Simionic is a high-quality simulator component manufacturer based in Tianjin, China. It’s owner, Li Chen is a 37 years old software programmer who has been an aviation enthusiast since childhood, playing with Microsoft flight simulator in his college days. Simionic started back in 2010 when Mr. Chen bought his first iPad and was looking for an app to train on the G1000. Since there weren’t any, he decided to go ahead and code his own. He says: “So I could take it anywhere with me”. He stuck with the project ever since. In the summer of 2015 he quit his job at a bank, went to Florida for pilot training, and got his PPL. This enabled him to learn much more about flying. A few months later he started ‘SIMiONIC’. As of now, he is the only employee, taking care of everything (programming, website, customer support, prototype design, coordinating with factories, etc.). Now he is, however, recruiting engineers. Quite an amazing story.
We wrote briefly about the company in this post. This innovative iPad-based solution pivots around two app-based training aids for learning the Garmin G1000, a popular light aircraft integrated flight instrument system. I learned many of the intricacies of this amazing system reading Max Trescott’s great book. As in the real version, the information is presented in two main displays, a Primary Flight Display (PFD) and a multi Function Display (MFD). Although models produced by Garmin vary in capabilities, the iPad Simionic replica includes the positioning system with worldwide navigation database and maps, the GFC700 autopilot, dual NAV/COM and transponder functions, and engine monitoring. At that time, a bridge was provided to display information coming from a simulator running FSX or Xplane, onto the iPad-based display/s. In January 2017 Simionic announced a bezel to go with its apps. The offering consisted of a well-built, back-lit and extremely realistic bezel which hosted an iPad and connected via Bluetooth to the iPad (Air, iPad Air 2 and 9.7 inches iPad Pro) and via wireless bridge to the simulator (any of the most popular three, FSX, P3D or X-Plane). For the manufacturing process, all plastic parts are made via plastic injection. Material for all the buttons and the front case of the bezel and the audio panel is transparent ABS. Bezels are painted in 2 layers, white for the first layer and black for the outside layer. After that, letters and symbols are laser engraved. Parts like knobs and rear case of the audio panel are normal ABS. The iPads + Bezels solution allows the processing and display to be done by the iPad/s, thus unburdening the load on both the simulator computer processor and graphics card. It is important to note that the solution uses its own autopilot commands, not those provided by the simulator it is connected to. A replica of the audio panel was added to the bezels and the entire package is offered as a three-piece “combo”. Although the combo is very realistic as a whole, several users reported buying only one bezel and mounting a bare iPad for the MFD on their panel. The PFD and MFD apps offer on-screen touch control of all their functionality (which is hidden when the bezel is used) and can run on a non-Air iPad, as long as it has more than 1 Gb Ram.
The Simionic PFD and MFD iPad apps
Likely first to be purchased, and Simionic encourages to do so, are the PFD and MFD apps at USD 9.99 each they are a natural first step for those who want to test the system or simply, as they were originally intended, train in the functioning of the G1000. The aircraft included in this apps are the Cessna 182T, 172S, 172R, 206H. An add-on for the Beechcraft Baron G58 can be purchased in-app, showing dual engine monitor instruments on the MFD.
The PFD implements a number of functionalities which are very similar to those of the real G1000, including but not limited to the following (check Apple Store for updated information if past v4.3).Simionic PFD Functionality
|Autopilot functionality and Flight director modes:||AP Modes:||Flight plan functionality:||Radios:||Other functionalities:||NOT IMPLEMENTED*|
|FD Hide/Display||Roll||Store Flight Plan when MFD connected||NAV/COM 1&2||Timer and refs||Go Around|
|Pitch||Heading Select||Invert Flight Plan||Transponder||V speed and minimums||CWS|
|Pitch Hold||Navigation||Parallel Track||DME w/ source select||Magnetic variation||Advisory and alerts|
|Selected Altitude Capture||Backcourse||Create ATK Offset Waypoint||ADF||Malfunctions|
|Altitude Hold||Approach||Direct-to with vertical constraints and offset||Appr. Autotune||Startup engine info|
|Altitude Preselect||Terminal Procedures||VOR/ILS course select|
|Vertical Speed||PFD:||Navigation database: Global||ADF/VOR/bearing indicator|
|Flight Level Change||CDI indicator||* See 'Let's Fly It' section|
|Vertical Path Tracking||Wind||Inset map:|
|VNV Target Altitude Capture||Bearing 1/2|
|Glidepath||HSI format||Zoom in/out|
|Glideslope||Alt unit||Partly de-clutter|
|Approach types indication|
|Downgraded WAAS capable.|
The MFD serves as the navigation display implementing a host of features including but not limited to the following:
|Global navigation database and topographical data|
|Engine status simulation|
|Functional “Map Setup”|
|All pages including AUX pages|
|Terminal procedures are included|
|User waypoint creating/editing|
|Flight plans storing/editing|
|Checklists for Cessna 182T, 172S, 172R and 206H|
Please note that functionalities in both PFD and MFD are updated and improved often. Check the manufacturer’s website for updated information.
