Pilot Products

October 1, 2005

Garmin GPSMap 396

Garmin's new GPSMap 396 may be a handheld unit, but it provides the weather avoidance features you might expect to find in the panel-mount gear of today's high-end general aviation aircraft.

The 396 taps into XM WX Satellite Weather's datalink weather products. A $49.99-per-month subscription — and a one-time $75 activation fee — gets you XM WX's Aviator service package, which lets you call up a whole raft of weather products, many of which you can superimpose on the unit's navigation map view. Most impressive is the next-generation weather radar (Nexrad) imagery. You can easily see if precipitation will be a factor by comparing your flight-planned course line with the Nexrad returns.

XM WX's products include: Nexrad radar; echo tops; satellite mosaic; lightning (datalinked from the nation's lightning-detection network); winds aloft (for altitudes from 3,000 feet to the flight levels); freezing levels; airmets; sigmets; surface analysis charts; METARs; terminal aerodrome forecasts (TAFs); precipitation types (at the surface); plus county warnings and symbolic depictions of plain-English forecasts for various cities. Also included are temporary flight restrictions and severe-weather storm tracks.

The Aviator LT package goes for $29.99 per month and gives you a slimmed-down list of features: Nexrad radar; METARs; TAFs; precipitation type (again, at the surface); and the plain-English city forecasts and county warnings.

AOPA Pilot flew with the GPSMap 396 on two flights involving thunderstorms in the en route phases. In both cases, the 396 proved extremely useful. The Nexrad update rate was quick, with the oldest imagery coming in at 5 minutes. Because of these image delays, the 396 (or any other datalink unit showing Nexrad) should only be used for strategic avoidance of storm cells, not close-in weaving around embedded cells.

The 396 also can provide traffic information system (TIS) representations of nearby traffic, using standardized TCAS (traffic alert and collision avoidance system) symbology. To use this feature your aircraft must use in-puts from a Mode S transponder, such as Garmin's GTX 330.

Yet another aviation feature is terrain information. Much like its predecessor unit — the Garmin 296 — the 396's terrain page uses colors to warn pilots of vertical proximity to terrain or obstacles. Areas in red indicate terrain within 100 feet of your altitude; yellow means terrain is between 100 and 1,000 feet away. Obstacles taller than 200 feet above ground level (agl) appear along with their mean sea level (msl) altitudes.

Other aviation features are also in the 396, such as flight-plan and special-use-airspace information, as well as Garmin's "panel page" — a view that duplicates the venerable six-pack of flight instruments.

As if all this weren't enough, the 396 — like the 296 — also has an automotive mode, but it goes its forerunner one better by providing XM Satellite Radio's 130-odd channels of music, talk, and news.

There are few nits to pick with the 396. One involves the glareshield and yoke mounts: Both take up a lot of real estate. And there's the spaghetti factor, too. The XM satellite antenna rests on the glareshield, and its cable plugs into the unit; there's a power cable that can plug into a cigarette lighter or power receptacle; and there are cables for both the TIS and XM radio interfaces. But any inconveniences are nothing in view of the GPSMap 396's capability to field unprecedented situational awareness, and its unprecedented value. — Thomas A. Horne

Price: $2,695
Contact: 913/397-8200; www.garmin.com

More details on Garmin's GPSMap 396 can be found on AOPA Online in our full-length review. See www.aopa.org/members/products/garmin0510.html.

Mountain Flying Bible Revised

Sparky Imeson published the first version of his book on flying in the high country back in 1970, and in the intervening 35 years the tome has grown from 170 pages to more than 500 — along with his experience in the backcountry. Imeson's lessons extend beyond the mountains to encompass any flight.

Imeson organizes the book in order of the things that a pilot needs to know prior to venturing into mountains. The book is divided into five parts. First, he discusses knowing your airplane and planning the flight in detail, with attention to fuel, weather, and navigation. Then he outlines procedures for takeoffs in part 2, en route operations in part 3, arrivals in part 4, and landings in part 5. Throughout the book, Imeson pulls out rules of thumb, warnings, notes, and memory items with icons for easy reference.

