We never thought theyd do it. At least not this soon.
Its not that were cynical or anything but all the talk about color moving map panel mounts for the price of a mid-market navcom struck as just that, talk. (We were sure it would never happen once we caught wind of the fact that the FAA was regulating what colors the display could actually use.)
Yet with the impending introduction of the GNS 430, Garmin has pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. From our vantage point, the 430 appears to be the leading edge of a new generation of superboxes that will combine traditional navcom functions-including ILS-with GPS area navigation and approaches, all depicted on a vibrant color display that rivals some of the better laptop computers.
We were right about one thing, however: The 430 wont sell for the price of a mid-range navcom. The 430s introductory price was $8595 until the end of October and will escalate to $9200 until the end of the year and $9995 after that. Deliveries are expected by the first quarter of next year and by our estimate, April or May is a good bet. Figure on spending another $2000 for installation. Allowing for discounts, an invoice of $9000 to $11,000 seems right.
By comparison, that makes six grand for a state-of-the-art mapcom such as IIMorrows GX-60 or Garmins 300XL sound like chump change in a market thats becoming increasingly fractured by choices and price points on equipment that promises to remain cutting edge for, oh, at least a couple of weeks.
With such a lofty price tag, can the 430 cut through the market clag and offer buyers a choice with a technological shelf life commensurate with its cost? We predict that it will, but buyers will still have to review the boxs vitae carefully to convince themselves that its worth near the price of an engine overhaul.
We recently did just that on a flight trial in Garmins test bed Cherokee Six. Following our flight with Garmin test pilot Doug Carlson, we spent a full afternoon mashing buttons and twisting knobs on a 430 prototype running in simulator mode. Heres our first-look report:
The GNS 430 distinguishes itself from the current pack of IFR navigators on several fronts, none more obvious than its terrific color display. Like cutting-edge laptop computers, the screen is a liquid crystal display using DSTN or supertwist technology. In terms we can all understand, that yields bright, crisp colors with good enough pixel density to paint a remarkably sharp picture that stands up through a wide viewing angle.
Although bright color displays are voracious power consumers, thats not much of an issue for a panel mount, other than heat for the backlighting. On a near 100-degree Kansas day, the fan-equipped GNS 430 we flew was not especially warm to the touch nor did the color fade as the unit warmed up. The prototype has a built-in fan; production units may get by with only a recommended external fan.
About that color: Its better than we thought. We had seen the 430 on display at OSH and thought the color was a tad washed out. Not in the airplane. It was crisp and vibrant and fully visible in direct sunlight. We werent kidding when we said the FAA got involved in how color is used so although the screen is capable of 64 colors, only eight are used. (The FAA doesnt like shades of red, figuring it will scare nervous passengers, we suppose.)
Screen brightness is automatically controlled via photocell but theres a menu page to take it over manually or tie it directly to the aircraft dimmer bus. We didnt fly the 430 at night so the manual brightness control might be desirable to keep the screen from becoming a distracting nuisance after dark.
Color use is fixed. Land areas on the map are black, water is blue, airspace boundaries are green, labeling and some course lines are white, the active course line is magenta, comm labeling is blue reverse video, to name a few examples. In general, the color selection is satisfactory, although we would prefer to have some customization.
As have buyers, weve bitched about cheap portables having more features and sophistication than panel mounts costing five times as much. With its detailed surface map, the GNS 430 addresses that complaint for its very much a hybrid of Garmins popular GPS 195 portable and the companys previous panel mounts.
The surface map paints land and water areas, major highways and rail lines, special use airspace boundaries, airports, plus IFR fixes such as VORs and intersections. Although it draws in the active course line and shows all segments of approaches-complete with holding patterns and procedure turns-it doesnt depict airways.
If this sounds cluttery, it is. On some scales, the map is a jumble of boldly colored but unreadable labels and symbols. There are three solutions for this. One is to toggle the RNG button to change the scale to a more readable value-anything from 500 feet to 2000 miles. Another is to step into the menus and customize the surface detail, varying the scale at which various surface features appear-just as late generation portables do-or turning off the detail entirely. The third is a clever de-clutter feature. Punch the clear key once and roads vanish from the map, punch it again the airspace boundaries fall away, punch it again and youre down to your course line and the depicted approach. Another jab brings it all back.
