6 min read

Freedom or security. Ketchup or mustard. Life is filled with supposedly difficult decisions that aren’t really decisions at all. Most thoughtful citizens realize that leaders can balance freedom and security; baseball fans know hot dogs can accommodate both ketchup and mustard.

Honeywell Apex

Better electronics, worse stick and rudder skills?

Pilots face the same false choice when it comes to technology. Self-appointed protectors of aviation scoff at every new advance in avionics, sure that more fancy electronics always come at the expense of stick and rudder skills. Spend five minutes on an aviation website and you’re sure to read something to the effect of, “That autopilot will make you a bad pilot,” or “I’d rather have needle, ball and airspeed than all that glass cockpit stuff.” It’s a silly ritual, but it always gets approving comments from the peanut gallery. The faster technology moves, the louder the Luddites shout.

Even the NTSB, who should know better, has fanned the flames. A widely-cited 2010 study showed that glass cockpit airplanes had a lower total accident rate but a higher fatal accident rate than similar airplanes with analog instruments. This finding was instantly seized upon as proof that we had all been duped, that new technology had actually made flying more dangerous.

But read beyond the headline and the NTSB admits that, “Accidents involving glass cockpit aircraft were more likely to be associated with personal/business flights, longer flights, instrument flight plans, and single-pilot operations.” That seems like a fairly important difference: if the average steam gauge Cessna 172 is flying in the traffic pattern with a CFI on board and the average G1000-equipped 172 is flying cross-country IFR, it’s not surprising that the fatal accident rate might be different – the exposure is vastly higher in the latter case. Avionics are only a small part of the issue. (In any case, the recent drop in the fatal accident rate of Cirrus SR22s would seem to suggest that the NTSB’s study needs an update.)

NTSB study

A revealing study or a flawed methodology?

Skepticism about new technology is nothing new, and is more a natural human reaction to change than a well thought out critique. Many of these complaints have a “I used to walk uphill both ways” quality to them: the so-called right way to fly depends on how (and when) you learned to fly. If you learned in a Cessna 152 with steam gauges and a single NAV/COM radio, that must be the best way to do it. Anything else is cheating.

It brings to mind a quote by 19th century French politician François Arago, who offered this jewel when trains were first being used by the military: “transport by railroad car would result in the emasculation of our troops and would deprive them of the option of the great marches which have played such an important role in the triumph of our armies.” In other words, trains are for sissies – just like glass cockpits.

Beyond the knee jerk reaction against change, critics of new technology make two fundamental mistakes: they view life as a zero sum game, and they put equal value on all skills.

The first mistake rests on an alluring, but ultimately erroneous, line of thinking: more technology means less hand flying skills. If one goes up, the other must go down. But there’s no reason pilots can’t enjoy both the latest advances in technology and sharp flying skills. Certainly it may demand a new approach to training or updated checklist procedures, but a good autopilot should not automatically make us all video game players – just like a TV in the living room should not automatically make us all gain weight. We simply have to adapt our habits as technology changes.

Failed attitude indicator

Glass cockpits can fail, but gyros aren’t exactly bulletproof either.

Even if more technology does dull the skills of pilots to some extent, it still may be a tradeoff worth making. Take a common criticism of glass cockpits: what if the panel goes dark? Well for a start, that’s a pretty rare event. Yes, it can happen, but you’re a lot less likely to lose your solid state AHRS with a G1000 than the spinning gyro that drives the vaunted steam gauge panel. The same can be said of autopilots – while not perfect, they have saved far more lives than they have taken.

Look at the airlines for a striking example. The headlines scream about a few recent crashes that have been caused by less than stellar airmanship (Air France, Asiana, etc.). But these naysayers neglect to mention the dozens of crashes that have been prevented by advanced autopilots, terrain warning systems, flight management computers and all the other marvels of modern avionics. Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accidents in the airline world have basically vanished thanks to technology. It’s much like concerns about automotive airbags – while the few fatalities caused by airbags are tragic, they are dwarfed by the lives that have been saved.


Nobody seems to be panicked about our degraded telegraph skills.

The second mistake is to suggest that all skills have the same value. This is obviously false; in reality, it’s just fine if some skills atrophy. For example, the invention of the telephone quickly killed most people’s telegraph skills, but our society seems to be getting along just fine with that change. The same could be said of NDB approaches and hand-propping engines – both are fun parlor tricks, but they serve no practical value for student pilots in 2015. (Yes, I know GPSs can quit, but how many of you keep a telegraph around “just in case” your computer and phone quit?)

