Garmin Pilot must be feeling the pressure from ForeFlight. In the last couple months they have significantly upped their game and released a ton of new features which, in my opinion, have not only closed the gap but actually put Garmin Pilot in the lead. I’ll do a head-to-head comparison sometime in the future but for now let’s take a look under the hood at the two latest additions.
I was sitting on the back patio last Sunday morning with my girlfriend idly browsing the internet when a story popped into her feed that caught her eye. It was a story about a pilot flying rescue puppies to their new home, and she thought the puppies were adorable. Smelling a chance to get her back in the air I explained that it’s an organization called Pilots N Paws where volunteers fly dogs around the country. She loved the idea, so I decided to make the jump and sign up. Four days later I was flying my first set of adorable puppies, a flight neither of us would soon forget.
With the implementation of ADS-B in the United States there’s suddenly a lot more information available for pilots to consume while in the air. Previously you’d need a subscription to something like Sirius XM weather to get updates on what the clouds look like along your route but now the FAA is providing a service that is just as good if not better and completely free of charge through something called FIS-B (Flight Information Service Broadcast). Over the last couple months I’ve been enjoying the benefits of that through a Garmin GDL-39 and without a doubt it has changed the way I fly for the better. One specific flight a couple weeks ago really showed where having FIS-B available is a major benefit.
There’s little doubt that David Clark’s H10 headset is the gold standard for general aviation. When I started flight training that was the very first purchase I made, and over the years they have served me well. For short hops around the local area they really can’t be beat — they are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and do a great job of blocking out the engine noise so you can focus on communicating on the radios. But as soon as my flights started pushing past the two hour mark I realized that I needed something better. That’s when I decided to give the Halo headset from Quiet Technologies a try.
I haven’t been flying very long, but over my short life in aviation I’ve watched as tablets and their aviation apps have exploded in popularity. When I started flight school the older pilots regarded my Garmin Pilot enabled Android tablet as not much better than a shiny toy, but these days even the crustiest of the old guard have begrudgingly accepted that a good electronic flight bag (EFB) might be the single mot important piece of safety equipment that a pilot can bring with them in the air. For those who haven’t made the jump and invested in an EFB just yet, there’s a choice to be made which can have a massive impact on their experience and the capabilities of their device: should you get an Android or Apple iOS tablet?
Garmin Pilot is the only real option for a full featured navigation suite on the Android platform, but it looks like they aren’t resting on their laurels. In the last major update they added train and obstacle identification into their database, and while 5.0 doesn’t have many big new features it does sport a brand new user interface. Gone are the huge buttons on the screen, replaced with a more Android-esque hamburger menu and other nice UI improvements that do make it easier to navigate around the app while in the air.
Technology has moved on a little bit since my Cherokee was manufactured in 1963. Looking through the logbooks I can see that the avionics have changed over time — an ADF removed here, a new CDI replaced there — but modern technology is moving faster than ever, and getting a panel mounted solution for the latest tech might not be the best idea given the expense of installation and uncertainty of how long it will be in vogue. One innovation that has remarkably improved my driving experience on the ground is the ability to link my cell phone to my car’s stereo for making phone calls and listening to music. To duplicate that in the airplane I could either get a panel mounted solution with Bluetooth for $1,500 plus labor, or for a mere $249 I could get an inline adapter that could do all the same functions called the BluLink Adapter.
The problem with unanticipated emergencies is that when they happen it takes forever to identify them. Things like engine failure or blocked instrument probes are common enough among the bug smashing piston pilots that it’s something we consider every single flight, and preparing for those emergencies is the primary focus of initial flight training and instrument flight training. We pay lip service to other less common emergencies but their rarity doesn’t detract from their lethality. During one trip to Florida one of the rarer in-flight emergencies threatened to end my flying career, but thanks to a small piece of aluminum I lived to see another day.
In the two years that I’ve been flying there have already been a number of moments that I will never forget. From my first solo lap around the traffic pattern to my first time flying an airplane through the clouds my adventures in aviation have included some amazing experiences that make all the hard work (and hard earned money flushed straight out the tailpipe) worth it. That said, there’s one flight that I took this year which will probably always remain my favorite flight of all time, and the story starts three weeks prior in the beginning of August 2015.