The map sports some other handheld-type features. You can, for example, turn on the editing cursor by punching the right inner knob then use both knobs to position the cursor over a nearby airport or navaid symbol which will automatically access the database pages for those symbols.
This is a blessing for the lazy among us who dont feel like dragging out the sectional or slogging through the database to find out that the airport sliding past the left wing, 0W3, is Hartford County Airpark. Want the AWOS freq? The 430 can instantly fetch and autotune it.
Pages and Pages
The GNS 430 has the standard arrangement of stacks and pages for screen organization and covers the usual suspects, plus some extras. The large knob on the right slews through the stacks, the small knob the pages within.
If you get lost, holding the CLR key for a couple of seconds deposits you back on the numerical navigation or WAAS default page, a TSO requirement.
Another click clockwise brings back the map. One nice touch is a row of tiny ballot boxes along the bottom edge of the screen that graphically illustrates which page youre on within a larger stack, minimizing blind blundering.
Unlike some handhelds, the 430s isnt festooned with questionable iterations of the map screen. There are basically two choices: One with numerical nav data in a block on the right side of the screen, one without. The datablock is easily toggled on and off with the menu key. The menu also allows customizing the datablock, just as with the GPS 195. If you want groundspeed at the top of your display and distance at the bottom, you can shuffle the blocks content to your hearts content.
Anyone whos used a loran or GPS since about 1986 should have no trouble navigating the 430s various pages. With no manual-it doesnt exist yet-it took us about three minutes to tour and grasp the 430s display structure. Less obvious are the knobs in the upper left and the row of labeled function keys along the bottom edge of the display. These arent soft keys but dedicated controls that pull up a specific function, such as CDI switching or flight planning.
While were on the subject of controls and buttons, the GNS 430 has lots; more, in fact, than any other piece of avionics weve encountered since converting an old World War II BC-348 to snag shortwave signals from Europe. Counting the lot, there are 18 knobs and buttons stuffed onto the 430s faceplate, plus two datacards. Then again, this thing combines a traditional navcom with LOC-GS receiver with a full-featured, approach-capable GPS so its unrealistic to expect fewer controls.
Fortunately, the 430s controls are labeled and, with four exceptions, are predictably simple to use. For a handheld user, the direct-to, clear, enter, flightplan, menu and message keys are straightforward. The 430 has some unfamiliar buttons, however. One labeled CDI couples the VOR/LOC CDI to either the 430s GPS section for non-precision approaches and en route nav or the ILS side for precision approaches.
A key labeled PROC pulls up a submenu listing approach procedures (SIDs and STARs, too) for a particular airport. Interestingly, ILSs are also listed and although you fly an ILS with the 430s LOC-GS receiver and couple it to the navigation needles, the box automatically loads the ILS as a series of GPS waypoints, so you can monitor your approach progress on the map. Thats a useful feature for both position awareness and safety, although we wonder how many pilots will press it into service to fly an OTS ILS.
The rest of the 430s unusual controls relate to the VHF comm side and localizer tuning. The 430 has a 760-channel comm radio similar to to the unit used in Garmins GNC 250, 300 and 300XL GPS GPScomms, except with a 10-watt transmitter and menu-selectable 8.33 Khz channeling for the European market.
Weve been impressed with these in the past and based on a brief flight test, we have no reason to assume the comm section wont perform as well in the 430.
The comm control knobs consist of a volume control-also the power control for the entire unit-which doubles as a push-to-open squelch. Frequency setting is managed by a concentric knob pair on the left side. The same knob pair controls both VOR/LOC and comm frequency setting. Pushing in the inner left knob toggles between comm and nav frequency control.
