Flight1 Aviation Tech Garmin GTN 650
This review started out as a dual A2A Simulations C182 and Flight1 Garmin GTN 750/650 combination back at the end of 2014. As I have personal experience on both the aircraft type and GPS type in the real world, and both developers had allowed for the product integration, it seemed like a no brainer- however, life got in the way, and between then and now, I’ve been going through the busy process of moving house and changing jobs, allowing for Rafael Henrique Carelli to produce a brilliantly written C182 overview here in my absence.
Before I go any further- one of the items I had intended to include on my own write up on the C182 was a simulated parachute drop sortie, something the 182 is utilised for on a daily basis many times around the world, and was the very machine that I built my first few hundred commercial hours at a skydive operator in New Zealand.
I timed a run to altitude- sea level to 12,000 feet AMSL at best ROC, then emptied by ballast via the A2A configuration manager. I followed this with a steep power on descent, ‘racing the chutes back down’ and checked my fuel burn. It took me 18 minutes to ascend, and 8 to get back on the tarmac- a total of 26 minutes airborne. I had 80L in the tanks total upon start, (40L a side) and had 54L remaining after shutdown. At 60/L an hour (what we used to plan as an average consumption rate with the IO-540), this worked out to the tee, with exactly 26L burnt from the tanks. The accuracy when compared to the real world in this scenario one of the many individual aspects of the A2A product that left me with the warm fuzzy feeling of satisfaction after my virtual flights with it- my new favourite general aviation toy!
Anyhow- on to the GPS unit. Well not just a GPS unit, but an integrated GPS, NAV, COM, and MFD avionic package- a mini Garmin 1000 suite almost. The first aspect to note of these is the touchscreen capability unlike their well-known predecessors. I fly with a G650 coupled to an Aspen Evolution PFD in a light piston twin for my job, and have found the system interface to be easily the most intuitive for a pilot to interact with out of the other family products that I have sampled, as well as those from other manufactures that almost had too many bells and whistles included in the feature list…
The G650 is what I will focus on here, although Flight1 offer both the G650 and G750 as separate products for both FSX and P3D, for inclusion in your virtual cockpit either individually or as a couple. The G750 features a larger screen area with a clearer map, and is great if cockpit space permits. However, for the more cramped panel with limited real estate, the G650 measures in at 6.25"W x 2.65"H, the same width and height as the widely used Garmin G430 series.
The Flight1 installation file is a mere 24mb executable, and requires an internet connection after payment to complete the process. A note on the Flight1 website also states you’ll need to download the free GTN 750/650 PC trainer product from the Garmin website at 1.6GB
However, the file size of this Trainer (now version 5.0 which the Flight1 product supports) has been updated to be 1.73GB as of May 2014. This contains the Garmin navigation database that had previously only covered the terrain and airspace of continental United States. It now covers the entire globe, whereas before you would have had to purchase DVD from Garmin at the cost of an extra $25US to virtually aviate in any other counties. It’s fantastic to see this software upgrade has been incorporated!
Anyhow once you’ve closed the installer, you’ll find an icon to run the GTN Config tool. Upon opening this, you’ll be able to select from a list of aircraft in your simulator hanger which you can choose one at a time to add the avionic unit to. In this example below, we’ll stick with the A2A C182 in my FSX setup.
In my example, I am happy with just a singular G650 and have configured it to appear at the bottom right of my screen. In the sim, I will need to click on the smaller Garmin icon in the top right corner to make it appear and disappear.
Clicking ‘Configure GTN’ advances you to the next screen with 3 sub menus- GENERAL, GTN650 UNIT 1 and GTN650 UNIT 2. On the first of these menus (GENERAL), a central light blue box represents FSX in full screen mode, and upon click either Unit 1 or 2, you can choose the position of where the ‘floating’ GPS screen will appear with the four up/down/left/right buttons. The scale is not adjustable however.
Clicking over to the GTN650 UNIT 1 tab allows me to further customise the functionality of the unit, allowing me to assign the radios and navs as either COM1/2 and NAV 1/2 in the aircraft. It also gives the user the option of assigning the chosen aircrafts autopilot to either follow NAV mode from the GPS, or heading hold from the regular CDI interface, along with a host of other avionic selection preferences.
And that’s setup complete- easy if you’re happy to have the GTN650 as an independent window on your screen, that remains static whilst you pan around the VC. I believe this design came from the FS2004 days and before, where flat 2D panels were the norm for IFR training purposes. However, with advances in polygon counts in the next camera mode along in the simulator view cycle, I’m sure it is the 3D panel inclusion that most simmers will be hoping for these days!
