Although were quick to credit the GPS manufacturers for their clever work on palm-sized navigators, weve also cursed the lousy yoke mounts most of them provide, seemingly as an afterthought.
Garmin and Lowrance make the most popular portables but in our view, the companies have fallen short on thoughtful yoke mount design. We think the Garmin 195s mount in particular is a heavy, clunky kludge of a thing that hardly equals the navigators basic quality.
In general, stock GPS receiver mounts simply dont put the display where you can see it without blocking the view of critical instruments or controls. A quick canvas of local pilots revealed this short list of variables that have challenged the mount maker :GPS make/model; aircraft make/model; height and girth of pilot (a huge variable); pilots instrument scanning technique and pilots personal preference. Its no wonder the one-size-fits all GPS mount doesnt fit at all. Noticing the ads for aftermarket mounts, we decided to give them a go.
Better Mouse Trap
National Products, Inc. manufactures some 150 component parts that allow mounting just about anything anywhere. Theyre used in aircraft, automobile, boat, farm vehicle and other utility applications. Think of this system as an Erector Set, with interchangeable accessories to mount a GPS, camera, light, computer, cellular phone or what have you. You name it, theyll fasten it in place.
The key to Nationals R-A-M (Round-A-Mount) Technologies ball-and-socket mounting systems is a hard rubber ball, injection molded onto a marine-grade aluminum post and an adjustable clamp that grips like a Pitbull.
The clamps and balls are available in four diameters – 9/16 inch through 2 1/4 inch. We found the 1-inch ball and matching accessories ideal for mounting a GPS or handheld radio in an aircraft. Clamped ball-and-sockets have been around for generations, but one that doesnt slip is rare indeed-we tighten our cellphone mount in the car at least once a week.
But a R-A-M system, once set, stays set. Period. The molded rubber balls are rock hard, making for a vibrationless coupling, yet just soft enough so the clamp can grip without slipping. The clamp is dirt simple, yet reflects its space-age origin.
Its sort of like an elongated clam shell (see photo) with cast aluminum halves joined by a stainless steel bolt, with one end held open by a stainless steel spring. To install, you squeeze the end near the spring, thus opening the opposite end.
Into this open end, insert the ball thats attached to a R-A-M mounting accessory and release your hold on the clamp. It will automatically grasp the ball just enough for later adjustments. Finally, insert the ball attached to your GPS or other object into the other end of the clamp, move the GPS to exactly where you want it and tighten the large knob in the middle of the clamp.
It doesnt take a Sumo wrestler to crank the clamp in place. If you can put the lid on a jar of peanut butter, you can tighten this clamp sufficiently to hold a GPS or other device firmly in place, even in turbulence. Repositioning it or removing your GPS requires just a simple twist of the knob. The patented R-A-M components have a powder-coated black finish and are covered by a lifetime warranty.
Our first visit to R-A-Ms Web site unearthed the mother lode of parts and pieces. There were at least a dozen illustrations of various GPSs mounted on typical aircraft control yokes, so we ordered several component groups with an eye toward some testing. Although we know some pilots have purchased R-A-M systems that worked right out of the box, we were soon to learn that such would not be our experience. To simplify what follows, we will omit the RAM-B- thats the prefix of each part number for all 1-inch ball components. For example, #120B refers to the RAM-B-120B Quick Release Holder. By the way, this is a clever adjustable cradle that will hold just about any GPS, handheld radio, cellphone or similar device.
Also note R-A-M has incorporated the 1 3/16 inch x 1 1/2 inch AMPS hole pattern standard for cellular phone holders into some of their components. Garmin uses that standard, so you can remove the cradle from a Garmin 195 yoke mount and fasten it directly to several of the R-A-M components. Some Lowrance cradles also use this standard. Makes for a very nice installation.
Trial and Error
Our first field test was in a Piper Archer with a Lowrance GPS. We started with the #120B universal holder-with-ball, #201 clamp and #121B yoke C-clamp-with-ball. But when we adjusted the GPS so we could see the display to our liking, it blocked our view of the directional gyro. With one test pilot, his avoirdupois limited just how much flare he could manage with the GPS mounted on the yoke. A check for full control movement while you are seated in your normal flight position is a must. It was beginning to look like this wasnt going to be as easy as we thought.
Next, we moved to a Cessna 172 and grabbed a Garmin GPS. Because of the large pad on the Skyhawks yoke, we had to use the combination of #125B-G1P angled mounting plate fastened to the Garmin cradle, with a #201 clamp connecting to the #121B yoke clamp-with-ball.
We never could adjust it so the GPS was anywhere near an acceptable viewing position. So we consulted with R-A-Ms staff. They came up with two additional components that fixed this problem.
One solution was a double-ball extension that looks like a Lilliputian dumb-bell. When we added that, along with another #201 clamp, it lengthened the reach of the system and made both our Piper and Cessna installations adjustable to the personal tastes (and shapes) of all the pilots who tried it.
Connecting two clamps in series permits articulations beyond a yogis wildest dreams and when the large knobs are tightened the parts absolutely will not move nor vibrate loose.
A second solution is #224, a 4-inch diameter suction cup-and-ball, which we mounted at the extreme lower left of the Cessna windshield. When we clamped together that and the #202 standard base-with-ball (with the Garmin cradle screwed onto it), we had the ultimate solution for that environment. Completely out of the way, yet positioned where it was easily an extension of our normal instrument scan.
This also freed up the yoke so we could put our approach plate clamp back where we prefer it, in the center of our scan. We found this very supple suction cup grabbed the windshield as if it were glued in place. Surely not easily knocked off by accident. It grabs so securely that R-A-M had to mold a tiny tab on its edge, to be pulled when you want to remove it. Otherwise, its not easy to unstick for intentional removal.
Aircraft with large-diameter yoke shafts, such as Beechcrafts Baron and Bonanza can use the #108B base-with-ball and the Ram-Strap 40- similar to a stainless steel hose clamp, with a rubber pad both protecting the yoke and insuring a solid grip for the clamp.
What To Do?
If your GPSs OEM yoke mount doesnt cut the mustard, first see if its cradle is removable and if it has the AMPS hole spacing. If so, you can begin building your new mount with a #202 base-with-ball, bolting the GPSs cradle directly to it.
R-A-M includes the necessary screws with that base. Otherwise, youll have to begin with the #120B Quick Release Holder. Next, if your aircraft has a wrap-around windshield, similar to the Cessna 172, get the #224 suction cup-with-ball. Finally, buy a #201 clamp to hold them together and youll have a swell mounting assembly. All for about $50.
If your aircraft has a crowded panel or the sloping windshield found on many Piper products, consider using a #121B yoke C-clamp-with-ball, two #201 clamps, the #230 double ball extension and the #202 standard base (or #120B). This allows the greatest flexibility to get the GPS precisely where you want it and at the desired angle.
Weve noticed that few FBOs stock R-A-M components in sufficient quantity to put together a workable set-up so mail or Internet order is the best bet. Order component parts from Aircraft Spruce (1-877-477-7823), American Avionics (1-800-575-3550) or Varga Enterprises (1-800-966-6936). Contact National Products at 1017 S. Elmgrove St. Seattle, WA 98108 206-763-8361 (www.ram-mount.com).
Also With This Article
Click here to view the RAM Mounting System Checklist.
Click here to view the RAM Parts Price List.
-by Ward Miller
Ward Miller is an instrument rated private pilot.