Both the comm and VLOC sides have active and standby windows with a single button-one labeled C for comm, the other V for VOR/LOC-to flip from active to standby. These frequency windows are a fixed feature on the left side of the map display and they appear in blue reverse video. The unavoidable trap of stuffing so much function into a single box is that you occasionally find yourself twisting a knob and changing a value in the wrong field. To reduce that hassle, the 430s editing cursor reverts automatically to the comm field after a minute of disuse. In that sense, the left knobs work essentially as an independent comm.
We found comm/nav frequency integration to be well thought out. Heres an example: When leaving an airport, the unit defaults to the frequencies youll need for departure, beginning with ATIS. This info is found on the waypoint page and to load the frequencies into the standby windows, merely select them with the cursor and punch the enter key.
Similarly, when cruising along near an airport whose ATIS you want to check, slew the cursor over the airport and pull up the waypoint page to access the frequencies. From there, punching the enter key loads the frequency. It always goes into the standby first; the pilot has to activate it manually. The same goes for nav frequencies for VORs and localizers. You either scroll them in directly or refer to the database waypoint pages and have the receiver dump them into the standby window.
While its perking along merrily in GPS mode, the GNS 430 can navigate directly to a VOR or track a radial merely by tuning the correct frequency and coupling the indicator to the VOR side of the receiver. One thing we wish the 430 had for supplemental position awareness is a digital VOR indicator to read out radials from the selected VOR. Distance would be nice, too, while were asking for the moon.
These minor complaints aside, overall, we think Garmin has done an admirable job of marrying the conventional navigation functions into the GPS moving map. The knob and button peccadilloes aside, switching from one to the other is quick and easy, in our view.
Approaches are this boxs forte; its the only one we know of that will fly just about anything in the FAAs published inventory, including some ILS and LOC DMEs. Since IFR-approved GPS can now legally substitute for DME, per recent FAA decree, the GNS 430 is newly empowered. Limitation: the DME datum source has to be listed in the receivers database. In the GNS 430, most already are but the FAA hasnt yet decided how an approved receiver can use this data for an ILS-DME whose DME fixes arent named in the database.
In the early C129 navigators, approaches were stored as canned routes which were retrieved by entering the receivers database. Thats still the case but the 430 has a dedicated key-the PROC key-that significantly simplifies approach set-up, in our view. With an airport as the active waypoint, merely punch the procedure key and follow the menu choices until the list of available approaches appears.
As with a C129 navigator, you select the approach, then select the appropriate entry fix and the receiver loads the fixes into the flightplan bin. Stealing a page from Northstars book, the default choice for entering an approach is vectors to final, which automatically makes the final approach fix the active fix. Windows-style, the menus automatically step you through the proper sequence.
In days of yore, C129 boxes required a separate annunciator panel and, in Garmins case, manual arming of the approach and manual setting of baro values. No more. All the annunciation is self-contained and the navigator arms itself; no need to fumble with manual baro input, either.
Once selected and activated, the 430 draws the entire approach right on the screen, complete with holds and procedure turns. The active leg-the one youre flying from present position to enter the approach-is a magenta line, the rest of the approach is white, turning magenta as you enter that leg.
The box has smarts, too. It knows when a procedure turn is required and, like the Northstar M3, provides positive course guidance on the outbound leg and automatically suspends the autosequencing function until it figures out youve turned inbound. On the outbound leg, it knows when youve passed the FAF and flashes Procedure turn OK to advise you that youve entered the PT protected area.
Garmins original approach navigators had a dedicated remote switch for commanding the box to suspend autosequencing in order to complete a procedure turn. Although that function is automated now, the switch is still there, moved to the face of the receiver and renamed OBS.
This button is intended primarily for allowing the GPS to intercept a pilot-determined course to or from a fix but it doubles as a means for manually interrupting sequencing, say when you need to remain in the holding pattern for a few circuits. Speaking of holds, on approaches, the pattern is painted right there on the screen, so theres no excuse for turning the wrong way. You can even do the FAA-recommended hold entry without breaking a sweat.
