We Fly the Garmin ADS-B Portable Weather Receiver GDL 39

Garmin’s latest portable is an ADS-B receiver with free weather and traffic.

Garmin GDL 39
Garmin GDL 39
Garmin GDL 39

The latest portable ADS-B receiver is out, and it’s from Garmin. The GDL 39 is a sleek little package with a fold-out antenna and an optional four-hour internal battery. The unit is a WAAS receiver, an ADS-B receiver and a bluetooth device, to boot. The system currently works with Garmin Pilot, the company’s excellent all-in-one iPad app that gives you moving map, charts, weather, terrain alerting, airport and FBO info and more.

With the GDL 39 you get free ADS-B weather when you’re in sight of an ADS-B ground station. The weather products are very good. I flew the unit in a Citation CJ1+ and was high enough that I was getting more than a half dozen ground stations and had weather for the entire lower 48. Unlike with XM weather, with ADS-B at lower altitudes you get fewer ground stations and potentially spottier reception, but in most places as most typical GA altitudes, the weather is terrific. Nexrad is the killer app, but there are numerous other products, and they’re nicely integrated into Garmin Pilot, too.

The GDL 39 hooks up to your iPad through Bluetooth, and the connection couldn’t have been easier. Not only was the position its WAAS receiver provided extremely accurate, but also its ADS-B data was seamless.

Unlike most of its competitors, the GDL 39 also offers ADS-B traffic. Now, there are two schools of thought on ADS-B traffic. Bear in mind that it is an incomplete
solution. Unlike with an installed active traffic system, with ADS-B you only get that traffic that passes through the ADS-B system, either through an airplane that's participating or a ground station that gets relayed through that ground station. So there's a lot of traffic it doesn't see. Part of that is the fault of the FAA, which has decided not to send traffic to non-participating ADS-B customers, a decision that's impossible to defend given the safety ramifications of not getting traffic info to as many people as possible. The FAA is dead wrong on this one. Then again, with ADS-B traffic via the GDL 39 and shown on the iPad, you do get some traffic, essentially for free, which is more than the complete lack of traffic that most pilots get today. Furthermore, as more and more airplanes equip with ADS-B, there will be more and more traffic available. Eventually, everybody will be broadcasting.

The GDL 39 also works with the Garmin GPSMap 796 and 696 units, though you need to plug it directly into the unit for that to work, at least for the time being. Again, the connection to the 796 was quick and easy, and the quality of the weather information was excellent, surpassed only by the subscription price of ADS-B weather, which is free. The GDL 39 goes for $799. The battery adds another $100 to that price. You also get the cable you need for your connection and a free Garmin Pilot app for a few months or even more, depending on your cable needs. The unit will be on sale at Garmin dealers at AirVenture.