Are Touchscreens Here to Stay?

The Garmin GTN 750 touchscreen flight management system

Garmin is all in on touchscreen avionics. It will no longer build its wildly successful GNS 430/530 flight management systems which have been replaced in production by the GTN 700/600 series units that have touchscreen control. Garmin also has the G2000, G3000 and G5000 integrated flat glass systems that span the spectrum from piston single to the fastest business jet all using touchscreen control units.

And Garmin is by no means alone. Avidyne has announced development of touchscreen navigation and flight management control units. So has Bendix/King. And one of the biggest players of all, Rockwell Collins, has added touchscreen capability to its Fusion advanced flat glass avionics system for turbine airplanes.

We’re living in a touchscreen world given the overwhelming acceptance of smart phones, iPads and all manner of personal electronic devices. Even a new refrigerator and clothes dryer has a touchscreen pad to command its operation. Why would aviation not join in the touchscreen revolution.

Garmin was first to market with an installed and certified touchscreen system when it introduced the GTN 750/650 about a year ago. Garmin had been showing me developmental versions of touchscreen avionics for a few years so I wasn’t surprised. The GTN 750/650 was the product of extremely intensive research and development by Garmin because, well, they were betting the farm on superseding the GNS 400/500 series, the most successful avionics units in history.

From the first time I heard about, or thought about, touchscreen avionics I had two big concerns. The first was how well could we pilots operate a touchscreen device in turbulence. And the other thought was how long would it take for us to break the decades old habit of having knobs and buttons dedicated to performing the same function all of the time.

My concern about using a touchscreen in turbulent conditions is, I think, unfounded. My fear was based on some push button avionics systems from the late 1970s that, when mounted in a vertical position on an instrument panel, were hard to operate in the bumps. But Garmin addressed most of those issues by designing in a kind of raised ridge around the screen that allows you to grip with several fingers while using one to touch in commands. As touchscreens are integrated into new airplane designs the screens will be tilted off the vertical so your hand can rest on the edge of the screen making operation even easier.

The issue of transitioning from dedicated knobs and buttons to touchscreen menus is actually being resolved by our everyday lives. Most of us are spending so much time using touchscreen devices that it has, or quickly will be, the norm. When I call Exec Air and ask them to fuel the airplane I use a touchscreen. I typically use my smart phone to enter the flight plan into I use a touchscreen in the car when I drive to the airport. So it’s just natural that in the airplane touchscreens will be there.

The discussion of whether a touchscreen is easier or harder to use in the airplane is almost irrelevant. The real question is do touchscreens allow precise and desired control of our avionics? I think the answer is yes. And what flows from that is all sorts of benefits for the future.

Designing, certifying and manufacturing a touchscreen avionics system initially is probably about as complex, and costs about the same, as creating one with traditional buttons and knobs. But after that initial design, it’s game over for the touchscreen. Almost any changes in avionics operation, or new technology, or new regulation, can be handled via the touchscreen through new programming. If the design of the system, or its menus, or the steps required for normal operation are not optimum, they can be improved as we gain experience. Buttons and knobs lock us into the now—actually the past when the equipment was designed–but the touchscreen keeps the door open for almost continuous change and improvement.

As good as the touchscreen is for performing most avionics functions there are some tasks that just can’t be done better than with a twist knob or button. For example, can any control device beat a twist knob for setting the heading bug? No. Same for dialing in a baro setting, or a target altitude. Those types of simple and direct flying tasks we do dozens of times on every flight and have only a single level of complexity just can’t be improved on, and they won’t take on new forms and functions in the future.

Aviation must necessarily always be a step or two behind the newest technology because we only want to leave the ground using structural material and equipment with proven performance. But now, touchscreen technology is so embedded in all of our lives it’s time for it to move into our cockpits. Garmin has sold more than 90 million various electronic devices for all manner of uses and most of those use touchscreens. Pretty good testing to get ready to fly.

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53 Responses to Are Touchscreens Here to Stay?

  1. John Patson says:

    New skill needed though will be cleaning the touch screen.
    French train stations have had touch screen ticket machines for around 10 years.
    They work fine, issuing thousands of tickets a day — as long as they are properly cleaned every day.
    If not, they quickly first become difficult to work with multiple stabs at the “button” needed for it to do its job, then just give up.
    It will take a couple of month’s flying for a screen to experience the use these ticket machines get in a day, but unless they are cleaned the result will be the same.

  2. pete says:

    I hate touch screens. And that silly little scratchpad mouse thing on my laptop. Always doing something surprising because I bumped it accidentally. And that’s on my turbulence free desk. Iphone is pretty good, but I still end up 2 pages from where I want to be pretty darn quickly. Hate to have that happen on approach. Not gonna happen in my airplane anytime soon…

  3. Jeff Slutz says:

    Nothing is more frustrating than when I touch the screen on my IPad, Automotive GPS, Android phone, etc., and it sits there and does nothing or delays while it’s “thinking”.

