Garmin has earned FAA certification for its G600 retrofit flat-panel avionics system. The system, priced at just under $30,000, offers a ground-up avionics solution to customers looking to redo an aging cockpit. The certification is good for around 800 airplanes through a multiple airplane STC and includes models up through piston and turboprop twins weighing less than 12,500 pounds. The retrofit package comes with the single LCD, dual bezel display, a solid-state AHRS, digital air data computer, magnetometer and temp probe, as well as some installation hardware. The cost of installation could vary widely from shop to shop and from airplane to airplane.
The G600 system uses a composite display (an HSI and ADI on the left and a big MFD on the right) packaged together in a panel-mount case that replaces the instruments in the traditional six pack. Backups are installed (often using the previous primary instruments) in alternate locations depending on the model. In Garmin's Mooney 201, which I flew to try out the system, they were installed just to the right of the G600 display.
With the G600's unique design, I found myself flying differently, an observation with which a couple of Garmin pilots who'd flown the G600 quickly agreed. Because the MFD is so close to the PFD, your scan changes to include the MFD.
Unlike G1000, which is intended for factory-new airplanes, G600 doesn't have built-in nav/comm/GPS but makes use of separate Garmin WAAS panel-mount navigators, such as the GNS 430 and GNS 530. Tens of thousands of airplanes already have Garmin navigators installed; owners can add them along with the G600.
While the G600 doesn't come with an autopilot, it does integrate with a large number of the most popular general aviation autopilots, so customers will be able to keep their current AP system and enjoy the big cost savings there. Roll steering (also referred to as GPS-S) is available with some G600-approved autopilots. GPS-S allows the autopilot to follow a number of navigator cues, like procedure turns and DME arcs, that most conventional nav systems can't fly. When paired with an S-Tec 55X, among others, G600 provides flight director functionality and altitude preselect.
There are also a number of optional features that many pilots will get. Tops on the list are IFR charts (standard is Garmin's ChartView) and datalinked XM Weather and entertainment via Garmin's XM receiver. Also available is traffic alerting through Mode S or L-3's SkyWatch, and future options include interfaces for TAWS, onboard weather radar, Stormscope and ADS-B. Expandability, as you can see, is a strong point.
Garmin's marketing VP Gary Kelley says that you have to fly with the system to appreciate how sharp and bright the displays are, and he's right. I flew with Garmin's Dave Brown in the 201, and I was impressed with the overall look and feel of the system and, very importantly, with its brightness and clarity. On a sunny Kansas summer day, the displays (which we had set to auto dim) never came up higher than around 80 percent. And it was sharp too, allowing me to see even the smallest symbols on the map.
As far as ease of use is concerned, the G600 was a piece of cake. If you're good at getting around a 430 and/or a G1000 system, the G600 will feel like second nature. There are some things that you'll have to do differently, like using the 430 or 530 as a separate radio tuner and flight management computer. (They also make great dedicated displays-for our flight I made nav2 the traffic advisory display and pretty much just left it there.) In fact, it's a little like flying in a jet, where you have flight management boxes and radio tuners completely separate from the displays.
On my two-hour-long demo flight we tried out just about every feature of the G600, and it's an impressive list, though, as I said, not all of them will be available at inception. We looked at the weather nationwide, preselected an altitude and let the autopilot find it for us, and flew an RNAV approach with vertical guidance down to minimums and below (it was a CAVU day). The system can even warn you when you're 200 feet from your desired (as in preselected) altitude, a nice feature that can save you a lot of headaches, both real and regulatory.
There are a lot of things the G600 won't do: It won't make the 201 go any faster (my leaving the cowl flaps open at cruise didn't help), and it won't make my landings in the Mooney any better-though some practice might help. But what it will do is give pilots a fabulous, plenty-large flat-panel display in their airplane at a revolutionary price. On top of that, you'll get solid-state attitude (a feature that, in my opinion, justifies the purchase price), a big, fully functional MFD with impressive expandability and good integration with what are probably the same Garmin navigators you already have in the panel.
The downside is, it's not G1000, and if you've ever flown with that system, you know what that means. Of course, if you really want G1000, that system is also available from the likes of Cessna, Cirrus, Diamond, Embraer, Mooney and Socata, all of whom would love to set you up with a new G1000 system.
For the rest of us, G600, when coupled with some good existing equipment, offers a lot of the capability at a small fraction of the price.
For more information, visit garmin.com.