(April 2011) SINCE ITS INTRODUCTION in 1998, Garmin’s remarkable GNS 430 navigator and its larger GNS 530 companion have become the de facto standard in aftermarket aircraft avionics. And no wonder: In the various iterations, the multifunction panel-mount units serve as a moving map, a navigation receiver, a communications transceiver, a GPS (and, later, WAAS) receiver, a flight management system and an airport and facilities database, as well as providing displays for traffic, satellite weather, lightning strikes, terrain awareness and more. In that time, Garmin has sold well more than 100,000 GNS-series navigators, making it arguably the most successful avionics product in history.
So it’s big news indeed that Garmin is announcing the successors to these navigators and that those successors are so very different in nature from the originals.
The GTN 650 and the larger GTN 750 do many of the same things that the 430 and its spinoffs do. Both products were expected to be certified and shipping by the time you read this.
While the new navigators both utilize touch-screen displays, Garmin vice president of sales Gary Kelley says that the screens are not the most revolutionary part of the product. After flying them myself, I wholeheartedly agree. The most amazing part is how easy they are to use.
The price is right too. The GTN 650 sells for $11,495, and the larger GTN 750 goes for $16,995. At those prices, many owners will look not just to add a new navigator to their airplane but also to replace existing 430s and 530s.
Regardless of its other impressive features — and I will get to those in a few moments — touch screens are big news. The truth, though, is that no one who’s been paying careful attention will be very surprised by the general shape of these products. The writing has been on the wall for some time now. In fact, when Garmin introduced its first touch-screen aviation handheld a couple of years ago, I immediately began to wonder just how big a role touch-screen technology would play in the remarkably innovative company’s product lineup in years to come. The suspense was short-lived, it turned out, because Garmin announced in the fall of 2009 that it was developing an integrated touch-screen avionics suite for the launch customers Piper and Honda for their fledgling jet programs. Just last year, Garmin introduced a successor product, the G5000, an avionics system deck intended for business jets. Launch customer Cessna announced it would put G5000 in its redefined Citation Ten.
Both avionics systems feature not touch screens exactly but touch-screen controllers. The effect is in most respects the same. You lose the buttons and keys and use the touch pads to control the displays in a very graphical way. The controllers simply put the action that much closer to you. The jump to direct touch screens for panel-mount navigators makes sense, since the units they are replacing are close enough to the pilots that they can control them directly.
Garmin Touchscreen Navigators
Just as there were different models of 400 and 500 series GNS navigators, the two new products are the first of a family of touch-screen panel-mount products. GTN, as you might have figured out, stands for “Garmin Touchscreen Navigator.” There are just two available now, the large screen GTN 750 and the pretty large screen GTN 650. Other variants will doubtless be introduced over time.
While Garmin will continue to produce the 430 and 530 for a while, there’s no doubt that the new products will eventually take their place. (Garmin’s official stand is that it will continue to offer both the 430 and 530, though at some point in the future they will be discontinued when certain limited supply parts run too low for making new units.)
Even though both product lines will be available for a while, pilots who can afford the slightly higher price of the GTNs won’t want to economize. The new boxes are better in nearly every respect than the products they will replace.