    I know when I turn the knob on my radio that it did what I wanted it to do. If Garmin is getting rid of the 430/530 series to go touch screen only, they have some convincing to do.

  4. Don says:

    In addition to the G-530 and 430, I have a G-796. It is what the G-696 should have been, all because of the touch screen (and the addition VFR and IFR scanned maps). And it fits easily on my “rams horn” yoke.

  5. Add me to the touch screen haters. Mac, you have a twin with a combustion heater. Those of us with singles getting our cabin heat from the exhaust muff get pretty cold here in New England this time of year. Touch screens don’t work with gloves! The Avidyne folks (who are based here) at least have knob equivalents for their 530 drop-in replacement box. If I was putting in a GPS/NAV/COM today I’d bite the bullet for the extra $$$ and install one of those versus the 430W I did two summers ago.

    • Jason Sills says:

      Hi David,

      You mentioned that touchscreens don’t work with gloves. As Mac pointed out, your are likely referring to the “Capacitive” touchscreens, similar to what is found on the common iPhone. Your experience with the inability to use the iPhone with gloves on may turn out to be a positive.

      There are a number of glove manufacturers that are integrating “pads” on the outside of the gloves that channel the electrical charge (or ground?) to your fingers inside the glove through thin conducting fibers. They are relatively inexpensive and can be had with a quick internet search. (Wife’s Christmas present a couple years ago).

      The opportunity that I see presented for a capacitive touchscreen in cold weather comes from the accuracy offered by a “pad” integrated into the glove that is much smaller than the entire finger width. If a glove had an index finger pad only (none on the other fingers), the issue noted in this article about supporting one’s hand in turbulence becomes a non-issue. Go ahead and lay your whole hand on that screen! Your button presses will only be recognized at the point where the tip of your index finger is touches.

      Maybe we might even see a new product, “Turbulence Gloves.” Think light weight workshop style gloves for warm weather that prevent the rest of your hand from accidentally activated the self destruct sequence on your shiny new Dynon SmartTouch PFD. If someone produces this, be sure to cut me in! :P

      All that being said, does anyone know if these new touchscreens are turning out to be pressure activated, laser grid, or iPhone like capacitive?

      • Jason Sills says:

        Oops. I failed to note this article sponsor. Scratch Dynon and make that your shiny new Aspen Avionics “SmartTouch” PFD. :)

  6. Pete2 says:

    Touch screens below 40 degrees? Try getting in a cold-soaked aircraft at 6am in the morning on a 10 degree day (or colder), wearing bulky gloves, and attempt to get the aircraft rolling by using touch screens. You’ll be day-dreaming of knobs in a real hurry. This is true for any aircraft owner that lives, say north of the “Olathe, Kansas latitude”. Garmin apparently didn’t take into account Human Factors 6 months out of the year. Santa won’t be mounting one of these in his sleigh anytime soon. These are designed for the Doctor Killer aircraft owners, not for the part 135 charter pilot who operates in less than ideal conditions.

  7. Mac says:

    Actually, there are several different touchscreen technologies, and some work just fine with gloves. The screens Garmin is using on several of its systems use a matrix of infrared beams to detect the “touch” instead of pressure or capacitance. And Garmin is well aware of the cold because TSO requirements set standards. I also lived in Kansas City of which Olathe is a suburb in the 1980s and I remember one week where the high temp never got to zero.
    I’m not saying you will love a touchscreen, or even like them. And it’s not my place to defend them. But I do believe they are here to stay for avionics along with other forms of electronics and the major players are all onboard. Will there be backup controllers in case of a failure of the screen? Of course. Some buttons and knobs will live forever.
    Mac Mc

    • Why should I buy a product that requires me to buy another product? I’m fine with my 430W and if pilots are smart they’ll vote with their wallets and not buy the new Garmins. Like I said, I’d go with Avidyne right now.

  8. Charles Lloyd - Goddard, KS says:

    Garmin touch screens cut work load. Loading an approach is one example. On a 400/500 system loading an approach requires 16 knob twist and button pushes. A 600/700 touch screen approach load takes 6 screen touches.

    I am not going to dump my 430W-530W for touch screens because I think there is more bang for the buck in a G 500 or Aspen suite and preparing for ADS-B.

    Don’t delude yourself about the coming revolution. Touch screen will lead the way.


  9. Whatever kind of screen Garmin uses it doesn’t work with gloves. I asked them at Expo at Hartford and they said no. I aslo gave them a hard time about going to touch screen technology.

    I know about the carbon impregnated gloves, but I have no idea if they are actually warm enough to begin with and whether they actually would allow fine enough movement. I feel about touch screens the same way I feel about HDTV and a lot of other stuff today: they’re all solutions in search of a problem.

  10. herb buboltz says:

    How much $$ to fix when touch no longer works ? And out of warranty.

