This past Saturday, at an air show in Nampa, Idaho, I looked at a new Cessna 206 that the factory brought to the event. I’ve seen the new 206 several times at other events, including Oshkosh. I own a 1975 U206F and have enjoyed the aircraft very much over the last 16 years. It is a great plane. When I told the Cessna representative that I owned an older 206, he wanted to show me the new features of the plane. He immediately led me around to the instrument panel to show off the new glass cockpit. This was clearly the jewel he most wanted to show off, apparently the only jewel that I didn’t already own.
As he started to show me the features of the Garmin G1000 I was struck by the realization that, until that moment, I didn’t know that any of these features were on my wish list. The problems that a glass cockpit solves are not really significant problems that I have. Some very high tech solutions are really great. GPS in general and moving map units in particular did solve a real navigation problem that most pilots had. However, viewing an image rather than a mechanical device offers no real advantage. If they are more reliable or easier to service, or less expensive, then those are real advantages that I can relate to. However, at an additional cost of $43,000, the glass panel certainly isn’t less expensive. Cost appears to be the biggest problem most people have with aviation. Technology has been used in almost every other area to lower costs. How about applying some high tech solutions to lower the cost of flying rather than making the problem worse.
But the biggest issue I have with the glass cockpit is the complexity created by its flexibility. A DG is a DG, glass or metal. It has one, or perhaps two, knobs on it to set the heading. But these glass units add more knobs and buttons, and they seem to allow infinite possibilities for fiddling with. Sometimes less is more, and I see this nowhere more clearly than with high tech devices. The developers of digital devices just can’t control feature creep. Just check out your user’s manual for your cell phone or digital video camera if you want to see this compulsion taken to near extremes.
What I saw in the instrument panel of that new 206 was a high tech solution to a problem that I don’t have. Put another way, it was a great solution looking for a problem to solve.
When I mentioned this to the sales representative, he said something interesting. He said that most of the purchasers of the new 206s are new pilots. That makes sense. New pilots don’t have any experience to tell them where technology is required in aviation. I always hear the comparison between a panel like the G1000 and the panel of a modern airliner. When my flight navigation, ATC interactions, and systems management complexity begins to approximate that of a typical airliner’s, then I’ll believe that a glass panel like the G1000 is solving a problem that I actually have, rather than simply projecting an image of a cockpit that, however cool looking, is not providing a significant added value for the flight I’m actually taking.