Round-Dial or Glass, Which Is Right for Me?

3 min read

A question that often arises with new student pilots, when there is an option, is, “Should I train in a round-dial airplane or one with a glass flight deck?”

In some cases, a flight school may only have one choice, an older round-dial airplane or a newer glass flight deck airplane. If you want to train at this flight school, your choice is made for you.


First, I should define some terms. When I speak of round-dial airplanes, sometimes called “steam gauge airplanes” <cringe>, I am talking about an airplane with a mechanically driven “6 pack” of standard instruments. A glass flight deck airplane has the traditional instruments replaced with an LCD screen representation of the same information. Backup instruments may be mechanical or glass from a separate power source. There are also partial glass hybrids where some of the mechanical instruments have been replaced with LCD representations of individual instruments but other mechanical instruments still exist.

flight instruments

Partial glass hybrids where some of the mechanical instruments have been replaced with LCD representations of individual instruments.

In my experience, many of the LCD instruments in a partial glass hybrid flight deck are much like the mechanical instruments that they have replaced so I will consider them the same for the purposes of this post. There are certainly advantages of the partial glass hybrid flight decks but I won’t touch on those here.

Decision Time

When deciding between training in a traditional round-dial airplane or training in a glass flight deck airplane, the first thing you must ask yourself is the question, “What type of airplane will I be flying after I get my rating?”

If you are training to fly an airplane that you own or will be purchasing, train for the equipment installed in that airplane when possible. The same advice applies to renter pilots. If your favorite fixed base operator (FBO) only has one style of flight deck, train for that flight deck.

flight instruments

Traditional 6-pack.

If you are not sure about the answer to the question or your FBO has a mixed rental fleet, the flight deck type becomes more about personal preference. Your decision should be based upon the skills that you bring to the flight deck and the pros and cons of each design.

A student who is not comfortable with or struggles with computers, might want to consider going the round-dial route if available.

Modern glass flight decks typically have more to learn and may require additional study on the part of the student. This is certainly true when comparing it to the simple flight decks of older trainers without a GPS. Newer round-dial trainers with a multi-function display, a GPS, and an autopilot can be nearly as complex as their glass cousins.

For basic understanding and interpretation of the flight instruments, learning the instruments in a glass flight deck may be easier for the beginner. Digital readouts for altitude, airspeed, and heading are just simpler and require little interpretation.

The glass flight deck can also improve situational awareness with little effort.

Garmin G1000 equipped Cessna with pilot flying high in the clouds.

Fully-integrated glass flight deck.

On the downside, a glass flight deck can be very pretty and it may be hard to take your eyes off of it. This is a bad thing when you are flying under visual flight rules and your eyes are supposed to be outside of the airplane.

Round-dial airplanes will be somewhat older and may have a cost advantage over the glass flight deck airplane. They and their hybrid cousins may also be more prevalent for now.

Regardless of the flight deck type you use for training, if you decide that you want to fly the other type after obtaining your rating, YOU MUST GET TRAINING on that design! I have seen transitions in both directions at our flight school and both have their difficulties and hang-ups that can only be resolved through proper training.