  11. ds says:

    i hate tuch screans to begin with on ipods and phones i have never tryed one in the air but with the turbulence you can feel in a small airplane im not sure how well it would work out

  12. Lou Whitaker says:

    I agree that touch screens are inevitable but —
    Try using a touch screen in really light aircraft like cubs, champs, T-Craft etc.. It is turbulent weather every day with these and the touch screen is a pain. Knobs work!
    I would also appreciate a screen visible in sunlight no matter how you actuate the “brains”

    • Dave Stadt says:

      Have a Garmin Aera in my Cessna 120. I would never go back to a button type GPS. It is much easier to use and input errors are almost a thing of the past which was not the case with the previous generations and their multi use multi direction switches. Screen visibility in direct sunlight is outstanding. Huge step forward and much less heads down time.

  13. Eugene says:

    I don’t think, it’d be a step ahead with the touch screen new models. I myself have a little experience with them except a bit in automobile GPS navigator. My sonAlex-he flies Pilatus-12NG flat glass screen-he hates his lately bought touch screen smart phone.
    It is getting a problem to push buttons or turn knobs when caught by weather-low over
    pine tops- but it’d be at all impossible with touch screens.

  14. Mark K. Crawford says:

    Touch screens are just another way of marketing fufu electronic gadgetry. I do not like touch screens because my meat hook fingers normally cover multiple digits. I still own a Blackberry 9000 and simply love it. Knobs are great.

  15. Danny Bullard says:

    Just be glad Garmin is continuing to innovate. Right or wrong with their commitment to touch screens, I applaud them for bringing this technology into the cockpit. Because if they don’t, some one else will. Also, if they don’t innovate, they could end up like Narco, Bendix King, etc. Remember when they were the gold standard? Their lack of innovation allowed Garmin to become the largest avionics provider in the world.
    I would much rather have Olathe, KS be the center of the avionics world than Beijing.

    • Innovation for the sake of innovation has nothing to do with technology, it’s marketing. Garmin could have done a lot to improve the UI of their products w/o going to touch screens.

  16. Gordon Steffek says:

    Adventure Pilot I-Fly 700 is a 7″ touch screen with a remote control.Yep a remote control for all you ham fisted pilots who fly in turbulence like me.I have a Garmin 430, button pushing dial flipping get lost, high dollor upgrades.With the I-fly every day VFR up grades$69.00,IFR$89.00 per year.I will take the bet that they are here to stay.Yes I said a remote control.Thanks to Someone who thinks down to earth.

  17. Pingback: Touchscreens from now on. | High Altitude Flying Club

  18. Scott Diffenbaugh says:

    I fly both a 480 & the new 650. While still learning the 650, a few things come to mind. The touch screen is difficult in mod turbulence, but fortunately at least you can also change frequencies with the knob. Forget graphically editing-the screen is too small. Get the 750. Can not program a hold or flight plan to fly a radial outbound (both confirmed by Garmin). At this point I still prefer the 480. I would trade my 650 for a 480 in a minute if Garmin had not discontinued it.

  19. Roger says:

    First: I like touch screens but not everywhere and I’m afraid I’m going to have to be contrary as to where they do and do not work well. I’ve had my own computers since 1980 and they’ve been my profession for many years so view them quite differently than the average user.

    The first is with a rough ride. How do people naturally use these. It is not by holding onto the side of the screen or device, particularly whey you are flying with the other hand. Yes, I see them as a problem OTOH, are knobs really better for setting headings and barometer/altimeter settings? Not to me *IF* and I emphasize the if, they are programmed as sliders. OTOH I can imagine trying to hit the heading bug slider just as the plane lurches sideways and you push the bug all the way to the right side of the screen, or altitude hold just as you hit an abrupt down draft, driving the bug to the top of the screen with your finger. Allowances can be made for ignoring gross inputs like that, but it is a few more steps in programming code.

    As I said, I like touch screens, BUT not every where. Think of being on a long trip, a few snack bars a bottle of cola and every thing you touch sticks to your hands, even after a box of those wet wipes to wash your hands. Then think of using a touch screen. Out here in my shop, I get greasy, sticky, dirty, pick up metal chips and abrasives in the grease/sticky stuff. Just the thing for a touch screen, or a touch screen on a CNC mill. I have enough problems getting keyboards to last more than a year or so. When I was out in the working world as a computer systems project manager. We had latex covers on all the keyboards out in the plants. Touch screens were great in Engineering and some offices, but not in the production or lab areas.

    Sooo…, I view touch screens with mixed emotions. They can be, and usually are, far more intuitive than push buttons around the side of the screen, particularly when multiple layers of menu are being used for some or all of the buttons and often a knob does different things depending on what you pushed before you got there. That’s where the touch screens really reduce the length and steepness of the learning curve. OTOH so much of that depends on how they were programmed and the organization of the screen and controls.

    OTOH they are fragile and different users find them difficult in different ways.

