This article is a companion piece to complement my Trends Aloft column that appears beginning with the January 2010 issue of EAA Sport Aviation magazine. EAA members started receiving the print edition of that magazine today. If you're not an EAA member (and why aren't you?) you can view an online digital version of the issue in early January; I will post a link to it when it becomes available.
EAA is the organization that brings you the world's greatest air show, AirVenture, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin each year. If you have never attended, you owe it to yourself to go in 2010—put it on your calendar now! I’m a huge fan of AirVenture and attend every year, primarily to network with aviation friends from around the country. EAA asked me at AirVenture 2009 to write a monthly technology column for their magazine and I was happy to accept. The result is Trends Aloft, an aviation technology column in EAA Sport Aviation and complementary pieces appearing in this blog.
This year, EAA's 2010 Share the Spirit Sweepstakes airplane is a G500-equipped Husky A-1C. I was lucky to fly a similar, factory new Aviat Aircraft Husky in October that had just been ferried from the factory. You can view many photographs from that flight here.
While I spend most of my time flying high and fast, I still love the joy of flying low and slower. When I owned a Cessna T210, I argued to my partner that we also needed to own a Piper Cub so that we didn't miss out on some of the true joys of flying. So I was delighted to fly the Husky—an aircraft that in some ways resembles a Piper Cub—to see how glass cockpits are trickling down to other aircraft.
As I mentioned in the January column, the Husky is a good-looking airplane that can turn heads on any ramp. The magazine included photos of the red Sweepstakes aircraft; the one I flew was a bright yellow, which looked perfect on the airplane.
The Garmin G500 was announced in July at AirVenture as a slimmed down version of the Garmin G600. For the most part, the G1000 is not retrofitable except in high-end aircraft like King Airs and Cessna Citations. Therefore, the G600 has been Garmin's solution for retrofitting glass cockpits into smaller aircraft.
However, Garmin faced stiff competition in that arena from Aspen Avionics, whose product I reviewed earlier this year. Whereas the G600 sold for nearly $30,000, the entry-level Aspen avionics PFD sells for less than $7000 and a PFD + MFD combination sells for less than $15,000. Enter the G500. The G500 retains all of the important capabilities of the G600, yet has an entry price of less than $16,000. That's remarkable when you consider that the G500 includes all of the important features found in the Garmin G1000 but for a fraction of the cost.
If you’re flying a single or twin-engine piston aircraft weighing less than 6,000 pounds, you can save a bundle by choosing the G500; aircraft over 6,000 pounds require the more expensive G600. To keep the G500 price low, Garmin unbundled several features found standard in the G600. For example, Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT), an onboard radar interface, and the GAD 43 autopilot interface are optional in the G500 but standard in the G600. TAWS-B terrain alerting is optional in the G600 but unavailable in the G500.
If you have an older aircraft and are considering retrofitting a G500, G600 or the Aspen Avionics products, you owe it to yourself to take a test flight. Glass cockpits dramatically improve situation awareness by displaying nearby terrain, traffic, and weather. System reliability is also enhanced and when failures occur, it’s immediately obvious since a large red X replaces a portion of the instrument display.
Glass cockpits make sense for just about every plane. A pilot of an open cockpit WACO recently told me he loves his glass cockpit since he no longer worries about paper charts blowing out of the plane! I certainly fell in love with the G500-equipped Husky that I flew.
If you haven’t yet joined the glass cockpit revolution, consider jumping on board soon. Manufacturers continue to provide increased value at ever decreasing costs. Even a tail dragger like the Husky is more fun to fly with a glass cockpit. Consider getting your own piece of glass in 2010!