Monday, March 15, 2010

Confusion is Only Simulated

I knew that Garmin made simulator modules for their products, but I had to search to find it. The FAQ "expert assistant" search returned the answer "yes" to the question of whether there was a simulator available, but didn't actually return a link. It's easy to install though and the 150% view makes it nicely usable on the laptop. I selected the C/V volume knob to turn it on, and it started up fine, running through the same integrity checks as the real unit. I verified that all the flags were as they should be and then noticed a MSG light, so pressed the key to find the message. "Main processor error." I've no idea where that came from. Who would simulate a hardware flaw? It only came up the once and never again, so as long as the real units don't do it, it should be good.

It's well-designed as a simulator. The screen consists of a photographic representation of the physical knobs of the unit with superimposed arrows so you know where to click in order to turn the ones that need to be turned. For the aircraft interface they depict only an HSI and generic simplified autopilot controls. Really simple: NAV HDG ALT, an altitude increase/decrease rocker switch that instantly puts the airplane at the altitude you select, plus a SPEED slider that instantly puts the airplane at any speed from 0 to 600 knots. This takes aircraft performance and configuration completely out of the equation, you just set the speed you would have for the phase of flight, and it acts as both a pause key and a fast forward. The only non-intuitive part is using the OBS and heading bug knobs on the HSI. You need to click on the appropriate knob then hold and drag straight horizontally, maybe all the way across the screen for a large change. It's easy to do once you figure it out, though.

My first surprise was that the menu screens don't wrap all the way around. That is, if you're exploring the suboptions of the NAV menu by turning the inside right knob, when you get to the seventh screen you can't go back to the first one by turning the knob one more click. You have to go all the way back through the way you came. Weird.

I set up a flight plan from Saskatoon to Prince Albert, because aside from having a NSFW name (don't google for images) PA has at least one of every sort of approach. I dial the speed up to around mach one so that by the time I've followed the instructions for selecting a full procedure ILS runway 08 approach and admired all the pretty menus, I'm almost there. I slow down to a more realistic speed for my aircraft, activate the approach and start the descent. It counts down to the beacon, and I set the heading bug to the outbound intercept, but nothing happened. It starts counting up how far away from the beacon it is. I activated the approach again and it started turning right toward the airport, not left on the outbound PT. I let it, to see what it would do, and it turned all the way around. Ack, the logic must have told it to fly to the beacon and then outbound and with the beacon behind and just a hair to the right, that made it do the right 270.

It tracks outbound and I fly the procedure turn then toggle the CDI to VLOC while inbound on the reversal. I notice that the glideslope is flagged off and recheck the frequency. Everything looks okay, but no glideslope indication appears and the distance counts down to the FAF, then counts up again as the map depicts reaching the runway and overflying it. Back to the manual.

This time I program in a sample flight plan from the manual, it's KFDK-KLYH. I finally figure out what I've been doing wrong: I have to make sure that the OBS key is not selected. The OBS option suppresses automated sequencing of waypoints. Silly me, I thought it enabled the OBS.

The example in the manual tells me to select VOR 03 but the simulator database only has VOR04: the manual is from 2009 but the simulator database only goes up to 2006 and the approach has changed. I choose the VOR 04 -- and the transition as told. It's loaded but not activated. How do I tell if it's activated by looking at the GPS display? What happens if I activate it twice by accident? I'm not sure. The waypoints sequence and I try the simulated ILS approach, but the glideslope doesn't work for this, either. I guess its just not simulated.

I set my location back to PA and try to do a VOR/DME arc. It's a 14 DME arc that runs from XEXEX to XETUL (the latter is in line with the approach). I'm starting at the YPA VOR, not the way you'd do a real one, but I want to see how this works. I can see how to go direct XEXEX, but I aim manually for the arc, west of XEXEX, trying to set the obs to a radial perpendicular to the arc where I will intercept it, as I would without the GPS, but it doesn't work that way. I have to set it along the arc and it does the conversion itself. Even when I set the CDI to VLOC I can't use it the familiar way. The main nav screen doesn't tell me my DME from the VOR. I'd prefer that this do a better job or enhancing rather than completely replacing old habits. It directs me to turn left onto the approach before reaching the fly-by waypoint at XETUL. I turned as directed and then had to correct back to the right in order to get on the radial by PUVER. That was no good. I don't trust it so I'm doing things myself and we're fighting and making a mess. Try again, this time from the south.

