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At last! I’m an Instrument-rated Pilot!

January 16, 2012 17 comments

Well, it has been some time since I had my last blog entry, but this time I have an excuse. I have been working hard at getting my instrument rating over the last several months. Every spare moment I have had has been dedicated to getting this done. As many of you know who have received an instrument rating, it is a very intense and challenging endeavor. I am happy – actually excited – to report that I received my rating this past Wednesday, January 11!

I did all of my flying in my 3-display Aspen DA40 and really got to put myself and the system through its paces. I also made heavy use of my iPad during my training. All of my instrument training was in the Southwest primarily in the Albuquerque area where, as you all know, is surrounded by mountains and high altitude terrain. The combination of the availability of Nav Map, synthetic vision,  geo-referenced approach charts, redundancy, ease of use and flexibility of how to display the information on a 3-display Aspen system really gives the safety and situational awareness to safely fly instrument procedures in the heaviest workload situations.

I believe the key to this is to have a plan laid out in how to configure the displays and use them in both normal and emergency situations. That way, when you are flying, you can transition to the different displays quickly when you need them.

Having the MFD1000 installed to provide full redundancy for the AHRS, and air data information as well as the battery backup, is critical when the need arises. I also think that having the AHRS and air data information in one of the small windows of the MFD when flying in normal configuration to crosscheck provides a continuous redundant check on what I am flying so I can detect any anomaly early is a real plus.

During my training, I used the iPad to brief my approaches, but used the geo-referenced charts on the Aspen while I flew the procedures. I believe strongly that the ability to have a geo-referenced chart and nav map in my primary view lessens my workload when flying instrument approaches. It also provides a backup to the iPad.

For example, during my instrument checkride, I had briefed the RNAV 22 at Double Eagle Airport on the iPad. As I was transitioning into the approach, I wanted to double check my minimums as we were doing a circle-to-land approach and I wanted to make sure I had entered the right minimum altitude into the PFD. Unfortunately the display on the iPad locked up and I could not see the minimums. I was able to quickly look up at the Aspen to get the data instead of having to reset or figure out what I had done to the iPad. The redundancy aspects within the Aspen and with other devices and sensors increase my safety and confidence in flying.

I would be very interested in hearing how others are using the Aspens in instrument conditions and flying scenarios. While I am not quite “ready” to go flying in the clouds right now, I will continue to gain confidence through practicing in simulated conditions until the time comes. Please share with us your experiences with using the Aspen in your instrument flying, so we can all become safer and more aware pilots.

Categories: Flying

Synthetic Vision: How I became a true believer

June 2, 2011 6 comments

I have to confess that, having never flown synthetic vision and only having seen it in videos and ads, I was definitely a skeptic. I really didn’t get it. I didn’t get the overall usefulness of synthetic vision other than for specific instances around takeoff and landings.

The potential clutter on the PFD bothered me since I like my simple attitude representation with speed and altitude tapes. That’s what I had gotten used to, and I wasn’t sure how I would handle the additional information on the PFD. But there’s more. I was also concerned about the application specifically on the Aspen PFD because of the portrait form factor.

And then I flew it.

I got to fly our synthetic vision (Evolution Synthetic Vision or ESV for short) for the first time on an Aspen system and was very pleased to see just how useful it is. My concerns about the form factor were unfounded. Our high resolution displays were very crisp and easy to read, and information was presented in a logical and clear fashion.

I discovered that the Aspen system provides multiple ways to display ESV, making it easy for anyone to use. You can have it solely on the Attitude Indicator of the PFD, leaving the HSI in standard mode. Or you can have it on the entire PFD with the HSI info overlaid on top of it. Or you can have it on the Attitude Indicator of the PFD while the HSI part is two-dimensional terrain. You can display ESV in any of the windows of the MFD (although the small thumbnail mode is not practical) and leave the PFD in standard mode that we all fly in.

Here’s a tip: You can put the MFD in Rev mode so you have two PFDs—one in ESV and one in standard mode.

The multiple ways to display ESV provides for unprecedented flexibility. This is especially helpful for a pilot to configure their airplane the best way for the way they fly. Note that this ability is exclusive to Aspen—it’s something that no other manufacturer can claim. That’s one of the many benefits of the Aspen system over other systems.

