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Kodiak Avionics: Glass Panels in the Bush

Wednesday, May 26, 2010…Steve Ottaviano (JAARS Assistant Director for Flight Standards) is no stranger to backcountry flying. When he’s not ferrying KODIAKs to PNG (Papua New Guinea) or Haiti, Steve is hard at work transitioning a new generation of pilots into the KODIAK.

And when Steve climbs into a KODIAK he knows that, more often than not, he’s headed out where there is no forecaster. There are no outer markers, there is no altimeter setting; no current wind information, and there's no one on the ground to talk to. Out in the bush you have to rely on your experience, your aircraft, and the information that aircraft feeds you. What you see is what you get. Fortunately, with KODIAK's three-screen GARMIN G1000 avionics package there’s a whole lot of data staring back at you.

To illustrate this Steve has shared a few comparison photos with us. Here we see a final approach into Obura, PNG from about a half mile out. On the left is the cockpit view and on the right is the screen capture from the G1000 PFD.

It’s a great example of the kind of situational awareness the glass cockpit offers in the backcountry. Below Steve explains what you’re looking at:

“The white horizon line indicates the current altitude of the aircraft, and therefore the plane of intersection of the current altitude with the terrain behind the runway. This can also indicate the margin for clearing terrain. The wind box shows a 7kt left crosswind and a 5kt headwind. This is a very significant check on final. Notice the green “pipper” (Flight Path Marker) showing the current trajectory of the aircraft both vertically and laterally, indicating the wind correction. With the OBS set to the runway centerline, you can see the extended centerline on the Inset and the MFD Map, as well as the crab angle in the HSI. The Track Indicator on the HSI also shows lateral trajectory, or track. When the crab is minimal, as it is here, the magenta diamond is hidden by the white Lubber Line. The Inset and MFD Map both show the crab relative to the blue Track Vector line. We have this set at two minutes, and seem to like it at that setting. Of course with this kind of bush flying TAWS is Inhibited, as indicated by the “TAWS INHB” annunciation at the top. Also, while it was not set here, one could consider setting the Committal Point altitude or field elevation in the Reference or the Minimum Descent Altitude reminder. This image was taken just before or at the Committal Point.”

We will save a thorough discussion of Synthetic Vision for another time, but here are a couple of examples that give you an idea of how helpful it is to know exactly what terrain the aircraft will meet, and where.

On a KODIAK ferry flight out to PNG, Steve had planned an overnight in Majuro, Marshall Islands, in the middle of the Pacific. Here Steve picks up the story.

“Off on the horizon to our south we began seeing the evidences of the tropics as we moved into an area of monsoon weather. By the time we were a few hours away, we were in and out of rain showers, and getting reports from Majuro – “ceiling and visibility OK.” Fifteen minutes out we were still in heavy cloud and rain, so I programmed the instrument approach to runway 25 at Majuro.”

“As we descended on our final approach, the town came and went from view through the rain and cloud. We were VMC at a position and altitude at which we already knew we had adequate, legal terrain clearance, and though the clouds and rain were obscuring our view of the terrain ahead and below us, GARMIN’s synthetic vision gave a representation of where we could expect to see the runway when we broke out. And when we were about a mile out, the runway came into view right where SVT confirmed it.”
“Breaking out on an instrument approach is an everyday event for an instrument pilot, but with nothing but ocean on both sides, this was a new one for me.”
And here Steve shares another example during a routine training flight in PNG. “As we flew back to Aiyura, the view out the windshield showed little but clouds and rain, but the PFD's "synthetic vision" again gave us a picture of the terrain ahead.”

“Note the inset map on the bottom left with the red and yellow blocks, indicating terrain ahead and to the left that is at the same altitude or even higher than our current altitude.”

In short, Steve has flown for years knowing the value of solid pre-flight planning that includes an exit strategy. He's flown for years knowing no instrument will ever replace the visual and kinesthetic cues needed to put 6,500 pounds of airplane and payload onto a patch of remote dirt in Haiti. As a flight instructor he is the first to point out that, “All the flight data from the glass panels will tempt pilots to focus inside the cockpit when their attention should be out front. So the equipment and the information displayed will in no way change our requirements for training, wind, visibility, committal points, go-arounds, and any other operating standard we have applied to these bush runways. In fact, use of this equipment will dictate more training requirements and standards.”

But he also does a great job of demonstrating that three G1000 displays -- properly used -- provide more instantaneous information and precision than he's ever had in the bush before. For a well-trained and experienced pilot, this enhanced situational awareness means safer flying and better decision making. For every KODIAK pilot, that potential is just part of the package.