There are other skills, those that pilots depend on regardless of new technology, that are much more important. These are the skills we should focus on maintaining: crosswind landings, basic attitude flying and precise airspeed control. But it’s hard to stay sharp if we’re trying to remember how to use slide rules and obsolete avionics at the same time.

That’s part of the problem: the obsession with learning every arcane detail of aviation can be fun, but it has a serious cost. Too many pilots focus on memorizing useless information simply because, “you need to know it all.” But when such trivia prevents us from learning how to use new technology to the fullest, or from maintaining critical stick and rudder proficiency, we’re less safe.

So quit carping about new avionics, and quit lamenting the end of dead reckoning. Technology is changing, whether we want it to or not. Our efforts are better spent adapting to this new world than laying down on the tracks to stop it. Done the right way, aviation will continue to get safer and safer.

I, for one, will take every electronic aid I can get. But that doesn’t mean I won’t click the red button and hand fly an ILS once in awhile.

John Zimmerman
30 replies
  1. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    Hey, John! Hand-propping is a “parlor trick?” You’re pickin’ unfairly on those of us who fly (in my case, flew) legacy aircraft without electrical systems. Hand-propping a nicely tuned Continental A-65 is a piece of cake, and that act has a role in the enjoyment of old, simple airplanes. Now, I grant you, hand-propping a Bonanza is off-the-charts double-plus ungood….

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      It’s a great parlor trick! OK, you make a fair point. I should also preemptively apologize to Alaska pilots for knocking NDB approaches – I know there are still places where that’s required.

      My point is, for the average student learning to fly in a 172 (or even for the high tech one learning in a Cirrus), those skills are probably in the “nice to have” category, not the “must have.”

      • Larry Nelson
        Larry Nelson says:

        John not all new pilots actually want a glass panel or an autopilot. I am just finishing my PPL and have no interest at all in autopilots, Glass panels, ADS-B in and so on. I actually enjoy just going out and doing some VFR attitude flying (why anyone would want to fly in IFR is beyond me). On a cross country I do love the moving map GPS on my IPad but I would never place ADS-B in information on that map. I tried it once and the distraction placed me in my first accidental unusual attitude.

        • Cary Alburn
          Cary Alburn says:

          Give it time, Larry. About the time you’re scrubbed the 5th attempt to go somewhere because of low hanging scud that you could have flown through if only you had your IR and a properly equipped airplane, you might decide, “Now I understand why people fly IFR.” And when that ADS-B In information on your iPad will give you somewhat delayed weather to allow you to strategically plan that cross country that you can now do because you’ve earned your IR, you’ll realize that it’s really not distracting information, but useful information.

  2. Duane
    Duane says:

    John – great post, 100% agree with you. I’m an “old timer” who loves flying, technology, and especially who loves flying combined with technology. An airplane is, of course, “technology”, since none of us humans were born with wings or feathers. I learned to fly in a 1960s Cessna 150 with steam gages, and love the coupled IFR GPS navigator in my panel that tells my autopilot where to go. And the backup GPS on my yolk that keeps me apprised of the weather and other tidbits of information I don’t get from the panel-mount.

    Get with it, you Luddites and change-resisters out there! The only constant in life is change.

    Glass panels, GPS navigators, coupled autopilots, digital audio panels, datalink Wx, and wirelessly-connected devices throughout the airplane communicating with each other are all just tools, serving all of the same functions as those old steam gages, but much much better and much more reliably! Flying is still flying, and no matter what you fly, and it’s great as long as you know how to fly it properly.

    Bad pilots are bad pilots, regardless of their panel equipment. Ditto with good pilots.

    Any pilot who cannot land a perfectly functioning airplane visually on a CAVU day on a long wide runway without an ILS or even a PAPI is not worthy to be called a pilot in command. If you are scared to death of the wall of T-storms your aircraft is about to penetrate at FL350 on a dark and stormy night, and you are bound and determined to climb the aircraft “to get over the cells”, then don’t be surprised that if, when the A/P goes out, you stall the aircraft in a panic trying to make it fly above its service ceiling. Neither of those airline accidents (Asiana 214 or AF447) had anything to do with over-automation … those crashes were examples of under-piloting in one, and insanity in the cockpit in the other, respectively.