I go way out so there's lots of room and select vectors so I won't be asked to go to XIBEV. I fly direct BETIM. It's irritating that it doesn't tell me the ONE piece of information I want setting up for a DME arc: my DME! I'm 16 nm from BETIM, which is 3.5 nm from YPA and it's a 14 DME arc, so I have a few miles. If BETIM to YPA were a straigt line I'd be expecting to intercept at 10.5, from BETIM but they are not, so it should be before then. Yet, crap! I'm 9.1 from YPA and there's no arc intercept depicted and no turn instruction. I guess "vectors" was vectors to the final approach for the VOR/DME 08 and not for the arc. Try again.

What you have to do, is what I did before, set up for the DME arc, choosing one of the endpoints XEXEX as the initial fix, then go into the flight plan where you see the sequenced waypoints XEXEX, dme arc, XETUL, PUVER, BETIM all one below the other. Activate the cursor, scroll down to dme arc, and select direct to. This is going to work. I pull up the NRST screen that shows me the GPS distance from the VOR and it's showing 15.0 as I follow the directions through the arc. If I'm on the arc, the GPS distance should actually be less than the DME because DME includes slant range, and the depiction on the NAV map shows the same: I'm tracking outside the arc. It's good enough, I suppose but not really clear guidance for flying the arc.

And then it's straight down the approach to the missed. I always have to go missed in this simulator, because there's no way to see the runway. The missed instructions are straight ahead to 3100 then left to YPA VOR. I climb instantaneously with the little rocker switch, check to make sure the CDI is in GPS and not VLOC mode (I'm going to do that as part of every missed approach so that I don't forget on the occasions that it's an ILS approach) and then cancel the SUSP by hitting the OBS button. The simulator turns left as the missed approach instructions specify, but that was chance, because I've since seen it turn right, so remember it is not flying the missed, just going to the holding point. It is entirely up to the pilot to fly the missed as published.

When I did this on the sample approach from the manual, approaching the holding point it gave directions to fly the TEARDROP hold entry. I didn't actually fly the hold there, just repositioned and went back to Canada.

Canadian plates don't usually depict a published hold after the MAP, you just know that you can hold there, on the inbound track, and ATC can direct you to hold anywhere. Back in simulated Canada (don't you wish the real GPS had a transporter function?) I intend to enter and fly the hold manually, because after the missed I'm right on top of it, and too close to scramble into menus. Left turns, my outbound course just right of my current track to the VOR, makes it a parallel entry. I watch a messy station passage on the map view and I make the first right, using the CDI button to pop the unit into VLOC mode, verifying that the YPA frequency is the active one, but the flag doesn't flip. Map view shows I'm clearly past the VOR. Weird. I start the timer anyway and fly a minute outbound. Right turn inbound, flying an intercept heading on the VOR, but map view shows me cross the selected radial with no change to the CDI. Obviously VLOC mode doesn't do what I thought it did. I'll take a vacuuming break and read up on this later.


Frank Ch. Eigler said...

"My first surprise was that the menu screens don't wrap all the way around."

This is actually kind of nice. Say if you know you want to go to second-last page of a menu, you don't have to look or count high - just turn the knob to the right awhile. Then you turn one click back.

A Squared said...

@ fche

yes, but if they *do* wrap and you want to access the 2nd to last page, you just turn two clicks back which is faster and easier.

david said...

I have a more user-friendly avionics device, where I turn a single knob and the needle just points to where I want to go.

I never have to pay for a database upgrade, and I can listen to radio stations for free without the cost of an XM satellite subscription. It also has a small amount of weather capability.

A Squared said...

I turn a single knob and the needle just points to where I want to go.

Assuming that you always want to got to a discrete and diminishing set of locations.

I've got one of those also

david said...

@A Squared:

NDBs are still very common outside the US, but my real point is that GPS has a long way to go in UI design.

If you look at pictures of navigation radios from the 30s, they're also surprisingly complicated to use -- it took a long time for them to evolve to the "twist a knob, ident, and follow the needle" stage.

The pilot's attention is the most valuable thing in the cockpit, and a good avionics tool is one that demands as little of that attention as possible. GPSs will probably get there in another iteration or two (touch screens could help a lot).

grant said...

re: "GPSs will probably get there in another iteration or two"

Maybe one day a new Apple iNav application heh heh...

I have a lot of experience with FMS/FMGC equipment and there is no doubt that they all still require too much heads down time during critical phases of flight. It sure sounds like this unit does too.


Aviatrix said...

