Kansas City Aviation Center (KCAC) and Universal Avionics have a brand new program to put a three-screen Universal Avionics EFI-890R Vision 1 display system in the Pilatus PC-12. The system will integrate completely with the existing avionics in the airplane and provide a number of new capabilities, while retaining all of the features in the current airplanes. Cost of the STC is around $398,000.
There are only a few new high-end airplanes that don't come standard with flat-panel avionics, and the Pilatus PC-12 is arguably the most noteworthy. Because flat panels are not a factory option, every Pilatus PC-12 in the fleet represents a potential installation. There are more than 600 Pilatus PC-12s flying.
LCDs offer a number of attractive advances over CRTs. They're cooler, lighter, thinner, more durable, and unlike CRTs, they can be scaled up without growing too deep and heavy to fit in the panel. And because they're not limited by sluggish redraw rates, LCDs can display a lot more data than CRTs can. Universal's displays (now certified on both Part 23 and Part 25 airplanes) boast all of these advantages. At 8.9-inches diagonally, the EFI-890R displays are clearly larger, but they're also capable of displaying a lot more data, in this case, Universal's eye-catching Vision 1 synthetic vision view.
I got the chance to check out the system in KCAC's PC-12 on a flight in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico this summer with KCAC's Don Peterson and Universal's Grady Dees. My first reaction to the displays was that they look like they were installed at the factory, instead of being shoehorned into the panel like some mods. The three displays-two PFDs and an MFD-integrate with the pre-existing boxes, so you control the autopilot and navigator just as you did before. In the airplane I flew, the pre-existing boxes included a pair of Garmin navigators, the Bendix/King KFC-325 autopilot and altitude preselect control, as well as the backup electromechanical flight instruments. It's a clean and attractive installation.
The main selling point of the system is synthetic vision-a computer generated view of the outside world-and Universal's implementation of it is excellent. The idea is not to use it to fly virtual VFR, but as a tool for situational awareness. The synthetic vision can be de-selected, too, if the pilot prefers, and used as a really big standard ADI.
To try things out, we flew the PC-12-a great airplane; it was the first time I'd flown one-from Albuquerque into Angel Fire, a single-strip airport tucked into a narrow north/south valley. As we approached I purposely kept my eyes on the PFD, which showed the airport emerging into view as we turned the corner and descended for the downwind leg. The next day we flew in and around the mountains between Angel Fire and Taos, purposely flying at mountain peaks to put the TAWS through its paces and to see just how good the Vision 1 system is at showing you where the rocks are. It's good, I'm glad to report.
While synthetic vision is not a replacement for TAWS, which is required by the FARs for turbine airplanes with six or more seats, it should keep a pilot from ever having to rely on the TAWS in a close encounter with terrain. And it's especially suitable for an airplane like the Swiss-built Pilatus PC-12, which makes its living flying in rugged locales throughout the world.
Another major safety benefit of the Universal system is the upgraded MFD, which gives the pilot a wealth of safety of flight utilities, including XM Weather, electronic Jeppesen approach and taxi charts, and color radar control/display.
KCAC had just finished certification as this was being written, and the system should be available for installation by the time you read this. For more information, contact KCAC at 800/720-5222 or visit kcac.com.