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Glass Cockpit or traditional gauges for primary training?

Posted by on April 14, 2009 14 Comments Category : Flight Instructor Blog Tags :

Here is a great question that I received recently from Brian wondering if he should choose an aircraft equipped with a G1000 or an aircraft with traditional instruments for his primary training.  His question:

I’m trying to decide between doing flight training in an airplane with a G1000 cockpit versus an airplane with the traditional mechanical gauges. The cost is similar so I’ve taken that out of the equation. Do you think it’s wise to go with the more traditional gauges or the glass cockpit? I do plan to do instrument training after I get my private certificate and/or get the additional glass cockpit training. So, I feel that using the glass cockpit might be a cost cutting measure.

Before I get started with my answer, let me make something very clear, I love using the G1000.  I think it is a fantastic tool in the hands of a properly TRAINED pilot.  The problem with the G1000 isn’t the product however, it is with the training required to properly use it.

g1000If you have ever used, or even seen a G1000, you’ll agree that the G1000 is a VERY  capable system.  There isn’t a lot it can’t do.  There is so much information available to the pilot in terms of weather, charts, maps, etc. In fact there are volumes of books, manuals, DVDs and online and offline classes dedicated to becoming familiar with the different functions and features of these glass cockpits.  (One of our “resident” flight instructors, Max Trescott, has written such a book, The G1000 Glass Cockpit Handbook.)

And that is the problem.

Primary flight training should be focused on learning well, the primary pilot skills necessary for the basic pilot certificate (Private, Recreational, etc.)  The problem with using the G1000 during primary flight training is that all those features of the G1000 actually become a hindrance to training because the training now becomes focused on learning the tool and not obtaining the objective of the actual flight lesson.

steam-gaugesMy advice?  If you can choose, choose the aircraft with the basic flight instruments for your primary flight training.   Take the time to learn good stick & rudder skills and pilotage (that means without GPS).  Once you understand and know the basics, then you can advance to an aircraft with a more capable avionics package for your instrument rating.  Sure, you may spend a couple more hours and a few more dollars getting up to speed with the G1000, but you just can’t put a price tag on learning the basics of flying (just ask Capt. Sullenberger).


  1. Dave on Apr 14, 2009

    “because the training now becomes focused on learning the tool”. I think I would like more explanation here. Pitot-static and precession vs AHRS? Doing stalls with a tape vs a gauge? Isn’t the 6-pack a tool set? It doesn’t hurt to know how to fly an ADF approach, but don’t think this is a tool that needs to be taught. I would much rather know how to properly use a GPS.

  2. Jason Miller on Apr 14, 2009

    I would second that. To me it makes sense to focus on the flying (and “looking at the window”) as much as possible in the early phases of learning to fly. The distractions and shortcuts provided by a glass panel would do you a disservice in building a good base of pilot skills.

    I recommend to friends that they also get their IFR ticket in a “6-pack” airplane too (with an autopilot). My argument is simply that it will be easier to transition to glass later than to try to go the other way (and you want to feel comfortable in a 6-pack airplane if the need ever arose).

  3. Paul on Apr 14, 2009


    The problem that I, and many other instructors, find is that primary students spend more time learning how to use and read the display of the G1000 (or other glass cockpit) instead of learning the actual maneuver or procedure. In primary training, the emphasis should be on positive aircraft control using outside visual references. The G1000 tends to draw eyeballs inside the cockpit instead of outside.

    I think knowing how to properly use a GPS is very important (especially in today’s airspace) BUT that has to be learned AFTER pilotage & dead reckoning which I believe is best taught in an aircraft equipped with traditional flight instruments (IMHO).


  4. Eric on Apr 14, 2009


    Dave, the problem lies with the complexity of the G1000 (and to a lesser extent the Avidyne displays). While a private student can just start flying the glass and do fine, once they need to start learning the systems, it’s going to take them a lot longer to really wrap their heads around how to do what – and what NOT to bother with. What Paul is referring to is that students focus on the system, rather than the flying.

    With steam gauges, there are few controls, and the use of a given system becomes much simpler to grasp. The importance in both cockpits is to fly the aircraft and divide your attention, and a glass cockpit tends to suck pilots into the displays.

