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March 1, 2009
By Ian J. Twombly
It’s a daunting task to write a reference book that decodes what, to me at least, has always been one of the most capable but thoroughly frustrating and confusing pieces of avionics ever devised for general aviation: Garmin’s GNS 480/CNX 80.
Granted, I’ve only flown GNS 480-equipped airplanes irregularly. I usually manage to load an IFR flight plan successfully on the ground. But with seemingly constant reroutes along the East Coast, I often end up cursing the box as it rejects my modified flight plans, sends annoying, green-shaded “discontinuity” messages, and unintentionally creates multiple flight plans overlaying one another like so many strands of spaghetti.
If the Qref handbook can help untangle this mess, it’s worth every bit of its $29.95 retail price.
On a recent IFR trip in the right seat of a 480-equipped airplane, the Qref book turned out to be a godsend. It fits easily onto a kneeboard. Its pages and binding are thick and robust enough to stand up to the cockpit environment, and most important, its instructions are concise and clear enough to use on the fly.
Time to load a GPS approach? Find the IFR tab, and the first page gives a numbered, button-by-button sequence to follow. It doesn’t explain why the switchology is the way it is—and that’s fine. I’m not looking for an explanation at this point. I just want to know what buttons to push, in what order, to load and activate the approach. Qref doesn’t give me a bunch of fancy color graphics or explanations here. It cuts to the chase. And that’s exactly what a quick reference guide meant for use in the cockpit should do.
It’ll be a constant companion on my future trips in 480-equipped airplanes. —Dave Hirschman Price: $29.95 Contact: www.qref.com
PS Engineering recently introduced the PMA8000B-MP3, its newest audio panel, featuring a 1-gigabyte built-in MP3 player. Files are transferred between your computer’s USB or a flash drive and the audio panel with a supplied cable, after which no wires are required. Buttons on the face of the audio panel control all functions, including skip forward and back, volume, pause, and random play.
The PMA8000B-MP3 is a direct replacement for the PMA8000, PMA8000B, and Garmin GMA 340 audio panels. In testing, we weren’t surprised with the audio panel’s good performance with ATC communications and internal intercom. That’s a PS Engineering standard. But for only $150 more than the company’s PMA8000B, the music function is fun and completely worth it. Using the functions is easy and the music comes through nicely. Price: $1,849 Contact: www.ps-engineering.com; 800-427-2376
As Apple’s iPhone continues to take over the smartphone world, new applications are springing up every day. One of the most talked about for aviation is ForeFlight, a program the company has branded as Preflight Intelligence.
ForeFlight contains a full airport/facilities directory, detailed weather, approach plates, airport diagrams, the ability to file a flight plan, notams, and route and distance information in one tidy package. The program’s interface couldn’t be simpler. Information is obtained through a shallow network of user-friendly menus and simple forward and back buttons. With its visual appeal, ForeFlight fits perfectly into the iPhone’s style.
The routing tool gives users the ability to obtain direction and distance information between two airports, as well as the most recently IFR-cleared routing. In addition to the standard A/FD information found in the paper version, ForeFlight adds FBO and transportation information, further solidifying its purpose as a cross-country tool. Other great features include a “recent” screen that brings up recently viewed airports with a color-coded weather report to the side. It’s a quick and easy way to check the status of an airport as you wait out the weather. Finally, the application has what the company calls “near me,” a tool that allows for quick searching of close airports and other information.
ForeFlight is a powerful tool, but there are a few drawbacks. For one, a lot of the data and information has to be accessed via a network, making it only marginally useful in the cockpit and frustrating on the ground when 3G or Wifi aren’t present. When those graphics do download, we wish they would interact with the accelerometer and give the biggest view possible. Finally, although almost all of the functions ForeFlight packages are available scattered online for free, the company is still pricing it well beyond the range of most iPhone apps. Price: $74.99; desktop version is available Contact: www.foreflight.com
For those looking for a great instrument refresher, check out Sporty’s redesigned Instrument Proficiency Check. The two-hour DVD is a short course in everything instrument flying. It is divided into six categories: regulations; basic attitude instrument flying; aircraft systems; navigation, clearances, and holding; approaches; and emergencies.
Covered topics include everything from instrument currency regulations and instrument scans to pitot static failures and NDB intercepting and tracking. According to Sporty’s, the redesign was necessary to include new regulations and reflect changing technology. Along those lines, GPS is a major part of the DVD. The basic functions are covered, but useful tidbits from Richard Collins such as the considerations of filing flight plans with GPS are the most valuable. Instrument Proficiency Check is a good update for anyone looking for a quick refresher or a study aid for an upcoming IPC. Price: $39.95 for DVD; $29.95 for download Contact: www.sportys.com; 800-776-7897
Unless otherwise stated, products listed 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.
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.
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