Along the top of the display is a data bar that shows a number of useful bits of information, including the transponder code, fuel remaining and current UTC time. You can select a number of different views and composites of a number of those. I often had the Map + page pulled up, which shows a big map, engine data, a separate traffic inset and, as always, the nav and comm frequencies.
The system also serves as a crew alerting system, with the ability to display color-coded messages alerting the pilot to potentially hazardous situations, like low fuel or high engine temps, for instance.
Amazing FMS The FMS900W is Avidyne's revolutionary flight management system that many people confuse with the ACD215 Control Display Unit, which people who fly the system refer to simply as "the keyboard." The FMS is actually the brains of the system, and it functions just fine without "the keyboard" through the use of the knobs and keys on the displays. One thing the keyboard does have is a display, so you don't have to keep looking back up to the MFD to see if what you typed is what got entered.
But if you have the option, you'll want the keyboard, because R9 does a lot of the thinking for you, which is only saying that its designers figured out what you were very likely going to do with your next keystroke … and they did it for you.
As we were flying toward our destination of Melbourne, for example, ATC gave us direct to the VOR. I went to type in "MLB" on the keyboard but only got as far as "M" before the FMS knew what I wanted. Typically, I was typing one letter and then hitting the "enter" key. Entering radio frequencies is, likewise, simplified. Forget typing the "1"; the FMS knows there's always going to be a "1," so you can leave it out. And forget about the dot. It knows that too.
Mac wrote a glowing review of the FMS900W last year (July 2008) before it had been certified. (Click here to read the review.) And while everything he said about it still holds true, it's gotten better yet.
As I said, the FMS is the brains of the system, the keyboard is the control/display device, and the flight planning detail is outputted to the displays, where it can be shown in different views on either or both of the displays. There, the layout of the flight plan route is even easier to see and to edit. Need to add a waypoint? A cursor shows you exactly where it's going to go in the flight plan, with no guessing. And waypoints that are associated with each other, like those on an approach or on an arrival, are grouped together with a big bracket, with a label for it along the side, making it easy to keep them straight in your head. You've also got minimum altitudes for the various legs, making it harder to descend too low too early on a non-precision approach, and the whole thing is done in plain English too, making it harder than ever to misunderstand and make a mistake.
The radios, again, are controlled by the keyboard (or through the displays), and while they're easy to use, they've got some new features, too. I mentioned that they display just what ATC facility it is that you're talking to and that they decode the VORs Morse code identifier and display its name as well. The radios are also upgradeable and are capable of supporting the FAA's coming NexCom datalink communications, and the digital architecture allows all four channels of both the nav and comm radios to operate simultaneously.
What the Heck Is Vectors Mode? The one feature that I had a hard time wrapping my head around is the new "Vectors" mode that Avidyne started talking about at Sun 'n Fun 2008. Even though it had been explained to me a few times by people more patient than I am, it wasn't until I flew it that I really got it.
Let's say you're flying along on an arrival and, as usual, at some point ATC gives you a vector. With R9, you simply hit the "vectors" button and the system inserts a new flexible leg, essentially a "vectors" leg, into the flight plan. When you're eventually given the intercept, you simply fly the airplane, and the reconnecting to the next leg is automatic. As Avidyne puts it, you just keep flying the magenta line.
Vectors mode automatically inserts a flexible leg into the flight plan and connects it with the previous and next legs. On my approach to St. Augustine, I was given a direct leg to a waypoint on the approach. Vectors mode drew the magenta line for me and connected it to the rest of the approach.
I saw this firsthand on my flight up to St. Augustine from Melbourne. Going into KSGJ we were given the RNAV Rwy 13 approach with a direct leg to one of the "T" fixes called "EFURO." On our way to that waypoint the airplane ahead of us canceled and the controller gave us a shortcut, sending us direct to the next waypoint on the approach, TUNJU. All I had to do was hit the "vectors" button, turn the heading knob and the FMS created for me a vectors leg toward the next waypoint, automatically reconnecting it to the approach with no action required on my part.
Bad Weather, Complex Airspace Heading back to Melbourne after lunch we were greeted by quickly developing thunderstorms just inland from Cape Canaveral. We couldn't go west. The storms were there, clearly visible on the WSI weather with its advanced NexRad images, and we couldn't go straight or east, because of restricted airspace. As we surveyed the situation, it seemed as though the only route was clear across the peninsula to Tampa, down the coast and then back across. But we were VFR, and that choice would have required us to traverse several areas of restricted airspace.