by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2019 issue
I have had the opportunity to fly some of the most sophisticated aircraft in the industry while instructing customers. Aircraft with state-of-the-art avionics. So, when it came time to update the avionics in my old Bonanza, I knew what I wanted, and what I could afford.
My current avionics included a pair of King KX-175 nav/coms, a King KR87 ADF and yes, a Loran C. I was able to find a used Garmin GTN-480 (Garmin end-of-life) navigator, and a used Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) in/out transponder for a few hundred bucks on E-bay. I took out the Loran, kept one of the KX-175s and the ADF, and added GPS steering to the autopilot and a high-speed Internet box.
This article is focused on the Garmin GDL-52 and the Garmin Area 660, which I also decided to install in my airplane.
Last summer at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Sporty’s Pilot Shop had a special promotion on a Sirius XM unit for satellite weather (WX), and I purchased one, as I was never happy with ADS-B weather after having XM weather on a portable Garmin 396 for a number of years. I used the WX box with ForeFlight on my third generation iPad and had to continue to reset the WX box every 20 minutes or so to keep current WX. I blamed the iPad being an older model. Then for my birthday, just before Christmas, I got a new iPad Mini from my wife. Same problem – now I blamed the WX box and called Sporty’s, who I compliment on their super service, and had a replacement WX box in hand within four days. The new WX box played well on the iPad Mini for about a month, then the same symptoms appeared again. I blamed a bad batch of an electronic component in the production run on the WX box. Again, Sporty’s – with help from Sirius XM – allowed for me to return the defective WX box with a generous consideration for my trouble. At which time, I purchased the Garmin GDL-52 (from Sporty’s, of course), after much research.
Garmin makes numerous ADS-B and Sirius XM receivers, both portable and fixed install boxes. I chose the GDL-52, as it gave me dual-band traffic, ADS-B WX and the capability of Sirius XM weather, which I mentioned earlier as being far superior to ADS-B WX, in my opinion. Yes, there is a subscription price, but having more up-to-date weather and many more products to help me, pays for a year’s subscription on one flight. I want to stress in this article that any WX, other than live radar, should only be used for weather planning and avoidance…only live radar should be considered when penetrating WX or looking for a safe route through it.
The Garmin GDL-52 has worked great on my iPad with ForeFlight, but after reading more about the GDL-52, I found it supported other Garmin displays, as well. I was wondering if it would support my old Garmin 396, only to find no support listed. After talking with one of my colleagues, he told me about the Garmin Area 660 he had in his aircraft and could not stop bragging about what a great unit it was, and it worked perfectly with his Garmin GDL-52. So, I decided to retire my Garmin 396 to my seaplane and replace the docking station in my Bonanza with a new Area 660. Size-wise, the GDL-52 was a perfect fit, so my installer did not kill me for the last-minute panel change.
The Garmin Area 660 can be paired with the GDL-52 in two ways: through hard wire or by using a Bluetooth link. The Area 660 has two Bluetooth channels and two serial connections, so I decided to have my installer connect the Area 660 and the GDL 52 via serial channel, leaving one serial channel on the Area 660 to connect to the Garmin 480. The GDL 52 also has two Bluetooth channels for data, and one for audio and two serial data channels and one audio channel. This combination of Garmin boxes gives a lot of versatility to the pilot, allowing two iPads using ForeFlight to connect wirelessly. Only recently did ForeFlight begin supporting the Garmin GDL-52.
Garmin really hit a home run with the Area 660, mimicking most of the same format used in their 650/750 navigators. This simplifies the learning curve for pilots already using these navigators, plus it gives pilots considering an upgrade to these boxes a chance to see most of the functions before buying.
The screen on the Area 660 is extremely sharp and bright, which is one of the downfalls of an iPad running ForeFlight. Flight plans are easily entered, and modified and when connected to some Garmin panel-mounted navigators, and can be uploaded or downloaded at the pilot’s discretion.
