AOPA Pilot Magazine
AOPA Pilot’s Handheld GPS Directory
Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has become so pervasive in general aviation that it’s getting hard to imagine leaving home without it.
AA batteries are essential equipment in our flight bags now—and they’re not just for flashlights anymore. Air traffic controllers spell intersections when they reroute us because they know pilots can follow even the most challenging clearances—as long as we spell the waypoints right.
Formerly exotic GPS features, such as moving maps and color displays, have become commonplace in recent years. And names we knew and trusted, such as Magellan, Trimble, and IIMorrow, have disappeared as a few aviation GPS manufacturers have taken commanding positions in the fast-changing, highly competitive marketplace.
Consumer prices for increasingly capable GPS receivers have remained flat or, in many cases, declined as manufacturers have geared up production. A decade ago, a then top-of-the-line Garmin GPSMap 195—a bricklike, six-battery receiver with a black-and-white moving map display—retailed for $1,199 (about $1,500 today). Now, a GPSMap 96, a smaller unit with many similar features, sells for $375 and runs longer on just two AA batteries. A GPSMap 496 that lists for $2,395 today has terrain- and obstacle-avoidance features and weather-depiction capabilities that would have been hard for most GA pilots to imagine a decade ago.
WAAS (the wide area augmentation system) has increased GPS accuracy to within three meters vertically and horizontally and promises a revolution in instrument approach safety and reliability—and all current production GPS units are built to take advantage of the upgraded signals. While no handheld GPSs are IFR approved, many can display instrument approach paths and could dramatically increase pilot situational awareness during that critical phase of flight.
With or without WAAS, are you getting the maximum benefit from your handheld GPS? You’d be surprised to know how many pilots don’t utilize the capabilities of their GPS navigators beyond the “Direct To” key—whether handheld or panel-mount. Make sure you really know how your GPS works, and learn how to use it more effectively on your next flight, by taking the AOPA Air Safety Foundation’s free GPS for VFR Operations online course.
As drivers, hikers, runners, golfers, boaters, and fishermen have enthusiastically adopted GPS, even more benefits have found their way into aviation. It’s no longer unusual when, after landing, GA pilots use their handheld GPS units to find hotels, restaurants, or recreation areas. Many of today’s more powerful units carry road databases, and they have enough processing power to display air and land data effortlessly.
Instead of being surprised when rental cars, boats, or golf carts contain GPS, GA pilots are slightly incredulous when they don’t. Our world is increasingly “slant golf.”
Updated April 2, 2008