A common frustration for builders is that looming chore of modifying wiring bundles and radio stacks to accommodate fresh equipment. That’s because the cutting-edge avionics you planned for in the project’s early stages become obsolete, sending you and your checkbook back to the local avionics shop. Sound familiar?
If your kit project had a modest avionics budget, chances are it included a Garmin GNS 530 or GNS 430 navigator, or maybe one of each. These were the industry-standard boxes that conquered the avionics world several times over. But they’ve since been replaced with the new and pricier GTN-series touchscreen navigators. If your project is already wired for the old GNS units, don’t plan on sliding the new boxes in their place—they’re wired differently.
The IFD540 is the R9’s “love child,” bringing the same advanced FMS functionality in a sized-down, retrofit form.
But Massachusetts-based MFD-maker Avidyne Corporation attempts to calm that heartburn with the IFD540—a freshly designed nav-management system that’s trickled down from the Entegra Release 9 glass cockpit and threatens to make a serious run at Garmin’s new GTN boxes. The IFD540 smartly brings the combination of touchscreen and traditional user controls in a chassis design that’s cross-compatible with the hundreds of thousands of GNS units currently in the field.
Here’s a sneak preview of the unit that Avidyne hopes to bring to market by the beginning of next year, and why you might want to save room for it in your homebuilt project.
The IFD540 is part of the new Avidyne CNS Series, a line that includes a direct-replacement transponder and also an audio control panel (more on these later). The 540 was born from the Entegra R9 advanced integrated glass cockpit, which has performed well in higher-end aircraft such as Piper Meridians and been a desirable retrofit for existing Cirrus models. Think of the IFD540 as a mini NMS system rather than a GPS nav/com (there is a planned GPS-only model, the IFD510).
Like the GNS 530W, the all-in-one WAAS-equipped 540 includes an integrated 10-watt com radio and full-function navigational radio, including glideslope. There’s also a deep mapping, charting and flight-planning user feature set. But that’s expected these days, when total integration is the name of the game. The real news with Avidyne’s 540 is the user-input design that has a combination of touchscreen and traditional button and knob input. Avidyne calls the 540 user interface Multi-Touch.
The Entegra R9 suite, PFD and MFD screens. The IFD navigators borrow logic from these.
While mainstream consumers have been forced to accept a full touchscreen interface with personal electronics, I’m not so sure pilots have wholeheartedly embraced panel-mounted touchscreen avionics. Avidyne seems to concur, because with the 540, pilots get a shot at both touchscreen and traditional buttons and knobs.
The 540 touchscreen uses capacitive technology rather than resistive touch, and while I didn’t try my Nomex flyers on the screen, Avidyne says the screen will work with many styles of gloves. This is a big concern for northern pilots like me who grin and bear cold-weather flying. But gloves or not, any function you accomplish with the 540’s touchscreen can also be executed with buttons and knobs. If you completely despise touchscreen, an option in the setup menu allows you to turn off touchscreen functionality and go with all buttons and knobs.
On a side note, when I spent some time with a 540 prototype in Avidyne’s booth at last year’s AOPA Summit, I mingled with pilots who sampled (or already owned) Garmin’s GTN touchscreen units and then danced their fingers on the IFD540. A common gripe about the Avidyne was that the on-screen touch labels and icons were small in comparison. Here’s hoping Avidyne listens and caters to those squinting eyes and fat fingers.
Avidyne pioneered the multi-function display early on with the original FlightMax MFD, and years of screen and display improvements make today’s Avidyne products easy on the eyes (despite those small icons). The 540 display is a backlit LED that’s 5.7 inches diagonally, with its touchscreen LCD displaying 65,535 colors in 640×480 pixels. That’s full VGA quality. Check that against the stark GNS 530 series—it was designed with a 5-inch diagonal, eight-color TFT LCD with 320×234 pixels. VGA quality is a near necessity, especially for playing satellite weather or making use of high-resolution functions such as Avidyne’s integrated terrain and topographical map. This screen has it all covered.
When it comes to chassis size, the 540 shares the same dimensions as the Garmin GNS 530, of course, but with the benefits of a more endowed screen area. It weighs about the same, at 8.5 pounds. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need 4.6 inches of vertical space in the stack and a good 11 inches of clearance behind the panel, including space for the interface connectors.
