Flight and engine instruments used to be the old school style type round gauges we all (well most of us) learned to fly with. These are familiar to everyone. The latest trend in general aviation is electronic displays in cockpits and aircraft are then usually called 'New Generation' by their manufacturers.
You will see add-on EFIS like the Dynon Avionics series to integrated systems with 8", 10" and even 15" color LCD screens (daylight visible!) from Garmin, where even the radio's (COM and NAV), transponders and engine instruments are fully integrated.
These can be coupled to an autopilot (integrated too) and programmed to fly the entire route and instrument approach. You still would have to do the landing yourself.
Installing a system like this saves weight and cleans up your panel. It also means that you could do without a vacuum system and remove the hoses, pump and hardware (more weight savings). All of this could mean a single point of failure in the cockpit and some aircraft manufacturers have started offering non-integrated panels to be more flexible.
But even with the sixpack you normally see in aircraft, would you go flying if your altimeter did not work?
An EFIS usually consists of a number of components. They are either installed as separate modules in the aircraft or, as in basic systems, all in one unit. This will have a cost and weight savings aspect. These components are (but not limited to):
As you may have expected, these systems can become really complex in terms of connecting all the wiring, antenna cables and such. It could well become too much for the first time builder and having a specialized shop assisting you will be your guarantee for success.
Note that with all these different types of systems available on the market today, you as the pilot will need some form of training to become familiar with the multitude of options available in the software, especially so when flying IFR in IMC conditions.
We will discuss the most common components as each and every manufacturer will have their own set of options in the systems and different methods of displaying data on the screens. Remember that most devices have the basic indications standardized in the same layout on their screens, but each and every FMS is a little different. This might become confusing if you change aircraft a lot.
A number of flight schools offer training on certain EFIS in aircraft, for example the Garmin G1000 in a Cessna 172. And they will only allow such aircraft be rented by pilots with a minimum number of flight hours with the EFIS. This could pave the way for a new type rating for pilots: G1000 rated...
With so much portable devices available to us these days its worhtwhile to spend some time with them to see if they are fit as a portable backup in your flightbag.
Recently (Sep 2011) Garmin has brought out their answer to all the tablets (Apple's iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tabs and others) with flight navigation software. It is the Garmin Area 795/796 with a touchscreen and fully equiped with 3D vision and navigation maps with safetaxi diagrams. Well worth a look!
The advantage of these popular tablets is that they have several sensors on board as: electronic gyroscope, acceleration, magnetic field, air pressure, GPS, temperature, proximity and more. Connectivity ranges from 3/4G, Wifi, USB, Infrared up to bluetooth. This makes them usable for aviation and private applications too.
Processing power is also impressive with dual or quad cores on 1,4 GHz and gigabytes of RAM memory and storage on SD cards. Screen brightness can be a problem in bright sun light and with sunglasses on. You will need to test which type AMOLED and or Retina is suitable.