GPS musings

The GPS sure has come a long way in the last 30 years! When I was working on my first instrument rating in the 90s, the GPS was more or less and experimental thing and not really certified for IFR approaches.

A friend of mine bought one of the first moving map GPS’s out there (I forgot the brand). It came from the helicopter that flew around the world and he was able to get it second hand and put it in his Jet Ranger. It had a gigantic box in the baggage compartment that used floppy discs to update the data base every two weeks. And it must have weighed close to 200 pounds total, turning the 5-seater helicopter into a 3-seater pretty much, lol.

Over the years, the screens got bigger, the units got smaller, and lighter, and gained really cool features. Naturally, the manuals for these smaller units with more features grew with all the added capabilities. I feel, that even though the Garmin product is fairly intuitive to use, the manuals are not all that easy to read for me. It’s almost like you have to have somebody show you a few moves first to get started. And now that they have LPV*, LP+V, and all these other navigational and IFR capabilities, the FAA started requiring more and more documents being kept in the aircraft. I was laughing at the gigantic package that was required to be kept in the aircraft when I got back into instrument flying after a 20-year break. And so, another comic strip was born…


*) LPV = “localizer performance with vertical guidance”

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6 comments on “GPS musings
  1. JP Kalishek says:

    I gave up on garmins for my motorcycle and truck when they made it impossible for me to update it without a WinPC or Mac, but still used an old one for speed monitoring (higher and closer to the line of sight) but then it croaked and Dad gave me one that acted up on him, it sometimes went a mile or more before finding satellites, then again went whonky. I had to make a fast run to Atlanta (A 1,000+ mile dash . . . 1600+ kilometres for y’all metrified folk) and wanted one with Traffic and what again, and the new one is fine as a map or guide, but it doesn’t have the traffic dongle power cord like the older ones (also a weak point as they’d decide you were plugged into a computer randomly while traveling along) and relies on downloading the traffic from a web connection. Some mornings, if fires right up and before you can push the warnings out of the way is locked in and ready to go. Other mornings it might fire up fast, but not find the satts, and then shows 15mph for a moment dropping a few mph every few moments until the Altimeter reading stabilizes. Other days it just take a few to find the birds, and then like yesterday, decides that as you turn the ignition past on to start (which kills the power feed but it still has battery life) to suddenly restart, and then download an update via WiFi. All in all, Garmin still gives me gripes. That said, the others I’ve used give me more gripes, though I have had better luck with Google on my phone keeping me out of traffic. I now have a degoogled phone, so I don’t use it and find it not worth the trouble of putting a card in the Android.

  2. rwill says:

    In the 80’s I installed a GPS in a plane. I don’t know what it would do, as I didn’t play with it, but it only had a small LED text screen.

    I just bought a new Garmin GPS, it doesn’t have traffic, which would have been nice, but it was on sale dirt cheap at Garmin, and adding traffic about tripled the price. It’s been pretty good so far, faster coming up and less wonky than the one I had for quite a while now.

  3. Joshua says:

    I currently fly airplanes with a very wide range of GPS units installed. I honestly have a very hard time saying there is any major advantage to the full color moving map over the ancient monochrome LED with a map of laughable usefulness. It all has the same information. The only thing I miss on the old unit is WAAS capability.

  4. Keith says:

    I miss the old PLGR the military had in the 90’s. Sure no moving maps. But, it had every magnetic variation on every published map. Egypt 1909 comes to mind. It was 2d slow/fast and 3d fast. Could plug in for power most anywhere or into most any system. PC? Easy, aircraft if they had it.

  5. Karel A.J. ADAMS says:

    GPS? That is just one satellite constellation, but there are several today; and GPS being the oldest it is not the most powerful. Though still more than adequate for recreational flying, and probably even for the pros. But we should train ourselves to say “GNSS” even if “GPS” is today the colloquial terminology.

  6. L says:

    LOL That brings back (bad) memories of my friend’s flying club. They have two small SEL airplanes and it’s been voted on and decided that they will upgrade the avionics. Now mind you, they already had good (aka not-Garmin) GPS units but the founder of the club wanted new toys and wanted the club to pay for them. So with his dictatorial powers, they voted “democratically” and approved his demand.
    The avionics shop could not get them in for months and once they did, the airplanes sat there for over half a year because the shop had hard time figuring out how to make the Garmin units to work. Especially with erroneous documentation and diagrams. Numerous phone calls to KS and eventually the giant 750 started working. Kinda. They keep bringing the airplanes back to the shop (2 hrs away) to fix them anytime the Garmin stops working again.
    Plus they just experienced what a nightmare the DB updates are. I just hope Garmin doesn’t kill them one day. Some of their bugs are plain/plane deadly.

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