(December 2011) "Anybody who learns to fly these days in an airplane without a Flight Simulator cockpit, an autopilot and a ballistic parachute is living in the last century,” went the opening gambit from a student pilot I flew with recently.
Reasonably current and qualified in a variety of singles and light twins, I admit to having been dragged, kicking and screaming, into 21st century cockpits, and it’s a challenge for me to stay up to speed in technically advanced aircraft (TAA). I qualified as a Cirrus instructor to have the knowledge and ability to fairly evaluate applicants, but I don’t fly Cirruses often enough; these aren’t airplanes you climb into once every six weeks and feel real warm and cozy about the systems and avionics, not to mention maintaining the skill to hand-fly them with precision.
The first check rides I gave in TAAs were as an FAA inspector with little or no time in the airplane. Oh, I read the book, sat in the cockpit and knew the Garmin 430/530. But MFDs and PFDs were awkward, and it was hard to wean myself from using those familiar little round instruments at the bottom of the panel.
One of the requirements on the instrument practical is a nonprecision, partial-panel approach. So you “fail” the primary flight display (PFD) by dimming the screen or by (very) judiciously pulling circuit breakers. On Avidyne equipped airplanes, these breakers can’t be reset in flight so you do this on the last approach and only in VMC. See, if you dim the PDF screen, the autopilot’s altitude hold and descent rate functions aren’t accessible to the pilot. Since Cirrus recommends — in an actual PDF loss — that you select a “T” GPS approach and let the autopilot fly it, pulling the breakers is the only realistic way to simulate that “emergency.” This doesn’t hold true with the G1000 equipped models.
Maybe I was a little draconian in those years by requiring that the approach be flown without the autopilot. It didn’t seem unreasonable; with the PDF disabled by dimming the screen, you were left with what many of us have under normal circumstances — an altimeter, an airspeed indicator, a whiskey compass (or use nav page 4 on the Garmin 430), a CDI and no auto-pilot. But the outcomes were often less than pretty — it’s a damned challenging airplane to hand-fly — and I issued a fair number of pink slips. Then I realized that the Practical Test Standards don’t require the applicant to hand-fly the partial-panel approach. So in effect I was creating two emergencies — not considered fair play in the flight-test world.