No specific information on the Audio Panel was provided or published online, as far as we could see. We tested the panel and found the following functionalities were operational:
NAV1/2 ID select
DME ID on/off
COM1 MIC, COM2 MIC
We could not see any effect of the pilot/copilot volume controls or the lower red button which is supposed to revert the MFD into a PFD if the PFD unit fails (we thought that if both MFD and PFD apps were launched in the MFD iPad this button could have switched between the two). Other intercom-specific functions did not have any visible effect on our audio setup in X-Plane 11. Obviously, the implementation of these features would make the unit more useful, perhaps with the addition of some external hardware to plug the pilot/copilot headsets in.
Buying, unpacking and installing
The purchase process is as easy as entering your PayPal information in Simionic’s store. We had purchased one of the bezels long before the second bezel and the audio panel. When we visited again for the second purchase, only the combo bundle was available. We emailed the company contact, Li Chen, and got the combo unbundled and one bezel and audio panel was made available. Shipping is via DHL and expensive, but you receive the items in a couple of working days. The products arrive well packaged and nestled in ample dense foam. The bezel has a metal stand for stand-alone support, if used for training or in a classroom. In the stand-alone configuration this product should appeal to flight schools and aviation colleges, as it greatly facilitates familiarization with the instrument. The package includes panel mounting hardware, cables and installation hardware. The installation on a sim depends, of course, on each specific panel. We used the included measurement template (not a full-size template) and reproduced it in our aluminum panel without great difficulties. Once the back cover is removed, the iPad slides right inside the bezel, which has an adapter to adjust for your specific iPad type thickness. Your power cable connects internally to a USB socket. It is important to remember to select a Home Screen activation method before replacing the back cover. The iPad buttons will be no longer available once the iPad is in the case. You can select to use Siri or, as we did, to display an on-screen home button, which takes some spaces and will be visible over the display, but it’s very convenient. When mounting on your panel keep in mind that the tolerances are tight as the overhangs covering the installation holes are in the order of a couple of mm only. The connections are easy as they amount to the provided power USB cable/s and a ribbon cable to power the audio panel. The iPad connects to its respective bezel via Bluetooth and to the other bezel and simulator via WiFi.
Once installed on a panel the set looks extremely realistic. It’s dimensions are within a few millimeters from the original: 296.2 x 193.5 for the Garmin vs 303 x 192 for the Simionic replica. As we said before, the fit and finish, including the size and shape of the knobs and buttons is indistinguishable from the original. The software installation consists in loading the respective apps on the iPads and installing the bridge appropriate for your simulator.