Back to that first flight with ESV: I had it on the MFD and left the PFD in standard mode. While this was nice, especially when flying close to mountainous terrain, I quickly transitioned to displaying it on the PFD. The main reason for this was to use the flight path marker. Anyone who has flown synthetic vision will tell you the flight path marker is an incredible tool. When coming in on approach, I maneuver the airplane to put the marker on the runway and hold it there and fly it all the way down! Let me tell you: It makes it very easy stay on path in crosswinds.

As for the portrait display, I found ESV easy and intuitive to use. 3-D traffic was very useful, especially in cruise. When the traffic showed up on my ESV, I found it was very easy to look out the window and focus my scan on a smaller area and find the traffic much quicker than a 2-dimensional system because I had a perspective on relative height to the horizon. This was something I didn’t expect but found very cool.

By the way, terrain awareness was very clear and concise and provided a great level of situational awareness that everyone will want, especially when flying in mountainous areas like we do around Albuquerque.

Another unique tool that we have on the Aspen system is that you can adjust the field of view. When in the vicinity of the airport, I keep the field of view narrowed and the terrain, obstacles and traffic provided on the display allows me to focus on what is important rather than being distracted by information that is not in play.

When I am cruising, I open up the field of view and have a broader ESV view to get a better sense of potential directions of flight should I need to deviate from my current flight path for any reason. I think that many of our customers will use this feature extensively and will find it very useful.

After having flown synthetic vision on the Aspen, I am a true believer. The flexible representation of ESV coupled with the flexibility of the Aspen MFDs and PFDs gives a pilot situational awareness that can’t be found anywhere. I expect that this will be a big hit amongst our customers.

So what’s the status? When will it be available? We are in final testing with the FAA and expect certification and availability before Oshkosh. We invite all of our customers and prospective customers to visit us at Oshkosh and get a good look at it.

For existing customers, Evolution Synthetic Vision will be a software upgrade that can be completed at any Aspen authorized dealer. For new customers it can be purchased as an option when you place your order. In either case, right now, the price is set at $2995. I challenge anyone to find a value like this in the certified market!

Categories: Flying, Synthetic Vision

More flying since Sun ‘n Fun

June 18, 2010 9 comments

Since flying to Sun-n-fun I have been flying back and forth to our family ranch in Prescott, AZ as well as flying several other trips around New Mexico.

I have found the new cursor functionality to be a major plus. I even use it to mark the place on my flight plan to remind me of top of descent! It has incredible utility and makes accessing information really easy. I have also had the chance to practice using the back-up capabilities of the MFD1000. The MFD 1000 not only has a full suite of AHRS and ADC sensors, but in reversion mode it provides exactly the same display layout as the PFD.  (see reversion mode picture below).

Having exact primary flight display redundancy provides for a very safe transition to backup in case of failure. The quick transition means that I can focus on the emergency at hand instead of readjusting my scan to either steam gauges or another representation of the data. I also occasionally flip to reversion mode on the MFD1000 and use it as a way to keep an eye on all of my instruments to detect early on if something is not matching or going wrong. Just another added item of comfort for my flying.

As I mentioned earlier I plan to keep sharing my thoughts on flying  and flying with the Aspen system. With Oshkosh coming up (yes I will be taking my airplane to Osh!) and many new features and functions coming from Aspen I am excited about getting to use them and write about them.

Categories: Flying

Flying home from Sun ‘n Fun (2)

We had been watching the weather and there was a pretty massive storm that covered most of Texas. We over-nighted in Monroe expecting to go north to Oklahoma to go around the storm. When we woke up the storm had moved but it still looked like we could go up to Tulsa and skirt the storm. Once we took off it was clear through the use of our XM weather on the MFD and panning function that the storm was moving north. We re-routed to Joplin, MO, then to Wichita and tried to get around the storm back into Amarillo.  (see weather picture below).