    If your hand-flying skills are not used as much as they used to be (because the airplane can mostly fly itself), and as a result your hand flying skills get rusty, then there is nobody but yours truly to blame. Practice hand flying often enough to take over if the gizmo gives out.

  3. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    I’m not so sure the problem is trade-off is between tech and flying skills. It just seems that the maintenance of operating skills with the high tech gizmos is the greater problem. With the old NAV/COMMs and mechanical gyros a person could learn their operation in a pretty short period and it didn’t take too much to remember how to use them. Now days, every gizmo seems to come with a 242 page manual which takes a lot to learn and a lot to keep current on. So basically, I think tech users must fly much more often or hope that the autopilot is doing the right thing: Admittedly simulators can be a great asset here. Otherwise, I think one is better off to stick to VFR days in a stripped airplane (but with a starter please) and a portable GPS.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Those 242 page manuals are part of the problem, in my opinion. The G1000, to take a popular example, is not 10X harder to use than a KLN 89B and two KX-155s. In some ways, it’s a lot easier. But somewhere along the way we decided that glass cockpit=type rating. I don’t like that attitude. The airspeed, attitude, altitude, vertical speed, heading and direct to button all work the same. Certainly you need a good checkout before you fly hard IFR with it, but I’m shocked by some of the elaborate checkout procedures we make people go through for a VFR flight.

      • Cary Alburn
        Cary Alburn says:

        FWIW, I have an idea that much of the factory produced manuals are written by non-pilots who really haven’t a good grasp of how that particular box will be used by pilots. Three years ago I had a new Garmin 430W installed. I spent hours and hours studying the manual, then hours with Garmin’s 430W simulator on the computer, then more hours sitting in my airplane on the ramp, pushing buttons and twisting knobs. By the end of all of this, I could reliably change frequencies and navigate somewhere, but not comfortably.

        Two months later, I went to OSH. There I met John Dittmer, a CFII who published manuals for just about every GPS out there. I bought his manual, I understood his manual, and in very short order, I became much more proficient with my 430W–because his manual is by an instructor pilot for pilots.

        John’s is probably not the only such manual out there. So my point is not to act as a de facto salesman for his manuals, but just to encourage pilots to look elsewhere than the manufacturer’s “242 page manuals”–there’s better stuff out there.

  4. Liad B.
    Liad B. says:

    John, this is your best published artical to date!

    So true… So annoying… I’m a bad pilot because I want to know where I am on a moving map?!

    Now, I agree that new electronics in the cockpit can be distracting, so do what I do, and simply get a “sign off” from a friend or fellow pilot… Take them up, let them fly while you learn how to operate everything, then try to do it all (fly while clicking and turning knobs). If they feel like you got it under control, they “sign you off”


  5. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    This discussion calls to mind what is happening in new automobiles: the makers are spending more time and creativity on “connectedness” and “infotainment” than on more important functions. Large, colorful screens full of data, movies, radio/mp3/cd tuning information, basically everything you get on a smartphone– how can all this not be a serious distraction to drivers? Many of these auto systems have more capability than the great majority of drivers can or want to use. Even the relatively simple e-system in my 2013 F-150 truck has a thick user manual, but all I use is the bluetooth feature linked to my cell phone (which the salesman’s assistant set up for me). Is the same true of the electronic systems in light aircraft? Do they have more capability than most pilots need? Is that immense capability a reason for the 200+ page user manuals?

  6. Frank Shaw
    Frank Shaw says:

    I think your implication that 172 drivers are student pilots flying in the pattern falls right in line with the faulty reasoning/false choice you accuse those of who don’t embrace technology as salvation. Pretty likely there are plenty of pilots struggling along with steam gages and still capable of flying cross country regularly. I certainly can’t agree with this statement you made: “Even if more technology does dull the skills of pilots to some extent, it still may be a tradeoff worth making.” That mentality is dangerous to the pilot who believes it and to me when I fly in the same airspace.

