A Low-Time Pilot Flies Honeywell's Anthem Simulator

Credit: Honeywell Aerospace

At the time of this writing, I have obtained slightly more than 125 hr. of total time as a pilot. Every one of those hours was in the same Cessna 172, which does not have a glass cockpit. The avionics suite consists of a Bendix/King KLN 94 GPS and a KAP 140 autopilot. Despite this experience level, Honeywell confidently said I had the competency to fly its new Anthem flight deck.

I jumped on the chance to test this theory. (Check out the video at the end of the story.) 

Honeywell Anthem is a cloud-connected cockpit system designed to be intuitive for the pilot. Its integration capabilities stretch from the newest business jets to general aviation aircraft. In theory, pilots of the not-so-distant future can learn how to fly on a small, piston aircraft, work their way up the ladder of type ratings to the latest and greatest business jets, and never have to learn another flight deck other than Honeywell Anthem.

The flight deck is also designed to be integrated with future advanced air and urban air mobility vehicles. Currently, Honeywell has a test version of Anthem installed on a Pilatus PC-12 turboprop and expects the first official installation on an aircraft to be completed in 2023. 

The long list of Anthem’s technological features is impressive, but is it as intuitive to use as Honeywell says? That was the question I was seeking to answer. The logic is if I can use it as a low-time, private pilot, then certainly any other pilot can too.

The Basics
It was my hope that upon immediately starting the Anthem simulator at Honeywell's Deer Valley avionics lab in Phoenix, I would be able to complete the most elementary tasks without assistance—including loading radio frequencies, choosing GPS waypoints for my mock flight plan or engaging the autopilot. I fumbled with the touch screen a bit in the beginning and did not have the immediate gratification I expected.

This is nothing to be critical of, either toward myself or Anthem’s design. Honeywell has described the intuitive nature of Anthem as comparable to that of a smartphone, and just as when one upgrades his or her smartphone after some years of usage on an older model, inevitably there are marginal adjustments that are usually sorted out quickly.

After a few pointers from my instructor, the beginner's hiccups were fixed rather quickly. I managed to make the same mistakes more than once, but I couldn’t imagine that lasting for more than a couple more sessions of using the equipment.

Situational Awareness
Anthem's situational awareness is the aspect I found to be most impressive. For most of my time flying the simulator, I forgot that the large primary flight display (PFD) screen wasn’t the windshield of the simulator. Despite there being a very large screen above the cockpit dashboard representing the outside world, I was easily drawn to the PFD.

As a private pilot, I know the importance of not fixating on the instruments and looking outside the aircraft, but the PFD was so detailed that looking outside almost didn’t seem necessary. However, I hope that the lack of sounds and sights from being in a real airplane were part of the PFD allure--but I noted this.

The contours of the terrain, the graphic depiction of the airports during approach and taxi, and the ease of following the magenta line during instrument approach and missed approach procedures made it easy to know exactly where you were. 

Not to mention, if there were ever an extraordinary circumstance, such as a highly unusual attitude or not having enough runway remaining on landing, Anthem is quick to jump in to offer corrections.

The situational awareness that the cockpit offered seemed to negate any required skills an instrument-rated pilot would need to fall back on. If the weather outside offered no visibility, one could just look down at the large PFD monitor that offers a beautiful VFR day with accurate depictions of the world below.

The Secure Cockpit Browser 
One does not need to be a pilot to operate Anthem's secure cockpit browser. The browser interface looks like any tablet or laptop one would use to search the internet. If you fly with an iPad, feel free to leave it behind so it doesn’t take up space in your travel bag.

All the popular flying apps can be accessed directly from the browser. Even resources that weren’t as easily accessible in the cockpit, such as aviationweather.gov, can now be included in your setup. All in all, this was the easiest feature in Anthem to operate because it really is just surfing the internet.

All in all, I would agree with Honeywell’s claim that this new cockpit system is highly intuitive. There are endless possibilities of how a pilot may choose to allocate the abundance of real estate offered by each monitor, so finding what works for a particular pilot, aircraft or flight department may take some time to get used to.

Is it as easy as using a smartphone? No, but this is aviation, nothing can be as simple as we may sometimes want it to be—nor should it. That being said, I would argue that Anthem is as easy as it gets based on the latest technology.