A rather unique Garmin cockpit

This is the cockpit of my 2007 Cirrus SR22 G3 aircraft (VH-EYZ) which looks very different to the original cockpit layout the aircraft was delivered with. Most of the original screens, instruments, and avionics wiring has been taken out and replaced with what you see in the main photo above, to give this 2007 Cirrus the capabilities and technology that (in my opinion) rivals brand new aircraft being manufactured today.

I still haven’t seen another aircraft that has a cockpit environment like this, which is not a brag, every aircraft is unique in some way of course. Rather it’s a testament to the many options aircraft owners have these days to upgrade and customise their cockpit environment, even in certified aircraft like this Cirrus SR22.

I wanted to share some of the specifics of this upgrade with you in case you’re thinking of going through a similar process or are just interested in the equipment I fly with and why I chose it. So I’ve written this post to show you what the cockpit originally looked like, what we changed over time, and what the aircraft is now capable of doing since the upgrades.

How it started…

Most Cirrus aircraft are delivered with either an Avidyne Entegra, Cirrus Perspective or the new Garmin Perspective+ glass cockpits. There are some exceptions but if you have a dual-screen glass cockpit it’s generally going to be one of those. VH-EYZ was no different, originally manufactured with two Avidyne Entegra screens – one Primary Flight Display (PFD) and one Multi-Function Display (MFD) – and two Garmin GNS 430W navigation units.

How the cockpit originally looked

Upgrading the GNS 430W navigation units

We first replaced the GNS 430Ws with two Garmin GTN650 units which in essence was a pretty straightforward swapping of units. This gave me two touchscreen nav units and a Garmin Flight Stream 510 (the small blue card that slots into the top GTN650 which allows me to transfer navigation data to and from my iPad via Bluetooth. This is great for pushing long flight plans from my iPad into the aircraft without having to enter each waypoint one by one manually, and also updating flight plans en route in the instances when ATC or I decide that the aircraft needs to divert from the originally planned route.

I can also load approaches or departure procedures on my iPad and push to the avionics and vice versa. Data loaded to GTN650 number 1 (the top unit) is then seamlessly crossfilled to GTN650 number 2 (the bottom one) meaning I can change data in one place and everywhere it is displayed is updated in real time. No more data mismatch issues.

The GTN650s are touchscreen devices making screen selection and data entry far quicker than the previous GNS 430W units which required twisting of knobs to select letters in waypoints or airport names. They also provide additional functions such as traffic displays, one-touch airport information, radio frequency search, frequency and navaid ID labels (so you no longer need to identify a radio navaid with morse code), nearest airport selections, descent profile calculations, and more.

The GTN650s also control the GTX 335R transponder in EYZ to broadcast my callsign, altitude, and other data via ADS-B so there was no need to keep the separate transponder unit that I used to enter transponder codes in. We moved the GMA 340 audio panel into the slot where the transponder unit used to live which really neatened up the whole center console. There are a few close-ups of this further down in this article.

The two new Garmin GTN650 navigation units in the center stack, with audio panel moved to the top

Primary Flight Display (PFD) and Multi-Function Display (MFD)

I was already planning to update the Avidyne Entegra screens at some point in EYZs journey but my hand was forced when the PFD actually failed on me in flight one day and we realised the unit would have to be sent back to the USA to be fixed. This happened around the same time as the COVID pandemic and with less flying going on it seemed like the perfect time to make the second and much bigger upgrade to EYZ’s cockpit.

This time we would be replacing the Avidyne Entegra screens with two Garmin G500 txi touchscreen PFD/MFDs and replacing the three analogue standby instruments (the airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, and altimeter) that sit between the side stick and center console just above my knees.

The new cockpit layout

The main G500 txi screens are very fast, intuitive and customisable touchscreens with twist knobs at the bottom if you prefer to navigate using those in bumpy conditions (though I’ve never had turbulence bad enough to stop me using them as touchscreens). So if you want to change a heading you simply tap the heading bug and either twist a knob to change the value or type in a number. Same with altitudes, QNH settings, course, vertical speeds, and more. Tap/type/done (or tap/twist/done if you prefer).

The airspeed and altitude tapes can be customised to highlight reference speeds such as Vx, Vy, Vfe, and so on. Instrument approach minimums can be added to the altitude tape which also gives you an audible “minimums” callout. This makes identifying your go-around decision point a lot simpler and safer if you have to execute a missed approach in IMC.

The screens also show alert and warning annunciations meaning there was no requirement for the old analogue annunciator panel that we used to have. So this was also removed as part of the upgrade.

Maps and charts can be pinched to zoom, swiped to move around. Navigation tracks can be dragged to new waypoints like a rubber band, airports can be tapped to reveal data about runway distances and frequencies. Large buttons reveal simple menus that reflect the layouts of the GTN650s making navigating around the screens incredibly simple and very intuitive. If you can use an iPad then you can work out how to use these screens very quickly.

The PFD layout, you can make the split panel on the right show any of those options

You can also customise the PFD layout to only show the raw flight data if you prefer, changing the two panels into one single panel. I can imagine this would be a good setup in early VFR flight training when you just want to focus on the core flight data and declutter the screen. It’s a less intimidating layout for student pilots or pilots transitioning from analogue to glass cockpit environments.

Decluttered single panel view – nice and clean, good for initial flight training

My preferred configuration for the PFD however is to have a split screen with flight data on the left and a map in the panel on the right. This is the setup I use most of the time when flying, I can even overlay an Instrument Approach plate onto the map panel and watch my aircraft move around it in real time if I want. You can see in the photo below the split is about 2/3 to 1/3 giving a little more priority to the core flight data. Also shown is Garmin’s excellent SafeTaxi view on the map screen showing taxiways and their designation. The map automatically zooms in to an airport when you’re on the ground making taxying at an unfamiliar airport after landing a lot simpler.

