When I paid a visit to Garmin recently to get a sneak pre-AirVenture briefing, I was expecting a handful of product updates. Considering the state of the economy, it seemed like a safe bet -- safe, but way off. Instead of treading water, Garmin appears to be in full sprint mode as it announced a bevy of new products. They also shared with me -- off the record -- several more developments. You'll be reading about these soon.
The highlights of what I can talk about: three new traffic systems with ADS-B; a certified retrofit flat-panel mini-system for less than $16,000; a long-awaited iron-gyro replacement to run your autopilot; and many new details about its low-cost, highly capable flat-panel system for LSAs and Experimentals.
G600: Big New Features, Same Price
Despite a terrible market for retrofits, Garmin's G600 flat-panel system has been a surprising hit. Garmin has sold hundreds of the systems, and it recently updated the product with two great new features: Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) and the GAD 43 autopilot adapter. The latter will drive a number of high-quality autopilots with the same solid-state attitude sensor that drives the G600. The two updates represent more than $15,000 worth of value-added features, but the G600 is still selling for $29,995. And, as a bonus, the G600 is now approved for larger and heavier Class 3 airplanes under Garmin's multiple airplane approval.
I originally reviewed the G600 in the October 2008 issue (check it out by clicking here) and I loved it. Standard features include easy interfacing with the Garmin GNS 400/500 series nav-igators, a full-featured moving map, FliteCharts (requires subscription), SafeTaxi, roll steering outputs for interfacing with GPSS-capable auto-pilots and much more. Owners can also add TAWS B to the package for an additional $7,995, though most non-commercial customers will be happy with the excellent standard terrain- avoidance capabilities.
And to make previous G600 customers happy, Garmin is offering them a free upgrade to SVT and the addition of the GAD 43 for $1,495. The offer is good until the end of the year.
G500: A Little Less Equals a Lot More Value
Garmin has been getting stiff com-petition from a couple of other avionics makers, most notably from Aspen Avionics, at the low end of the retrofit flat-panel market. So Garmin has in essence responded with a new price for its previous product. The result is the G500, which in reality is the old G600 rebranded as the G500. The G500 goes for the remarkable price of $15,995 and lacks only the latest features launched on the new version, SVT and GAD 43. The 500, however, is upgradable. After installing SVT and the GAD43, the price comes to around $25,000, roughly a $5,000 savings over the price of the original G600.
Traffic by Garmin
Perhaps the most ambitious project announced by Garmin was its new line of sophisticated traffic-awareness systems, a program that has been in the works for several years.
Several of Garmin's competitors already offer capable active-traffic systems (systems that interrogate other airplanes' transponders instead of listening passively), including systems from Avidyne, Bendix/King and L3, but Garmin's new systems are competitively priced and have some features most of its competitors don't.
The entry-level model is the GTS 800 TAS. At a base price of $9,995, it offers 40 watts of transmitting power and a range of up to 12 nm. The midlevel GTS-820 TAS is priced at $19,995 and boasts 250 watts of transmitting power, giving it up to 40 nm of interrogation range. The top-of-the-line model, the $23,445 GTS850 TCAS I, has the same power and range as the 820 but satisfies the FAA's TCAS I requirements.
The new traffic systems are the first certified units we know of to blend ADS-B data with the actively acquired traffic information from the TAS. Garmin calls this its Clear CAS technology, which stands for "Correlated Location Enhanced ADS-B Receiver Collision Avoidance System." What that means is the Garmin systems use ADS-B and TAS together to pinpoint the threat airplane's exact position, along with its trend vector, N-number and velocity.
We haven't had a chance to fly any of the systems yet, but Garmin is claiming they will have excellent performance thanks to a top-mounted quad-pole antenna, which Garmin says will rival other manufacturers' top- and bottom-mount approaches. And to cover its bases, Garmin is also offering top and bottom antennas as an option.
To get the ADS-B data, each of the systems requires the customer's airplane to be equipped with the Garmin GTX 330/33 ES (Extended Squitter) transponder, and, of course, you won't get any ADS-B information from the other airplanes unless they are also appropriately equipped.
At this point, there aren't many such airplanes out there. But the good news is that when ADS-B becomes common (hopefully soon) and then mandated (by 2020 currently), Garmin's traffic-avoidance systems (TAS) will be ready.
Flat Panels for LSAs, Experimentals
Garmin has relaunched its G3X non-TSOed display system intended for LSAs and Experimentals. Based on the same display unit of the popular 696 portable and similar to the system that comes standard in Cessna's new SkyCatcher, the highly flexible G3X system can feature one, two or three displays along with solid-state ADAHRS (combined air data and AHRS unit), a magnetometer and an air-temp probe.
In addition to the flight instruments, the panel-mounted G3X system provides engine monitoring, moving map with obstacles and terrain data, and an IFR map mode. Also standard are Garmin's approach charts, its SafeTaxi airport diagrams and the AOPA Airport Directory data. Options include XM WX satellite weather with Nexrad, weather reports, Metars, TAFs, TFRs, winds aloft and lightning strikes.
Garmin expects the G3X to be available by the end of the year. The starting price of a one-tube system (no XM) is $9,995. XM connectivity adds about $700.
GAD 43 -- Big News in a Little Box
It's about the least sexy name in avionics, but Garmin's new GAD 43 autopilot interface is sure to be a huge hit. The GAD 43 is a digital interface that emulates the existing gyro interface but uses the more reliable AHRS data from the G500 or G600 to provide the required attitude and heading (as well as yaw and baro correction information) to the autopilot in place of the mechanical attitude indicator that previously did the trick.
In addition, it provides course and vertical deviation, heading, course pointer and roll steering information to the autopilot. As a bonus, if the autopilot doesn't have roll steering capability, the GAD 43 will act as a roll steering converter via the heading input. The addition of the GAD 43 typically allows the system's costly ADI to be replaced with a more affordable and potentially more reliable attitude indicator as the required backup instrument.