Can a Blue Button Make a Sport Airplane More Fun?

Can a Blue Button Make a Sport Airplane More Fun?


For pilots who’ve experienced the joy of flying a classic aircraft, the reality of traditional autopilot systems can be quite a buzzkill. But all that might change with the latest autopilots from Garmin.

Garmin is giving aviation thrill-seekers the chance to transform their weekend toys into true travelers. They’re making it easy to hold headings and altitudes and freeing up attention to review charts or grab a snack without having the airplane wandered far afield.

The blue “level” button is great if you need to check on a chart or consult your iPad. And in the IAS mode, the autopilot holds the proper indicated airspeed throughout a climb, which means the cylinders stay cool, and there’s more time to look outside for traffic. And when flying by hand, the flight director makes flying much more precise.

Boosted by their simplicity, reliability and light weight, autopilot systems from manufacturers like Garmin have been recognized as proven safety enhancements. So much so that the FAA says it’s willing—even eager—to bring such technology to general aviation without forcing manufacturers to go through the regulatory thicket of costly and obsolete regulations.

In fact, Garmin and rival Dynon have experienced overwhelming demand for their non-TSO attitude indicators after they obtained supplemental type certificates to install them in FAA-certificated aircraft. And the demand will only grow as the FAA approves additional capabilities (like horizontal situation indicators and integrated autopilots) that make them even more useful in a growing list of aircraft types.

Although many pilots and aircraft owners have it in their heads that autopilot systems are expensive, technology has completely changed the game. Digital HSIs and modern autopilots cost a fraction of what their mechanical predecessors did, and they’re more reliable, lighter, and draw less current, too. They also fly great and unlike us, they have a virtually unlimited attention span.

No matter how sharp you may be as a pilot it’s pretty tough to compete with a system that makes corrections five times a second. Even if you eat your Wheaties, it’s just a matter of time before you get tired, distracted, or fidgety. Products like these make flying both safer and more fun—and they’re a compelling value. So, what are you waiting for? Maybe it’s time to try the blue button.