The unit is handsome with a rugged feel, and you won’t have to look hard to recognize it was born from the R9 glass cockpit. Bezel controls are simple and nicely laid out with a USB port on the upper left that’s for loading software and nav data. If you opt out of touchscreen participation, the rocker-like bezel keys and controls are logical with a positive feel.
First, there’s a rotary nav and com volume knob that serves double duty as a power switch, followed by a frequency flip-flop button for transferring frequencies the old-fashioned way. There’s also the familiar frequency tuning knob, though touching the frequency field on the screen brings up a direct-entry numeric keypad for frequency entry.
The right side of the bezel houses a cursor key, FMS function keys and nav source buttons, while the bottom of the bezel houses no-nonsense page function keys for jumping directly to the unit’s FMS, map and aux input pages.
I think most people will use a combination of touchscreen and mechanical controls, as I did during the time I spent navigating the unit. To me, this type of system architecture, mated with Avidyne’s straightforward operating logic, promises to speed up otherwise tedious box programming.
If you already have a GNS 530W, an IFD540 swap promises to be a slide-and-fly deal.
Flight Planning the Easy Way
Touchscreen capability in a GPS navigator has an advantage that’s more than just gee-whiz factor, especially when flight planning on the fly. It’s called graphical flight planning and offers a new process birthed from cockpit touchscreen technology that’s known as rubber banding, where dragging your finger across the map screen builds and changes the routing in your flight plan. The touchscreen might also make panning the map easier than using scroll knobs and cursors. Brush up on your smart-phone user skills here, because the drill is the same with touchscreen avionics.
Whether it’s a stand-alone MFD or the fully integrated Entegra glass cockpit, I’ve always felt Avidyne had an edge over the competition with a shallow, limited-menu architecture. This makes it less likely to get lost in deep menu structure—a trap in some other systems. Garmin bails the user out of this trap with a dedicated HOME key on its new GTN units, but Avidyne works hard to avoid it in the first place with bidirectional keys and straightforward screen labels. This is especially true when it comes to flight planning, where the 540 borrows a lot from the R9 integration, including what Avidyne calls a “Page and Tab” feature set. This helps get you to the page you want with limited strokes.
A bugaboo for many users of integrated navigators is amending flight plans on the fly, but the 540 attempts to eliminate that frustration with limited amounts of required data entry. That’s where the touchscreen pays dividends. Simply touch any intersection, airport, VOR and so forth on the map display to add it to your flight plan. There’s also that rubber-banding feature, where you grab hold of and stretch a flight-plan leg to make a change.
Avidyne carries over a feature that’s been a big hit with the NMS system in the R9 that’s called GeoFill. When entering and editing waypoints, GeoFill accurately guesses the next waypoint in a flight plan after only one or two letters are entered. The system is smart enough to know what waypoint you’re looking for based on position. I tried it on for size and it worked perfectly every time. No more tedious scrolling through foreign identifiers until you find the one you’re looking for. GeoFill cuts to the chase.
Wiring for an IFD540 is nearly the same as wiring for a GNS 530 or 430. It also gives you more options when your kit is ready to fly.
Wait and See
It’s tough to get excited about a product that hasn’t been released yet. Worse, wiring the project’s avionics for a product still in development is risky. But I think banking on Avidyne’s IFD540 is different, because builders have the fallback option of using a Garmin GNS 530W, albeit with less capability. If you already bought a 530W, count on decent resale value if you decide to bail out of it; they fetch good money on the used market.
Avidyne is also working on the PFD4000 retrofit PFD, which the company says will be the ultimate pairing to the IFD540 navigator. It promises to have much of the PFD functionality of the R9 PFD, including a rich synthetic vision and terrain function.
For owners who like what Avidyne is promising in the IFD540 and are ready to commit now, Avidyne is accepting deposits that are fully refundable if placed before product certification. The proposed list price of the IFD540 is $16,995. That’s not chump change, but if an advanced navigator with true NMS functionality is the focal point of your project’s mission, the IFD540 may be a unit to wait for.
For more information visit www.avidyne.com.