    I find your article to be pandering to your advertisers. I truly believe hand flying skills and the ability to navigate by pilotage are far more important flying skills than button pushing and flying the magenta line to 5000+’ paved runways. We may have to disagree on that. I do have an iPad Air and a BadElf Pro (that I had to upgrade to a Pro+). Anyone have any difficulty with that setup recently? I like to use them infrequently. I stay proficient in their use but they definitely do not make me a sharper pilot. If anything, the opposite is true. Call me a Luddite if you like.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      Frank, I’m not implying that about 172 drivers – that’s from the NTSB report. As I said, I think it’s not a great study. I know that the vast majority of airplanes out there are steam gauge (heck, I don’t fly any glass cockpit airplanes regularly), and they’re perfectly safe. I also love to fly a taildragger low and slow with the door open.

      But that’s my point – it’s not a contest. You can appreciate grass roots flying and still take advantage of the latest technology. You can relentlessly work on making the perfect three point landing on a grass runway, yet still use that GPS and autopilot from time to time. I don’t see why the two are opposed. It’s like saying indoor plumbing in your house makes camping less fun. Hardly.

      FYI, we have no major avionics companies as advertisers – you don’t have to worry about us trying to please them.

  7. Frank Shaw
    Frank Shaw says:

    As I said, I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this. I honestly believe that any time we rely on technology or automation to fly our airplanes we allow our skills to erode. The more we rely on automation the less we fly, and the less we fly the less proficient we become.

    • Duane
      Duane says:


      You say that using any automation causes a loss of pilot proficiency … proficiency in what, exactly? You see, you seem to be looking at it strictly from the perspective of an all-hands flyer.

      Well, recreational flying is usually all hands flying. Practicing maneuvering flight, such as stalls, steep turns, aerobatics, touch and goes, etc. – that’s strictly all hands flying.

      But for cross-country flying, maneuvering flight is a relatively small proportion of the total mission flown. There’s a whole lot more to successfully completing a cross-country mission than maneuvering flight proficiency.

      Cross-country flights, and especially single pilot IFR operations, are not strictly all hands flying. You need to know where the airplane is, and where it’s going at all times – that’s called “navigation” and “situational awareness”, which have next to nothing to do with hand flying. On IFR flights, the ability to conduct holds, approaches, departures, and other IFR operations involves skills that go well beyond pushing and pulling on a stick and rudder pedals.

      Using a GPS gives the pilot a far better picture of where one is, and where one is going, with far less mental concentration needed than when using pilotage (which of course is not even available in IMC) or VORs or ADF. The less mental concentration needed to maintain situational awareness, the less distraction imposed upon the act of flying the aircraft. The autopilot also provides a relief from the pilot’s mental workload to enable the pilot to concentrate more effectively on the approach to landing; sometimes the autopilot simply gives the pilot a “time out” when situational awareness is lacking, or when the pilot simply feels overwhelmed. If nothing else, the A/P will keep the airplane sunny side up while the pilot gather’s his/her wits in a trying situation.

      Having and maintaining proficiency in using the GPS navigator, glass panel, autopilot, and other such cockpit automation is absolutely just as important to safe flight on cross-county missions, especially when single pilot IFR, as having proficiency in hand flying. In recognition of this fact, the FAA requires that the pilot demonstrate proficiency in using all of this gear, if installed, on the IFR check ride.

      You may be quite happy to stick to hand flying in relatively simple non-advanced technology aircraft. But it is far too dismissive and narrow minded when you attack the use of advanced technology as being nothing but a distraction and serving only to lower the pilot’s proficiency.

      At the end of the day, and at the end of the flight, what matters is that you as the pilot are proficient in operating the aircraft that you fly, on the types of missions that you fly. It’s ALL good flying.

      • Thomas Autrey
        Thomas Autrey says:

        This old school steam guage vs glass technology debate is really getting old. I should have clicked off the screen as soon as I saw the title. Ive been flying for 40 years and I welcome advances in technology. Back in the 70’s I flew an old steam guage Aztec with (no radar and no AP) for the Pony Express. We flew through bad weather day and night. Back then, we used to talk about how great it would be if someone could invent a display that showed our position on a moving map – situational awareness at a glance instead of having to use adf and dual vor radials. I welcome my G1000 panel into my life and I paid my dues to get here. I simply dont give a %^%*&^ who agrees or disagrees with my view. I’m too busy having fun flying and living the dream that we envisioned years before it happend.