    • David Cicciari says:

      What a bunch of children we have here! I have been using touch screens in the air for years! They work great. I have also lived in Alaska for years as well. You can’t turn small knobs or push buttons with gloves on either! Give me a break! Maybe you children should not be flying if its to cold for your fragile little hands! I bet on Apple when it was $40.00 a share because I believe in what they are doing and trust me, I believe Garmin knows what they are doing as well. Want to bet on it?

  20. Frank Giger says:

    While not a fan of glass panels in general, touch screen tech comes down to implementation, as Mac pointed out, and we’re going to see more of it rather than less. I would bet that the panels will get larger to allow for “touch dials” where one moves a finger in a circle to adjust the altimeter and for sensitivity issues.

    The question of when a glass panel (and attendant touch screens) is appropriate for a given aircraft is another question entirely and should be left for another article!

  21. Bob Bogash says:

    Touchscreens are seriously flawed. I didn’t start out thinking that way. I learned the hard way. I have a top-of-the-line Garmin touchscreen GPS in my truck. My wife has a knob and button unit in her Honda. I use both daily. The Garmin sucks – big time! To the point where – at least in a motor vehicle environment – it is borderline dangerous.

    The touchscreen requires so much more time and effort and attention to negotiate through their feature and menu structure, and worst of all, requires great precision to push the right, er, button. In fact, there is a setup program to tailor the screen to your own pushes – fat fingers, skinny ones, long nails, short nails, where do you hit (or think you are hitting) the screen area. My wife’s pushes are totally different and she can’t make the thing work right. And, we sure aren’t going through this setup again everytime we jump in the vehicle.

    Some of the buttons are fat, some skinny, some close together, some far apart. I’m forever hitting the wrong button which sends me off into another part of the program altogether. With much teeth gnashing (and swearing) I try to figure out how I got where I just got and how to get back where I was, much less get back to where I wanted to go in the first place.

    The pseudo-knobs also occupy a lot of valuable screen real estate and reduce the area of stuff you want to see. My unit accepts nine inputs from radio, phone, etc. The GUI is so bad that I actually spent 30 minutes on Sunday and was unable to change the radio station to something other than a preset, despite working through every button in the complate menu system. I had to come home and pull out the 130 page manual.

    The Garmin requires a lot of visual attention to ensure you are selecting the right button to push, hand-eye coordination to ensure you push the right button, and more observation to ensure it did what you wanted. That’s head-down time in the cockpit or the vehicle. My wife’s Honda is surrounded by knobs, buttons, and joysticks that allow me to turn the radio on and off, change radio presets, zoom the map, with no more effort than turning on the heater.

    My dissatisfaction with the Garmin is so pronounced that I swore I would NEVER get another one of their units – and especially a touchscreen. Funny to come across this blog today, for I just sent in my money for a Dynon SkyView system to put in my new Vans RV. It has buttons, joysticks, knobs – stuff that click and have tactile feedback. They’re “soft” buttons allowing highly flexible function assignment without the drawbacks of touchscreens.

    Machines should be designed for people; people should not have to accommodate themselves to machines (like the AF447 A330) and engineers who run-amok because they CAN do something or some marketing whizkid thinks it’s so “stylish.” (I’m an engineer.)

    • Bob, I don’t think you have a touch screen problem, you have a poorly implemented touch screen. The programmer was still stuck in the push button and knob twisting mode. As much as I dislike Apple (I do own their stock) they did get the implementation of touch screens pretty well on. Just with the movement of your fingers you can scroll, expand or contract screens, and move controls. you shouldn’t have to push a button on a touch screen. Just “touch” it. You shouldn’t have to go through menus to move something. Properly implemented to change a heading bug, altitude in altitude hold you just put your finger on the item and move it to where you want it.

      Flight plans, just touch the waypoints, amended flight plan? Put your finger on a way point and just move to the new way point rather than delete and insert. Build a flight plan? Touch a starting point on the display for the origin and one for the destination. Then just “grab” the line and “pull or move” it to the intermediate waypoints.

      Touch screens can be just that simple. If they aren’t the engineering team were not user oriented and the way engineers do things is not normally at all like the rest of the world would do.

      Having been a computer systems project manager I can identify with that part on a very personal level<:-)) OTOH…Normally the easier you make something to use the more work it is for most of the project team. Still once they grasp the underlying design of "touch and move" adapting it to different controls becomes rather easy. "Touch and move" is also easy to use and easy to learn. Just think of how long it took to learn how to create a flight plan, then delete and insert waypoints while bounding along in the air with the old LORAN or the early GPS.

      One thing touch screens need that the old systems didn't is a "large" screen. No, not a 20" monitor, but one large enough to read, touch, and make changes. A nice size is 8 X 10 inches like many of the new glass panels are using, but certainly not a 3 X 4 inch display even if it does have buttons around it.

      • Bob Bogash says:

        “Just think of how long it took to learn how to create a flight plan, then delete and insert waypoints while bounding along in the air with the old LORAN or the early GPS.”

