BLOOMINGTON - Lee Moulic circled the sky above Bloomington recently when he heard another pilot call the traffic control tower for directions, something Moulic will never have to do in the single-engine plane he was flying.
Moulic, a flight instructor for Image Air at the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, was piloting a new Diamond Star DA40, a four-seat aircraft with a digital "glass" cockpit displaying a map of the ground below him.
It's the future of small-plane technology, Moulic said.
The map showed Moulic's position with a line detailing his flight path. It also showed the airport runway, the interstates, the closest towns and some nearby bodies of water.
On the typical four-seat plane, pilots use analog navigation tools and a paper map to calculate their location.
"I have a plane, and after flying this, I sat in my plane and almost cried," Moulic said. "This is just great."
At one time, he said, pilots actually measured location by looking out the window for landmarks like water towers, silos and interstates.
Now, airplanes like the Diamond Star take the guesswork out of airplane navigation.
And Image Air students can get a glimpse into the future of small plane flying.
The technology is common on large commercial aircraft, but is just starting to trickle down to small planes, said Dale Kruse, Image Air general manager.
"It's the thing of the future. Ten years from now, there won't be a new plane without it," he said.
The Diamond Star features two digital glass screens. One displays the map. The other shows numeric information typically displayed by analog dials on other small aircraft - bank or pitch, speed, flight direction and altitude, among other dials.
With the digital screen, however, the pilot can navigate through several functions with a push of a button, much like scrolling through menus on a computer.
One feature even allows the pilot to search through a programmed list of destinations throughout the United States for directions. The computer provides the coordinates, and if he wants, an autopilot can fly the plane right to the airport.
In case the computer fails, the Diamond Star has backup analog dials.
Image Air, 2933 E. Empire St., will have a free seminar on the digital technology from 9 to 11 a.m. Feb. 18. RSVP is required at (309) 663-2303.