Exciting news in a boring industry (new Garmin aviation products)

Garmin takes us a little closer to the day when a $2 million aircraft can make as effective use of computer hardware and software as a 2003 Honda Accord….

  • The GWX 80 weather radar pokes around in the sky and gives a high-level summary to the monkey in the front left seat (press release), just as a non-pilot would expect onboard weather radar to work. Note that Honeywell has had a similar system out for some years, but designed for heavier airplanes. Correct use and interpretation of more primitive onboard weather radar is a skill that takes years of airline flying to master. The rest of us primarily rely on datalink NEXRAD (what you see on TV news or web pages when you want to see where it is raining; one issue with this is that there is no information about the altitude from which the rain is falling; a terrifying patch of red heavy rain might be overflown in clear air at 20,000′)
  • If it were legal to stick an Android tablet on the panel, a 1935 airplane could have way better avionics than the latest Boeing (press release on synthetic vision (Microsoft Flight Simulator view of the world)). Note that Garmin here is playing catch-up to ForeFlight.
  • Garmin has refreshed their 10-year-old retrofit glass panels (press release) and added an engine-monitoring system. This, combined with the GFC 600 autopilot, would be an awesome solution for the legacy Pilatus PC-12. Again, it is unclear that a $140,000 installation of these new panels would be any better than two iPads or Android tablets on the panel, but these will be legal under FAA regulations.

What could one do with all of this good stuff? Buy a 1982 twin-engine Beechcraft Baron with new paint and interior for $239,000 (controller.com). Put in all of the above Garmin stuff, including the latest autopilot, for about $200,000. Enjoy way better avionics than more than 99 percent of the jets flying.

[Sadly, as the U.S. population grows and Americans are packed in like rats in a psychology experiment, hostility to personal aviation is also growing. Just as the good folks at Garmin are making the airplanes better, Californians are shrinking the runway at Santa Monica, in preparation for its ultimate closure.]


  1. Jackie

    October 6, 2017 @ 2:23 pm


    If it is illegal to STICK an Android tablet on the panel, are there workarounds? Can you use a magnetic mount? Can you mount it to a suction mount on the windshield? To an arm mounted to the cabin walls/floor? Can you wear google glasses that show an image of the tablet? There must be some loophole where you could keep all the steam gauges but actually work off of the tablet.

  2. philg

    October 6, 2017 @ 4:54 pm


    Jackie: It is a huge mess. You can bring portable battery-powered electronics into the aircraft, but if they are hard-wired to the aircraft then there is a problem. But maybe you can plug them into a cigarette lighter and that is okay because now they’re removable…

    Also consider there usually isn’t enough blank space in an aircraft panel for a tablet. So the thing is stuck to the yoke? Or it is blocking some gauges that the pilot(s) might want to look at from time to time?

    While the bureaucracy is obstructing tapping into the progress that is being made in the tablet and phone word, the hazard from drones grows every day!

  3. superMike

    October 6, 2017 @ 6:32 pm


    Do people use/like tablet kneeboard mounts?

  4. philg

    October 7, 2017 @ 9:02 am


    Kneeboards are common, but looking down is good only for supplementary information.

    When you are by yourself in the clouds, less is more. This is the magic of the Avidyne Cirrus SR20. You can look at two screens (both right in front of the pilot) and a handful of switches and get all of the information that is relevant (exception: the fuel gauges down by your right forearm, but the fuel totalizer data are available on the screens so if you’ve set that up correctly you will see how much fuel you have left in the two tanks combined).

    So there should be a transition to the “two tablets on the panel” concept for VFR (visually flown) aircraft. And maybe for IFR-certified aircraft there could be an attitude indicator (“artificial horizon”) and a navigation device (e.g., GPS) that have gone through the FAA certification process. Everything else could be in two tablets on the panel and therefore take advantage of innovation.

  5. Joe McGuckin

    October 12, 2017 @ 2:12 pm


    I seem to recall that Burt Rutan’s oddball twin (Boomerang) had no instruments
    in the cockpit. There was a shelf next to the front panel for a laptop and ALL the instrumentation was displayed on the PC screen. Seems Burt was about 20 years ahead of the curve. Not too difficult given the rate of change in the aircraft world.

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