Flying the Garmin 950 Commander

A year and a half ago I was among the attendees at the 2013 Twin Commander University who received our first view of the work that Eagle Creek Aviation Services was doing in developing a Garmin 1000 system in  their Commander 1000. Actually, it is officially called the Garmin 950 because of the use of the excellent S-TEC 2100 autopilot instead of the Garmin GFC 700.

With 32 inches of wall-to-wall flat screens across the entire cockpit, “Wow!” was the most frequent comment heard at the University showing. Every gauge, annunciator, flight instrument, and radio tuning display is neatly and appropriately displayed electronically. The glass cockpit can be individually configured to consist of large moving maps and small engine gauges, or it can be switched during engine starts or certain flight conditions to a small map and large engine gauges.

The annunciator panel is replaced by the autopilot in a very well-planned location in the dash where most aircraft designers place the autopilot controls these days. All Crew Altering System (CAS) warnings now get your attention with a “ding” and a displayed CAS warning on the dual Primary Flight Displays (PFDs), directly in the line of sight of the pilot and copilot. Another advantage of this new system is that if there is a failure, all the information can be transferred to another panel with the push of a button.

I had the opportunity a few months ago to fly the new Garmin 950 panel in the Commander 1000 that was used to develop the STC, and later spent 40 hours mentoring Neil Rosoff in his new Garmin G950-equipped Commander 900. Engine starts begin with the 12-inch Multifunction Display (MFD) screen on the engine page; even without my reading glasses I could clearly view all the engine information. Engaging the Start switch automatically changes the max temp limit on the Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) gauge to 770 degrees. When the engine start is complete the EGT gauge returns to 650 degrees, the max temp limit for cruise.

All other supporting engine gauges have color codes to remind you if the system is operating in the green, or in exceedance. If any item exceeds normal limits you can’t miss it –– a CAS message appears along with a change in the color of the affected engine indication on the MFD.  This is just one example of the benefits of software developed specifically for the Twin Commander version of the Garmin 950.

Garmin has come a long way from the 530 compared with programming the flight route on the 950 MFD. Airways with their associated intersections and VORs are easily integrated without having to input each waypoint. Data can be entered either by twisting a knob or using the keyboard to enter the information.

Taking the runway with Synthetic Vision enabled allows you to see the aircraft passing the runway markings including the runway centerline. This is a great tool for reduced visibility takeoffs and ensuring that you have selected the correct runway for departure.

The new Garmin system eliminates the need to scan six small, round  flight instruments –– they can all be viewed on one 10-inch screen. Shown on the screen are attitude and flight information, and to the left an airspeed tape with all the markings for Vmc, Vr, single-engine climb, best two-engine rate of climb, and other limiting airspeeds. When you begin a turn the entire displays indicates a bank. Once you fly with this system you will be spoiled and will never want to go back to steam gauges. Just unbelievable!!!

Instead of just one warning when approaching your selected altitude, the Garmin 950 provides an audible signal when approaching the target altitude, and another when leveling.

The cruise flight segment is the appropriate time to modify your flight-plan route by inserting crossing restrictions, or planning the VNAV path on the Standard Terminal Arrival Route (STAR). These updates are easily accomplished on the 950. Optional equipment is available that allows for retrieval of weather, NOTAMS, TFRs and AIRMETS via XM Satellite Radio or ADS-B.

When flying an instrument approach I have always found it helpful to stick a  slip of paper next to the altimeter with a notation of the MDA/DA. On the Garmin 950 that information can be bugged on the altimeter tape, which triggers an audio warning when approaching minimums.

Also, the 950‘s Airspeed Trend vector is a valuable tool during all phases of flight, but especially so during the approach to landing. It uses the airplane’s current velocity to advise you where the airspeed will be in the near future.

Again, during reduced visibility, having the Flight Path Indicator (FPI) and Synthetic Vision turned on will give you an indication of your probable touchdown spot on the runway. The FPI also is a great tool if you are called upon to do a few steep turns during your biennial Flight Review.

Transitioning to the Garmin 950 cockpit can be an exciting time. In my airline days we were introduced to what we called “the electric airplane.” It was a transition from steam gauges and VOR/DME navigation to EFIS and Flight Management Computers, and it required several extra training events to become proficient in the “switchology” of the new systems. This is just as true with the Garmin 950. A wealth of information is obtainable through the three EFIS screens, however, knowing how to access this information is best learned with the airplane comfortably parked in the hangar rather than during training flights. Proficiency in any aircraft system is always the safest way to fly!

While the Garmin 1000 system is available on many current production aircraft, it is newsworthy that its appearance as a certified retrofit in the Twin Commander means this storied airplane –– which has always been highly competitive in terms of speed, performance, and operational effectiveness –– takes its place at the forefront of current cockpit technology.

Hugh Davis is a retired airline captain who worked for several years as an instructor in FlightSafety International’s Twin Commander Training Program. He has accumulated 13 years as a recognized Twin Commander mentor trainer.