The Aspen display of XM weather coupled with the cursor/info selection functions to look at weather at possible re-fueling airport stops was invaluable to making the trip home safely. I also got a good chance to use the new cursor functionality in version 2.2. In the picture (see cursor picture below) you can see how I managed my distance from local terrain on our way back into Albuquerque.

Keeping track of terrain on theMFD500 and watching the distances using the cursor while having XM weather on the MFD1000 provided for exceptional situational awareness. The unique ability of a three display Aspen solution to look at the MAP from both the terrain and weather perspective is extremely useful in a busy environment.

As we approached Albuquerque there were several large storms in the area. We anticipated having to divert to Santa Fe. So we brought up the weather and approaches at Santa Fe to ensure that it would be a safe alternative. We had plenty of fuel so we had options. In the end we were able to land safely between two pretty good storms at our home airport, Double Eagle II (KAEG).

All in all a very interesting and fun flight that challenged not only me as a pilot but also the Aspen system. I am happy to say that we came through with flying colors!

Flying home from Sun ‘n Fun

As I have been very slow in getting blog entries posted, mainly due to my travel schedule I wanted to at least give you some highlights. I will continue to share my experiences with the Aspen system.

First, the return trip from Lakeland.

In order to beat the traffic out of Sun-n-Fun I repositioned the airplane to Plant City a short distance from Lakeland. This seemed like a pretty simple thing to do. However, having flown a lot in the west where distances between airports are much greater, skies a lot less busy and I have a lot of time to transition mentally from departure to arrival mode, the trip turned out to be a pretty busy and unexpected hurried event. I was very prepared to get out of Lakeland, had all of the notams, instructions and guidance that one could find. The departure was uneventful and before I knew it I was in the air.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for was how quickly I had to be ready to enter into the pattern at Plant City!  All went well, (after one go-around because I was too fast!) but it certainly taught me the lesson of begin better prepared for all facets of the flight BEFORE I get off the ground!

Prior to leaving from Plant City I had my software updated to version 2.2 with charts and geo-referenced airport diagrams. In addition, the new software had advanced panning functions and the ability to display OBS on the MFD. (I really could have used OBS when I repositioned into Plant City so I could have more quickly oriented myself to the runway headings) The next day we left for Albuquerque.

Our route of flight had us going up the west coast of  Florida, refueling at Dothan, AL (BTW, a great little airport with great service and facilities!) and proceeding to Monroe, LA. The flight was in clear VFR. The scenery up the coast of Florida was spectacular. Overall the flight was uneventful and went by very quickly. We did get to use the OBS function (not sure how I lived without it before!) and geo-referenced airport diagram at Monroe which was incredibly helpful in taxiing around the unfamiliar airport.

The three display Aspen system is the only retrofit system that I have seen that provides you the ability to bring up the approach chart and still have full Nav Map display capabilities. This is an incredible improvement in safety awareness. I can’t wait to have the upcoming NACO geo-referenced approach charts to improve that awareness even more.

Flying to Sun ‘n Fun (3)

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

We got up the next morning and headed for the airport. Armed with the NOTAM for Lakeland and a new found confidence in flying IFR, even if only under simulated conditions, we departed KMLU for Albany GA. We filed an IFR flight plan for this part of the trip as well and I got a lot more experience in flying the Aspen PFD and MFD under IFR. I really like the amount of information and the flexibility of being able to arrange my data on the MFD as I needed. During takeoff I would have the MFD1000 (the MFD to the right of the PFD) showing three windows, displaying the back-up Attitude/speed/altitude in the upper right, traffic in the upper left and the nav map with XM weather and traffic overlay.

On the MFD 500 (the MFD to the left of the PFD) I would have that in the split 2 screen mode. The top half with traffic and the bottom half the Nav Map with terrain turned on. This gave me exceptional situational awareness. When transitioning into cruise I put the MFD500 in single window mode with the map. I used the MFD500 to get info along my path of flight. The flexibility to tailor the system to my way is really remarkable; there is nothing out there that can do this (yes I know I am biased, but it really is true!)

However, I have to admit that after having seen the advanced panning and info functions of version 2.2 in the labs in Albuquerque, I was a bit disappointed with the limited functions of the info and panning feature in version 2.1. I was looking forward to the return flight to use the version 2.2 panning/cursor, info and NACO charts and geo referenced airport diagrams.