Let’s Fly It
We coupled the G1000 with our X-Plane 11 Baron setup. Upon starting a flight the plugin management box was displayed. A few words here: we had problems in the past with the autopilot performance, now all solved by deselecting the lower checkbox, which avoids syncing with the simulator autopilot switch. The Simionic G1000 then drives the simulator with its own GFC700, and all works reliably. Apart from this setting, it all should work fairly automatically: connect to the MFD, connect to the bezel and connect to the simulator, detecting it’s IP. As long as you have all components on the same network you should experience no issues. The PFD will announce “Minimums” at start up, which gives you a chance to adjust the volume on your iPad. This call is repeated when approaching minimums on an approach. Missing are the real G1000 red Xs on startup, or the porting of the engine instruments to the PFD to keep the MFD turned off. We hope to see these features soon. However, the MFD display will respond to avionic switch off, and bezel illumination adjustment from simulator. Checklists are displayed for some aircraft type, but one was not available for the Baron, even as a paid upgrade. Checklists include normal and emergency procedures and are displayed on the MFD. Upon startup, engine parameters are displayed on the MFD. Dual engine instruments are displayed for the Baron. EGT temperatures were off and we read about a solution on Simionic’s site (C° to F° conversion, easily solved). The software allows routes to be entered including SIDs and STARs, victor airways in the US, published waypoints and intersections, navaids, and user waypoints. Entering the departure airport automatically loaded up the airport COM tower and clearance delivery frequencies. A quick turn to the info page of the MFD displayed all there was to know about the airport we were in, KSBA, including runways, frequencies and a map of the airport layout with our position. The organization of the chapters and pages in the PFD and MFD is structurally identical to the Garmin instruments. The rotary knob and the hard keys in the lower right behave as expected. ENT for yes and forward and CLR for no and back. A DP key press on the MFD (but you can of course do the same in the PFD albeit smaller in presentation) brought up the departure procedures. Going to KVNY, we selected the KWANG 5 departure HENER transition, since it gets closer to FIM VOR wich is an IAF for KVNY. Navdata is not updated regularly in the apps, but subscription-based updates are already in future plans. Entering the VOR frequencies can be done in a number of ways, through the NRST page or even maneuvering the cursor control joystick over it. Just for display purposes, we also loaded the likely arrival procedure, not the STAR, just the ILS 16R, and it all came up on the MFD, giving a good idea of what to expect on such short flight. The 3-level decluttering function worked well in cleaning up the display. Before departure we pre-selected 5,000 on the altitude ready to activate when airborne. Once engines were running, transponder squawk code entered, we contacted ground and then tower. Takeoff Vr was indicated on the speed tape. After gear up, it was a matter of pushing the AP button, setting the bug on runway heading. HDG and ALT selected, and FLC mode to climb at 110 knots. At 1,000 pressing NAV started the intercept to our route (initially a radial from Gaviota VOR) and tracked toward KWANG. This is all as you would expect on your real G1000. At 5,000 we closed the cowl flaps, selected ‘engine’ and ‘lean’ soft buttons on the MFD which brought up the lean inset with lean ‘assist’, showing the Δ between current temp and peak. Very realistic. We then got 7,000 from ATC which was dialed in but, this time, we selected VS to climb at 1,000 ft/min in order to keep the speed up and the engines cool. The autopilot continued to steer correctly through the route until the vectoring began. We used the heading bug to track ATC’s assignments. We were on GPS CDI until loading the approach and saw the ILS frequency correctly dialed and identified in NAV1. We set NAV2 to track SMO and VTU for a potential missed approach. We selected vector to final, and upon intercepting, switched the CDI to the green LOC APR. The GS indication also turned green and the GS diamond appeared. The AP tracked both flawlessly to the DH (also displayed on the altitude bar).
This G1000 doesn’t have a go-around function yet. On a missed approach you will have to select the next waypoint and altitude manually. Go around and control wheel steering (CWS) would be two great additions to the product, but they would require external inputs (these two functions are usually activated by buttons by the throttle and on the yoke) to be able to be received by the unit.
What’s in the Simionic future?
Li Chen paints it this way: “First, I will keep improving the apps, such as adding warning and alert annunciation, traffic, aircraft profiles and make regular navdata updates. Some upgrades will be in-app-purchase items to compensate the cost of development and to support the company. There maybe a new project for the G1000 NXi. The one I’m working on is synthetic vision which still needs some investigation to see whether I can get that to work realistically. On the hardware side the hardware, I’m evaluating the LCD based standby gauges which some may have already seen on the website. From that on… I hope I can do a full cockpit panel replica for Cessna 172, one day”.
The Simionic G1000 offering is a solid, accurate simulator rendition of the original product, appealing to flight schools and sim-builders alike. It should be considered a top choice among the competition even if some work to implement all functionality remains to be done (see our post here about all leading products comparable to this). Mostly missed, for us, were engine start up behavior and malfunctions, which are important to render training even more realistic. Apart from that, a definitely recommended product at an affordable price for the quality it delivers.