It's Not Your Father's Airplane

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"Got along without you 'fore I met you, gonna get along without you now." So there, Garmin Perspective in the Cirrus SR22! Just as the lyrics suggest, my feelings are mixed. I'd love to be able to get along with the Perspective-equipped Cirrus, but frankly, that option is above my pay grade.

I've struggled along with the panel I have ... well, that's not accurate ... I've enjoyed the avionics I've acquired to enhance my Cardinal's panel since I bought it with a partner more than 20 years ago. Originally, equipped with a pair of ARC navcoms and an ADF, it had an adequate and capable panel for IFR operations. Over the years we worked down a "wish" list. I've forgotten the chronology but a Northstar loran was an early addition and a backup vacuum system seemed important. When Judith wondered why we didn't have an instrument to tell us where thunderstorms lurked, I explained there was one, but that it was expensive. "Buy one," she insisted and that's how a Stormscope 900 found its way to the panel.

The loran gave up its place in the stack to a UPS GX60 that included a comm radio, which ended up cascading into the UPS panel that was so temptingly displayed on the back of Trade-A-Plane. The GX60 and SL30 navcom booted the pair of ARC radios off the team, which necessitated a new switching panel that was up to properly handling what at the time were state-of-the-art avionics.

The stack didn't quite look like the UPS stack in the ad since the MX20 multifunction display was missing. When I showed Judith the ad and explained which boxes we were putting in the panel, she wondered why I didn't include the MX20. Again, I explained it was expensive. "Would it make flying safer?" she asked. "Probably, certainly easier." "So? Let's just do it!" she said. I know, I know, she's a keeper! And now the MX20 has been upgraded by replacing it with the GMX 200.

Since most of my flying has been in my own Cessna Cardinal, I haven't had the glass-panel experience that might be expected with my title, so I was thrilled when Kate Dougherty said that she and Matt Bergwall were bringing a Cirrus SR22-GTS Turbo to the East Coast and would drop in at Columbia County to let me get some (side) stick time.

The Cirrus isn't a small airplane and makes an impressive statement on the ramp. Sitting comfortably inside the Cirrus, I got a kick out of the stares from friends who were obviously envious. I'll admit I waved and smiled smugly; even without leaving the FBO, I was already enjoying the flight.

Matt patiently led me through the starting procedures and introduced me to the Perspective panel. If you've been reading Flying I don't have to explain what the Garmin Perspective does for the Cirrus. Robert Goyer wrote extensively about the Perspective in the August issue of Flying, so I'm not going to dwell on the details but more about my response to it.

The displays are large. In fact, they have a 35 percent larger viewing area than most Garmin displays. And there's no question they present virtually every bit of information a pilot could ever think of needing. In addition to the typically expected data (including engine monitors, weather, traffic, moving maps, navigation details, approach charts and airport diagrams) the Perspective panel adds Garmin's SVT (synthetic vision technology) with Highway in the Sky fly-through boxes, traffic depictions and color-coded terrain.

Another option on the airplane they brought for me to play with was an EVS (enhanced vision system) that was still under wraps until its official announcement at AOPA Expo in November. The Max-Viz EVS-600 system, mounted under the left wing, displayed an image of what it could see ahead that I couldn't. In fact, when we landed we were able to see a deer crossing the runway that would have been virtually impossible to see in the dark without the EVS. (The EVS-600 is specifically designed for Cirrus and, unlike Max-Viz's EVS-100 for general aviation, features both a long-wave infrared [IR] camera and a visible light camera. The images from the two cameras are combined to produce a single fused image. The IR does not "see" visible light but does render a highly resolved picture of the world; the visible light sensing function enables the EVS to depict runway and approach lighting as well as airborne traffic at night.)

The thing that I found most interesting was how the airplane coddles the pilot ... both physically and procedurally. Once the doors were closed and the engine running, it took me a couple moments to realize I hadn't activated the noise-canceling feature on my headset. It was that quiet.

During the takeoff run and initial climb-out I wasn't conscious that I was using a sidestick control rather than a wheel; it felt that natural. After level off, when I went to lean the engine, Matt pointed out that all I had to do was bring back the mixture control to line up the fuel flow with a little blue line on the display of the CHT and EGT on the MFD. The blue line indicated the ideal lean-of-peak mixture for the current conditions. Once it was set, Matt said that any change in the throttle position would automatically maintain the ideal mixture. That was easy.

