The Garmin GFC 700 Autopilot is an amazing machine. Fully digital and fully integrated with the Garmin G1000 glass panel, it makes a pilot’s workload a lot easier, especially in busy airspace.
I train a lot of pilots in airplanes that have the Garmin GFC 700 autopilot. The Cirrus SR22, the Columbia 350 & 400, the G36 Bonanza, and the Piper Mirage and M350 to name a few. The most common problem I see for pilots transitioning into the Garmin GFC 700 equipped aircraft is that it doesn’t act like other autopilots.
STECs and DFC 90 Autopilots function like this: you push the button for the mode you want on the autopilot controller and that turns the autopilot on.
Not so on the Garmin GFC 700. If you push the button for the mode on the GFC 700, then the flight director engages, but not the autopilot. This confuses folks a lot who move up from different autopilots because their autopilot primacy side of their brain is telling them the autopilot is on whenever they push one of the buttons on the GFC 700 controller.
Here’s an example: A pilot has just departed and is ready to turn on course. In his old airplane with an STEC 55x autopilot, the pilot pushes the direct to key to go to his first waypoint, then pushes NAV on the autopilot controller and the STEC 55x comes on and starts flying on course. Then he presses VS and ALT to initiate a climb.
With the same scenario and a Garmin GFC 700 autopilot, the same pilot (who is used to a 55x), pushes the direct to key, then pushes NAV on the autopilot controller and pushes IAS or FLC to initiate the climb. He lets go of the flight controls thinking the autopilot is engaged. The airplane starts nosing over and he starts panicking.
Why did this happen? The pilot in the second scenario never pushed the AP button on the Garmin GFC 700 so the autopilot never engaged. All he did by pressing the NAV button and IAS button was to turn the flight director on.
How to remedy this? Get in the habit of checking your scoreboard. On the top of the G1000 or Garmin Perspective PFD, there is an autopilot annunciation strip (or scoreboard as I like to call it). In the very middle of the scoreboard is an area to show if the autopilot or flight director is engaged. AP means the autopilot is on; FD means the flight director is engaged but the autopilot is not.
I teach pilots to be in the habit of checking your scoreboard each time you get done pressing buttons on the autopilot controller to ensure the Garmin GFC 700 is in the proper mode. This saves some of those panic moments when it is supposed the AP is engaged, but it’s only the FD.