Discipline in the cockpit has broken down. I don't mean between members of the crew, but among the host of sensors supplying information to pilots. What's needed is a central display that can show information from old and new technology sensors and from the big avionics makers or start-up companies. So far, the most versatile and agile display is the Avidyne FlightMax, which is able to display weather, terrain, navigation, traffic and other data, such as uplinked weather, which will soon be available in the cockpit.
From the start, Avidyne designed its FlightMax to operate with an airplane's existing avionics equipment while retaining the flexibility to accept new data as it becomes available. Avionics types call this design "open architecture," and many claim to have it, but so far Avidyne has the most open system. The FlightMax has already had several software upgrades to adapt to new equipment, and I have confidence that it can do the same as more new technology becomes available.
When the FlightMax was first installed in my Baron two years ago it could show returns from the weather radar, a moving map and lightning mapping from a Stormscope, but not all at once. Now the FlightMax can overlay weather, traffic and terrain on a moving map display that offers a variety of formats that can be easily selected by the pilot.
Avidyne founder Dan Schwinn understood from the beginning that being able to replace the weather radar indicator was crucial to the success of the FlightMax. It's not hard to create space for a multifunction display in a new airplane, or an airplane undergoing a total avionics retrofit, but in existing airplanes panel space is at a premium. Because the FlightMax is the same size as a typical weather radar display, it made room for itself merely by being able to replace that display.
Replacing the weather radar display was, however, an expensive and complicated design task for Avidyne. A lot of signal processing goes on in the radar indicator, and no two types of radars operate exactly the same. That meant that Avidyne had to duplicate the function of the radar display, plus include all of the electronics to perform the multifunction display task.
To replace the radar display, Avidyne had to demonstrate to the FAA that it is an exact, or superior, replacement for the original display. That meant FlightMax design and testing had to be performed to the technical standard order (TSO) for each type of radar. But Avidyne invested the time and money and earned the approvals and along the way improved the performance and display of the radar indicators it replaces. The company was so conscious of installation costs that it duplicated the connector so the FlightMax could plug into the radar system with no wiring changes.
Avidyne's first moving maps were a basic IFR nav map showing VORs, intersections, NDBs, airports and so on, and for VFR flight there was an electronic image of a sectional chart. The sectional charts were scanned into computer memory, so they were faithful in every detail but consumed huge amounts of memory. I didn't find the sectional chart feature to be very useful because the five-inch screen showed only a small portion of the chart. When you zoomed out to longer ranges the chart details shrank with the scale and were hard to see. But the FlightMax was up and working, the first multifunction display of its size for the retrofit market.