By now you know that Piper Aircraft has introduced a G1000 version of its popular Piper Meridian turboprop single. The airplane is already certified and available. And it's an impressive looking package.
But is it more than an avionics upgrade?
It's no secret that advanced avionics do a lot to improve situational awareness and help single-pilot fliers manage systems, two things that everyone agrees can greatly improve safety. But can avionics change the general character of an airplane? Can they change the experience a pilot has of the hardware?
It's a big claim, but that's what Piper says the G1000 does for the Meridian. I was a bit skeptical. Until I got to fly the airplane.
The first look I got of the new panel was actually in Piper's ad, which I saw around the same time as the rest of our readers when it appeared in our May issue. Like many of those readers, I'm sure, I pored over every inch of the panel, seeing how Piper and Garmin had decided to redo an airplane that already had an elegant and capable Avidyne Entegra panel as standard equipment.
It was, you might remember, an Avidyne-equipped Meridian that I flew for a pilot report a couple of years ago, during which time I also attended SimCom's fine five-day initial course for the airplane. It was the first turboprop or pressurized airplane in which I'd amassed any significant time, and to say that I was impressed is an understatement. I was hoping to be even more impressed by the G1000 version.
I met the G1000 Meridian in the flesh on the ramp at my home base of Austin Bergstrom International Airport just a few days after I saw the first panel pictures. It just so happened that the folks from Piper, marketing VP Bob Kromer and flight test engineer and G1000 project pilot John Kronsnoble (who would be my flying buddy for the next few days), had picked a day when AUS was chock-a-block with bizjets: There were a handful of Gulfstream jets, a Citation Mustang, a couple of Challengers and Hawkers and a Falcon 900, along with a handful of turboprop twins, a couple of King Airs, a Cheyenne and a Merlin. It seemed fitting for the Meridian, a substantial looking single that better than any existing airplane bridges the gap for pilots like me between the world of high-performance singles and the turbine crowd.
The plan was for a quick out-and-back to East Texas on Monday followed by a couple of days of traveling around the South Central United States in the Meridian.
In the Meridian the G1000 setup has a trio of screens, a PFD for the pilot and copilot -- the Meridian is, of course, a single-pilot airplane -- and a huge 15-inch diagonal MFD for the middle display. While the system components are arrayed differently and the reversionary logic is also slightly different, in terms of hardware, the setup is very similar to the G1000 package in the Cessna Mustang and TBM 850.
The Avidyne Entegra system is still available for the Meridian, but it is a much less sophisticated system than this iteration of G1000. In the Meridian the Avidyne architecture (while having dual ADHRS) is similar to the Avidyne-equipped Cirrus airplanes. That is, the flat-panel system relies on outside sensors and radios and flight control systems, a so-called "distributed" system. Consequently, the operation of the Entegra system is a little like operating the several different systems with which it integrates. It does this well, but it is not a true integrated system.
G1000, on the other hand, is. While the G1000's software and hardware design underlying the flat-panel system is descended from existing Garmin standalone products, like the GNS 400/500 series navigators, G1000 uses its own sensors, navigators and, in most cases, its own safety utilities.
The addition of G1000 has allowed some noteworthy upgrades to the Meridian, ones that were not possible previously. At my first look in the cockpit, I got a feel for this right away. The new panel is truly beautiful to look at, in part because it's amazingly clean and uncluttered.
Although it seems to be a paradox, this cleaner panel is also more sophisticated. There's for the first time a master warning/caution system seamlessly integrated with a G1000-displayed crew alerting system (CAS), which in my opinion is a must for an airplane with this class of systems. The master lights are situated right where you would expect them to be, immediately above the left-side PFD so they're right in the pilot's line of sight, and illuminate to alert the crew to a variety of conditions, from relatively minor ones, like the pitot heat being turned off, up through the most critical system failures. Depending on the seriousness of the issue, the system alerts the pilot to the condition, with a red light and a chime or an amber light, as well as by an annunciation on the dedicated CAS window on the MFD (or in the PFD during the start sequence or in reversionary mode).
The addition of a full-fledged CAS utility makes systems management easier in general, but more importantly, it helps the single pilot manage emergencies a lot more efficiently.
The autopilot, too, is a big improvement, not only in its performance, which was very impressive on my flights in the airplane, but in its ease of use and integration.
The system uses a dedicated autopilot controller located just beneath the MFD. The controller, with its roller-style pitch control, makes autopilot operation the one-stop shopping it should be.