Learn how to fly in a glass cockpit or steam gauge aircraft?

From a reader:

My 16 yr old daughter is about to start pilot lessons in Princeton, NJ. My primary concern is safety. We have the choice of of having her learn in a circa 2000 Cessna 172 or a 2008 DA-40 with a G1000.

I have read this post, suggesting that traditional instrumentation is better for teaching.

My response:

The DA40 is noisier so you’ll have to buy her a high-end noise-cancelling headset.

Everything is G1000 or similar these days. So if she wants to really fly she might as well start with a glass cockpit. It might take her an extra 5 hours due to the complex user interface but if you count the number of hours to being a competent IFR pilot in a real aircraft that you’d actually want to take IFR (like the DA40/G1000), the hours will be the same.

The DA-40 is also a lot more fun to fly.

I wouldn’t say that there will be a significant safety difference. It is more about the instructor and whether or not the instructor stresses checklist discipline, for example. But I guess if they were to crash the DA-40 was certified to much more stringent standards.

If you can get her to sit down with a G1000 simulator for 20 hours total through her Private training, and also read the Garmin PDFs thoroughly, the G1000 shouldn’t add to her required flight time.

Regarding the article you referenced promoting the 1950s six-pack for a primary student…

Students will naturally over-focus on the instruments when they should be looking outside. It is the CFI’s job to keep reminding them to look outside, that he/she will read the student what is on the gauges, and to cover up the instruments when appropriate so that the student has no choice but to look outside to keep the attitude constant.

Looking inside at a G1000 is unhelpful to getting a Private, but so is looking inside at a six-pack. If your daughter becomes a G1000 master by using a simulator, reading the Garmin PDFs carefully, practicing in a plane that is hooked up to external power and/or some other kind of sim, she won’t be any more distracted by the G1000 than she would be by the traditional six-pack.

The real answer is that for about 95% of what she has to learn to get a Private there is no difference. She should be looking outside and should find an instructor who can keep her attention outside.

Readers: Thoughts on what, at least ten years ago, was a live debate?



  1. billg

    February 7, 2016 @ 2:47 pm


    Fatal accidents per 100,000 flight hours, data from 2008:

    General Aviation = 1.2
    PC12 = 0.22
    DA40 = 0.35
    Cessna 172 = 0.45
    Turbine Helicopters = 0.56
    Cessna 182 = 0.69
    Piper Archer = 1.06
    Mooney M20 = 1.14
    TBM 800 = 1.15
    Piston Helicopters = 1.34
    SR22 = 1.6
    Bonanza A36 = 1.81
    Piper Malibu = 2.04

  2. Isaac D.

    February 7, 2016 @ 11:50 pm


    I still think like an old man on this one: start them off with just the basics, so they know how the 6 pack works (even though they’re only using it as a very occasional reference, and accidental VFR to IMC training) , and the idiosyncrasies of bouncing airspeed and altitude needles on a windy day, and have to figure out what direction they need to control the aircraft to achieve the desired performance, instead of having a flight director give you the answer.

    Unless she’s going straight towards a career path or can expect to own a G1000 equipped plane, she’s going to encounter steam gauges as primary at some point down the road in rental craft, and I think it’s easier to transition from crappy steam gauges to glass, especially for members of the digital generation, than going from glass to steam.

  3. alanc

    February 8, 2016 @ 10:40 am


    Solo in a Citabria (or similiar) then move to the G1000. Better to learn to fly first, then move on to comms and scanning.

  4. Rellag

    February 10, 2016 @ 1:42 pm


    Were it my kid:

    Start with a glider. Master airspeed and VSI. Take note that airspeed can be determined entirely by reference to flow noise. Master rudders via reference to the yaw string. Take note of the altimeter (which, in a glider, is like ‘take note of breathing’)

    Transition to a 150/2. Master simple engine controls while adding gyro compass, artificial horizon, and the turn and bank indicator (which is 50% familiar due to yaw string).

    That’s takes care of the Primary Flight Instruments.

    Do a couple of flights based on DR and paper charts.

    At that point, if the kid still enjoys flying, point her towards the G1000 manual and any suitable glass cockpit.

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