Sunday, December 09, 2007

Everyone Has to Be Somewhere

Here's a fascinating exchange I heard while flying an aerial survey mission a while back.
Norcal: Mooney 123, use caution, several aircraft have reported numerous hang gliders in the vicinity of Mission Peak.

Mooney: Ah, what altitude are those hang gliders?

Norcal: Mooney 123, they don't show up on my radar, I have no idea.

Mooney: Ah, where is Mission Peak?

Norcal: Mooney 123 your current location is Mission Peak.

Several improvements have been made to the G1000 and to the G1000 simulator software. At this writing, the most recent Cessna airframe G1000 simulator is version 8.01 and it contains some very useful features. One is the new dual mode operation that allows you to display both the Primary Flight Display (PFD) and Multi-Function Display (MFD) simultaneously on your computer screen. You can also resize the screens, just in case you don't have a dual monitor setup. It seemed like just a matter of time for this to be offered.



Since the real G1000 has two computers (PFD and MFD) connected by ethernet, it was natural to assume that two simulator processes could be launched on one computer and interconnected using a local socket. This appears to be what Garmin did, but be advised that the computer horsepower to run this setup is not trivial. Choosing the TAWS option before starting up the simulator basically brought my machine to its knees: Red Xs appeared and disappeared on the PFD indicators and a voice would say "TAWS not available," then a few seconds later "TAWS available," then a few seconds later "TAWS not available" ... over and over. I'd recommend against selecting TAWS unless you have a seriously fast computer with a good deal of memory.

While shortcuts for the standard simulator are automatically created, you have to dig a bit to locate the BAT file that allows you to launch the dual-mode version.


The new version of the G1000 simulator allows you to experiment with the Garmin autopilot/flight director that Cessna chose to not make available on the lowly C172. It also lets you try out the new Victor airway-based flight planning. I'll provide an overview of this feature using the flight planning interface provided on the MFD. A similar, but simplified flight plan interface is provided on the PFD.

Assume you receive the following clearance:
Cessna 12345 is cleared to Reno, on departure, fly heading 310, radar vectors to V6, Squaw Valley, direct. Climb and maintain 5000 ..."

Start by entering the OAK VORTAC after the departure airport. This is important because you can't load an airway unless the preceding waypoint is either a VOR or an intersection on an airway. Then position the cursor on the empty line following the OAK VORTAC and press the Menu key.



A menu appears and you'll need to scroll (I recommend always scrolling with the big FMS knob by default) to the Load Airway menu item and press the Enter key.



Another menu will appear listing all the Victor airways and Jet routes associated with the OAK VORTAC. Select V6 and press Enter.



Yet another menu appears listing all the terminating waypoints for Victor 6. Select SWR (Squaw Valley) and press Enter.



One last dialog appears asking you to confirm that you want to load the airway. Like you'd go to all this trouble by mistake and not want to load the airway? Press Enter to confirm and the airway, along with all the changeover points on that airway, will be added to your flight plan. To help you decide which terminating waypoint to use, the map view next to the flight plan window changes to display the location of the terminating waypoint that you've highlighted.



Changeover points on an airway are often explicitly marked, but just as often they must be identified on a chart by subtle bends in an airway or by a halfway point between two VORs. The big time savings in the G1000's airway-based flight planning feature is that you don't have to stop to figure out changeover points using a paper chart, which is quite useful indeed.

Unfortunately, you can't select an airway, then select another intersecting airway: You must select the waypoint those two airways haven in common, load the first airway, then go through the whole process again for the next airway.

An aside, I find Garmin's use of confirmation dialogs to be both tedious and inconsistent. Frankly, when you're consumed in a classic, heat-of-battle-single-pilot-IFR crisis moment, these dialogs are real time wasters. You go through a bunch of knob twisting to load an airport or a waypoint and it asks you are you sure? But inadvertently press the small FMS knob instead of Enter (which I have seen pilots do countless times) and you're unceremoniously dumped out of whatever you were doing and all the letters you've painstakingly entered are destroyed. Garmin's whole large knob, small knob selection interface has to be one of the worst designs I've ever seen and they continue to propagate it forward when they implement new features, like checklists (which I'll talk about in a future post). But since it's what they provide, I guess we pilots have to hold our noses and just use it. Lucky for us, many of the G1000's other cool features makes it easier to take Garmin's silly user interface faux pas.

