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Avionics: Garmin G600: Worth the WaitAvionics: Garmin G600: Worth the Wait

Garmin's G600 ready for the retrofit (and OEM) marketGarmin's G600 ready for the retrofit (and OEM) market

A gray band of stratus clouds between 700 and 2,000 agl provides ideal conditions for an introduction to the G600—Garmin’s glass-panel retrofit for the general aviation fleet. “We’ll climb above the clouds so you can see how the display handles bright sunlight,” says Ben Kowalski, a Garmin sales manager, who occupies the right seat of company’s 1988 Mooney M20J during a recent demo flight that began at the company’s flight test facility at New Century AirCenter (IXD) in Olathe, Kansas.

A gray band of stratus clouds between 700 and 2,000 agl provides ideal conditions for an introduction to the G600—Garmin’s glass-panel retrofit for the general aviation fleet.

“We’ll climb above the clouds so you can see how the display handles bright sunlight,” says Ben Kowalski, a Garmin sales manager, who occupies the right seat of company’s 1988 Mooney M20J during a recent demo flight that began at the company’s flight test facility at New Century AirCenter (IXD) in Olathe, Kansas. “Then we’ll set up for an ILS approach to Runway 33 at Lawrence [LWC] and an LPV approach to Runway 36 at New Century.”

The G600’s pair of 6.5-inch (diagonal) displays come alive soon after engine start, and we taxi away from Garmin’s tall hangar so that the GPS can get a clear signal. Garmin’s SafeTaxi diagrams show our airplane’s position as we move to Runway 36 for takeoff.

The airspeed tape on the left side of the PFD advances steadily during the takeoff roll, and pre-programmed markers show V X (best angle) and V Y (best rate) during our climb.

Flying it

We start to break out into brilliant, morning sunshine at about 3,000 feet msl, and climb to 4,000 on our way toward Lawrence. I hand-fly the airplane through a series of steep and standard-rate turns and find that keeping the attitude indicator’s yellow, inverted V on the horizon is quite intuitive, and the G600’s rapid update rates instantly show minute changes in pitch and roll.

The G600 attitude indicator measures 4.8 inches (diagonal). That’s almost microscopic compared to the 10-, 12-, and even 15-inch PFD displays that are increasingly finding their way into modern GA cockpits. But even at its relatively modest size, the G600 attitude indicator is about 50 percent larger than the standard, 3.25-inch vacuum gauge it’s meant to replace.

This is my first flight behind a G600, and I find myself transfixed by the PFD at first. Within a few minutes, however, I let my eyes wander to the MFD—a short trip since both screens are in the pilot’s primary field of view. The MFD also shows a beguiling flow of information including terrain, weather, and traffic (when combined with optional XM Weather and other inputs).

An air traffic controller broadcasts a hazardous weather warning for our area, and Kowalski dials the range on the MFD map page from 20 out to 200 miles. The Nexrad shows a multicolored blob of precipitation about 100 miles south.

“Not our problem,” he says dismissively before zooming back in. (The weather map can zoom in to 500 feet and out to 2,000 miles.)

The bright displays are easily readable in direct sunlight, and an automatic dimmer constantly adjusts them. (The dimmer also can be adjusted manually.)

We descend to 3,000 feet, near the tops of the clouds, and enter a hold at the final approach fix for the ILS Runway 33 at Lawrence. In preparation for the approach, Kowalski calls up the electronic approach plates on the MFD. The G600 gives pilots the option of showing either Jeppesen or government plates. But the 6.5-inch displays make the print size too tiny to read at a glance. Critical information about decision heights, frequencies and timing is too small to read without zooming in—a process that involves more toggling.

The G600 allows pilots to follow their progress as the airplane moves across the electronic approach plates, or a map on the MFD. I prefer the map and its colorful “track-up” view rather than the approach plate and its black-and-white “north-up” view.

I lower the Mooney’s flaps and landing gear and watch the formerly magenta course line on the PFD turn green as the G600 picks up the localizer frequency.

A Garmin GNS 430W provides the brains for the G600 in the company’s Mooney, although the G600 works equally well when guided by a GNS 480 or 530W. Garmin has sold nearly 100,000 of those panel-mount IFR GPS units so far—and owners of those boxes are sure to comprise the most substantial segment of Garmin’s G600 market.

It’s easy to keep the Mooney on the localizer and glidepath during the ILS approach. A green dot next to the vertical speed tape on the PFD displays the glideslope. And an audible “ding” sounds an altitude alert 200 feet above the target altitude—in this case, decision height.

