maps with built-in terrain awareness, and they can display satellite weather overlays with Aspen's optional EWR 50 XM weather receiver ($2,495). They can display traffic as well when paired with a compatible traffic sensor.
The airplane I flew to evaluate the new MFDs was a several-years-old Cirrus SR22 belonging to Aspen representative Scott Smith. It was the same airplane I flew last year to try out the then-new PFD 1000, which at the time was sitting all by itself in the panel. Today his airplane has three Aspen flat panels installed, the PFD 1000 (driven by a pair of Garmin GNS 430W WAAS receivers, so the Aspen system does vertical navigational approaches), an MFD 1000 and an MFD 500.
The autopilot is an older S-TEC 55 with a remote altitude preselect interface. (The Aspen PFD cannot be configured to take the place of the altitude preselector as it can with the factory-installed Avidyne Entegra flat-panel system.)
It seemed kind of silly to be showing off a pair of MFDs in the SR22 when its huge, 10.4-inch-diagonal original-equipment Avidyne MFD was still on prominent display. And I don't know how many customers will choose to add Aspen MFDs to a panel like this. But the truth be told, the placement of the MFDs so close to the PFD changes the way I fly, making it very easy to see all kinds of information out of the corner of my eye without scanning away from the PFD. I solely relied upon the Aspen MFDs for all of my mapping, weather, traffic and terrain information and kept the Avidyne display on the engine instrumentation page.
Externally, the MFDs are identical to the PFD, with a pair of concentric knobs at the bottom with three keys between them and a number of buttons along the right side of the bezel, the bottom five of which change function depending on the screen display.
Like MFDs from Garmin or Avidyne, the Aspen MFDs feature a page-style interface. Aspen, however, makes excellent use of the small amount of real estate it has available by allowing the pilot to divide the screen up three ways: a single, large display; a screen split top and bottom; or a three-way split with two small boxes on top and a larger one taking up the lower half of the MFD. When the main map page is displayed, you can look at it in 360-degree or arc mode.
Having two MFDs to work with, one on either side of the PFD, gives you a great deal of flexibility in what information you choose to display and how you arrange it on the screen.
We gave the new system a good workout on my test flight, milling around the surprisingly busy airspace of Oklahoma City, dodging traffic, avoiding the many towers and flying approaches in the beautiful but bumpy and cold VFR weather.
I found the MFDs easy to figure out, helped at least a little by my having flown with the PFD last year. The approach to navigating the pages is similar to the one using a 430. You essentially flip through the available pages — maps, weather, traffic, terrain — until you get where you want to go. Using the menu page, you can arrange the page layout too. On approach to Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport, Scott suggested using a top/bottom split view on the left-side MFD with traffic and a flight plan map, and a full-size map with terrain and weather overlaid on the right side.
As is the case with the PFD, Aspen has succeeded in figuring out how best to display the various symbols on the small and width-challenged screen. Truthfully, despite Aspen's best efforts, some of the smaller labels, such as those for the soft keys on the right, took some close examination at first, but once I figured out where to look for what, it became a lot quicker for my fingers and easier on my eyes.
With its two new, nicely executed and attractively priced MFDs, Aspen has created a whole-panel solution for existing airplanes. As with the PFD, both MFDs have multiple airplane approval and can be installed in hundreds of different models, and at a competitive price. Smith said that, factoring in a no-surprises installation, a trio of displays could be bought and installed for around $30,000 or slightly more, depending on options.
For more information, visit aspenavionics.com.