First there was glass for GA, now comes an FTD to match

 - October 23, 2006, 10:05 AM

First came glass cockpits for light piston airplanes, and now there is a Frasca flight-training device (FTD) for pilots who want to learn to use the new breed of avionics.

Developed to meet the demand created by the introduction of the Garmin G1000 and Avidyne Entegra cockpits in a wide array of general aviation airplanes, Frasca’s latest Mentor FTD features the same large-format liquid-crystal flight and multifunction displays found in the actual airplanes. But instead of climbing into a cramped cockpit, students sit behind large projection screens portraying the scene outside and manipulate controls designed to look and feel like the real thing.

From early indications, Frasca appears to have a winner on its hands. One of the biggest draws at Oshkosh was the pair of Mentor FTDs (designed to replicate the flight characteristics of the Diamond DA-40 piston single) that attracted the attention of the crowds streaming past Frasca’s booth. Throughout the show, hundreds of pilots–many of whom undoubtedly had never before sat at the controls of an airplane equipped with a modern glass cockpit–test flew the devices.

The Mentor FTD’s cockpit consists of two 10.4-inch-diagonal high-resolution displays, one portraying primary flight information and the other able to call up moving maps, engine instruments and other data accessible through the multifunction displays in the Garmin and Avidyne systems. Just as in a real airplane, navigation and communication functions are integrated in the G1000 cockpit, while the Avidyne version of Mentor includes a pair of Garmin GNS 430s in the center of the panel.

Although compact in size, the Mentor FTD uses much of the same technology as Frasca’s more sophisticated training devices and full flight simulators, according to the company. Included with Mentor is an FAA-approved flight data package; Jeppesen Navdata database; full-size flight controls, including rudder pedals and brakes; a “graphical instructor station”; multi-channel sound simulation; and TruVision visual system.

The graphical instructor station gives instructors complete control of the simulation environment, allowing them to monitor the pilot’s performance through the use of an assortment of graphical mapping programs. Lesson plans automatically control the simulator by triggering events based on a variety of conditions the instructor can select beforehand.

While it is unclear at this early stage whether bringing glass cockpits to lightplanes will indeed enhance safety, there are encouraging signs. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s 2005 “Special Report on Technically Advanced Aircraft,” trainers with integrated flight deck instrumentation such as the Avidyne and Garmin systems deliver increased “available safety” because of the ability to display information to the pilot in an efficient and intuitive manner.

The report points out, however, that pilots must become intimately familiar with the avionics to realize the safety benefits fully. Otherwise, all the technology in the world might not prevent a pilot from making a bad decision.

This reason alone is enough to make a pilot want to spend some serious time in the Mentor FTD. But the device offers other, similarly practical benefits. Frasca said the Mentor FTD is approved for training under FAR Part 61, including the following: for logging flight experience and instrument experience; for instrument proficiency checks; for use during the instrument rating practical test; and for a maximum of 20 hours of training toward an instrument rating, a maximum of 2.5 hours for a private pilot certificate, a maximum of 50 hours for a commercial pilot certificate and a maximum of 25 hours toward an airline transport pilot certificate.

Frasca sees a broad market for the Mentor FTD, from small schools that will buy the device to serve as the only simulator to larger schools that find the Mentor performs best as part task trainer, complementing Frasca’s more expensive TruFlite and Level 6 FTDs. These schools could use a mix of devices, such as Mentors for navigation training, TruFlite FTDs for aircraft familiarization, VFR training and so on and Level 6 FTDs for expanded credit under Part 142.

Frasca plans to bring Mentor demonstrators featuring the Avidyne and Garmin cockpits to AOPA Expo, November 3 through 5 in Tampa, Fla., and to the NBAA Convention, from November 9 through 11 in Orlando.