When the engineers at Cirrus Skunk Works branded the company’s Garmin-based, next-generation glass-panel system, Codename Fighter, the moniker was more apropos than they might have thought.
A few years ago, I spent about seven hours at FlightSafety International getting familiar with the Dassault Falcon 900EX tri-jet, its Honeywell Primus-based EASy glass-cockpit flight deck and its Rockwell Collins Head-up Guidance System (HGS). At the time, I had maybe a hundred or so hours flying the Avidyne Entegra integrated flight deck, which was then still relatively new to the SR22, and it was a revelation for its intuitive and straightforward operation. Similarly, the EASy system in the Falcon ushered in a renaissance in what was becoming possible in glass-panel systems, and I became a full-fledged, Kool-Aid-drinking believer. Indeed, what Apple’s Macintosh did for personal computing, Dassault’s EASy system did for electronic flight instrument systems (EFIS) in large business jets—it changed the game. And now, the game has changed again—this time for pilots of the Cirrus SR22-GTS and, ultimately, for pilots of smaller, piston-powered, technically advanced GA aircraft.
|The new center console integrates with Cirrus Perspective. Buttons are grouped logically according to function.|
The technologies and ergonomics found in the Falcon were eye-opening. Remote data entry, radio tuning, trackball flight management system (FMS) control and the flight path vector are technologies that trickled down from Dassault’s Rafale fighter jet. To Dassault, if this technology reduced pilot workload and increased safety at Mach 2, then it would at Mach 0.85. So when I visited Cirrus’ base of operations in Duluth, Minn., I was floored when I saw fighter-jet technology featured in the jointly designed Cirrus/Garmin flat-panel system called Cirrus Perspective.
Big Screens, Big Capability
First things first, Cirrus Perspective isn’t a G1000. The displays and bezels are different—bigger screens, fewer buttons. The architecture is different—dual and redundant attitude and heading reference systems (AHRS). The operation and buttonology are different, meaning intuitive and logical. The autopilot’s logic and failure modes are different; they’re more fault-tolerant and robust, thanks to those redundant AHRS, and as such, the names were changed to protect the innocent. Maybe it’s a G10,000, but whatever you call it, it’s not your father’s G1000.
Let’s Go Flying
As I settled into the left seat of a two-tone, claret-red and white SR22, I ignited the dual 12-inch screens that are the centerpiece of the Perspective system. I immediately felt at home, even though I was in a completely new cockpit environment.
If you’ve ever flown behind either the Avidyne Entegra or the G1000, do you recall how big those 10-inch screens felt when you first started flying them? How wide the horizon seemed and how it was visible in your peripheral vision? And how much information was available on the seemingly expansive MFD? Pilots flying Cirrus Perspective will enjoy a 35% increase in screen area over systems with 10-inch screens, affording more real estate for Garmin’s Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) and the wealth of information crowding the smaller screens. Believe me, the show is worth the big screen.
|SVT generates a runway view that perfectly mimics the view through the windscreen. Above the magenta flight director, set to seven degrees by pressing the go-around button, the HITS course to Ironwood’s airport is clearly visible.|
Before takeoff, I needed no prompting to program the FMS with our flight plan and bring up the “before takeoff” checklist. The layout and knobology of the center console took very little time to acclimate to. With Perspective, pilots already conversant with either Cirrus aircraft or Garmin’s GNS 430/530 will transition to the new system quickly and easily.
I did, however, notice one issue that I wouldn’t mind seeing corrected at some point in the future. For some reason, I found it necessary to click away from the checklist page while in the midst of the menu. When I went back to it, I had to check off all the items I had already acted on to get back to my place; it didn’t remember what I’d already done, contrary to the Avidyne system, though perhaps that’s not a fair comparison as the architecture of the two systems is different.
A Really Big Show
Synthetic vision systems have been around for a while. It’s only with the certification of Garmin’s SVT, however, that piston pilots can now enjoy the extraordinary situational awareness and capability that were previously the provenance of systems in higher-end aircraft. (See “Tech Talk: Garmin's Synthetic Vision Technology” for an overview of SVT in the G1000.) With SVT, Cirrus and Garmin have integrated the pilot more seamlessly into the avionics system.