Although I knew the autopilot, the Garmin GFC 700, is supremely capable, I hand-flew the Cirrus rather than turning the chore over to "George." I expect the Cirrus is routinely flown with the autopilot engaged and that makes sense. The autopilot is going to be a lot smoother and accurate than most of us and, although using the sidestick felt natural, I did find that I wanted to relieve my left arm from having to constantly hold it. At one point, I even reached out with my right hand for a control wheel before I realized there was no wheel there.

The Highway in the Sky guides the pilot through whatever flight plan or procedure is loaded. There's a small green circle with tiny wings, the flight path indicator, that shows where the airplane is actually going, not where it's aiming. With the green pip in the center of the boxes, the system took me around and down right to the end of the runway.

My approach was high and fast. "How does this thing slip?" I asked Matt. "It slips fine," he said. So I slipped. I was still high and it was obvious I was going to land longer than I usually do. The runway was more than 5,000 feet long, but just to cover the bases, I said, "Don't let me do anything to mess up your airplane." "I won't," he said. And he didn't.

Touchdown was smoother than I deserved (maybe there is something to low-wing airplanes and ground effect), and we rolled out smoothly after I thought to take the pressure off the nosewheel by easing back on the sidestick.

What I found interesting was that I felt it would take me longer to get used to the faster takeoff and landing speeds than to get comfortable with the Perspective system. Although I haven't had the G1000 experience that Robert Goyer, having flown 11 G1000-equipped airplanes, has had, my time with the GNS 480 held me in good stead to operate most of the functions of the Perspective. With very little coaching from Matt, I was able to enter and activate a flight plan using low altitude airways from the FMS keyboard.

Later, having loaded and activated the GPS LNAV/VNAV approach to Runway 21, it became obvious as we approached the IAF from south of the airport that we wouldn't be able to stay VFR and fly the full approach (which calls for a holding-pattern course reversal north of the airport). Without a whole lot of angst, I was able to quickly change the procedure to the GPS LNAV/VNAV to Runway 3, enter the IAF and follow the GPS guidance (and the Highway in the Sky) through the holding pattern and the descent to the runway that showed clearly in the synthetic vision.

If there had been a reason to abort the landing and perform a go-around, the system now features a "Go Around" button on the pilot's side of the throttle handle. A push of the button before takeoff sets the flight director command bars for the proper attitude for departure, but more importantly, during an aborted landing, a push of the button activates the missed approach procedure and, if you follow the command bars, will lead you (or the autopilot) through it.

If things get out of hand and pilots find themselves in a muddle, there's an LVL button, outlined in blue to make it obvious, that performs a "Hail Mary." A push on the LVL button will bring the airplane to straight and level flight to give the pilot a chance to sort things out. Of course, the parachute system is there when leveling things out isn't enough to save the day.

I find it interesting that the LVL button and the CAPS parachute system have met their share of critics who insist that "real" pilots shouldn't need help handling their airplane in almost every situation. Of course, the operative word here is "almost." There are situations when the outcome is beyond the capability of even the best ace of the base and deployment of the chute might be prudent. A mid-air collision, an engine failure at night over water or over hostile terrain, an icing encounter that makes the airplane uncontrollable, if the airplane gets in a spin, and the disability of the pilot are all situations when the chute might be the proper response.

The argument that "real" pilots wouldn't rely on a LVL button or a parachute to help in an emergency loses its authority when we're reminded that military fighter pilots are trained to make use of both those options and do.

There's no question the Cirrus airplane fitted with the Garmin Perspective does an impressive job of making the pilot's job as simple and automated as possible. But even though it's not your father's airplane, it's still an airplane and still ruled by the laws of aerodynamics and the vagaries of the environment. The dual AHRS (attitude heading reference sensors) mean that the chance of having to do without the airplane's electronic caretaking is mitigated, but there may still be times when the electrons go on strike and the airplane does more closely resemble your father's. If that happens, you'd better be able to hand-fly and navigate without the normally extraordinary automation.

The other thing the airplane can't do is assess the risk of any particular flight. It does try though. On start-up the display leads pilots through a number of pages intended to remind them of the basics of risk assessment, but the pilots are still in command and no amount of automation can prevent them from asking the airplane to do something either it or the pilot isn't capable of performing -- safely. Although I was able to get along without the Perspective Cirrus before I met it, I sure enjoyed "meeting" it.