  8. Robert Collins
    Robert Collins says:

    I think I might have came up with the best possibilities for both world. I have a 1975 Skyhawk one of the few $155000.00 Skyhawks in the world. it has everything from a perfect auto pilot, waas GPS traffic, GPS steering, all the technology I can put into it plus a Garmin 496 and my ForeFlight equipped iPad. And if I can find more technology for it I will slap it in there as soon as I can. I also have an iPhone for communication.
    Now for the second airplane. It is a 7AC 1946 champ. It’s the only $65,000 champ I know of in the world. Three years ago it was taken down to the frame powder coated and everything on it was put in new. All original except for the Scott tail wheel . When I fly at all and I hand prop it. When I go flying with the 7AC it’s never IFR but the technology is my iPad was for fly as well as it has its own Garman 496 in it.
    I take full advantage of all the new technology not only in aviation but in other areas of my life. For
    example I am submitting this on an iPad that I am talking to.

  9. Art Pauly
    Art Pauly says:

    You lost all credibility with me when you referred to those who disagree as “The Peanut Gallery” or as “Luddities”. I learned to fly 45 years ago in an Aeronca Chief. I learned stick and rudder, spins, dead reckoning. I have no problem with glass cockpits but learn the basics first. When you master the basics, move to the modern.

    • John Zimmerman
      John Zimmerman says:

      I’m all for mastering the basics (I learned the same way). But some people seem to reject the second part of your statement – “move to the modern.”

  10. Doyle Frost
    Doyle Frost says:

    John, thank you for a well reasoned and explained article. Reminds me of before I was flying, when I was a young airman working on vacuum tube technology autopilots, before transistors. Bomber pilots didn’t like to fly those long overseas missions without their autopilot, so they would write up some other gripe to ground the plane if it was out of commission for any reason. USAF policy was the autopilot was NOT a “red X” grounding malfunction, whereas the compass was if it was off by as much as two degrees. Now, that is a grounding malfunction if the autopilot is out of service, due to the advancements in technology, and the overall complexity of flying these big jets.
    I learned to fly in a lot less complex plane, combination of C-150/C-152’s. Luckily, my instructors wanted me to learn to really fly, so they also had me fly different panels in a C-140, and C-172. All in all, I was lucky. I learned the importance of flying the plane, and using modern advances to my benefit, to further my enjoyment, if available.

  11. Cary Alburn
    Cary Alburn says:

    I own an ancient but well-equipped 63 P172D suitable for light IFR. So I have no squawk with technology. As it happens, I don’t have an autopilot, and I see no need for one in my airplane. Yeah, it would be nice for longer cross countries, especially in IFR, but the cost/benefit for my situation, my kind of flying, my airplane, just isn’t there. My experience with autopilots dates back some 30 years ago, so the lack of reliability I encountered back then may be absent from today’s autopilots.

    My gripe is not with the technology, but with the misuse of it by some pilots. “Fly the airplane” should be the pilot’s first and most important duty, not “program the autopilot”. As humans, we tend to be poor monitors of a machine’s performance, so the pilot who relies on the autopilot to do everything from 400′ AGL on take off down to minimums on the approach may be pretty good at programming, but without frequent practice at actually flying the airplane, his ability to recognize a problem and take over immediately and adequately when the inevitable glitch occurs will be compromised.

    Similarly, the pilot who uses his G-Whiz navigation suite exclusively is very likely to be unable to navigate adequately without it, unless he practices such arcane skills as VOR navigation, pilotage, and ded reckoning–or even ADF navigation (which coincidentally, I was still pretty good at using, the last time I flew an NDB approach to near minimums in May 2006).

    So while I can agree with your article’s basic premise that technology doesn’t necessarily adversely impact pilot skills, I do think there are those who have and will rely excessively on that technology, to the detriment of their flying skills. That makes them potentially dangerous pilots.

  12. Jim Macklin
    Jim Macklin says:

    The modern cockpit presents a wealth of information that often wasn’t available to any pilot forty years ago. That means aviation and pilots can be much safer.
    The trap is when a pilot or crew has not been trained to visualize that video map in their brain, to keep a “howgozit” map going as a backup.
    Prior avionics still required the pilot to think and interpret. ADF and even VOR require active thought, but a Garmin G1000 is so “perfect” that a pilot trained from zero flight time in a Cessna 172 on Beech Bonanza with the G1000 may never learn the mental gymnastics an older generation learned because there was nothing else.
    The modern avionics are wonderful. Less expensive in real terms than the analog left/right needle.
    Now every entry level trainer has a super accurate slaved compass, RMI/ Flight Director and FMS.
    It has been proven that automated cockpits in the airlines had a pattern of accidents and crew failures.
    Now GA can have the same learning curve.

