New Cessna 182s and 206s are leaving the factory with a complete Garmin G1000 integrated cockpit, and that includes the digital electronic autopilot and flight director. The Cessnas have had the G1000 flat glass and navigation systems for a couple of years, but the autopilot and other refinements complete the integration of the total system.
As we have said before, the G1000 system delivers essentially all of the capabilities and modes of a jet avionics system. In fact, the G1000 is standard in Cessna's entry level jet Mustang. And the complete Garmin system, including autopilot and flight director, didn't change the price of the 182 and 206 noticeably compared to the previous system that used the less capable and not integrated KAP 140 autopilot. Beech was the first to certify the complete G1000 system at the end of 2005, and it chose to locate the automatic flight control mode selection buttons on the left edge of the multifunction display (MFD). Cessna has put the buttons on the left edge of both the MFD and the primary flight display (PFD). Also, Cessna has added a backcourse approach mode selector while others have not. The system can recognize a backcourse approach automatically, but Cessna wants to keep pilots in the loop by requiring them to make the mode selection.
As in all turbine level automatic flight control systems, the Garmin system requires no separate steps to arm a mode. For example, when you dial the target altitude into the system it automatically becomes an altitude alerter, and also arms the autopilot and flight director to capture the altitude when it is reached. On an approach you simply select the approach mode, and it automatically arms to capture the course when intercepted without changing from heading mode until interception. And mode annunciations are always in view on top of the PFD, using color to differentiate between active modes and those that are selected and ready to capture.
As in all truly integrated systems the flight director bars are always in view when the autopilot is doing the flying. The flight director can and should also be used for guidance when hand flying the airplane.
To see the new system in action we taxied out in a new 206. Just as I would in a jet, I selected go-around mode so that I had a wings level, nose-up pitch target on the flight director for rotation guidance. Once up and away I engaged the autopilot and selected heading to fly the assigned course. Flight level change (FLC) mode holds the selected airspeed, but it won't exceed either high speed limits or pull the nose up to near a stall. When we neared the assigned altitude, the altitude alerter announced that, and the autopilot automatically captured it. And, of course, all of this was done with the smoothness and precision that humans can only come close to on their best day.
The GFC 700 flight control system is very smart, but it also has dual channels that allow it to monitor itself. If the channels don't agree, the pilot is alerted to take over. Because of its very high level of monitoring, the system can run the pitch trim very fast, which helps both the autopilot and human pilot when hand flying.
In less sophisticated autopilot systems the electric trim typically runs quite slowly because certification rules demand that systems without complete monitoring must be allowed to "run away" for at least three seconds. A slow trim won't create too high control forces in three seconds, so it meets the rules. But a slow trim can't keep up with the big pitch force changes that are caused by flap extension and retraction, particularly the big flaps in the Cessna singles. That's why other autopilots certified in the Cessnas limit flap extension, usually to the first notch only. But with the Garmin system the autopilot can handle the full range of flap extension up to the maximum certified airspeed.
The fast electric trim is also nice when hand flying. A blip of the button under your left thumb spins the trim wheel fast enough to keep up with any airspeed or configuration change.
The new G1000 system also includes wide area augmentation system (WAAS) capability in the GPS navigators, so you can fly any of the new approaches, including the LPV with its glidepath guidance. The WAAS guidance directs the autopilot to automatically fly any procedure, including holds, procedure turns, arcs and missed approaches, which are all stored in the G1000 system memory.
Also standard in the new Cessnas are Garmin taxi-safe diagrams and Garmin charts to show government approach plates. The system is equipped to display Jeppesen approach charts on the MFD if you subscribe to JeppView. Traffic information service (TIS) sent up from the ground by controller's radar is standard, and, of course, an active traffic awareness system is optional. XM Weather receiver and Stormscope lightning detection are also standard. I applaud Cessna for offering the G1000 flat glass system as soon as it was available a couple of years ago, but now, with the complete system installed, the transformation in capability is remarkable. The G1000-equipped Cessnas have already demonstrated an improved safety record, and now with the complete system installed, a pilot's situational awareness is improved and, thanks to the extremely capable autopilot, his workload is reduced. A piston single can never match the capability of a jet, but this full G1000 system sure comes close.