On the PFD, SVT presents a 3D depiction of terrain, obstacles and traffic similar to what you’d see outside the window on a clear day. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how SVT depicted the runway as we were cleared for takeoff. It actually seemed more like an image from a forward-looking camera. And once in flight, the real talent of SVT was readily apparent. The depiction of terrain, obstacles, waypoints and traffic were clear and intuitive. Pilots will enjoy substantial situation awareness with this system. As we flew a short cross-country, airports we passed appeared as signposts labeled with their identifier. And as either terrain or obstacles became a potential hazard, they changed color to either yellow or red according to their relative altitude (yellow—bad, red—really bad).
|The green FPV is squarely in the center of the HITS boxes as it takes us to the end of runway 20 on a WAAS GPS/LPV approach to Sawyer County Airport.|
Flying The Flight Path Vector
For navigation, the Highway In The Sky (HITS) boxes contribute immensely to a pilot’s situational awareness during en route navigation, instrument approaches and course interception. For example, on our ILS, we were receiving vectors to final, but I could see on the PFD that we were flying toward the string of rectangular boxes representing my final-approach course. On conventional glass, I’d have a map view to refer to and a still-pegged localizer needle. With HITS, I could see ATC vectoring us toward the boxes.
In addition to HITS, one of the most important and impressive features of Cirrus Perspective and SVT is the flight path vector (FPV). It’s essentially a flight director (FD), only much better. Once a pilot flies by FPV, which indicates path through the air regardless of pitch, there’s no going back to even a normal FD. To the FPV-initiated, the FD merely suggests where to place the aircraft’s nose in relation to the horizon.
The FPV, that little green-winged donut at the center of the PFD, greatly simplifies flying precisely. Want to fly a perfect steep turn? Put the FPV on the PFD’s zero-pitch line and you’ll hit your wake every time. It shows your crab angle in a crosswind, and I was completely blown away when I hand-flew the ILS to Duluth’s runway 9. It was simply the easiest ILS I had ever flown. Just keep the green FPV squarely in the magenta rectangles, and fly through them as they guide you right to the runway (which was also graphically depicted, number and all, as it would be on a HGS display). Even though conventional ILS symbology, localizer and glideslope also appeared during the approach, they never deviated from center as I put the FPV on the end of the runway symbol, flew through box after box, and “broke out” at our decision altitude in perfect position for a safe landing.
Cirrus Perspective is so much more than a graphical upscaling of SVT. It was important for Cirrus to preserve the organic way a pilot interacts with the flat-panel suite. As such, buttons normally on the bezel in other Garmin EFIS systems have been relocated to the center console. Grouped logically by function, the buttons simplify system operation compared to legacy Garmin EFIS systems.
And then there’s the autopilot. So much has been said about the terrific GFC 700, but Cirrus has added a significant safety feature that I’m confident will propagate to other autopilot systems.
|The new throttle, integrated with the go-around button, in the Cirrus Perspective.|
Push Before You Pull
On the autopilot control panel, there’s one button that’s new and one that’s renamed from other GFC 700 installations. In keeping with Cirrus Design’s philosophy of simplicity and safety, the FLC (flight level change) button is now named the more intuitive IAS (indicated airspeed hold). Because these functions have been written about extensively, I’ll leave it at this: Want to climb? Use IAS. Want to descend? Select VS (vertical speed).
There’s a new mantra at Cirrus: “push before you pull,” which refers to the new blue button emblazoned LVL (level). Selecting LVL will override all other autopilot functions and immediately level the wings and hold altitude. For example, if a pilot becomes disoriented and loses situational awareness, or if the autopilot takes a turn you weren’t expecting, push the little blue button before pulling the chute. It’s fabulous in its simplicity and it’s a wonder that it hasn’t appeared before.
Along with Cirrus Perspective, Cirrus has massaged and adjusted other elements of the SR22. There’s a new, more substantial throttle with an integrated go-around button. During a GPS approach earlier in my demo flight, we went missed, I clicked the button and the flight director cued me for a seven-degree positive pitch angle. The electrical system now has 100- and 70-ampere alternators. The flap handle is now stubbier—not sure why, but okay. The circuit-breaker panel is easier to manage, a welcome change. And the environmental controls are now all electronic.
Really though, the big news regarding Cirrus Perspective is the Cirrus-ized, Garmin-based flat-panel system. The catch, there always is—for now, Cirrus Perspective will only be available on the top-of-the-line SR22-GTS and -GTS Turbo, at a $48,000 premium. But for fighter-jet technology in a single-engine piston, that’s an amazing bargain.
(click to enlarge)