  13. Adrian Ryan
    Adrian Ryan says:

    I’d like to add a few comments. First, I’m a retired electronics engineer and throughout my career I’ve had to constantly learn new technologies in order to stay current, so I don’t hanker after old technology, as you say, with ever improving technology, some skills naturally atrophy. Actually, as a radio amateur I DO still have a telegraph key – and still occasionally use Morse!

    However, the aircraft I fly at my local flight centre is a Diamond DA-40 with a G-1000, and I have to say, I’m glad I’ve got backup instruments! I have never yet had it boot up without some sort of error message. I have had the com panel freeze on me several times so that I cannot change frequency nor select COM2, I’ve had the AHRS suddenly go off-line, or a sudden warning that the system is using the backup GPS, etc. Then we come to the user manual. The trouble with Garmin manuals is that they assume that you already know how to use the thing, and that this is merely a refresher. I also do not like strip gauges. Way back when I was a student we did several tests and studies and we showed that white figures and pointers on a black background were by far the easiest to read and interpret – note that last word – interpret. When I was learning to fly, I found that I actually memorised the position of, say the airspeed pointer for the correct ‘picture’ on approach. I could quickly glance at it and know what was going on without actually ‘reading’ the instrument, and then interpreting the result. Not so with the strip gauges, I now have to actually read the instrument, and then relate the figures to what I want, an extra step I’d rather not have to accomplish. In my case I would much prefer an alternative display of circular gauges. I have found that there is a distinct tendency to spend more time looking at the screens than looking outside, and this has to be strongly resisted. So, no, I do not hanker after the simple steam gauges, but I would like a more reliable, and simpler glass cockpit for the VFR flying I do.

  14. Johnny Sadiq
    Johnny Sadiq says:

    I really don’t belong here so I apologise for the intrusion. As an airline pilot for 37 years who started on biplanes and moved on through the DC-3s, F27s and Super Constellations right up to the B747s (nearly 20,000 hours–7500 in command of 747s) I would like to make a few comments on automation vs hand flying skills.
    From the 1980s when I was an instructor and line check (as well as a regular line flyer) on DC-10s, I predicted that with the new automation pilots would eventually lose their hand flying skills and in retirement I feel that I have been proved right.Both Boeing and Airbus are now introducing more manual flying into their training programs. When we received our F 27s to replace the DC-3s we removed the autopilots that they came with to give our pilots a grounding in manual flying in their first five (average) years before they came as co-pilots on the B 707/720s where hand flying would be considerably reduced. We often flew the 707s manually on approaches to keep our skills up. I did the same on the DC-10 and B 747 and encouraged my trainees to do it too. What has happened in airline flying is that the pilots almost never hand fly and many actually fear doing so. I was also a Chief of Airline Safety and John is right: the pilots in these recent disasters no longer knew how to fly without the autopilot. One of our pilots once flew from half way across the Atlantic from Kennedy NY to Frankfurt manually on a 747 when his pitot/static system went u/s as did his ASI indications. He used manual flying, power settings and aeroplane attitude to bring the plane to a safe landing at Frankfurt. I have great empathy with General Aviation pilots who could be described as “real pilots” so let me be excused for handing out a little advice. The biggest asset that a pilot has, be he or she of the airline, military or general variety, is good old common sense. Automation is a boon to us but we ought to be capable of manual flying to be able to do pretty much anything that the automatics can do if need be.Let the auto take the grind out of long flights but have that confidence to take over if they let you down (and they have done at times on almost all the planes I flew.I once flew a DC-10 manually almost all the way from Cairo to Dubai when the autopilots failed.) Enjoy your flying and stay safe—Johnny

  15. Wayne W. Wibby
    Wayne W. Wibby says:

    Wonderful article, John….thanks. I flew a SuperCub for 21 years with all the usual instruments. I sold it last summer and picked up my new Carbon Cub fr om Cub Crafters last September with the Garmin G3X. I am soooo glad I decided to go the extra $$$ and move up to what is available today. I feel that I am a better and safer pilot because of these advances.
    Regards, WWW