But within the text lies much more. For example, Imeson notes that in planning a cross-country flight into the mountains, a novice pilot should take into consideration the fact that navigating via pilotage at low levels, using sectionals and drainage charts, takes as much energy as a day in the clouds navigating by VORs — and that breaking up the trip into shorter chunks provides time for the pilot to regroup and recharge. When attempting a flight into unfamiliar territory, you will fatigue faster than you would flying over a route you know well.

The softcover book is mostly in black and white, with some full-color photos in the section "Idaho Backcountry Strips." These pictures of landings at famous strips such as Soldier Bar, Cabin Creek, and Wilson Bar offer a taste of where an advanced mountain-flying course can take you. But as Imeson says, it is wise — if not a prerequisite — to take dual flight instruction from a CFI experienced in mountain-flying techniques.

Price: $36.95
Contact: 307/733-3516; www.mountainflying.com

CR Spotless Systems DI100

Pilots who are particular about their aircraft know the value of a good wash for their machines. But drying the water off almost makes it an unbearable project. Leaving the water on and allowing spots to dry is simply not an option either. CR Spotless Systems hopes to change all this with its new DI100 washing system.

Using the system for the first time was an eyeopening experience. Simply take the hose to spray down the airplane, wash off the dirt, and then use the DI100 to rinse. Walk away and come back two hours later to a clean, spot-free airplane. There is no drying necessary, including those notoriously difficult windscreens. This holds true for every paint color tested, including dark green, white, and red.

The DI100 is easy to assemble, thanks in part to detailed instructions. They say you'll need only a strong grip, but a pair of vice grips or a big adjustable wrench is necessary. It takes approximately 20 minutes to assemble. The filters in the unit make for the spot-free rinse — no chemicals are involved. Filters last for 1,000 gallons, which should be enough for about 15 aircraft washes. A set of filters is $36.95 on the company's Web site.

CR Spotless Systems made the unit portable and that's where the fun starts. It's also great for washing cars, motorcycles, windows, and anything else you can think of that needs to be spot free. Users will not be disappointed with the utility of the DI100. — Ian Twombly

Price: $229.95
Contact: www.crspotless.com

Oshkosh Quick Hits

Lightspeed Aviation has introduced a headset that weighs 1 ounce (not including the separate control box). The Mach 1 headset is basically two earplugs that contain tiny speakers and a "gooseneck" boom to pick up voice communication. The system provides 40 dB of passive hearing protection.
Price: $525
Contact: www.anrheadsets.com

Chelton Aviation has added altitude preselect to its AP-3C autopilot. The feature allows pilots to program an altitude into the autopilot's panel and set a suitable rate of climb.
Contact: www.cheltonaviation.com

Sennheiser has released two new headset models, the HME 110 and HMEC 450/BP-04. Both are updates of existing Sennheiser headsets and offer upgraded ear seals among other features, and a 10-year warranty.
Price: $319 for the HME 110; $849 for the HMEC 450/BP-04
Contact: 860/434-9190; www.sennheiserusa.com

Frasca International is developing a version of its Mentor advanced flight training simulator featuring Avidyne Corp.'s FlightMax Entegra integrated flight deck system for primary and advanced students. It includes the 10.4-inch-diagonal, high-resolution EXP5000 primary flight display and an EX5000 multifunction display.
Contact: www.avidyne.com; www.frasca.com

Jeppesen has bundled its leading flight-planning services into a product called NavSuite; customers can save 14 to 25 percent compared with buying the applications separately. NavSuite comes in three service levels: NavSuite IFR for general aviation and NavSuite Continental and NavSuite Global for business aviation. NavSuite IFR includes JeppView and FlightStar and RoutePacks that allow pockets of data to flow between the applications.
Contact: www.jeppesen.com

Unless otherwise stated, products listed herein have not been evaluated by AOPA Pilot editors. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors. However, members unable to get satisfaction regarding products listed should advise AOPA. To submit products for evaluation, contact: New Products Editor, AOPA Pilot , 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701; telephone 301/695-2350. Links to all Web sites referenced in this issue can be found on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilot/links.shtml).