My preferred setup for the PFD with the map on the right (indoors hence the GPS warning)

The MFD on the right is equally customisable but this has an additional, permanent, EIS (Engine Information System) strip on the left which allows me to monitor engine data at all times. The layout of this EIS strip is customisable when the units are installed by your avionics team. For example I like having fuel flow in Gallons per hour in that linear gauge at the top right of the EIS strip. If you don’t like that you can also represent fuel flow as a round dial (similar to manifold pressure in this photo) should you wish. These screens are very customisable.

MFD with engine strip and two panels for whatever data you want to see

As with the PFD you can also change the view of the MFD from a split screen to a single panel which can be useful if you just want to fly with a big map on the right hand screen. But note the EIS strip with core engine data is always there, regardless of what the rest of the screen is showing.

Full width MFD view with engine strip and map

My preferred setup for the MFD is to have the EIS strip, then a larger engine page which gives me more data such as cylinder head temperatures (CHTs) and exhaust gas temperatures (EGTs), then my flight plan page on the far right which shows distances and ETAs to various waypoints, useful when flying IFR and giving position reports. I do switch this far right panel to the traffic page in busy airspace as well, like when flying into Moorabbin Airport’s controlled airspace.

My preferred setup – (L to R) flight data, map, engine strip, engine detail, flight plan

Standby instruments – GI275

I call the GI275 a digital standby instrument but it’s a lot more than that – it’s a very clever multi function display that allows me to pull up a variety of different screens giving me information to fly the aircraft in the event of a loss of electrical power. It has its own internal battery meaning if I have a catastrophic failure and lose both alternators AND both batteries in the aircraft, the GI275 will still function and give me more time to navigate the aircraft to safety.

This one instrument not only replaced the original three analogue standby instruments – the airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, and altimeter – but also gives me an HSI, CDI, moving map page, and a basic engine data screen. A great deal more information than just those three basic instruments I used to have.

A couple of the screens on the very versatile GI275

The center console

The center console in EYZ has a Garmin GMA 340 audio panel which I use to select one of the two radio (COM) units that I listen to / broadcast on, this replaced the old transponder unit I mentioned earlier. Below that are the two GTN650s and an Avidyne DFC90 digital autopilot which interfaces with the Garmin navigation units very well.

Center console of VH-EYZ

The Avidyne autopilot however does not give me the ability to fly VNAV (vertical navigation) flight profiles that I would otherwise be able to do if I replaced that with a Garmin GFC 500. Currently I can setup a vertical path profile through the GTN650 navigators but I have to manually start my descent and monitor descent rates myself rather than have the vertical path flown by the autopilot. The autopilot will capture a glideslope and automatically start and hold a descent for an Instrument Approach, but you cannot fly a simple VNAV profile, like if you were setting up a descent into an airport not via a predetermined glideslope, using this autopilot. That is something I can see being very useful in IMC conditions when setting up a descent to the initial approach fix of an instrument approach. Having this managed by the autopilot would reduce workload at a busy time so it’s an upgrade I may look into in the future.

Some other benefits

As well as everything listed above, here are some of the key benefits to my flying that I’ve gained as a result of making these upgrades to the aircraft:

  1. It’s now much faster to load data and move between functions using the newer G500 txi screens which is especially appreciated in busy moments
  2. I can now fly LNAV/VNAV and LNAV+V (LPV) approaches giving me more options and often flying to lower minimums
  3. The resolution of the G500 txis is far higher than the original Avidyne Entegras making them easier to read, particularly at night
  4. I can update flight plan information in one place and have it appear on my iPad (using Garmin Pilot), both GTN650 units and both G500 txi screens instantly
  5. Pilot profiles can be saved so if someone else flies the aircraft I simply select my profile and the screen configuration remembers all my preferences
  6. Database updates all run through Garmin Pilot and are transferred to the aircraft via Bluetooth using the FlightStream 510. This means I can just bulk upload all avionics data in one go and it transfers to both GTN650s, the G500 txi screens, and the GI275 instrument by itself
  7. My GI275 standby unit will continue working even if all other screens have failed, both alternators have died and the two main batteries have been depleted giving me real peace of mind in the event of any catastrophic electrical failures
  8. I’ve experienced a slight reduction in overall aircraft weight as a result of the slimmer screens and removal of old analogue instruments

Why this won’t be unique for much longer

I can see other aircraft owners making similar upgrades to their cockpits over the next few years as they realise their aircraft powerplant and airframe are still perfectly capable and meet all of their mission objectives, but their avionics do not provide all the functionality and usability that they would like. This was certainly the case for me. So I chose to upgrade an aircraft that I already enjoyed flying with newer avionics that gave me more functionality, less chance of failure, and made my flying more enjoyable without the expense of a moving up to a brand new aircraft.

If you’ve been through a similar upgrade process, or if you use similar equipment to what I’ve shown in this post I’d love to hear from you. Paste me some links to your YouTube videos or photos in the comments below. Plus if you have any questions about my upgrade or would like to know how something works that’s not covered in this post, leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

The original concept drawing for the new cockpit – I still need to add that red line around the outside…

Note: After installing the two GTN650s but before the G500 txi upgrade I became an official ‘Garmin Ambassador’. I still paid for many components and all of the labour for these installations myself, and I would have chosen Garmin avionics even without the working relationship with Garmin. But as they did provide some equipment to me and because we work together to promote aviation through their products, I wanted to be open about that if you’re reading this article. Thank you.

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