I Want My GPS


Frank Bowlin offered me the soapbox this month while he lets the meds from a recent medical procedure wear off. He might regret that.

aircraft GPS system

I have the utmost respect for the products and people of Garmin. Many are serious pilots as passionate about aviation as you and I. Many read IFR, too. However, I’m fed up.

We need completely realistic virtual avionics. I’ve been ringing this bell for a decade now and have achieved exactly nothing. Simulator training for real-world pilots is crippled without them. Pilots can’t practice the buttonology, which atrophies even faster than a six-pack scan. Pilots also want their own panels to fly virtually. I say that’s one of the biggest barriers to expanding the use of simulation.

There are two solutions for virtual avionics. One is emulate them. That’s what companies like FlyThisSim and Mindstar Aviation do for ATDs. Mindstar does it for home simulators as well. Both solutions are good, but they’re always playing catchup. For example, WAAS GPS approaches just recently came to Redbirds (which use custom Mindstar avionics) and still aren’t available for the home sim GPS.

None of these emulations behave exactly like the real units. Users collide with those differences in unexpected ways that break the immersion—or, worse, misrepresent reality. I just ran into this one: If a 430W during an approach doesn’t have accurate position but hasn’t lost it entirely, you should see an INTEG annunciation and get a specific error code: “Abort Approach—Loss of Navigation.” But you can still use the GPS for the missed approach. (Don’t get me started on cryptic and misleading GPS error codes.) Want to practice that on a Redbird? You can light the INTEG annunciator…and pretend the rest.

It’s not FlyThisSim or Mindstar’s fault. It’s not economically feasible to emulate everything, which brings us to option two: embed the actual GPS navigator code somewhere and run that on the simulator. That’s exactly what RealityXP and Flight1 do by “hijacking” the free Garmin simulators. Remember ASA’s OnTop home sim? That used the RealityXP plus Garmin’s free software in the background.

These hacks are unsupported by Garmin, so you get much better buttonology, but no way to load that new RNAV (GPS) approach at your airport because the database is from 2015.

Hence my rant. The company won’t help the emulators with accuracy, nor acknowledge the hackers and improve that solution, nor crack down on the hackers who undermine the emulators by taking market share, nor work with industry player or group to bridge Garmin avionics software directly with sims.

Has their intractable position killed anyone due to lack of training? I doubt it. I’m sure they don’t want the nightmare of direct support to end users and I understand they can’t do this for free. But there’s a financial opportunity—and, I believe, an ethical obligation—to find partners and a solution. I’d buy it.


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