You know how in old movies when a person tunes a radio they turn a knob and you see a bar move along a scale, with the various stations humming in and out of the audio equivalent of focus? Some cheap modern radios still don't have digital tuning, but that big scale with the bar moving across is the image I'm looking for. I did my initial multi-engine rating in an airplane that had one of those for the ADF. If you wanted an 601, you'd better tune 601 and listen really carefully to that morse, making sure it wasn't actually a drum solo rocking out on AM 600 from the town down the valley.

The situational awareness ted by modern avionics can be superb, but wow can it be a distraction.

A Squared said...


I was mostly just being flippant. FWIW, for all it's faults, I like the ADF. I fly internationally, so I know that NDBs are still pretty common elsewhere, but they're damn sure a vanishing breed in the US. I'm flying a glass cockpit, but I still tune and ID NDBs and put the display on my PFD when I can. I like that it gives me information that is entirely independent of the blended, pureed position generated by the magic. As for the UI of GPS catching up to ADF, I'm doubtful. you run up against the problem that fundamentally, you're performing tasks that are several orders of magnitude more complex with the GPS. Once the DF became the ADF, your digital manipulation was limited to two simple operations: Tune frequency and select the mode in which the needle points to the station. Not much else going on as far as physical actuation. Compare that to the required input for an IFR flight with GPS

david said...

A Squared:

Point well taken, but interfaces can still get simpler over time. Initially, engineers like to expose all the complexity of what they've done for the world to admire, or interface technology imposes limitations. Gradually, interface technology improves, and users yell at engineers to stop showing off and make things simpler.

I imagine a GPS fewer knobs, where you can just touch things on the screen -- touch an airport and choose the approach from a pop-up menu, drag your magenta courseline to a new waypoint with your finger, draw circle around a VOR for a hold (with a confirm popup), zoom in and out with multitouch, etc. We can do that now with cheap comsumer tech, but it will take a few years to get IFR certified, etc., if the engineers even care enough about usability to try.

Aviatrix said...

We could end up with a much stronger DWIM interface, and either voice recognition or direct interface with instructions from the tower. It picks up the ATIS, sets up the anticipated approach, confirms that it has heard correctly when you accept the approach your cleared for. It needs to 'participate' in CRM somewhat, working towards eliminating "what's it doing now?"

A Squared said...


One obstacle, and admittedly it's an artificial one, is that the type of controls and how they operate are specified fairly narrowly by TSO. I assume that the idea behind this is to provide some level of commonality in operation among IFR GPSs. Wheter this is even desirable is another matter, but it's tough to get too creative within the TSO.

Jimmy said...

"...a NSFW name (don't google for images)..."

Hahaha! As soon as I read Prince Albert I thought of exactly that. When I saw the above disclaimer right after that I had to laugh. Good on you for looking out for the readers.

As bad as it looks the NSFW PA is not really that painful. An apadravya on the other hand is. I wonder if there is an airport named Apadravya in India...

Aprenta said...

Reality XP creates add-on gauges for aircraft in Flight Simulator that include several Garmin units, including the GNS 430, and these gauges use the actual simulator software from Garmin, so the unit behaves in the cockpit exactly as it would in real life.

Some add-on aircraft developers (such as Dreamfleet) already include Reality XP Garmin units (and thus the Garmin simulations) in their add-on aircraft.

Something to consider if you'd like to use the simulated unit in a complete simulated aircraft.

Aviatrix said...

That looks pretty cool, Aprenta, but it looks from their site as if I need MSFS 9 or higher to play and on my hardware I'm topped at MSFS 2004.

viennatech said...

Wow 'trix, I've been living on Prince Albert street for 6 years now and often wondered why the kids snickered when I was asked my address. Wonder no more.....

I like David's description of ADF "small amount of weather capability" awesome!

Sarah said...

Looks nice Aprenta. They also ( I think ) have an add-on for Xplane, my sim of choice. Being a cheapskate, I was happy to find someone else who made it possible to run the garmin sim program as a plugin for Xplane. ( If anyone is interested I can dig up the link. )

That way you get the 'real' simulated GNS530. Unfortunately, the coupling between CDI/HSI and Garmin doesn't quite work yet. So, no VNAV/LPV glide slope information, and you need to refer to the digital garmin CDI.

Anonymous said...

"That looks pretty cool, Aprenta, but it looks from their site as if I need MSFS 9 or higher to play and on my hardware I'm topped at MSFS 2004."

Don't know if you figured this one out already, but MSFS version 9 is MSFS 2004. Therefore if you're on 2004 you can use the RealityXP gauge.