When you ask him, Avidyne founder, president and chief Release 9 visionary Dan Schwinn makes no bones about it. He says that Entegra Release 9 is the best avionics system in the world. I asked him if he meant the best light GA system in the world. Nope, he said. Best, period.
That's quite a statement, but when you look at this all new system from top to bottom, it's hard to find a place where Avidyne hasn't stretched the envelope, creating new and more efficient ways for pilots to do things to make their job easier and safer.
I flew Release 9, aka R9, in Avidyne's Cirrus SR22 on two occasions, with Dan Schwinn down at Sun 'n Fun this spring and with R9 project experts Mike Kiernan and Mike Ingram out of Avidyne's Melbourne, Florida, facility a month later.
Avidyne is priding itself on how easy it is to fly R9, and there's no doubt that it's true.
During my flights I continued to learn about the system, and R9 did feel new and different to me. But along the way somewhere it occurred to me that much of that new feeling was because I was used to working a lot harder to get the system to do what I wanted it to do. R9 does a lot of the work for you.
A Little Background Schwinn founded Avidyne in 1994 inspired by the idea that there was a lot of room for innovation in avionics design. Among the first Avidyne products was a retrofit multifunction display that could cost-effectively replace the aging radar control/displays in radar-equipped airplanes.
But it was the introduction of the Entegra flat-panel avionics display in 2002, which Avidyne claims as the "first integrated flight deck for light GA aircraft," that put the company on the map. With a primary flight display with built-in AHRS and digital air data and a remarkably capable multifunction display that would eventually feature traffic, terrain, engine gauges, satellite weather, lightning and moving map, among other features, the system broke new ground in the light GA world. While it was optional equipment on several models of airplane from several different manufacturers, including Diamond and Piper, the Entegra system was installed on thousands of factory-new Cirrus SR22s, and it became closely aligned in the minds of customers with the Cirrus brand.
While Entegra was a remarkable achievement, it was heavily dependent on other manufacturers' equipment. Every Cirrus that went out the factory door with Entegra also left with a couple of Garmin navigators, L-3 traffic and lightning detection, Garmin transponder and audio panel and an S-Tec autopilot. Naturally enough, Avidyne wanted a piece of all that, so it early on began developing a follow-on to Entegra that would use nearly exclusively equipment developed, built and sold by Avidyne.
Enter R9 In what was arguably one of the worst kept secrets in aviation (sometimes intentionally so), Avidyne began developing this follow-on product, which it referred to internally as Entegra 2, or E2 for short.
Avidyne began expanding its horizons. In 2005 it merged with Ryan International, with its lineup of collision avoidance and lightning detection equipment. And Avidyne was investing in a number of technologies, from digital radios to autopilots to satellite communications, putting it in a position to develop its own, integrated system.
The idea was for E2 to go into the next generation of Cirrus airplanes, but that didn't happen. (At least it hasn't happened yet.) Considering its scope, it's not too surprising that the E2 project took longer than anticipated, which resulted in Cirrus selecting Garmin to supply a version of its G1000 system, called Perspective, in new SR22s, ending a long and lucrative monopoly by Avidyne as supplier of the displays in Cirrus airplanes.
Just a couple of months ago Avidyne earned certification of its Release 9 system for installation in existing Cirrus SR20s and SR22s.
But what exactly is R9 and what does it have to do with Entegra 2?
It is a bit confusing. Since Avidyne began updating its Entegra flat-panel systems with new software -- and sometimes hardware -- it has referred to those updates as "releases." Two updates ago, Release 7 added WAAS and WAAS approach capability to Entegra. The next one, Release 8, gave expanded weather support. Nice, but hardly earth-shattering stuff.
So when you hear Avidyne talk about Release 9, it might be natural to assume that it is a modest, evolutionary improvement over previous Entegra packages.
That's what I thought, too, but I couldn't have been more wrong.
In actuality, Release 9 is none other than the long rumored "Entegra 2" system. It is a ground-up reimagining and redesign of every piece of hardware and software in the system. It features an all-new FMS with digital radios and GPS/WAAS, brand-new displays with all new hardware and software, new digital transponders, and a remarkable clean-sheet user interface.
R9 is simply an all-new, fully integrated, flat-panel avionics system that supersedes Avidyne's previous Entegra system. It is, in short, the culmination of the efforts Avidyne has been making for the past half decade toward producing a truly integrated, world-class avionics suite that breaks new ground in a number of areas.