        Ha, Roger! I hate to say this, but just imagine doing that with 4-course LF ranges! Or Consolan (LORAN was a blessing.) I used those……

        I’ll give you one point – the rubber-banding, and poking in a new waypoint are really slick. Now THAT is a good and appropriate use of touch screen. Interacting with the map in a graphic way,

        It could be my truck’s GPS implementation is poor, and maybe not representative of Garmin’s current engineering. But, it is poor. Terrible. And I never got into that part. The menu system and the interactivity between functions is enough to make me scream. I’ve been a computer geek for over 30 years, and if I can’t get it to work, then my wife or John Q. Public haven’t got a chance. I took that as a Garmin mindset that didn’t syncopate with mine. I could give lots of specific examples but don’t have the patience to put it all into words.

        I studied the Dynon D-180 in depth to decide between it and the Skyview. One thing I liked especially on the Skyview were the KNOBS. I didn’t like incrementing airspeed bugs or altimeter settings with up/down arrow keys – or sweeping them around with my finger tip. The Skyview, besides a row of soft clicking buttons, has two knobs that rotate, rock in 8 directions and click when depressed to enter data. I, personally, like that. It’s an incredibly slick system! They should TSO it and give Garmin a run for their money.

        Thanks for the note.


        • What it could be:

          Think of your Primary and MFD, but think of the items displayed as dynamic objects. The moving map: Put your finger on it and scroll left, right, up, or down. You can move seamlessly across the entire database. Put two fingers together on the screen, move the fingers apart to zoom in. Put them apart and move them together and you expand the view to cover multiple sectionals complete with weather. Pick a spot and just tap your finger. It immediately moves to the center of the screen and zooms in as in google earth. or most touch screen capable applications outside of aviation. use your finger to draw a box around some weather. It zooms in to make that area full screen. You can “rubber band” the flight path through the best looking part. Tap on it say 3 times maybe in one corner of the screen and it will come up with the text version of the METARS. Put your finger on a spot and hold it there. An explanation as to what you can do with that point comes up. Approaches that use “highway in the sky” which are available on some systems already. Couple this with mode S capability to copy clearances and amended clearances, ADS-B, solid state inertial back up for GPS, and I’ve not even touched on the aircraft and engine systems themselves. More head wind than planned, back off on the power and instantly see your increase in range, or a couple touches to the panel and it’ll tell you what power to use to increase your range the needed amount if possible, or it can tell you to get down now with these airports that have 100LL in range.

          As humans we work graphically, or most of us do. So when the entire aviation world in front of us is presented to us dynamically on screens with which we can interact at the touch of a finger, … well I like to dream,<:-)) particularly when I've just intercepted the GS and ATC comes on with a long clearance at the pace of an auctioneer.

          This entire system could be made available for no more than the steam gauges most of us are used to. It won't though as the customer base is too small.
          This system will be a lot more reliable too. Look at how much more accurate GPS is compared to VORs or NDBs.

          Just use your imagination and the display could be configured like that, but the companies providing these devices need to know what the consumer wants. As it stands now they guess as to what the customer wants to see from some interviews and leave it to the engineers to provide the functions so the consumer has to learn their way of doing it. Most touch screen devices are way too small to really be practical, but editing photos with a touch screen is ideal. Touch screens can be far more intuitive and much faster to use than switches and knobs and much easier to lean. I said, "can be", not will.

          "Properly implemented" these things can make navigation and monitoring the aircraft systems much easier leaving the pilot time to fly the airplane and manage the system that manages the aircraft systems reducing the work load for the pilot adding a whole new meaning to single pilot IFR.

          • Charles Lloyd - Goddard, KS says:

            Excellent post Roger. You have encapsulated the essence of NexGen in his comments above. The FAA last December published a notice to deactivate all but 50 VORs at major commercial airports. Oh my, what will happen with GPS goes down. AHRS units in glass panel can take on the duties of a backup inertial nab system.

          • Yup, I was appalled at the first GPS I used and my first thoughts were, “why did they make it so complicated when it could be so easy!” These things “could” be designed to “user friendly” and intuitive. Instead they were designed with “function” as the application. Of course with LORAN and the early GPS their ability to input information was drastically limited.

            I agree with the you on the combination of physical controls and touch screen but I skipped that as I was afraid my post was overly long as it was
            My degree is in CS with Math and Art minors, but I also have a couple years of engineering. As I’ve said before, most engineers think differently and they are taught differently than the rest of the world and nowhere have I seen that as much as when I was a project manager and of course where teams are involved it’s even worse.

            As we’ve seen in the HB world it is possible to build user friendly displays and instruments. With the new large screens every thing is in place to build avionics systems beyond the sci-fi of a generation back.

            A friend has an RV (forget the number) that has the ultimate panel for when he built it. He can program in the entire flight from take off to landing including the approach with “highway in the sky”. Basically once he shoves the throttle in he can sit back and enjoy the ride. Of course he’s not the type to become complacent and do that. The only thing missing is the actual “auto land” The only fault I can find is those early displays are too small for me.

