Garmin Guidance on Database Updates

Garmin has published guidance for updating its GTN avionics with a Flight Stream and Database Concierge. Web page here; PDF here.

The Flight Stream 510, an SD card that is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, works with GTN-series avionics. It provides a wireless connection to the GTN to update databases and to provide GPS and ADS-B information to apps such as ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot. The FS510 is part of the Garmin Connext series of products and services.

 

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Garmin GTN Avionics and RF Legs

The release of updated operating software for Garmin GTN-series avionics brings new capabilities to many typical general aviation pilots who fly under IFR. One of the new features is the ability to fly curved radius-to-fix (RF) legs on some instrument approaches.

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Until recently, RF legs were published only on so-called RNP procedures with authorization required (AR) restrictions (for more information, see AIM 5−4−18: RNP AR Instrument Approach Procedures). But FAA has started publishing some approaches with RF legs (like the example above) that are not designated as RNP AR procedures. And, with some limitations, pilots who fly aircraft equipped with GTN-series avionics should be able to fly the RF legs used as transitions/feeder routes on those approaches. (Note that so far, these approaches don’t require RF capability–conventional transitions/feeder routes and/or radar vectors are also available.)

For more information about RF legs, see RNP Procedures and Typical Part 91 Pilots and Garmin Radius to Fix Leg Project Report here at BruceAir. For additional background on GPS navigation and RNP procedures, see also Updated AC 90-105A.

The revised STC for the GTN series (document 190-01007-A5) notes that:

GPS/SBAS TSO-C146c Class 3 Operation
…The Garmin GNSS navigation system complies with the equipment requirements of AC 90-105 and meets the equipment performance and functional requirements to conduct RNP terminal departure and arrival procedures and RNP approach procedures including procedures with RF legs subject to the limitations herein [emphasis added].

Sections 2.12 RF Legs and 2.13.1 RNP 1.0 RF Leg Types of the STC add the following information:

2.12 RF Legs
This STC does not grant operational approval for RF leg navigation for those operators requiring operational approval. Additional FAA approval may be required for those aircraft intending to use the GTN as a means to provide RNP 1 navigation in accordance with FAA Advisory Circular AC 90-105. [Note that per AC 90-105A, domestic Part 91 operations do not require additional approval–only Part 91 subpart K operations and commercial operations need LOAs or the equivalent FAA approval.]

The following limitations apply to procedures with RF legs:

  • Aircraft is limited to 180 KIAS while on the RF leg
  • RF legs are limited to RNP 1 procedures. RNP AR and RNP <1 are not approved
  • Primary navigation guidance on RF legs must be shown on an EHSI indicator with auto-slew capability turned ON
  • GTN Moving Map, EHSI Map, or Distance to Next Waypoint information must be displayed to the pilot during the RF leg when flying without the aid of the autopilot or flight director.
  • The active waypoint must be displayed in the pilot’s primary field of view…

2.13.1 RNP 1.0 RF Leg Types
AC 90-105 states that procedures with RF legs must be flown using either a flight director or coupled to the autopilot.

This STC has demonstrated acceptable crew workload and Flight Technical Error for hand flown procedures with RF legs when the GTN installation complies with limitation set forth in Section 2.12 of this document. It is recommended to couple the autopilot for RF procedures, if available, but it is not required to do so. See section 4.5 of this manual to determine if this capability is supported in this installation.

At present, only a few non-AR approaches with RF legs meet the criteria in the STC and AC 90-105A. But RF legs could become more common on “standard” procedures to provide paths that offer better noise abatement, reduce airspace conflicts, and improve ATC efficiency, and pilots flying with GTN avionics (or similar navigators offered by other manufacturers) will be able to fly those procedures.

Changes to Flight Plans with Procedures in GTN System Software 6.x

Garmin has released updated system software (version 6.11) for the GTN series of navigators. The software includes several new features. One of the most important changes, at least for day-to-day operations for typical general aviation pilots, is how loading (or activating procedures) affects departure and destination airports in flight plans (routes).

To learn about and practice using the new features, download the latest version of the free GTN 750 PC Trainer Lite from Garmin. The download includes updated manuals (PDFs) for the GTN series avionics that describe the new features in version 6.x.

I have experimented with how the new system software in the free GTN 750 PC Trainer Lite available from Garmin, and the following examples illustrate the changes and offer suggestions to help you adapt your personal techniques for using a GTN-series navigator in the cockpit. In particular, I offer suggestions for displaying information about your destination airport (frequencies, current weather, and so forth).

To learn about the new ad-hoc hold feature in the updated software, see Flying Ad-Hoc Holds with a GTN 750 here at my blog.

Basics of the Change

First, here’s a note in the updated Pilot’s Guide for the GTN 750 that describes how software version 6.x changes flight plans (routes) when you load an approach (or, it turns out, a departure procedure).

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Now let’s look at how this change affects when and how you load and fly a typical instrument approach.

A Typical IFR Flight Plan

Suppose you plan to fly from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle, WA to Spokane International Airport (KGEG) in eastern Washington. Here’s a route across the Cascades that I often fly in my normally aspirated Beechcraft A36.

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Note that the first and last waypoints in the flight plan are the departure airport (KBFI) and destination (KGEG). ATC typically assigns a SID when departing Boeing Field. When runway 13R is in use for IFR departures, your clearance includes the KENT7 (or the current version) SID, which you load as follows.

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Note that after you load the departure, KBFI no longer appears as a waypoint in your current flight plan. The first waypoint in the flight plan is now the runway ((RW13R), which is the first fix in the KENT7 SID. The IDs of the departure and destination airports, however, remain in the title of the Active Flight Plan.

