When the two enabling revolutionary technologies of long-range nav (Loran and GPS) and affordable computer technology — displays, microchips and greatly improved code and graphical user interfaces — came together in the 80s and 90s, it was clear that there was room for great things in avionics. And we started to see those products early on, in the form of some great early GPS navigators — both handheld and panel mount — from Bendix/King, NorthStar and Trimble. Even Garmin, with the first IFR approach approved GPS, the GPS 155 TSO, was pushing in that direction.
But it wasn’t until Garmin unveiled the GNS 430 that everything changed. As far as I know, I was the first person outside of Garmin to lay eyes on it, and I remember it clearly.
It was in 1998 in Orlando at the Aircraft Electronics Association annual convention when Garmin’s Tim Casey led me into a back room at the convention center to show me the secret product that he and his team were going to unveil the following day. Tim pulled off the black drape over the product and there, all lit up and seemingly ready to go, was the GNS 430. Before Tim had said a word, my eyes went wide. There in front of me was a panel mount unit with a bright color moving map, built in comm radios, built in nav radios and a bezel-mounted series of keys and soft keys that I saw at a glance would be used to navigate the software of the unit. Little did I know at the time that a world of additional capability lay below the surface, giving pilots the ability to create complex flight plans with departure, arrival and approach segments, as well as pull up frequencies and other data and autofill them to the tuner. And there was so much more.
As Tim showed me the chapters and pages of the unit — he was still getting to know it himself — I was flabbergasted at the possibilities. Within a year I was flying the 430 as the standard navigator in my leased airplane. I loved it more than I would have guessed. Does it have shortcomings? I guess, but only from the perspective of someone who has come to expect so much from his avionics that when it comes to wanting things, the sky’s the limit.