            Now replace those small displays with a pair or 8 X 10 touch screens and properly engineered controls, add auto land, and all the other “stuff” we’ve been talking about…

            One other thought on touch screens. For the proficient pilot, you could change the flight plan as the controller gives it and then read back the changes you just made. Of course with Mode S and a bit of imagination, you see the update, push a button, and the changes are made.

            Right now we are at a point where the home build world can lead the GA world by years if not a decade or more.
            Yes, unfortunately that little tag on the side of the instruments inflates the price by many fold. In some cases it’s as much as 5 to 7 times and then you have to get a certified mechanic to work on it.

            As most have noticed the sun has been very active lately with earth taking a number of direct hits from coronal mass ejections (CME) and although listed as major, these were just little compared to the really big ones that have shut power grids down. Any of these have the potential for wiping out satellite based nav, leaving INS navigation as our only choice to get back on the ground, particularly with VORs to be phased out. OTOH a major CME can wipe out the power grid, shutting down ground based nave and com signals. I wonder would those glass panels keep working or would we complete the flight on the back up steam gauges? Aluminum and fiberglass do not make good magnetic shields!

            Thing is that some of, or maybe many of today’s “old airplanes” will still be flying at the end of this century without the aid of these modern instruments which will be antique by then.

          • Bob Bogash says:

            “maybe many of today’s “old airplanes” will still be flying at the end of this century without the aid of these modern instruments which will be antique by then.”

            I think you put your finger on a major concern that is never brought up or considered. My old boatanchor radios are easy to work on and with a bit of searching, I can get all the parts I need to keep them going. Some are over 50 years old and very functional.

            My new solid state gear is only functional as long as some out of production IC can be located. After that, they will become dysfunctional and brain-dead — TRUE boatanchors!

            Of course, this extends to so many of our present toys – and non-toys – from TVs to cars to appliances. Their pumps and gearboxes and mechanical systems will be fine, but their computer brains will have died and be unobtainable and the whole will have become junk.

            Only a couple of years ago, the Dynon D-100 series was the cat’s meow. Now the SkyView is King of the Hill. Hopefully with some future expandability and new features. But, eventually, it too will be superceded by some new widget. When the parts reservoir dries up – what then?

            There’s a lot to be said for a J-3.

  22. BTW I “hate” menu systems and particularly layered menus so that knob or switch does different things depending not only on which menu you used but in what order you proceeded through the menus, knobs, and switches. <:-))

    I have a mobile rig (Ham Radio) that is almost all menu driven and they can be 4 or 5 levels deep. It's that way out of necessity due to size. If the thing used purposed physical controls it'd take a front panel 2 feet wide and a foot tall for all the switches. OTOH it's take the manual with you and pull over and park to change anything. I have one in my shop that has a total of 82 push buttons and knobs on the front panel, PLUS it still has one menu with almost 200 items on it. (18" wide, 10" high and about 56#)

    • Bob Bogash says:

      Roger, your reply is mostly preaching to the choir regarding the advantages of glass panels vs steam gauges. As an engineer deeply involved in the development of the 757/767 glass in the 1978-1983 time period, I could write a book! Yet, steam gauge presentions (analog) vs “digital”, still have some advantages. I fought – often unsuccessfully – for that, but Boeing later learned, and changed.

      As a very active ham, I have probably the same radios you describe, and even after years with some as my favorites – a short time of non-use, and I’m in menu grid-lock again, reaching for the manual. That’s why I continue to operate many boat anchors – with big front panels and lots of knobs!!!

      There’s no debating the advantages of the graphic interaction with the map. What we’re talking about here (I thought) were buttons vs touchscreen controls for the functionality and controls. There’s no reason you can’t have the advantages of both. I prefer the buttons and knobs. I also think some of the “simple” control icons are anything but simple for many people, like me, who stare endlessly at some arcane symbology and wonder what the hell that thing is – or is supposed to mean.

      From the AOPA Garmin 2000 writeup:

      “The 5.7-inch (diagonal) FMS keypad presents a colorful and comprehensive group of icons”

      My reaction is “Ugh.” How about something simple like NAV or COM or…….

      As to cost, the whole system pretty much has been made available for the cost of steam gauge implementations – but not in the T/C world. Or the Garmin world. Check out the pricing of the various glass systems available to the Experimental world, and their functionality, and compare that to the TSO world and you will see the cost of that little sticker on the instrument case.

      As best I can determine, a Garmin 600 package will set you back about $25-30K minimum. The Skyview is about $7000 – $14K from Vans with the full panel, incl SL-40 COM radio, Xpdr, ELT, GPS, SynVis, Database, Intercom. Add $1600 for the autopilot. Pretty amazing!

      Bob Bogash

      BTW, with a very large photo-filled website, I do not agree editing photos with your finger is ideal. I think the mouse is “ideal.” And far more precise.

