Still, these ADS-B-based weather choices are also hamstrung by the image-latency issues the NTSB is so concerned about. Bottom line, if weather information is being delivered to you via a datalink, it’s not real-time. For a more accurate picture of the weather ahead, pros say nothing beats onboard weather radar or, if you’re on a budget, a lightning strike detector.
If you’re thinking “cha-ching!” when you read the words “onboard radar,” you aren’t alone. Weather radar is big bucks. But the good news is prices are coming down. Garmin, for example, which entered the radar business a few years back by buying an older Narco design and making it better, is now offering quite a lot of capability at an attractive price point.
By all accounts, Garmin’s first radar, the GWX 68, was a good one at a good price — about $18,000 uninstalled. But it was also merely a taste of what was to come. This summer Garmin took the wraps off the GWX 70, a brand-new solid-state weather radar completely of Garmin’s own design that catapults the Olathe, Kansas, maker into a league alongside the big boys at Honeywell and Rockwell Collins. Compared to earlier-generation magnetron-based weather radar systems, Garmin’s digital radar offers significant improvements in capability, reliability and cost of ownership — the GWX 70 hits the mark in all three of these areas by bringing advanced capabilities that were formerly available only on high-end business jets using radars that cost upward of $100,000.
What’s different about Garmin’s newest radar? Available in antenna sizes of 10, 12 and 18 inches, the GWX 70 includes a feature called Altitude Compensated Tilt that makes the pilot’s job much easier by eliminating the need to reset the antenna tilt after changing altitude. To use the feature, simply adjust the GWX 70 once to the desired tilt angle and the radar automatically maintains that level during any changes in altitude. Another cool feature is called WATCH (weather attenuated color highlight), which helps identify the shadowing effects of storm cell activity, highlighting areas where radar signals are weakened and may not fully reflect the “storm behind the storm.”
The GWX 70 also offers horizontal scan angles of up to 120 degrees, or pilots can focus radar scanning on a specific area of interest, from a small slice of the sky of 20 degrees all the way out to its maximum. Finally, a ground-mapping mode lets the pilot use the GWX 70 to scan terrain features for visual navigation, and the system also includes a vertical scanning function to help analyze storm tops, gradients and cell buildup activity at various altitudes.
Garmin also offers a couple of options for the GWX 70, the first being turbulence detection out to 40 nautical miles. Ground clutter suppression is also available as an option, which allows the GWX 70 to automatically separate radar ground returns and remove them from the display. The GWX 70 is compatible with the full line of Garmin multifunction displays, including the GTN series touchscreen avionics, the G1000, G2000, G3000 and G5000 integrated flight decks, the G500/G600, the MX 20 and the GMX 200. Uninstalled price for the GWX 70 starts at $20,995.