7 comments:

Ron said...

I've seen a zillion students do the same thing, pressing the FMS knob when what they needed to do was hit "Enter". Assuming they've been able to do it right in the past, the best results seem to come from doing nothing: just let the student fumble with it for a minute until they figure it out. It seems they learn faster that way. Plus, it can be a great lesson on prioritizing. "Fly the airplane" first.

The G1000 really needs that keypad they put on the Columbia and Mustang!

eric said...

To be fair, I think the large/small knob interface predated Garmin by a good bit. Bendix/King's crummy series of GPS units all use it, and it's a semi-logical extension of the same tuning interface that navcoms have used for decades. I'm not saying that's an excuse, but they obviously were trying to follow what is something of a convention in aviation.

The airway functionality of the new update is great, and the GFC700 is a really slick piece of hardware. My employer's new 182T has it, and it's a lot of fun.

John said...

I agree that "singing the alphabet" while you enter a waypoint and fly an aircraft is not ideal. The keypad is sweet and should be an option for any G1000 installation, but it got turned into a marketing device instead of being just an input device.

The large/small knob interface predates Garmin, but at least the Bendix/King designers had enough respect for the user to provide a separate, dedicated key for entering and exiting cursor mode. Apollo had a similar interface, it was just that sometimes you press SEL and sometimes you pressed ENT, depending on the context.

The main problem with Garmin's implementation is that the small knob's function is overloaded - it does different things in different contexts and there often is no clear indication of the current context. Think about it:

You press the small knob to enter cursor mode, but pressing it a second time (which is what inexperienced users intuitively want to do) not only takes you out of cursor mode, it abandons everything you entered and there is no dialog asking if that's what you really want to do. This is pretty amazing given Garmin's otherwise talkitive and dialog-rich user interface.

You can scroll through a list of choices with the small knob or "horizontally" through a list of page groups, except when you are in the flight plan in cursor mode. Turn the small knob in that context and you'll start inserting a waypoint. The best I can do as instructor is to remind pilots to always scroll with the large knob by default.

Overloading the function of the small knob saved the manufacturer a few buck per unit by not having more keys and knobs, but it costs countless users every time the use the interface.

This means the user has to remember (sometimes memorize) the unit's current state. Obviously humans can learn to use most any interface, but the destructive behavior of pressing the small knob is illogical, inconsistent and a big user interface no-no, in my opinion.

Gian-Paolo said...

Garmin's interface design leaves a lot to be desired in general, I think. Every now and then, usually the instant after I press some key I wasn't supposed to press, I find myself hitting myself on the forehead and emitting a resounding "DOH!"

I'm glad to hear that they have airways support in the G1000, though. That was a sad oversight from the beginning. Now, would you happen to know if it supports SIDs/STARs yet?

John said...

GP,

Yes, SIDs and STARs are supported, but then they are supported in the 430/530. So I'm not sure if you're getting at something that I'm missing when you say "supported."

Pilot nav SIDs are supported and even know, for example, if you're not supposed to turn until you reach a certain altitude. Once you reach that altitude, the HSI course is changed automatically and waypoint sequencing occurs to the next fix or leg to intercept. This same behavior is present for complex missed approach procedures.

Fodder for another blog installment, perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. I ordered the 6.01 Simulator version about 18 months ago and was wondering how to get the latest version ? Do I still have to pay the $~10 and wait 3 - 4 weeks to get it or can I download an update directly

John said...

Anonymous,

You're welcome!

You have to order the new version from Garmin for around $30 including postage. You'd think they'd provide an update process, but there appear to be export restrictions on the simulator and that may be the reason.

I don't know of any way to be informed when a new version of the simulator is released, so I guess we have to periodically visit their site.

Go here, then click on Integrated Systems, the click on the G1000 icon, then click on the tab marked Accessories to order the simulator for your particular airframe.