  23. Gordon Arnaut says:

    I agree with Bob’s comments about steam gauges…the big advantage is the presentation…

    Round dials and a moving needle provides instant information…The glass panel way of showing airspeed and altitude with those moving vertical tapes is completely unnatural, in my opinion…

    Same for engine gauges…numerical readouts and bar graphs do not provide as much info as a moving needle on a round gauge…

    From a human factors perspective I think the glass panels are a huge step backward…think of how our instruments evolved over the years…remember the old directional gyros that used a horizontal card similar to the whiskey compass…?

    This is the analog of the tape display…then we progressed to a much richer presentation of heading information with the vertical card display…and now we have turned the clock back by going to these ridiculous tape displays…

    With a full panel of round gauges with dials it takes a split second to take in a huge amount of information…any dial movement is immediately spotted because that’s the kind of movement our eyes are wired to detect…a bunch of tapes, numbers and bar graphs amounts to visual chaos…

    • In this case “it’s what you are use to”. I find vertical tapes which are analog to be as normal as reading a “steam gauge”. Most of the glass panels I’ve seen have a graphic representation of the old engine gauges so it’s like looking at one with a digital read out under it.
      I also find the IFR scan to be much simpler with all the needed information in one place.
      That said, my old Deb still has all mechanical gauges. I couldn’t see spending that much money on an old airplane, but were I 20 years younger I’d have done it in a heart beat.

      For some the transition is easy and not for others.

  24. Gordon Arnaut says:

    Yes, some of the glass panels have engine gauges in the dial and needle format, which is fine…

    If the airspeed and altitude presentation was dial and needle too it would be a huge improvement…I have nothing against glass, but the tape presentation has to go…

    Yes, you can get used to it…doesn’t mean it’s good…

  25. FrenchBuilder says:

    Do you guys think that the Garmin G3X will have soon a touch screen, such as the Aera 695 became 795?

    • Bob Bogash says:


      Garmin seems to have fallen totally in love with Touchscreens, Icons, and Screen Pinches. Maybe they think the Apple magic dust will brush off and land in Kansas.

      I have been using Microsoft software for 30 years – I find a lot of logic and features “less than lovable” despite thousands of hours of use. But — I’m stuck….pretty much. Their latest (not so latest) “Ribbon Menu System” is objectionable enough (to me) to avoid any products with it.

      I have a laptop with all the “stylish” finger sweeps and finger pinches. After using it (trying to use it) for several months, I deactivated it and went with a small wireless mouse. Much better. At least I had a choice!

      Here is the 795/796 Quick User Guide:

      Go to pages 7 – 11 and check out all the Icons. By my count – there are 70 of them! Yes – that’s a Roger – SEVENTY.

      Some of them are a little “arcane” – at least to my feeble brain. What is their purpose? To internationalize the interface for non-English speakers? I don’t think so – since the heart of the program is in English.

      Then, there’s the little matter of dual descriptions – you know, the Icon with a Label. Why have those? To make it easier for the user to understand the arcane Icon created by some software engineer? That defeats the purpose of the Icon in my opinion. Worse – it makes the label typeface size much smaller than it would have been otherwise. Why not a nice big word MAP, instead of some rubbish that purports to be a representation of the globe – sort of like a cross-word puzzle – guess what I stand for. A picture that occupies 90% of the surface area of the Icon button.

      My opinion: you could triple the size of the callout and reduce the overall button size at the same time by deleting the picture, making more efficient use of the available screen area.

      As I said previously, the touchscreen capability is best directed at the interaction with the map, where it excels, and the functionality left to hardware buttons – or at least soft buttons with big labels and no pictures.

      My fear: Garmin is creating the new defacto standard to be used in all future glass panels by one and all – something we will be stuck with forever. But…. it’s so Stylish.

      Bob Bogash

    • Yup, I’d bet they are here to stay. OTOH Garmin create a standard? Hardly likely as with GPS every company has a different layout and different menu system.

      It all depends on the implementation.

  26. Cary Alburn says:

    I will be having a new 430W installed in my P172D next month, to replace one of the Narco nav/coms. With the shut-down of NDBs and now VORs, I thought it was good to move into at least the late 20th century if not the 21st. I frankly did not want a touch screen gizmo for my primary navigation device. My Android phone inputs lots of things that I don’t want it to, as I accidentally double-touch its screen or touch slightly off of where I intended to. And that’s sitting in my chair, not my bumpy little airplane. Perhaps in a “smooth riding” Baron, touch screens work, but there have been many times when just pushing the flip/flop button on a nav/com or the “ident” button on the transponder has been problematic in my airplane, due to moderate turbulence.

    I’m all for advancing technology, but not at the expense of utility.


  27. bill p. says:

    Gordon Arnaut is right. I never felt the allure of glass panels because it was immediately apparent to me that the tapes used on PFDs to show airspeed and altimeter are far inferior to traditional “steam” guages in transmitting important information at a glance to a pilot who is returning his gaze to the panel after looking someplace else, such as outside the airplane, at another region of the panel, or elsewhere in the airplane.

