Going Direct: Garmin GI 275 And Its Misunderstood Magic

Pilot flying with Garmin GI 275

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I get it. I really do. There are people out there who are just resistant to the idea of change, who instinctually want to search out what’s wrong with whatever new thing it is that’s currently confronting their worldview. I guess it’s the opposite of whatever being an early adopter is. And with Garmin’s brand-spanking-new GI 275, which is already shipping, I’m going to call them out immediately.

How does one explain the head-in-the-sand syndrome? Last year at Oshkosh, I texted an aviation journalism colleague (who shall remain nameless), but I never heard back. When I ran into him at a press conference a few hours later and mentioned the text to him, he promptly whipped out his—you guessed it—flip phone, to give me the reason why. Got it. It’s a great way to save money and avoid the news.

But when it comes to our aviation world, and this guy is not guilty of this sin, it makes no sense to bury your head in the past when it comes to new tech. Here’s a list of 13 things, in no particular order, that such pilots have poo-poohed over the years:

13. Nosewheels: When Cessna defiled its cute little model 170 by sticking a nose gear on it and squaring off the tail and calling it the 172, it was ruining flying for everyone for all time. Interestingly, some people still believe this is true even 50,000 (or so) Skyhawks, later.

12. VOR Navigation: I swear it’s true. Back when VORs came into being, and I know this only because I’m a student of aviation history and not because I’m 95, there were lots of pilots who thought that NDBs were just fine, thank you very much!

11. Ballistic Chutes: When Cirrus announced its whole-airplane recovery parachute system on the SR22 about two decades ago now, it wasn’t that big a deal to me, but only because I had been flying sport planes with chutes for years. But even some mentors in aviation at the time, substantially older guys whose views I greatly respected, were thrown for a loop and railed against it. Others went even farther, wondering how, if a parachute can save your life if you screw up, it’s really still aviating?

10. Autopilots: Real pilots, the reasoning went, don’t let “George” do the flying. It’s cheating. Sixty years after the introduction of popular, cost-effective autopilots, you don’t hear that argument any more.

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9. Solid-State Attitude: There were, believe it or not, pilots who were sold on the benefits of vacuum-powered gyros, despite their penchant for failing in IMC and leading to catastrophe. My immediate thought was, these naysayers needed their heads examined. Wait, that’s my current thought, too.

8. Seat Belts and Shoulder Harnesses: I kid you not.

7. Autothrottles: This one is still unfolding and, yes, there’s resistance out there to the efficiencies, safety benefits and economies of autothrottles. I give it another five years before the naysayers go quiet.

6. Envelope Protection: Ditto.

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5. Flat Panel Avionics: When Avidyne’s Entegra with its glass panel goodness burst onto the scene in the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 more than a decade ago, it was the end of aviation as we knew it, according to the avi-luddites. Yeah, not so much.

4. FADEC: Can people really call themselves “pilots” if there’s not a mixture control in front of them? Can they!

3. Materials, You Name It: Aluminum structures instead of tube and rag, metal spars instead of spruce, honeycomb instead of thick skin and fiberglass and carbon fiber. None of these materials would do anything but screw up the way we build airplanes.

2. One Wing Instead Of Two: From Staggerwing/Bonanza debates, to Pitts versus Extra, the battle between biplane and monoplane advocates has been a long one. Then again, who doesn’t love a Stearman or a Cabin Waco? Nobody! And who doesn’t want Diamond to make a biplane Diamond Star? Everybody!

1. The Garmin GI 275: Along with a couple of other companies, Garmin dove into the E2C (Experimental to Certified) segment, but it did it the way Garmin usually does, talking about a product’s benefits but avoiding big picture stuff. So when early reports on the GI 275 from just about every other media outlet aviation and otherwise, were ones on just what those features were, it was remarkable to me that they were missing the big picture… this little instrument had just potentially changed the panels of hundreds of thousands of airplanes. And it wasn’t just one instrument, as we described in our initial story on the GI 275, it could do a dozen different things, from driving autopilots to acting as a turn coordinator.

The most dramatic presentation of the GI 275, which I described as a “chameleon,” is its primary attitude indicator functionality, in which it acts as a PFD—with airspeed, vertical speed, attitude, heading, altitude, terrain, traffic and more—all for around $5,000. Is that a lot of money? When it comes to airplanes, it’s hard to say it’s a lot. When it comes to an instrument that will slide into an existing hole in your panel and transform your plane into a modern, PFD-equipped marvel, to say that’s a lot of money is like, well, like arguing against “seat belts or ailerons as excessive and prohibitively expensive technological intrusions into our flying world. And while you’re at it, would you get off my lawn!”

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