  5. Vincent, from PlasticPilot.net on Apr 15, 2009

    While I basically agree on the fact that the G1000 can be a distraction, I think the answer is not that simple. IF the pilot is also the plane owner, and will fly most of his time with the G1000 it certainly makes sense to build his basic flying skills with the G1000. This will give more time to learn it and the happy owner will not have to rent another aircraft, nor have a minimalistic transition before flying the G1000 alone.

    I learned to fly with the G1000 after my IFR and it took me significant time to learn the system even with good experience with the GNS430. This time shall not be neglected and lot of it has to be spent reading the books and working with the simulator.

    Here again the key seems to be a good student / instructor / training program match…

  6. Paul on Apr 16, 2009

    Hi Vincent,

    You said: “I learned to fly with the G1000 after my IFR and it took me significant time to learn the system even with good experience with the GNS430”

    That was my point. The time you spent learning the G1000 is energy, focus and overall brain power that the PRIMARY ) student should be spending on learning to FLY visually (outside the aircraft) and with minimal “distraction”. I feel that primary training is not the IDEAL time to spend learning those cool tips and tricks of the G1000. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.

    Thanks for joining and adding value to this conversation!

  7. Ron Amundson on Apr 16, 2009

    The focus in primary training needs to be outside. The visual references and traffic avoidance strategies are so very critical. By the same token, if all one is ever going to do is fly with glass, the law of primacy would dictate at least some level of glass integration early on. That balance point is a tricky deal…

    I had to deal with ATC on day 1, and I really think it added a lot over the years. I trained many a student on uncontrolled fields, and radio paranoia was often an issue when integrated later on.

    Yet, for us old guys, we also have to remember time passes. The fun of flying with vacuum tube radios, and manually tuned ADF’s has long passed (barring in mind some old school aircraft), just as the four course range did before I started training. My CFI and I discussed the four course range, as it had significant utility in understanding contemporary radio navigation for my cmcl, but other than the fatigue inducing aspects, never really went into the fine points of actual using it for navigation. He was glad those days were over LOL

  8. Vincent, from PlasticPilot.net on Apr 17, 2009

    Ron, I also learned to fly at a controlled airport and was feeling uneasy at non-controlled ones in the begining. I did tend to act as a controller there, asking others for their positions, and so on.

    While I agree that primary flight training focuses on visual flying and so on, learning some systematics of the G1000 can be good anyway (check airspeed on final, maintain altitude, tune a COM / NAV frequency, …).

    All the subtilities of PFD / MFD programming, use of the HSI, flight planning, procedures and all the rest can come later. Is this not the good way ? Do what you usually do with the basic six but on the G1000 and forget about advanced functions during primary training ?

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  10. Vincent, from PlasticPilot.net on Apr 19, 2009

    And why not do what you usually do with classical instruments but using the G1000 ? No student needs a flight plan, or an MFD for flying circuits, but it is possible to learn such things using glass instruments instead of gauges.

    Learn basic tasks using the G1000 (check speed on final, maintain attitude, use COM frequencies when required) and introduce the rest later on.

    The basic trainer I used had a VOR, but I did not used it for the first 35 hours. Do the same with the G1000, even use it in backup-mode (PFD on the two screens).

    Things like flight plan, use of ADF, DME, HSI, and all the MFD functions can come in the game later on…

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  13. Dave on Mar 18, 2010

    I am learning on a G1000. My instructor taught me all the basics in the primary lessons. I went through until nav lesson 2 (which is about the 20th lesson) without even using the gps screen. I am now a more precise and better pilot compared to the ones around me learning on the conventional intruments.

    cheers dave

  14. Gray on Aug 01, 2010

    I consider steam gauges to be an anachronistic bit of nostalgia, sort of like a buggy whip. A gauge of any kind is a tool utilizing (hopefully) the current state of technology. An aircraft without glass speaks loudly to me, sort of like a 1970’s sedan with crank windows and no A/C. Nice to reminisce about but no thanks, I enjoy my leather, cruise, climate control and Nav system.

    Learn to fly by using the basic 6 pack gauge presentation that the glass system provides. Once a safe level of airmanship is achieved, add/learn additional features.

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