    It may be true, as one commenter above states, that a pilot who is simply staring at the PFD screen can pick up more pieces of disparate information (e.g. airspeed, altitude, heading, track, etc.) in a shorter time than a pilot who has to scan a panel of traditional analog guages to pick up that information. But that assumes the pilot is simply staring at the PFD screen. As we all know, many critical phases of flight require us to look back and forth from the panel to other locations. Obviously, a pilot on short final who has the airport in sight will not be staring exclusively at the PFD screen, but instead needs to look at the runway mainly, with quick glances back at airspeed indicator (or Angle of Attack Indicator, if he has one). He can pick up his airspeed information much quicker and easier from a round guage with a needle than from an airspeed tape.

    On the round guage, you don’t even need to see the actual numbers because you know with a high degree of accuracy just from the needle’s position on the face of the guage what your approximate speed/altitude/rpm/etc. is. Besides that, reading the actual number at the end of the needle happens extremely quickly and easily. I don’t believe tapes with numbers can match that. When I fly, I want instruments that give me the information I want right here and now at the moment I need it, not after I have a moment to locate and settle my gaze in on the numbers I need.

    I have expected since the advent of glass panels that the manufacturers would at some point realize this, and put simulated round guages on glass panels (especially for ASI and ALT), but apparently they still haven’t caught on. My guess is it’s because the glass is so small that too much other information would have to be sacrificed. Screw that. Give me a huge screen, don’t charge me extra thousands per each “precious” inch (golly gee, the 40″ flat screen TV I got last month cost under $300, but you want me to believe I have to pay $10,000 more for an extra inch or three of PFD/MFD screen?) and give me simulated round gauges with needles. That’s the glass of the future, and I’ll be ready to buy it when somebody wakes up. (And by the way, send me my royalty check when you do.)

    Add to this all the comments I have read about (a) how a month of inactivity causes you to get rusty as to which buttons and menus do what, and (b) the difficulty learning varying glass systems when trying to move from one airplane to another, and you can keep most of it as far as I’m concerned.

    P.S. None of this means I don’t love my good old Honeywell Skyforce III GPS moving map navigation unit FOR NAVIGATION. No big surprise that a moving map is superior for transmitting navigation info.

    P.P.S.: Great job, Mac. I came to your blog because of missing your many fine articles in Flying.

    • Roger Hasltead says:

      A pilot who stares at the MFD is like the pilot who fixates on the AI, or some other steam gauge. The MFD has the advantage of having everything “close together” but that does not free the pilot from having to scan even if it’s shifting their attention in a single view rather than looking at different instruments. OTOH you do have a lot more information available.

      “To me” the vertical tapes for airspeed and altitude with the bugs for glide slope are much more natural than a round gauge. Tapes moving up and down are just like an airplane moving up and down (altitude) People adjust to these displays differently and it’s more than just having to become accustomed to something different. It’s a graphical way of thinking. I’ve found most glass panels to be a logical extension of the evolution of aircraft systems. I can’t say I’ve found all of them to be logically implemented though, far from it! I’ve never flown with a touch screen system and it’s likely I never will after having a heart attack last summer. If I had another 20 years to fly the old Deb would eventually be getting what the home builders are using as state-of-the-art systems. Instead it’s time to part with it.

      I still have that half finished G-III in the shop to keep me busy.

      At-any-rate If you are flying high performance, the touch screen would be a great asset that can reduce the pilot’s workload immensely. If you are flying older fixed gear … they’re pretty.<:-)) But like the early GPS units with no standardization in controls or programming which I think of as a good example of a bad example of how things with great functionality can be poorly implemented, much will depend on how the manufacturers implement the touch screens.

      At that "moment of truth" when you intercept the GS and Approach comes on talking like an auctioneer, a pilot adept at using a well implemented touch screen could likely keep up with them in reprogramming the amended clearance if a go around were the result. BTW you just hit a button for the "read back"

      For me, that point usually represents the busiest point in the entire flight, particularly when you can't even see your plane's wing tips. Writing down clearances keeping aligned with the localizer and glide slope while getting ready to make the visual and psychological transition from flying on instruments to using the mark I eyeball at or close to minimums. Now there's something that gives a real sense of accomplishment.

      Glass panel in the Deb? My plane's autopilot is capable of tracking the localizer but it only has altitude hold so I've almost always hand flown precision approaches. BTW I happen to like NDB approaches. <:-))

      VFR? "I'm not a head in the cockpit" Kind of pilot. I do the occasional check on the altimeter (Keep the horizon at the proper spot in the wind shield) and turn off the GPS. Don't forget the engine instruments. (I once had an oil line break). The airspeed will take care of itself if I take care of the other *stuff*. Look at the scenery, check the map, and use my watch. I like that kind of flying even in the Deb.

  28. bill p. says:

    gauge, gauge… sorry about the typos.

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