June 2009 Issue

First Time Out

Installing a bunch of new toys in the panel doesn’t make you a safer pilot.

We like our airplane’s panel. Sure—there’s a lot of stuff on the market today that simply wasn’t available the last time we spent any real money at an avionics shop. But the existing equipment gets us where we want to go with very little drama. En route, George does most of the flying, while we follow along on the big-screen color moving map, then hand-fly whatever approach is appropriate, whether a visual, an ILS or something in between. We have stereo music supplied by an iPod or other device, headsets to match and a portable Garmin GPS navigator with Nexrad weather capability. We also carry a poor man’s electronic flight bag—a Windows-based tablet computer—with approach procedures and other materials for pre-flight planning or airborne use. It’d be tough to get lost. It wasn’t always that way: When we first bought the airplane, color moving maps were rare and one hadn’t been installed in it yet, even though we had a second-generation GPS navigator, and there was no backup artificial horizon, like now. The flip-flop radios are new, also, as is the dual ILS capability. A couple of years after all that stuff was installed, a close friend asked, "How long did it take you to learn using this equipment?" That question took us back to the first flight with the moving map, which mostly included a series of jerky turns in various directions as we told the system different and competing combinations of things we wanted it to do while the autopilot tried to follow along. It was a "heads-down" flight: We paid much more attention to the toys than to the airplane and who/what was nearby. "We’re still learning," was the reply.

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