There’s a new G1000 in town, G1000 NXi. And while the name might imply a minor upgrade to the legendary flat-panel system, nothing could be further from the truth. NXi is a new ballgame.
Since its introduction a decade ago in the Cessna Citation Mustang and Skyhawk, Garmin’s seminal flat-panel avionics suite has become the de facto standard in aircraft avionics, commanding a huge market share among owner-flown airplanes from two-seaters to light jets. The system was the first of its kind, and it borrowed heavily from both the user interface and hardware design of the company’s wildly popular GNS 430 and GNS 530, multifunction navigators that between the two of them account for as many as a quarter of a million installations in light and not-so-light airplanes around the globe.
So, when the G1000 came about, the learning curve, while not flat, was at least not as much of an uphill climb as it would have otherwise been if so many pilots hadn’t already been familiar with the GNS-series navigators. The phenomenon even has a term associated with it: Pilots who are long familiar with the Garmin interface are said to have been “Garminized.”
So, for those hundreds of thousands of pilots who cut their teeth on airplanes outfitted with the Garmin G1000 avionics suite, the big question is, what comes next?
The answer for a time seemed to be the G2000 and G3000 suites, which make use of touch-screen controllers for pilots to operate the system. G2000, the one-touch-controller version designed for light singles and twins, is currently only fielded on one model, the Cessna TTx high-performance single.
Which is hard to understand, because the system has several key advantages. Unlike G1000, the G2000/3000 system incorporates a user interface that’s different—we could argue “better”—than G1000, with shallower menus, larger text and symbology, and more colorful design. The UX is quite similar to the interfaces on Garmin’s handheld and portable devices, such as the aera 796 portable electronic flight bag. Systems fundamentally similar to the G2000 are in use in airplanes up through the Cessna Citation X+.
The design, which can be learned on the fly instead of by burying one’s head in a manual for hours, has numerous advantages over G1000’s interface. For starters, it is, as I mentioned, very shallow, which is a term that simply means you can get from one function to the next with few button pushes or, in this case, a few screen touches. On the G1000 system, as you probably know, menus can be very deep. The old GNS 430 adage to “press and hold clear,” which seems nonsensical to non-Garminized people, is the way one gets back to a safe place after wandering down too many G1000 sub-menu rabbit holes. On G2000, there’s a home button. Push it and you’re back to the beginning, which is never, it seems, more than two screens away regardless. So, two principles of G2000: shallow menus and an easy way home.
Welcome To G1000 NXi
The new deck is still called G1000, which is clearly Garmin’s way of reminding us that the system is developed from the G1000. Clearly, it very much looks and feels like its predecessor system.
But there are big differences, and some of them make G1000 NXi in some ways more desirable than G2000.
Because it can use the same form factor screens as G1000, it’s a lot easier to retrofit the system into airplanes with G1000 (or eventually by OEMs upgrading their G1000-equipped models, though this isn’t likely to happen anytime soon). It also uses the same basic user interface as G1000, albeit with a number of big improvements, so pilots transitioning to it from legacy Garmin flat-panel suites will have a much easier time of it.
I flew with the new panel in two airplanes a couple of weeks ago, a Cirrus SR22 G6 and a King Air 350, which was Garmin’s development platform for the system. We flew in actual IFR conditions on a couple of short legs in central Texas, and flew a couple of approaches in the soup, including an ILS to a missed approach at College Station, where I got to see the G1000NXi fly the missed to the hold with a minimum of pilot input. Nice.
NXi features profile view, which for flying instrument approaches is a real breakthrough in situational awareness. This is an especially big benefit for pilots flying small airplanes, which is done almost entirely single-pilot, as we know. The profile view shows you exactly where you are on the approach, what your altitude is, what the segment altitude is on the stepdown fix and what the minimum altitude is for the next waypoint. Stepdown fixes and the position and altitude confusion they can engender are a known hazard to safety of flight, and this new feature will help pilots ensure that they don’t descend below the minimum altitude for the segment they’re flying.
