A glass-panel cockpit is intended to make flying an airplane simpler - and safer - by presenting virtually every bit of information the pilot could ever require during a flight front and center on a single display. In more sophisticated glass cockpits, there are at least two displays: the PFD, primary flight display, that can include the engine instruments, the "six-pack" of flight instruments and communication and navigation information, and the MFD, a multifunction display that's used for presenting a moving map with overlaid weather, terrain and traffic. There's an awful lot of information buried in the glass panel of a technically advanced aircraft (TAA) and therein lies the problem. Pilots flying with glass panels, including Garmin's ubiquitous G1000, Avidyne's Entegra and Chelton's FlightLogic Synthetic Vision EFIS system, have at least one thing in common: the need to spend quality time - not just a couple "get acquainted" flights - with the equipment before attempting to venture forth in weather that has the potential to get nasty.
If you're lucky enough to be the owner of a new glass-cockpit equipped airplane you'll ideally have completed the manufacturer's transition course. If you rent an airplane or buy a used airplane that is fitted with a glass cockpit, you owe it to yourself to get some formal training. You can opt to attend a scheduled ground school or enlist the talents of avionics-specific flight instructors. Either way, as Richard suggests, you can prepare for the ground/flight school training by reading the manuals and working with computer simulator programs or training CDs such as the four-hour, two-CD program Flying the G1000 IFR like the Pros! from Flying Like the Pros (flyinglikethepros.com). The Flying Like the Pros CDs offer an excellent ground school course that combines lessons on the operation of the G1000 with techniques for flying IFR, as it says, like a professional.
Since the glass cockpits are software-driven they're capable of complexities that can be overwhelming to an untrained pilot. It's easier to navigate through the various options and access the required/desired information if, as Master CFI J. Robert Moss, who presents the Flying Like the Pros CDs, recommends, you think of the levels as "chapters" and "pages." Learning to use any of the systems involves knowing what's available and where and how to find it. You typically select a chapter using dedicated and labeled buttons or keys, and once you're in a chapter you use a selector knob to move to each of the pages. With a page selected, there are "soft" keys that are assigned different tasks. A "menu" button brings up options within a page that you can select using a cursor usually controlled with a knob. Once a menu choice is made, an "enter" button is used to activate the selection.
The tactics involved in flying a glass-panel equipped airplane, once you're accustomed to the system's logic, are learning to avoid the "gotchas" that lurk in the systems' innards.
There are some procedures-or variations of them-that apply to any of the glass cockpits and are useful for avoiding confusion and embarrassment or more fatal errors. The following suggestions are based on the G1000 but the concepts will likely apply to other systems as well.
Always confirm that the database is current. On the G1000, when it first boots up there's a window that shows the status of the current database. If you neglect to check it at that point, you can go to the last page in the AUX chapter and see the status of the database there. The database contains vital information-changes to navaids and procedures-so if you're using the system to fly hard IFR it had best be current.
Once you've entered a flight plan, be sure to step through the waypoints to confirm that they're correct. Check the distance and bearing between each one to be sure they make sense. If you committed a finger-error when you loaded a waypoint, an unusually long distance between waypoints will tip you off to your mistake.
In the flight plan chapter of the G1000, as you step through the flight plans stored in the flight plan catalog, the map shows the big picture and the route from departure to destination; another excellent check that the flight plan you entered is the one you want to fly. Flying Like the Pros' J. Robert Moss recommends that you store the active flight plan in the first slot in the flight plan catalog. If for some reason the system goes down and reboots, the active flight plan will be lost. But with it stored in the first slot, you'll be able to call it up quickly without having to scroll through the long list of stored flight plans.
On the G1000, the active frequency is the one to the inside of the communications box with the standby frequency to the outside. A useful tactic is to always talk on comm one and use comm two to monitor frequencies such as ATIS or AWOS. When you're ready for takeoff, load the tower frequency in the active slot on comm one and the departure frequency in the standby position. You can also load the departure frequency in the active window on comm two and that way, in case comm one fails shortly after takeoff, a quick push of the comm two button will have you back in contact with the departure controller.