Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Garmin Introduces The Touch-Screen 650 And 750

The Garmin 430 and 530 revolutionized the avionics world in 1999. Now, Garmin hopes to do it again with the even-more-talented 650 and 750.

Flying Garmin's Ovation, I couldn't help but notice how much more intense the display is than on the older systems. That's not to demean the 430 and 530 (I still love my 430), but there are glare and sun-line conditions under which it's tough to see detail on older systems. That's not the case with the 650 and 750. I banked the airplane and flew circles to find the most adverse sun angles I could, and the display remained eminently visible.

Garmin was well aware that a major criticism of touch-screen controls in an aircraft avionics system is the inherent instability of a single finger trying to press a specific control key or keys in rough air. For that reason, Garmin installed finger-anchoring bezels on both sides of the displays and a stabilization board at the bottom. When you're bouncing around in turbulence, you can anchor a thumb or fingers on the sides or bottom of the display, and still hit the proper key accurately. (I do the same thing on my 430's soft keys, but it's not as easy.)

If you opt for data entry and selection by the old method, there's a pair of concentric knobs, a volume/squelch knob, and HOME and DIRECT TO buttons. This allows you to input frequencies and flight plans as before while accessing previous pages with the touch of a button. Using the HOME key, you can return to most primary pages in one or two clicks.

Dave Brown suggested we fly down to Avon Park Executive Airport, 40 miles southeast of Lakeland, to get away from the air-show traffic. That would allow us to test the system's ability to couple to the autopilot and shoot an automatic approach. I pointed the airplane in the approximate direction of KAVO, and Brown coupled the system to the autopilot. Florida is fairly flat, so there's nothing to hit if you're above 1,000 feet, but it still was comforting to know the 750 incorporates a built-in terrain database that indicates when potential obstructions are nearby. The new Garmins are compatible with a number of autopilots, but only the Garmin 700 is available with the G1000.

On the way to Avon Park, Dave demonstrated the system's dramatically improved processor, now faster than ever before. It seems each new generation of GPS benefits from a quicker processor, making screen changes almost instantaneous.

Fortunately, the weather was excellent for our flight, so XM WX had nothing to show us, but it was comforting to know that we would have had NEXRAD, METARs, TAFs and all the other acronyms available if we had needed them. (XM Weather requires a subscription to the service.)

If you do need to deviate for weather or ATC, it's a fairly simple process. Pilots can edit an active route on the map itself, entering new waypoints or modifying the sequence by dragging a finger across the screen. If ATC assigns a Victor airway or high-altitude jet route, the pilot can overlay the route on the map, then modify it as necessary with a "rubber band" feature to accommodate ATC deviations as needed. If you've worked an iPhone, you'll be basically familiar with the concept.


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