Entegra: jet tech for the pricey-piston generation

 - January 22, 2008, 10:12 AM

The Avidyne Entegra avionics system–particularly the revolutionary left-side primary flight display (PFD)–is new territory for most piston pilots. Recently TSO’d, it’s a $26,500 option on the 310-hp Cirrus SR22. The large (10.4-inch diagonal) display shows airspeed and altitude on vertical tapes usually found in the front office of a jet. But unlike EFIS displays in most jets, the blue-on-top, brown-on-the-bottom horizon line stretches all the way across the display screen.

I got to fly an experimental-registered Entegra-equipped SR22 on February 13, the very day Cirrus received TSO approval for the Entegra system in the SR22. Deliveries to eager customers (most new buyers have selected the option) started last month.
As the owner-pilot of a 1950s-vintage Bonanza, I experienced an element of future-shock flying the Entegra-equipped Cirrus. This is a system that requires a lot more preprogramming. The rewards are a significantly reduced workload in flight, leaving time and concentration for traffic scanning, routing changes and other chores.

For a jet pilot, the Entegra has a number of familiar elements, but also some new aspects that may or may not be welcome. To Alan Klapmeier, president of Cirrus Design, and Dan Schwinn, president of Avidyne, the mix of old (piston power), newer (ADHARS-based primary flight displays) and newest (affordable ADHARS–and the full-width, blue-brown horizon line) are ingredients in a recipe for greatly enhanced safety and utility in personal airplanes.

I agree, though it would take a lot more than a 90-minute evaluation flight before I would consider myself comfortable with the Entegra system. But that’s not a bad thing. I’m reminded of an old-hand pilot I met at the Ford Motor flight department. When I asked him what it took to acclimate to new glass cockpits, he said, “The first thing I said to the FlightSafety International instructor when I sat down in the simulator was, ‘Okay. How do I shut it all off and go back to raw data?’ Then I started rebuilding my procedures one piece at a time as I learned the new systems.”

I asked a company CitationJet demo pilot how long it took to feel confident with the then-new CJ1’s Collins Pro Line 21 avionics after flying with the original CitationJet’s Honeywell-Bendix/King suite. He said it took about 10 hours.

So I don’t feel bad that I wasn’t immediately comfortable with the Entegra system. I did believe that I could envision its potential as a better way for non-professional pilots to negotiate IFR weather on an occasional basis, once they mentally assembled the building blocks of the system.

After takeoff from my home airport, Somerset (SMQ) in central N.J., I was most eager to see how the extra-wide horizon line on the attitude indicator affected my instrument scan. I wasn’t wearing a hood or foggles, but I concentrated on keeping my eyes inside the cockpit, with Cirrus Design lead corporate pilot Shane Sedin looking out for traffic.

After reaching cruise altitude, I performed some steep turns. These were intuitive as the PFD provided accurate bank-angle depiction. A more subtle test was maintaining a half-standard-rate turn while focusing my primary attention somewhere else in the cabin, either tuning one of the two Garmin 430s or watching and listening as Sedin explained the autopilot interface. My peripheral field of view had the horizon line in sight at all times.

A true test would be a long stint of flying in IMC. That’s when I find my instrument scanning concentration taxed to the maximum, especially if I haven’t done it in a while and ATC is keeping me busy with vectors and retuning nav equipment to accommodate amended routings. That’s when the 3.5-inch artificial horizon starts to look about the size of a peephole and all the other flight instruments begin to swim in a mental whirlpool. The Entegra display, in contrast, is as intuitive as the view out the window on a sunny day.

The first approach I flew with the Entegra was an ILS to Runway 6 at Lehigh Valley Airport (ABE) in Allentown, Pa. It was a blustery February day with a gusty wind blowing from the northwest, about 20 knots directly abeam the runway. Actually, I can’t honestly say I flew the approach at all. As Allentown Approach vectored me to the localizer, Sedin programmed the ILS approach into the active Garmin, then coupled the autopilot. My Bonanza doesn’t even have as much as a wing leveler, so as we rolled out onto the localizer, with no help from me, I said, “So, now we sit and watch?” Sedin nodded, and said, “With this crosswind, it’ll be interesting.”

In fact, it was boring. The Entegra’s PFD displayed localizer and glideslope data in large, unmistakable symbology. Altitude and airspeed tapes showed all the evidence of a perfectly flown ILS approach, with the nose of the airplane pointed in the general direction of Albany rather than Allentown. As we neared the missed approach point, the altitude bug appeared on the tape, leaving no doubt about how low we were authorized to go.

After the missed approach we went around again for another ILS 6 approach, this time hand flown.

As we were being vectored, Sedin showed me again how to set the heading bug on the PFD, but for the next assigned heading I forgot which knob it was, so I decided just to fly the heading as I always do in the Bonanza. Blame it on the heavy influx of information coming at me, but I soon forgot the assigned heading. After confessing to the controller, I learned once and for all how to set the heading bug (it’s the gray knob at the lower right of the display).

This approach was a good deal less precise than the last one, but once established on the localizer and glideslope, even my rusty hand flying and the stiff crosswind couldn’t ruin the procedure. The plan was to break off to a downwind for a circle-to-land on Runway 31, but a twin had blown a tire on the runway, so we executed another missed approach and headed back to Somerset for a few landings and takeoffs to get more comfortable with the SR22.

Sedin and I had a passenger on this flight. Dr. Emil Bisaccia is a Cirrus SR22 owner based at Somerset, where I keep my Bonanza. He came along on our flight because he had ordered a new SR22, despite the fact that his airplane was less than seven months old. Bisaccia wasn’t thrilled with what it cost him to make the change, but for him it was a question of safety. “It’s the avionics and the TKS anti-icing system,” he told AIN. “My business partner and I have two practices, one near here in Morristown, New Jersey, and the other in Dublin, Ohio, near Columbus. He owns a Bonanza and we both fly back and forth regularly. I have gotten into some icing conditions, so the TKS system is important to me. Plus, the new avionics are exciting.” Bisaccia is scheduled to receive his new airplane this month.

A 650-hour, instrument-rated private pilot who got his license in 1992, Bisaccia chose the Cirrus to replace a Piper Dakota. He said the factors that influenced him were, speed (“It’s about 50 knots faster than the Dakota.”); fixed gear (“I know there will be no landing gear problems.”); the BRS emergency parachute system (“That was for my family. I told my wife, if I have a heart attack, she can just reach up and pull the handle. That makes her a lot more comfortable about flying.”); price; and the dual Garmin/Avidyne avionics package.

Asked if he would consider a Cirrus jet if the company were to develop one, Bisaccia said it would depend on performance and price. “Yes, I would consider a Cirrus jet. Would I buy one? That would depend on what it would cost and how much faster it would go.”

Avidyne president Schwinn told AIN that future plans for the Entegra system call for more new aircraft to use the system, as well as several retrofit packages, mainly for twin turboprops. “At this price, a more advanced Entegra makes sense as a forward-fit [the opposite of retrofit] system for new-build aircraft as small as single-engine six-seaters. Lancair has the system installed in vertical format. The multifunction display is certified and the primary flight display is in process. Diamond has expressed interest in the system for its four-place DA-40 and the developmental twin-engine DA-42 TwinStar.”

Schwinn said Avidyne is finalizing arrangements with some aircraft owners for retrofit approvals. He said used Socata TBM 700s and Pilatus PC-12s are logical applications. “We expect that higher-end avionics shops will be first to do retrofit approvals since there is a lot of certification work involved. Then the installations could become more mainstream,” Schwinn noted.