A few weeks ago, Garmin announced its retrofit program for King Airs, including the 200-series and the 300/350-series. Interestingly enough, the prime candidates for the upgrade aren’t the later-model Rockwell-Collins Pro Line 21 airplanes, but models with earlier avionics suites, though Garmin says the Pro Line 21 airplanes are great candidates for G1000 NXi for many of the same reasons as older airplanes are. That said, the value proposition for older airplanes is more attractive to those owners. Regardless, the G1000 NXi will give those owners all of the goodness of a G1000 upgrade, of which hundreds of King Airs have already received, but a lot more, to boot.
The King Air for my demo flight was a Model 350, the biggest, buffest King Air. The installation features three flat panels, two standard-sized PFDs and a monster 15-inch MFD that can be segmented various ways, including having the approach chart at the ready throughout the approach. Visually, G1000 NXi has brighter, more colorful displays, and the brawn behind the beauty is badder than ever. With more powerful processors, everything on the NXi displays happens faster. There’s virtually no lag as you zoom in and back out again. Nice.
And the look and feel of it is better than ever. The interface has new fonts (some of the style reminiscent of Garmin’s high-end G2000/G3000/G5000 suites. There’s also an inset map on the HSI, a first in the field, to our knowledge, though it’s hard to assess its value. It was distracting to me and I wound up turning it off during my flight in actual instrument conditions and sticking with the standard HSI presentation. A little more time and who knows.
The keypad in the King Air was very similar to that in previous G1000 installations. Unlike the QWERTY keypad in the new Cirrus SR22, the one in the King Air has an alphanumeric key arrangement, and there’s no home key to get back to square one, as there is in the Cirrus, again. That said, the simplicity and easy functionality of the keypad is a monumental advance over the old-tech FMS console in older Collins installations, so thank goodness for that.
Other features include SurfaceWatch, a terrific on-the-ground utility that moves with you and rotates to show track up as you go, something I found makes it much easier to orientate myself on the taxiways. At smaller airports, the SurfaceWatch technology might not seem all that big a deal, but it’s important to remember that runway incursions at any airport can have disastrous potential consequences to safety of flight and safety of your certificate.
Other new features include visual approaches, which calculate a 3-degree glideslope to the touchdown area—it’s for use in visual conditions, it should go without saying. Still, lining up to land at the wrong runway is something that can happen to even the best pilots, so this new technology can be a life saver, as it can help orient you to the proper runway at the proper airport and even give you a virtual VASI in the process. Great stuff.
There’s also new digital moving maps for both IFR and VFR flying. For those of us who use Garmin Pilot, these will look very familiar. The idea behind data-driven maps is that instead of flying on top of a map that’s essentially a living representation of a chart, you’re flying within an ever-changing image of a flight environment—it’s really hard not to use the word “chart” here, if you haven’t noticed. That image changes as you zoom in, so that details that weren’t important at a 100-mile range are highlighted as you zoom in. It’s the ultimate expression of decluttering, and while you’re at it, the image will change the orientation of waypoints so they’re always right side up, it will make labels and symbols larger for more important items, and it will show more details along your route of flight than elsewhere because, let’s face it, the things that matter most are on our intended route of flight and thereabouts.
Finally, the system comes standard with Flight Stream 510, so you can connect your Garmin Pilot app with it and send data, including weather, back and forth between the units. We’ve written about Flight Stream 510 before, and in case you missed it, let me summarize. It’s an awesome new tool for making trip planning and flight management safer and easier.
There are a number of practical advantages, too. Some King Air owners will see a weight savings of 250 pounds with G1000 NXi, which equals a big occupant and/or a bunch of bags. For commercial operations, more payload equals more revenue.
The FAA has already granted STC approval for the mod in King Air 200s, and Garmin plans to have NXi available for first King Air 300/350 installations soon. And as I mentioned, don’t hold your breath for retrofit versions of the G1000 application for your particular airplane. For now, you’ll need to buy a new Cirrus SR22 G6 or retrofit your King Air. Future G1000 NXi programs are likely to be initiated by the manufacturer, and we expect those to be predominantly in new airplanes, at least for the near future.