  16. Ed McDonald
    Ed McDonald says:

    I started flying in in 1970 in a 1953 Cessna 180 on floats. My friend owned the plane and trained me to fly as we flew to Canada wilderness from Minnesota and if something happened to him we had to get out. Learning to fly floats first isn’t as complex as it seams. We usually had a runway (lake) a mile in diameter, we landed into the wind, When the floats touched, you pulled the yoke back into your belly and it settled in now, no keeping on a narrow runway. He had the six pack with two VORs and an ADf and the VOR was out of range at the border. I remember the trips vividly, they were about 4 hours long. Most of the time we were scud running from lake to lake. We would set down and wait for the rain to pass and go again hoping to get home in one day. It was a lot of fun but we were always wishing for better avionics to help us. If we had have the avionics available today it would have been wonderful.

    I now fly a Cirrus with the Garmin 1000 Perspective. It is fantastic. It is a total different concept of flying. Learning and efficiently using the 1000 and autopilot takes a lot of time and continuous training. It isn’t impossible, I was in my 70s when I learned it and am 79 now and use it all the time. Flying an autopilot approach is just as complex as hand flying. The difference is practice in setting it up properly so it does what it is supposed to do. It is dumb. You have to tell it what to do but when you become proficient it is the most fantastic thing you can imagine. It is fantastic when you break out of the clouds and the runway is right there where it is supposed to be.

    I remember our cross country trips to Canada. After four hours of hand flying we were both tired. I now fly from Southern Florida to Cleveland and on to Minnesota and do it without worry. I can program the autopilot for a precise route. I have NEXRAD weather for continuous observation of what is ahead. I have complete information on airports I want to use on the route and at my destination.

    I disagree with the argument against advanced avionics. I probably don’t get much straight and level hand flying anymore, but the only thing that does is to get you tired. I still have to take off and land on every flight. Isn’t that where all the skill is needed in flying.

    I just completed a trip to Minnesota. It is usually about 7 hours total. We break it up with a stop in Nashville. We left Nashville and were IMC for over 4 hours. I was able to see the weather on NEXRAD and circumnavigated it keeping away from it as we flew. It took an extra hour to get there but everything worked the way it should and I did it without concern. Could you imagine hand flying IMC 4 hours, not knowing what weather was ahead using a 6-pack. It would be stupid and impossible.

    Don’t be afraid of the advanced avionics. Try them, you will love them. Ed

  17. John Rollf
    John Rollf says:

    I think my biggest complaint about glass cockpits in small aircraft (like Cessna 172s) is the annual cost. Just keeping the thing up to date for legal IFR can cost thousands a year, for the person flying on a budget it is just too expensive. Have you seen the subscription costs from Garmin to keep a G1000 up to date?! And for those of us who rent, it can add substantially to the hourly rate. An IFR certified steam guage 172 cost a lot less to keep it IFR certified.

  18. Greg Klasson
    Greg Klasson says:


    Great post. I give you credit for trying to educate and inform on this topic. I fear that you have taken on a most difficult task.

    I have been vocal in the past regarding my views on glass and chutes. To each his own.

    on advice… ‘ wise men don’t need it and fools won’t heed it’ Ben Franklin

    JOHN SWALLOW says:

    Good point, John. I started my flying career in the last century on the Harvard (Mark II and Mark IV) configured with round gauges and the ability to fly the radio range. I did not see or use an autopilot for twenty five years. It would be another six years before I saw and used the first EFIS.

    Today, I fly an aircraft equipped with round gauges and Dynon Skyview. (And, if necessary, an iPad with Foreflight installed)

    The capabilities of the aforementioned ‘boxes’ and the information available at the push of a button are exponentially so far above what was available in the middle of the last century as to be nearly miraculous. The improvement in situational awareness ranks high among the benefits of the new technology.

    Beatrice Kaufman is credited with quipping: “I’ve been rich; I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”

    I can offer: “I’ve flown analog; I’ve flown digital. Digital is better.”

  20. James Van Doren
    James Van Doren says:

    Your article is clearly written and all the points made are very good. But you did sort of slip past the fact that glassing-up an old legacy A/C is (still) more than half the market value of the old A/C. That is my 1000 hr problem.

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