After landing in Albany GA, picking up fuel and food, we headed for Lakeland. We decided to take this on VFR. We cruised at 3500 ft for the most part. As we approached central Florida we encountered those “puffy” clouds you typically see on a Florida afternoon. None were building at the time so I got a lot of chances to practice cloud avoidance and separation to ensure we remained in VFR flight. As silly as the next sentence may sound, this was really the first time I had a chance to do this. In Albuquerque and generally in the southwest because of the altitude, surrounding mountains and fast developing storms when there were clouds like this they quickly develop into thunderstorms, not a time to be flying VFR! I really enjoyed this part of the flying, as Anson was really helpful in describing techniques and identifying distances/altitudes to remain safely in VFR.

We quickly converged on Lakeland. There was considerable traffic that was showing up on my TAS and that we saw visually. It was beginning to get tense for me as I was closing in on Lake Parker, the initial point of entry into Lakeland. We both had the NOTAM out even though by now we had it memorized. The NOTAM was laid out very nicely as each page showed a specific part of the approach and was set up so that I could easily fly that portion, have time to turn the page and safely continue on. I thought it was really well done.

We flew towards the power plant, found an airplane to follow and acknowledged the controller’s instructions with an aggressive wing rock! We headed on in keeping a good distance from the 172 or 182 (we couldn’t tell from a distance which it was!). We followed the NOTAM instructions and monitored the appropriate radios and made a smooth landing abeam of the tower.

Landing Rwy 9 KLAL

I'm right behind the windsock

As I taxied off the runway and followed the volunteer’s instructions I could feel that my heart was still racing and the intensity of the experience was sinking in. We taxied to the Aspen Avionics parking area. We had reserved parking for Aspen equipped airplanes that had RSVP’d in advance through our website. During the show we had over 20 aircraft parked there at some time during the show.

Taxi to parking

Taxi to parking

It is easy to write about this experience calmly and factually but almost impossible for me to explain the emotional high it was to have completed the landing at Lakeland. I was proud of myself as a pilot and equally proud of the Aspen avionics that got me there. I am sure any of you that have experienced this know what I am talking about and for those that haven’t you really have to experience flying into an environment like this some time in your flying career. Having the Aspen system provided me great situational awareness lowering my workload and making me safer.

My next posting will chronicle the return flight and equally important my experience using version 2.2. This version added some key features like OBS, enhanced panning/cursor and info pages that give information on not only airports and navaids, but also airspace information and NACO charts and airport diagrams. I can tell you in advance that the features take the Aspen system to whole new level of functionality and information to the pilot.

Flying to Sun ‘n Fun (2)

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

After fueling up and getting something to eat, we decided to file an IFR flight plan (my very first time!) and do the flight in simulated instrument environment. I was quite excited about this, as it would be the first time I used the Aspen system as my sole means of flight reference. We took off and climbed quickly to our cruise altitude.

Flying with the PFD and MFD combination made things easy. Using the CDI as the primary source for guidance while using the MFDs to get a look at the big picture was incredible. Lining up the blue diamond to the top of the CDI course indicator to compensate for winds made flying by hand a pleasure. I used the winds aloft feature of the XM weather on the MFD to watch the winds and fuel remaining to ensure we had more than enough fuel for an alternate to KMLU if we needed it. I hand flew for a good portion of this leg using the autopilot occasionally to get the hang of the integration.

We approached KMLU and easily made a visual approach. Again I wished I had the OBS display on the PFD and MFD. I was beginning to realize how important this function is when approaching unfamiliar airports with multiple runways. I was used to flying in New Mexico and Arizona where the air is very clear and there are distinctive geographical references like mountains that make it easy to find the airport and orient yourself to the runway layout well before it is right on top of you!

We over-nighted in Monroe. The FBO there was great and all-in-all Monroe was a great place to stop. During the evening I spent a lot of time reviewing our next legs, especially the NOTAM for getting into Lakeland. This was my first trip into an airshow like this and I was more than a bit nervous.

Next up: Day two of flying, on to Lakeland…