By By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large | October 1, 2011
|Bell’s new 407GX features the Garmin G1000H integrated avionics system.|
Okay, let’s get one thing out in the open right now—I’m an instrument-rated pilot, but IFR flight was never my strong suit. In fact, I don’t even shoot approaches to a runway, I shoot them to a county! That’s why I was very curious about the Garmin G1000H integrated avionics system. According to the company, it “simplifies everything,” from calculating weight and balance to maintaining situational awareness, in both VFR and IFR flight.
Garmin currently has its demo model of the G1000H aboard a 2006 Bell Helicopter-owned 407, which was on display at the annual Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) Conference and Exposition held in New Orleans in June.
The best way to get acquainted with the G1000H is to plug a ground power unit up to the aircraft, and spend an hour or two with it on terra firma. And even though it’s fairly intuitive, it’s best to have a tutor walk you through the features. My tutor was Randall Parent, a former U.S. Army pilot, who would also accompany me on a demo flight later in the day.
|With optional external cameras installed, the G1000H’s left MFD can give the pilot a high-resolution, outside view of the environment, along with critical systems information. The right MFD, seen here in primary flight display mode, offers standard flight instruments superimposed over terrain information. Photo by Ernie Stephens|
Parent is one of Bell Helicopter’s company pilots, and flew the aircraft from its corporate home in Fort Worth, Texas to New Orleans. He knew the capabilities of the two 10.4-inch high-resolution, LCD multifunction displays (MFDs) inside and out. (Only two analog gauges were left behind for backup; the airspeed indicator and the altimeter.) At first glance, the uninitiated might find the MFDs complicated. But the G1000H is supposed to be the glass cockpit for the common helicopter pilot, so engineers took extra care to make it user friendly.
Below each of the two screens is a row of 12 small but easy-to-operate-with-gloved-hands buttons that control literally hundreds of functions. For example, when in primary flight display (PFD) mode, the buttons control features such as the transponder IDENT, OBS tuning and altimeter setting. Switch to the moving map display and the function of the buttons change to map-related uses, such as de-clutter and chart overlay. If the pilot chooses a new screen, buttonology information changes with it.
Garmin’s engineers did not waste time re-inventing the wheel when integrating the company’s popular GPS units. Instead, they used pretty much the same push buttons and knobs that have controlled the 430W, 530W and 696 for years, and even positioned them in about the same way.
On a typically hot, humid, overcast Louisiana summer day, the ALEA convention concluded, and a small squad of Bell employees towed the 407GX—tail number N330BC—into the takeoff area for departure. I strapped myself in and watched the G1000H come to life as Parent flipped on the avionics master. All sorts of information can appear on either of the two MFDs, but Parent set them up in the most common preflight configuration: PFD (altimeter, airspeed, heading, etc.) on the right, and aircraft system information on the left. Just prior to takeoff, he would change the left screen to show a moving a map ringed by navigation, engine, rotor, electrical and fuel information. (By the way, Bell and Garmin now give the pilot a fuel flow meter; a first for the 407.)
With a few knob twists, Parent put in our seating positions, weights, and how much of our fuel load was to be treated as reserve. The G1000H instantly calculated the total takeoff weight of the aircraft, which—in spite of all the gumbo I had eaten over the previous days—said we were well within the helicopter’s maximum gross takeoff weight. Parent then walked me through the 407GX’s pre-start and startup checklist, which is generated on-screen by the Garmin. In fact, all checklists, including in-flight emergency procedures, can be summoned quite easily with the press of just a couple of buttons, whether on the ground or while in flight. After a quick check to see if the software had recorded any prior exceedences, such as over-temps and over-speeds, the system returned to a parameters screen for engine start. Seconds later, the G1000H’s color display showed that the auto start had placed the Rolls Royce 250-C47B turbine engine online, and that all systems were running at optimum levels.
I passed on the invitation to fly the takeoff and departure myself, so I could point my small video camera at the displays during climb out. [To see the clip, go to www.rotorandwing.com]
Once airborne, I took a long look at the MFDs. Over on the right side of the console, the MFD was still in PFD mode, and showed digital flight instruments superimposed over a dynamic, synthetic, pilots-eye-view of the terrain. Greater New Orleans is about as flat as any place can be, so there were no elevated terrain features to speak of. However, every transmission tower, body of water, and highway prominent enough to appear on a sectional chart was recreated on the MFD with pinpoint accuracy. That was fine, but I’ve flown systems that worked great at 10,000 feet, where images change gradually, but couldn’t “refresh” its graphics quickly enough to keep up with a helicopter yanking and banking at 500 feet. So, Parent gave me the controls, and let me put the G1000H to the test.
To my delight, the map on the left MFD, as well as the color terrain/obstacle images on the right MFD, kept up with the hard turns and speed changes I commanded from the helicopter Nothing froze, and nothing got herky-jerky on me.
The G1000H’s helicopter terrain avoidance warning system (HTAWS), traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS), and enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) features use color changes to draw your attention to a problem. In fact, just about everything of any importance depicted on any of the screens will change color as its threat to a safe flight changes. For example, as I approached a group of three 1,000-foot towers, all appeared on the screen in standard, FAA-icon form, with thin white lines that loomed larger as I got closer. When I closed to within about two miles, their lines became thicker. At about a mile, they turned thicker still and became yellow. And within about a half of a mile, the tower lines, in turn, become thick and red, as if to say, “Hey, do something… NOW!” [View this obstacle avoidance test at www.rotorandwing.com]
All parameters for the HTAWS, EGPWS and TCAS can be changed to allow for missions where the pilot has to work close to a threat, or turned off completely. An on-screen warning will issue a reminder that it is no longer in default mode, and will automatically reset to the default at the next startup.
As we steered toward Lakefront Airport (NEW), the place where the ship would spend the night before returning to Texas, Parent zoomed the map view out until two green rings could be seen around our aircraft. One was a broken green ring, and the other a solid green one a few miles just outside of the broken one. Both moved with our aircraft icon. Parent explained that the broken circle was the helicopter’s “range ring,” which was the limit it could travel before dipping into the fuel designated as reserve before takeoff. Garmin calls the solid green circle the “burn-out ring,” which is where the software predicts the engine will go silent from fuel starvation.
“You’ll see that [burn-out] ring shrink and expand, depending on our power application,” Parent said.
“Essentially, I’m getting long-range cruise and loiter time [information] out of it. It gives me the ability to know just how far I can go on this bag of gas with the winds and conditions of the day.”
For a half hour, the company pilot let me play with a laundry list of the G1000H’s features, which are too numerous to list. But it includes a Jeppesen pubs library, a real-time XM Satellite Radio weather service, and a particularly innovative feature that allows the pilot to playback up to 30 seconds of the last incoming radio transmission with the press of a button on the cyclic. (Just think: No more asking ATC to repeat instructions!)
When you couple the G1000H to Cobham’s HeliSAS system—an inexpensive, but very capable three-axis autopilot designed for light helicopters—as Bell did on the 407GX, you have a formidable platform in your hands. It brings the stuff aboard a big corporate jet over to the helicopter world.