Teaching an old dog new tricks

5y-esuI was honored to be the pilot chosen to fly our newest-to-the-fleet Cessna Grand Caravan which is equipped with the Garmin 600 “glass cockpit”. My mission was to fly the aircraft from Nairobi to Nelspruit Airport in South Africa so it could be painted with the new MAF colours and logo.  Although the aircraft was not “new”, it had been substantially upgraded with the latest in avionics (the instruments and radio/navigation equipment).  The interior was freshly re-upholstered and for all intents and purposes, it was “as new”.  In order to inform the donors and update everyone about the trip and the status of the aircraft, I was asked to provide some information about the new systems and how well the training was going.  I wrote a reply which, for the most part,  I have copied and pasted here.

Dear Kathryn: (MAF-International)

I was the pilot who flew the aircraft down to South Africa for painting.  Prior to the arrival of 5Y-ESU, I assisted MAF-K’s Training Captain with the development of the training program and spent many hours using a Garmin sourced, computer-based, training tool to familiarize myself with the new systems.  In addition to completing the both the ground-based and flight training program, my involvement with developing the training program required learning how to incorporate some of the training tools. This forced me to develop a deeper understanding of the systems that I might have done otherwise. I soon learned that this was to my advantage, being a pilot who had limited exposure to this type of equipment in the past.  Many of the latest generation of pilots will have some experience with this type of avionics or may have learned exclusively on this type of equipment and should find little or no difficulty in adapting to the new equipment.

As I was preparing to go to South Africa, Captain Daniel Lowen-Rudgers arranged for the  “live” exercises so we did the airborne portion of the training and completed instrument approaches at the Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi before heading off to South Africa.  It was when I had all of the components together in one place during my first instrument approach that I learned how overwhelming all of the information available to the pilot really is and that book or simulator practice alone is not sufficient.

The G600 avionics system features multiple displays, terrain awareness and traffic advisories. In addition to the G600 panel, the GNS 530/430 GPS/Comms are more advanced and practical navigation and communication units than the Caravans that we are presently flying.  The primary flight and navigation displays are large, bright and easy to interpret. Even the emergency back-up systems (L3 all-in-one display) is very easy to use and understand.  The traffic advisory system will be a huge improvement in safety, especially in South Sudan where the air traffic is managed without RADAR and many pilots lie about their positions and estimated time of arrival at airports so they can get in ahead of other aircraft.  (just imagine Nairobi, Juba or Kampala road traffic and then picture the same behavior in the sky!)

The biggest adjustment that  any pilot must make is knowing what display and features to use and when to place their focus on the area that is presenting the information that is needed in priority.  It requires ignoring some information at crucial moments during an instrument approach (or other busy activity) so that information is narrowed down to only that which  is vital for the activity.  Given the difficulty in describing to non-pilots the high level of information available at a glance I could express this in a metaphor:  It is like sitting in a library looking at all of the books knowing that whatever I would need to know is at hand.  Now, it is a matter of opening the correct book and getting the correct information.  Fortunately, all of the information is easy to understand because the library is filled with “Flying for Dummies”, “Avionics for Dummies”, “Weather for Dummies”, “Map Reading for Dummies” and any other “for Dummies” books that you can imagine. 

I guess an older pilot like myself; one brought up on what is so fondly referred to a ”steam gauge” technology, is thankful that these new systems are truly designed for “dummies” as I found the transition very easy thanks to a simple but comprehensive training program and related supporting programs.  Of course it certainly doesn’t hurt having highly skilled and knowledgeable training captains and the backing of a motivated and learned Aviation Department team.

 Now that I have gone back to flying the steam gauges again, I long for the day when YESU is in full service here in Kenya/South Sudan.  It is hard to go back to only having a few books available, even for dummies. I look forward to the day when every MAF aircraft is equipped with this “next generation” of avionics.  Safety, ease of use, reliability and cost-effectiveness will prove it to be the way forward.


Capt. Michael Dupuis

P.S.     As you may not know, YESU is the Swahili word for Jesus.  Many of the Bantu languages (common in much of eastern portions of Africa south of Ethiopia) share the same roots so the name was not lost to many of the air traffic controllers south of Kenya who happily called us FIVE-YESU rather than the standard Five-Yankee-Echo-Sierra-Uniform. Not only does the aircraft have great avionics, the registration call-sign is also a powerful witness of who MAF is and what we and most of all, who we do it for!

IMG_0370This photo shows the primary and navigation display.  Note the “synthetic vision on the primary display that gives a three dimensional view of the ground below next to the map (with relief features) next to it.  I think that the letter and photos say enough so I will end this post.  The aircraft will return from South Africa later this week and I hope to add some photos of the new paint scheme.

G600 flight planning

Garmin 530 GPS/Comm with flight plan over Mozambique

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