The missed approach procedure is a climbing, 180-degree, right turn back to the final approach fix, and the familiar magenta line materializes automatically on the MFD showing the proper course to follow.

Why the wait?

Garmin first announced the G600 at AirVenture 2006 in Oshkosh, and the company planned to begin selling the units a year later. But Garmin delayed the G600 project 12 months when its original display couldn’t be easily read from the right seat. Other screens with wider fields of view were just becoming commercially available, and Garmin elected to wait.

The decision to postpone the G600 was “purely internal,” Garmin officials said, and had nothing to do with the FAA certification process. The new displays required major mechanical changes and rewiring. Garmin obtained FAA certification in July and began shipping G600s immediately. The two-screen G600 system comes in a single package and retails for just under $30,000. The company is offering some rebates as inducements to current Garmin 400- and 500-series GPS owners.

Garmin said it took about 70 shop hours to install the G600 and related equipment in its Mooney. Other installations are expected to vary widely, but Garmin estimates most should be done in less than 100 hours of shop time.

“The benefit to our customers is that they get today’s technology without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new airframe,” said Jim Alpiser, Garmin’s director of aftermarket sales and marketing. The G600 is approved for installation in more than 800 airframes, including tailwheel aircraft that were slow to gain Aspen Avionics certification.

Garmin’s 12-month delay in introducing the G600 also has given new competitors a foothold in the glass-panel, GA retrofit market. Aspen Avionics, for example, has certified and begun delivering its vacuum system replacement PFDs for less than $10,000. Rival Honeywell Bendix/King announced its KFD 840 and KSN 770 PFD/MFD combination for GA retrofits as well.

Unlike Garmin’s fully integrated G1000, the G600 doesn’t have a built-in engine monitor, autopilot, or communications radios. Other Garmin panel-mounted, WAAS-enabled GPSs are
expected to provide the nav and coms, and the G600 is built to connect to a wide range of autopilots.

User-friendly logic

Back in the Mooney, air traffic controllers clear us to begin the GPS/LPV approach to Runway 36 at New Century. The approach has a standard T configuration—and the G600 rounds off the 90-degree turn onto the final approach course: The flight director on the PFD shows when to start the turn, and a dashed line on the MFD shows the airplane’s projected path over the ground. Once established on final, the PFD display is nearly identical to the previous ILS—and just as easy to follow.

On the ground, Garmin’s SafeTaxi system again displays an airport diagram and taxiway markings with complete fidelity.

Garmin discourages comparisons between the G600 and the larger, fully integrated G1000, saying the two products are meant for different markets. The G600 is designed as a retrofit for existing GA aircraft with standard six-pack panels. The G1000 is only available in factory-new aircraft and a few high-end turbine retrofits.

But the G600 is built on the same foundation as the G1000 (same AHRS, magnetometer, air data computer, and line replaceable units). From a pilot’s perspective, I found the G600 easier to operate than its big brother. There are fewer knob and soft-key combinations, and the system follows the same user-friendly logic as the ubiquitous Garmin 430s and 530s.

The G600’s smaller displays are bright and sharply detailed—and I liked the fact that they were both in the pilot’s field of vision. There’s no need to look to a center stack when scanning the MFD.

The G600 is like watching a regular-sized TV in your living room. The G1000 is a Jumbotron at a sports stadium.

I’m a little surprised Garmin chose to put the PFD/MFD panels side by side. It might have made more sense to put the PFD on top of the MFD as other avionics manufacturers are doing. But since the G600 is meant to fit in the space vacated by electro-mechanical six packs, there wasn’t room to arrange them vertically.

Garmin would surely prefer that new aircraft manufacturers stick with more expensive and powerful G1000s. But at least two new aircraft manufacturers, Aviat and Waco Classic, are putting G600s in their new Huskies and touring biplanes respectively, and I’m sure the larger manufacturers will follow.

Finally, Garmin served notice early this year with the introduction of its GPS-derived Synthetic Vision Technology (SVT) that it intends to revolutionize IFR flight by providing a pictorial view of the outside world. So far, the company is only selling SVT on G1000s through new aircraft manufacturers—first Diamond, then Mooney, and Cessna.

But Garmin is hinting that it intends to make SVT available to G600 buyers as an option. And just as SVT can be installed on G1000s in the field with a software upgrade, Garmin hopes to use a similar process to distribute SVT to G600s in the future.

“We’re motivated to provide SVT on the G600—and we very much want to do it,” Alpiser said. “There are some challenges with the limited display space and some other technical issues. But we’re actively working to solve them.”

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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