Dual band ADS-B in traffic is displayed on a variety of available charts when connected to the GDL-52. You have a choice of either ADS-B weather, and Sirius XM weather, both from the GDL 52, or Internet weather on the ground via WiFi. Garmin makes several versions of the GDL series units, and I chose the 52 because of the better quality, speed, resolution and available products of Sirius XM as I mentioned earlier in this article.
There is so much information available from the many different databases in the Area 660, and a slot for a micro SD card for many specialized chart applications. The Area 660 even has instrument approach charts that are geo-referenced. If you can think of something usable to pilots in flight, it is in there – fuel prices, radio frequencies, safe taxi charts, obstructions, and many more I have not yet mentioned. You can tune certain nav/com frequencies on some Garmin radios from the database and get backup gyro information from an attitude and heading reference system (AHARS) installed in the GDL-52 for emergency use.
I have never been a fan of portable avionics because of the kludge of wires running all over the cockpit, but with a professional installation and a custom docking station from Air Gizmos, most of that can be eliminated.
If these units were TSO’d panel mount units, they would cost us many times more. We, as pilots, need to continue to get as much information as we can when planning and executing a flight, and this combination of portable avionics is the best I have seen to date.
Please remember that the most important job we have is to fly the airplane. Don’t get an information overload as I have emphasized in my column in previous issues of Midwest Flyer Magazine. I don’t want to fall into this trap myself with these neat new boxes. I have only had the opportunity to fly these boxes with a portable set-up and can’t wait until my aircraft comes out of the shop to see what else they can do.
I recently made a flight to the Joliet, Illinois airport in a beautiful G1000-equipped Cessna 206. It was still winter-like weather, and there was ice in the clouds. It was sure a comforting feeling to have the TKS in-flight de-icing system. Ceilings were low, and this was a training flight for a pilot customer who aced the entire flight. We did numerous approaches on the way home – some in low instrument meteorological conditions
(IMC), which improved by the home airport. We were even able to do a circling approach for an instrument proficiency check (IPC).
I am mentioning this flight to remind pilots that even with the best equipment, “flight planning” is critical. Many pilots don’t think enough about flight planning, thinking air traffic control (ATC) will not let them do something wrong. Many times, a clearance can be vague, luring a pilot to do something that could jeopardize a flight and may even cause a fatal accident. This was not the case on this flight, but I remind pilots to get and use all the information pertaining to their flight.
I need to say a few great words about the Garmin Area 660 on this flight as Garmin provided departure procedures (DP) for the departing airport and in an easy instant-find location in one of its many databases.
One such fatal accident from many years back comes to mind and was mentioned in one of my previous columns. A pilot flying a Cirrus on an instrument flight plan in mountainous terrain asked ATC to go direct to a fix, and he was cleared as requested. He flew into a mountain and it was fatal. The outcome of the investigation (right or wrong) brought to our attention was that ATC is not responsible for terrain when requested “direct to” by the pilot. If the pilot in this case had requested “radar vectors” to that fix, ATC would have provided terrain clearance.
Another trap is when a pilot is departing a Class G airport under IMC with a clearance to enter controlled airspace on a specific heading. I doubt that ATC checked terrain before giving this clearance.
We have all seen on approach charts to climb to a certain altitude before turning, or no IMC departure from a certain runway. Departing Tri-County Regional Airport in Lone Rock, Wisconsin (KLNR) on Runway 36 in low IMC could ruin your day, and all the future days to come, as there are steep hills on the north end of the airport. Departures are serious business, and in some cases, ATC will not give you a clearance unless you confirm that you can remain in visual meteorological conditions (VMC) until reaching a certain altitude. Pilots need to remember that there are two types of departures…Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) when departing large airports, but there are also departure procedures, which cover obstacles that could ruin your day.
Stay current or get current and remember, flight planning is important!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Lone Rock (KLNR) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to email@example.com or call 817-988-0174.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.