My training in GTN technology had consisted of watching a short video overview of the products and sitting through a briefing of the products, which were mounted in a desktop kiosk.
I’d also had the chance previously to “fly” an as yet unannounced Garmin touch-screen integrated avionics suite in the company’s human factors lab. There is much similarity between the software, symbology and user interface logic of the GTN products and those of the integrated avionics suites.
Both systems do away with menus and a lot of the text, making use instead of a highly graphical user interface with big touch-sensitive symbols and a very shallow menu system. The approach makes operating the system so easy that it is nothing short of revolutionary. While the GNS 430 gave pilots a navigator that did much more than anything they’d ever had in the panel (GPS and later WAAS, nav and comm radios, FMS, vertical navigation, user waypoints, GPS approaches and more), it is not an easy box to learn.
The GTN navigators, on the other hand, are remarkably easy to learn and to use. On my hourlong demo flight with Garmin flight-test pilot Grant Wittenborn, I handled the radios, entered and frequently modified our flight plan, used the vertical nav functions, controlled the audio panel, found a few nearest airports and other waypoints, flew an ILS approach and checked on the fuel. On a few occasions Grant helped me out, not by telling me how to do something but by telling me how to do something in a way that would save me a couple of button touches.
I fly IFR the majority of the time; consequently, I enter and modify flight plans on a regular basis. Living in central Texas, I’m lucky to be able to fly “direct-to” routes regularly, a welcome change from my former East Coast existence. But when I need to fly airway routings with the 430, it always requires digging out a chart and entering the relevant waypoints along the airway. It’s time-consuming and it distracts me from other cockpit duties.
With the GTN navigators, airway flight planning is remarkably easy and intuitive. Let’s say that I’m planning a flight from Austin to Oklahoma City and I get a clearance to fly to Will Rogers Airport via Centex VOR (CWK), V17 and IRW (Will Rogers) direct to the airport, about 350 nm distant. Doing it the old-fashioned way would have required that I enter eight waypoints, all the while folding and fiddling with charts as I followed the twists and turns of the airways. With the GTN navigators, all I need to do is enter CWK and from there V17, exit the airway at IRW, and I’m done. It does all the twisting and turning for me, so I can concentrate on flying the airplane instead of telling the navigator something it should already know. Like just about every other feature on the GTN, airway flight planning is so intuitive you don’t need instruction to figure out how to do it. It just makes sense. On my flight in the Mooney, I taught myself to use the system literally on the fly.
On the 750, the audio panel functions are likewise cutting edge. While I could write an entire piece on these new functions, I will instead go into just a few of the features. As I mentioned before, the 750 interfaces with the optional GMA35 remote-mount audio panel. The pilot will use the 750 to control the audio. While you can do all the usual kinds of things you need to do, like switching from one radio to the next, you can also do a variety of previously impossible things, like selecting completely different audio sources for the pilot, copilot or passengers and using different volume levels for the same audio input for those different stations. And you do this all by touch, using your finger to activate or deactivate connections between occupants. The coolest feature, and the one you’re likely to hear the most about, is automatic speech recognition. Using this feature (which is in its infancy), you can select and tune nav and comm radios simply by using your voice. I tried it. It worked flawlessly. But the automatic squelch feature is the new feature of which Garmin is arguably proudest.
I’ll sometimes get done with a first flight with a new technology and feel as though, even after just a couple of hours of familiarization, I was nearly ready to tackle the equipment on my own. With the GTN navigators, I felt as though I didn’t even need the familiarization flight.
With so many GNS 430s and GNS 530s installed in so many tens of thousands of airplanes, it’s unlikely the GTN products will sell as well as the products they’re replacing. After all, a lot of these GNS units are still doing everything their owners want them to do. Still, the new units are bound to be very successful for a few undeniable reasons. First, they’re from Garmin, they’re new, and they’re cool. Pilots are going to want them. Second, the GTNs are simply better at doing what the old guard boxes do. They do more and they do it with less effort. Finally, while they already can do more than their predecessors, this is only the beginning. While Garmin isn’t speaking specifically about what kinds of future capabilities its new touch-screen displays will have, suffice it to say that there are plenty of announcements yet to come.
For more on the GTN 650 and 750, check out this video review of the new navigators.
Also check out Robert Goyer's retrospective on the navigator that started it all.