Get to Know Your Avionics

By Michael “Mick” Kaufman

It is springtime in Wisconsin – and along with spring comes turbulence, and those updrafts that glider pilots love. When I am bouncing around in a Bonanza and ATC decides to give me an amendment to my routing, that can get to be an interesting task.

In a previous issue of BPT TAKEOFF, I wrote about clearances and I included some tips on how to handle them. I love programming a route in a GPS navigator using touchscreen technology; however, it is a different story when in turbulence severe enough that even reading the screen is almost impossible.

I am an electronic geek when it comes to technology and have seen avionics evolve from a four-frequency Narco Superhomer to the whizzbang GPS navigators of today. I learned to fly in a Champ in the mid 1960s, and it was beyond my wildest dream that I would ever see what is in our aircraft today.

When Garmin first introduced the 650/750 line with touchscreen technology, I wondered how it would work in turbulence. One day while I was waiting at the Marshfield, WI airport for a student taking his instrument flight test, I was talking with the Wisconsin Governor’s pilot.  He took me out to see the Super King Air B-200 that he was flying to show me the new Garmin 650/750 that had just been installed. In asking the pilot how he liked it, the reply was that it was good if you are not in turbulence. He claimed it was impossible to program in rough air.

Fig. 1

Some months later I saw the governor’s pilot a second time, and the conversation about avionics was the main topic again. I was again invited to view how the programming in a turbulence issue had been resolved. A Garmin GCU 476 keypad was installed on the control wheel which had hard keys (Fig. 1). I have never been a fan of touchscreen in an aircraft and being an electronic geek with some touchscreen avionics now installed, I plan to experiment to see if I can interface a Bluetooth keypad to my avionics to solve those near impossible reroute clearances, which I recently got while in turbulence.

Avidyne had a great idea when they developed the IFD 540, which allows for touchscreen programing when on the ground or in smooth air and knobs and hard keys when in turbulence. The idea of slide-in replacement for the Garmin 430/530 boxes was also a tremendous dollar savings versus having to have the avionics shop rewire the entire airplane when updating equipment.

Dynon is the newest avionics entry into the production aircraft market, and they are rapidly moving up to become the next avionics leader. I have not yet had a chance to experience flying with Dynon equipment, so I will personally not be passing any comments on the equipment.

Adrian Eichhorn, one of our BPT instructors who has Dynon equipment, did an around the world trip several years ago and is now attempting another around the world trip over the poles. He completed the crossing of the north pole several days ago and landed in Anchorage, Alaska after a 19-plus hour leg in his P35 Bonanza. He is very happy with his Dynon avionics and after speaking with him after his polar crossing, he has agreed to do a presentation at our Norfolk, Virginia BPT Clinic, which is scheduled for November 5-7, 2021.

Last week I was doing some recurrent instrument training with a pilot for a flight review and an instrument competency check. I like to see pilots who fly well, and he did a great job; however, I also like to teach pilots new techniques. The pilot had a Garmin 430 as his main GPS navigator, which I consider to be the gold standard for years to come. I had the pilot build a complex flight plan route using almost every fix I could find within 30 miles. We programmed this into the 430’s flight plan page prior to departure then departed to fly it. I acted as ATC giving the pilot re-routes, fly legs, direct to waypoints not in the flight plan and added a complex approach at the end, and I added a non-published hold. All these were to demonstrate to the pilot how the navigator processes changes and re-routes – and it was a great learning experience for the pilot, who now understands his navigator much better.

Over the last several years, I have seen an almost unbelievable trend in avionics upgrades among Bonanza and Baron owners, and along with these upgrades, comes the need to get training on the new equipment. It has been a challenge for instructors to keep up with these changes.

Before Garmin was able to upgrade their 430/530 navigators to WAAS, UPS Technologies introduced the first WAAS box, the CNX80 now known as the Garmin 480. I was the first flight instructor in our Bonanza/Baron group to have a pilot with a 480. It did not have the same programming design as the 430/530, so I had egg all over my face when trying to train the pilot on using his box. I decided to personally challenge myself to learn all I could about the Garmin 480 and today, I have one in my Bonanza.

As pilots upgrade their avionics, they need professional training.  BPT instructors have taken on the task of learning the new equipment soon after release by the manufacturer. I have recently been receiving many requests for upgrade-avionics training from pilots. While not all BPT instructors are experts on every piece of equipment, I work diligently to find which instructors know your equipment well before making an instructor assignment.

Occasionally during avionics training, I have found installation errors done by avionics shops. In one case, I found that it was necessary to re-engage the approach once the glideslope became alive for the autopilot to couple on the glideslope. Back to the avionics shop!

It is very important to get to know your equipment from experienced instructors; your life may depend on it.