The mission was to find out whether the “Straight & Level” button in Avidyne’s new DFC90 autopilot could really recover from unusual attitudes. Steve Jacobson, an Avidyne engineering executive and former U.S. Air Force test pilot, was so confident in the new technology that he gave me the keys to the Experimental-category Cirrus SR22TN-G3 the company uses for a test bed and urged me to put it in any attitude I wanted, push the S&L button, and see what happened. (Most autopilots are only tested to 30 degrees of pitch and 60 degrees of roll.)
The next 90 minutes of flying were a long series of rolling, looping, and spiraling maneuvers that stood in stark contrast to the my previous Cirrus hours in which I had stayed as close to the middle of the flight envelope as possible. The aerobatic flight also was challenging because it required letting go of the flight controls during aggressive maneuvering. The sights, sounds, and sensations of the aerobatic maneuvers themselves were thoroughly familiar, but the act of handing over control to a inanimate autopilot while the airplane was upside-down went against all of my instincts and training. In all cases, however, the Cirrus and the S&L button performed brilliantly and my confidence in them grew throughout this eye-opening flight.
Avidyne has said the combination of its attitude-based DFC90 autopilot and the air-data computer that powers its Entegra primary flight display will serve as the technology foundation for many future innovations. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next . . .
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