A lot of new avionics buyers stress over the steep learning curve, but not all do their part with structured training. There is good knowledge to be had if you’re willing to pay for it. A few years ago I went out to Garmin’s Olathe, Kansas, training center and completed one of its multiday retrofit avionics pilot training courses. And shortly before that, I took the G1000 pilot and also the maintenance course. All were favorable experiences, and I left exhausted and more savvy than when I arrived. So when COVID-19 put the brakes on any in-person learning, I was anxious to see how Garmin’s latest virtual pilot training compared. As expected, it was like drinking from a fire hose, and covered a lot in a short amount of time, just like the in-person training did.
During the pandemic, Garmin adapted to the virtual world and created a variety of training opportunities, both professional instructor-led and eLearning courses. The latter are ones that pilots can take on their own, while the live instructor-led interactive courses are taught over the GoToMeeting platform. The good part about virtual training is you don’t spend money on travel, or have multiple days away from work, although don’t plan on doing anything but the training on the day you’re scheduled. It occupies the entire day, and you will interact with the instructors. That means no sleeping (I’m dreaming about several of my favorite beverages in the photo during one 10-minute break), and you better have a solid internet connection. It’s easy to fall out of the discussion if you miss even a few minutes. You follow along, with fingers pushing the buttons on either Garmin’s GTN Xi trainer (the focus of my course) for Apple, or the PC trainer, which has more features and is what the instructors are essentially leading with. I don’t have a PC, so I used the trainer app on my iPad. One prerequisite for my class was completing (ahead of time) the GTN Essentials eLearning course, included in the price of the live course.
For sure, the instructor-led courses are highly structured, but flexible to accommodate off-curriculum questions. Just like in person, you’ll learn something from other classmates, simply by hearing about how and where they operate.
David Klein—my classmate who flies a Piper Malibu out of California—and I were resourceful for one another, feeding off each other’s questions and experiences. There’s also a strong focus on scenario-based training, simulating segments of various procedures and at the end of the course, flying an entire trip on the simulator, while the instructor offered tips on how to reduce workload by making the equipment do what you want it to do, based on ATC and aircraft demands, with the least amount of menu-surfing and key presses.
The courses are led by active flight instructors (Garmin employees) who have a good working knowledge of the latest and early-gen system software, interfaceability and importantly, understand how pilots will use the equipment in the real world. Most instructors worked in Garmin’s aviation product support group—often answering calls from frustrated owners that just spent big on new Garmin gear, and now struggle with a steep learning curve. They also work trade shows and hear about all the things owners want Garmin to tweak or add into the feature set. Yes, these folks are thick skinned. My instructors—Matt Clark and Paul Youmans—split the session, and each was well prepared and patient.
Garmin can also accommodate custom, on-demand training situations on a first-come, first-served basis. Perhaps the most basic instructor-led live course focuses on the GTN navigator. The one-day course is $495 and covers both legacy GTN navigators, as well as the current GTN Xi series. If you have a legacy GTN, there are some sizable additions and improvements to the Xi’s feature set, and the course points them out.
I completed the $625 GTN and Flight Display course, which combines the navigator interface with Garmin’s retrofit displays. There’s also a course on ship’s weather radar, plus another on the G1000/G1000 NXi. Garmin also has no-cost monthly one-hour webinars. We’ll dive deep into structured avionics courses and Garmin’s curriculum in an upcoming field report. —Larry Anglisano