The new SmartDeck flat glass integrated avionics system from L-3 Communications has several new operating and display features that the company believes will make it stand out in a crowded field, and they may be right. But the undeniable benefits of SmartDeck are its huge 12.1-inch diagonal glass displays, and the complete display and sensor redundancy it offers, a first in systems intended for piston airplanes.
The SmartDeck primary flight display (PFD) and multifunction display (MFD) are nearly 20 percent larger than the established flat glass panels in piston airplanes. And it is a difference that you will notice immediately. The glass fills nearly the entire instrument panel in the Cirrus SR22 that L-3 has used for development test flying. The system also includes dual GPS navigators, dual comm and nav radios, transponder and digital autopilot.
Perhaps the most important and tangible advantage of SmartDeck is its redundancy of crucial information, which is the norm in turbine airplanes but has so far not been offered in pistons. There are dual, totally independent, digital air data attitude and heading sensors (ADHARS) so the system can continuously compare the output from these non-moving electronic gyros that show pilots up from down, and left from right, as well as airspeed, altitude, vertical speed and so on. If one sensor fails, SmartDeck alerts the pilot who looks at output from each, compares it with standby instruments to break the tie, and then continues using the good sensor.
Other flat glass systems in piston airplanes have only one ADHARS, so if it fails it's up to the pilot to continue on standby instruments. Some systems allow primary flight data to be displayed on the MFD if the PFD display fails, but that does not back up the sensors. With dual electrical sources to operate and dual flat glass displays each capable of showing all primary flight data, SmartDeck completes the redundancy loop.
SmartDeck also has a more comprehensive crew advisory system (CAS) that displays plain language messages when faults in primary aircraft and avionics systems are detected. Again, this is the norm in new turbine airplanes, but CAS is unusual in piston singles and promises to add to a pilot's awareness of the status of his airplane.
The SmartDeck system includes a center console display (CCU) that is used primarily to enter flight plan data and to select radio frequencies and transponder codes. A small flight data control (FDC) panel located between the PFD and MFD has the two concentric knobs and other buttons that control information on the displays. There is also an audio control panel and mode selector panel for the autopilot located in the center.
The SmartDeck PFD has some new features, the most obvious being the oval-shaped compass rose that lends the appearance of looking down at the navigation situation as though it were on a map laid flat. Instead of using a "doghouse" with the lower half moving left and right to show a slip or skid, SmartDeck has an electronic display of a good old-fashioned slip-skid inclinometer race and ball right under the bank angle roll index. And two carets point at the bank angle necessary to achieve a standard rate turn at the present speed. Rate of turn is a function of bank angle and airspeed so the pointers adjust with airspeed to show the bank angle needed to achieve a standard rate of turn.
The PFD has reminder bugs to set desired altitude, airspeed, vertical speed and heading. The flight director or autopilot will always capture the altitude set by the alerter with no extra arming steps. The essential engine information is always displayed on the upper left corner of the PFD while more detailed data is available on the MFD.
SmartDeck is controlled by three sets of concentric rotary knobs, one set for each display unit, and by several dedicated buttons that always command the same function. For example, pushing the direct to button always selects direct to the active waypoint. But most functions are selected by context sensitive "soft" keys. For example, to set the altimeter you push the soft key labeled "baro" and the concentric knob for the PFD then changes that value. Some soft keys have a short menu and repeated presses step through the options. For example, the moving map orientation button steps through the options of track up, heading up, north up and desired track up with no need to use the rotary knobs.
Flight planning functions will be familiar to any pilot who has used the popular Garmin 430/530 navigation systems where the rotary knobs are used to select the identifiers of fixes in the plan. The database can also be searched by the name of the fix instead of its identifier, or by the name of a city the airport is in. Another difference is a new waypoint insertion line that shows where a fix being added to the flight plan will go. There is no enter key in SmartDeck, so you typically either push the center rotary knob to acknowledge an entry or the input is simply accepted after you make it. For example, if you call up a fix and push the direct to button, no other action is required to acknowledge the command. SmartDeck does have a "back" button, which is normal in jet flight management systems, that does just what it implies-moves any entry back to the previous input.