As we noted, ILSs and localizer-type approaches are listed as menu choices and when selected, the course lines are projected on the map. Although you could physically fly a conventional ILS with GPS guidance, youd have no vertical guidance. So when an ILS is selected from the menu, the receiver automatically nominates the proper ILS frequency in the standby nav frequency window and nags you with a message warning that GPS guidance for the ILS is advisory only.
In the Olathe vernacular, the GNS 430 is a 129 box, meaning its certified to TSO C129 for en route, terminal and approach IFR. But ultimately, its supposed to be a 146 box, certified to the FAAs latest GPS TSO that will cover navigators approved to work with the soon-to-be wide area augmentation system or WAAS.
Trouble is, the TSO has been oft delayed and Garmin-like many buyers-got tired of waiting for it and has forged ahead with the 430. The hope is that it will meet TSO C146 when its released this fall, if in fact that happens. (We have our doubts.) In any case, to the question is this thing WAAS compatible, Garmin says yes, if not when early buyers install it then eventually.
Garmin is taking no small risk in stepping up to the plate ahead of the TSO. Although its unlikely, its not impossible that the TSO could appear with something weird and unexpected buried in paragraph 256. This wouldnt stop us from buying the unit because Garmin is likely to make good on any early units that dont meet the TSO. (If they dont, we can always roast em later.)
That said, Garmin has felt the slings and arrows of me-first product introductions. When it lead the approach-capable pack with the introduction of the GPS 155 in 1994, Garmin was hammered, unfairly, for inventing a difficult-to-use operating scheme and for pioneering steam-driven approach arming. In retrospect, although not a model for ease-of-use, the 155 was reasonably logical and receivers which followed the 155, namely the Trimble 2000 and IIMorrow 2001, were more difficult to operate, in our view.
But thats history. How about the future? How does the GNS 430 operating logic compare to Garmins earlier efforts and the current competition? Its considerably improved, in our view. But if youre a computer-hater and plan to hold out for a receiver that a child could use-make that a middle-aged VCR-phobic Yuppie-this receiver will be a disappointment.
Although the set-up menus, dedicated procedures key and autoarming features streamline approach set-up, there are still lots of buttons to push and knobs to turn. Adding the comm and VOR-LOC functions also adds complexity so what Garmin giveth with the improved logic, it taketh away with the additional functions. Most pilots will have to settle in with the manual and do some experimentation before becoming confident with this unit. That said, overall, we think the 430 is commendably easier to use than the first generation of C129 navigators.
Given the turmoil in the panel-mount GPS market, the GNS 430 clearly cuts through the fog with a well-defined set of functions in a nicely wrapped package that does plenty without stumbling over itself trying to do too much. With the exception of WAAS approval, everything is present and accounted for; no software or applications to come.
Well, almost. The 430 is capable of talking and listening via an ARINC-429 or an RS-232 datalink bus which means the hardware can display VHF datalink info, Stormscope-type displays and possibly even airborne radar. The software for those functions doesnt exist yet but if customers want it (they will), Garmin will provide. (Its not like these guys havent seen an Avidyne display)
How does the 430 fit into the current avionics mix? To answer that question, consider that the GNS 430 is the first mapcom that allows you to start yanking conventional boxes out of the panel. Say youve got two conventional digital navcoms, one with glideslope, DME, ADF and perhaps an older panel mount loran or GPS, approved or not. If you install the 430, you can gut that equipment entirely, since a TSO C129 unit already legally substitutes for DME and ADF and the 430s VOR and ILS capability satisfy the FAA requirement for ground-based navaids.
For redundancy, you could retain one conventional navcom or install another cheaper GPS mapcom, such as IIMorrows GX60 or Garmins 300XL. Once WAAS is fully in place-if it ever is-the 430 will likely be the first GA navigator approved for sole means navigation by satellite.
At $9,000 installed (minimum), this is not a down market bargain box. Whether its a good value or not depends on what else is available at the time youre ready to buy. (Trust us, the competition is only temporarily asleep.) For the foreseeable future-these days, thats about a year-the GNS 430 is the one to beat.
by Paul Bertorelli