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Here’s the first tip. If you use your GTN navigator to retrieve frequencies and other information about your departure airport, collect that data before you load a departure procedure.

Now assume that you have departed KBFI, followed the SID and ATC vectors to join V2, and proceeded to a point west of Spokane where you are preparing for the arrival and approach at KGEG, say the RNAV (GPS) RWY 21 Y approach.

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Given that you’re approaching KGEG from the west, ZOOMR is good fix to choose, at least initially, as the transition for the approach. ATC will probably provide vectors, but with all the fixes from the west now in the flight plan, it’s easy to accept a clearance direct to any of the fixes or legs along the path to the final approach segment.

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Notice that after you load the approach, the GTN removes KGEG from your active flight plan—unless the active leg of your flight plan includes the airport. Versions of the system software prior to 6.x always added the approach name and fixes for an approach below the destination airport.

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A Logical Change?

The change in behavior in version 6.x may disrupt your habits at first. But it also may reduce the potential for errors when you load and fly an approach (or DP) under typical circumstances.

The new behavior provides a seamless transition from waypoints in en route section of your flight plan to fixes in an approach. You no longer have to scroll below the destination airport in the active flight plan list to select an initial fix or to activate a leg of the approach you’ve loaded into the GTN.

A Change in Tactics?

The new behavior described above may lead you to change your basic technique for loading an approach.

I have long advocated loading procedures as early as possible—even before taking off if the destination is nearby—to reduce your workload during busy phases of flight. The new behavior in GTN software version 6.x, however, suggests a change in tactics, at least under some circumstances.

If you can determine well in advance which approach you prefer to fly—in-cockpit weather can give you an early alert about which runway is likely to be in use long before you can receive the ATIS or AWOS (that is, the one-minute weather at a non-towered airport)—then loading the approach you prefer or reasonably expect to fly is still a good idea. Just take a moment before you load the procedure to retrieve and note frequencies and other details about your destination airport from the GTN.

Pilots arriving or departing an uncontrolled airport that has automated weather broadcast capability (ASOS/AWSS/AWOS) should monitor the broadcast frequency, advise the controller that they have the “one−minute weather” and state intentions prior to operating within the Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface areas. (AIM 4-4-6)

ONE-MINUTE WEATHER− The most recent one minute updated weather broadcast received by a pilot from an uncontrolled airport ASOS/AWSS/AWOS. (P/C Glossary)

If you prefer to wait until you are closer to the airport, or if ATC clears you direct to the airport or issues vectors before initiating an approach clearance, you can delay loading the approach.

If you wait until the active leg of your flight plan includes the destination airport, the GTN adds the approach below the destination airport, just as it did prior to version 6.x.

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Or, as shown below, you can load a procedure early and then add the destination airport to the bottom of your current flight plan, so that the airport is still available as a reference and to provide easy access to the information about the airport in the GTN’s database. Here I’ve added KGEG below GANGS, the MAHP for the RNAV (GPS) RWY 21 Y approach. It’s easy, as before version 6.x, to touch the airport ID and then select Waypoint Info.

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Add an Alternate?

The change in version 6.x also simplifies adding an alternate to your flight plan.

Suppose the weather at KGEG is close to minimums as you begin your arrival. Adding an alternate airport to your flight plan before you miss the approach could reduce your workload during a critical phase of flight.

Here I’ve added Walla Walla, (KALW) as my alternate after the MAHP at GANGS.

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Now I can quickly retrieve information about KALW and even load an approach as soon as I get a new clearance from ATC.

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This technique would also be handy during training flights, when you fly several approaches, either to the same airport or close-by fields.

Other Methods for Retrieving Airport Information

If you prefer not to fuss with the way version 6.x handles airports in flight plans that include procedures, you can still retrieve information about airports from the GTN’s database, even if your departure and destination airports are no longer in your active flight plan.

For example, touch the map, scroll to display an airport, and touch an airport symbol. Touch Waypoint Info to display details (frequencies, current weather, runways, NOTAMs, and so forth) about the airport.

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You can also use the Nearest Airport feature (available from the Home screen) to gain quick access to details about your destination—provided you’re not too far away.

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Or you can use the various search option in the GTN to find an airport and retrieve information about it.

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More to Come

I’ll have more to say about the updated system software after I’ve had it installed in my airplane and explored the new features on test flights. Stay tuned.

Flying Instrument Approaches without Activating the Approach

Many pilots who use sophisticated GPS-based navigators have difficulty consistently loading and flying approaches. As I’ve noted elsewhere, pilots who use the vectors-to-final option may find themselves scrambling to comply with a clearance that directs them to a specific fix in the approach. Other pilots fumble with activating an approach, a process that sometimes leads the airplane in an unexpected direction.

Many instructors, myself included, have long advocated using the flight plan page on your navigator to simplify flying instrument approaches (and SIDs and STARs). In fact, the flight plan page or menu is typically the most misunderstood and least-utilized feature of most GPS navigators.

I’ve created a short presentation that guides you through the process of loading (and “activating”) an approach on the Garmin GTN 750. The presentation, Flying an Approach with the GTN 750, is available as a free PDF that you can download from the Aviation Documents folder at my OneDrive page. You can find many more useful, free references there.

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The basic technique and principles described in the presentation apply to most IFR-approved GPS navigators, but you should, of course, review the handbook and AFM supplement applicable to the unit in the aircraft that you fly.

After reviewing the presentation, practice with the free simulators available from Garmin and fly with an instructor or safety pilot in VMC before you launch on an actual IFR flight.