Well, after flying the new Grand Caravan some more I continue to be amazed at all the information at my fingertips. I can’t help but feel like we are experiencing the same kind of jump in technology as the big sailing ships had, going to big steam engines and all the new dials and gauges that came with that. In some ways, it is more work to get used to, but as it becomes habit the workload is actually eased. Still, I think there will be things to learn for a long time. Ancora Imparo, as Michelangelo is supposed to have said in his 87th year. “Still, I am learning.”
The 3 big screens replace all the other instruments in the plane, (except for 4 little gauges at the bottom center of the panel for emergencies. Engine, navigation, flight instruments.) The airspeed has markings for Vx, Vy, a flashing warning light and bell when you get to redline. It was all just what your eyes might see if you happen to be looking that way before. The moving map of where you are going also shows close airstrips in case you have an engine problem or need to divert for weather. It shows lightning strikes and electrical activity so you can make early adjustments to avoid weather. Traffic from other aircraft shows in varying degrees of intensity as it gets closer. The picture on the screen shows hills and mountains, rivers and towns and even the numbers on the runway as you are coming in to land. The situational awareness capabilities are awesome. You can set the plane to descend at a particular degree angle or feet per minute and it will alert you to start the descent…if you push the right button. If you add fuel to the plane it will track how much you are burning and how much you have left and how far you can go at present usage and puts a little green ring on the map where you will be into your reserve and another one where you will run completely out. I may forget how to plan all this out for myself if I am not careful! Maybe a bit like the days when we had to plot all our courses and account for magnetic variation and deviation and wind and then keep your eyes on the ground all the time picking up landmarks to verify we were where we thought. Now all of that is accomplished by just putting the place you are going in the flight plan and it says the heading to fly, or for the auto pilot to fly, and the distance to run is there and your ETA and time to run and the exact position of the plane within feet! I remember when GPS first came out how it took away 40% of all the things I worried about as a pilot. Flying in a place with very few landmarks for long periods of time can be quite exciting. I have told stories of getting lost over the ocean in Micronesia. This is all a thing of the past now. I hope! As long as we don’t get hit by lightning and all the electrics go out. But that is a bit negative isn’t it?
One of the emergency procedures we did with Brian Shepson was to simulate losing all electrical and the beautiful screens with all this information just go black and there is nothing but you and the airplane and 4 little gauges that tell you your attitude, how high you are, how fast you are going and the torque of the engine. In some ways, it was wonderful to me. I felt I was flying again and not driving a big video game. I could almost feel the wind in my hair and catch the smell of Avgas on the air again. But don’t get me wrong. I love all the new stuff, while remaining glad for all the old skills that have kept me alive for many years. I look forward to incorporating the new to help me never hurt anyone with my airplane.