This requires backend compatibility from the aircraft developer- and fortunately, A2A Simulations took the intuitive to create the coding that allowed this with the release of their Skyline. The C182 Aircraft Configurator.exe can be either found inside the Directory/A2A/Tools sub folder, or through the Start Menu, and requires nothing more than 2 mouse clicks to change from the Default M$ option to the Flight1 unit.
Once loaded in the simulator, with your masters and avionic switches turned on, the 650 comes to life, and after a quick warm up and fuel quantity/burn rate entry screen, you’ll be looking at the home screen of the unit, much like the interface of the Apple iPhone series, with each sub menu presented in a little rectangular touch-to-select box. Obviously your finger is represented with the mouse cursor in sim- and is much easier to manipulate in turbulence than its real world counterpart!
Let’s start with Flight Plan- as this is what you’d be doing on the ground whilst your engines warm up in reality. I’ve decided in this demo to go IFR from Columbia Gorge Regl/The Dalles (KDLS) via Klickitat VOR (LTJ) to Pasco VOR (PSC) that is co-sited at Tri-Cities Airport (KPSC). I had loaded this through the FSX Flight Planner menu to get an idea of direction and distances, although the GTN software uses its own database from the massive 1.73GB download to navigate from and runs completely independently from the well out dated FSX waypoint information. The unit was still clever enough to recognise my position in the sim, and KDLS automatically appeared as my departure point, with the ADD WAYPOINT button ready for me to continue the plan underneath.
Once clicked, move your mouse over different parts of the alphabet on the next screen easily allows you to input the waypoint code, then ENTER to store it in the flight plan. Upon completion, clicking on the menu button off to the left, then clicking PREVIEW shows a route overview on the screen:
This flightplan is now active, and you can hit the Back on screen button to return to the home menu. From here, hitting Default Nav will bring up a thin Course Deviation Indicator display for those who wish to use the dots on the bar to stay on track, as well as (by default) Distance, Desired Track, Bearing, Groundspeed, Track, and Estimated Time Enroute information in clear white text readouts on a grey background. These data fields can be substituted and rearranged via the menu button (always found on the left side of the screen when available) to user satisfaction.
The Default Nav screen is also where your aircraft’s HSI can be switched between VLOC and GPS via press of the ‘CDI’ onscreen button, as well as OBS’ing a different radial to a desired GPS waypoint should you desire. My home airfield in NZ requires this for an ADF based SID that requires a visual departure to overhead a nearby township, then the intercepting a certain radial to an NDB. I like to have a stationary magenta line to follow on my GPS as a backup to the NDB needle that seems to have a mind of its own and wander around and reduce my tracking accuracy! (In the sim- just hit OBS on the GTN screen, zoom out to your VC panel, then rotate the course indicator on the HSI gauge. The black bar at the centre of the screen showing the flight plan legs will change from a magenta ‘Direct To’ arrow to OBS 011°, or whatever other radial you have coursed)
Back to the home screen again, going into Map. This screen is what will generally be selected whilst enroute for most of us, and contains a colourful top down image of the surrounding environment, colour coded with terrain proximity- green being good, and red being bad! Hitting the Menu button allows you to select Map overlays, with Terrain turned on in this example below. Airways, and traffic can be displayed if the user wishes, but I have turned them off to reduce on screen clutter and aid my situational awareness at quick snapshots throughout my flight.
Off the edge of the LCD screen, the upper left knob rotates to control the volume of Com 1 (if allocated to the unit though the Flight1 configuration tool) and is scrollable with the mouse wheel to adjust. Right clicking on the SD card below this swaps FSX’s navigation information from coming between this GTN unit or the default FSX GPS, usually found with the Shift+2 shortcut (or the Shift+3 menu for this A2A product).
The knob at the bottom right of the screen are used to changing the digits in the standby Com/Nav frequency window in the upper right corner of the displays. Alternatively, one can just press on the bottom box containing the standby frequency, and a window pops up with digits 1 to 9 in push screen buttons, allowing for direct touch entry of the frequency without the need to use the scroller at all.
Pushing the flat face of this knob in swaps the selection between Comms and Nav, whilst tapping on the active top frequency will swap the frequency over with the standby one.
Back to the home screen, the Traffic, Terrain and Weather screens are all self explanatory. Each can be zoomed in or out to show a smaller or larger scale around the aircraft with the bottom right scroll wheel, and source their data from the FSX AI, Garmin terrain map and FSX weather engine.
The Nearest button is great for making position reports in flight, with the option to select Nearest Airports, Intersections, VOR’s, NDB’s, and even User Waypoints and Airspace limits. Each list of the selected type will display bearings and distances next to their names- also very handy in event of an emergency that requires an unplanned landing as soon as possible.
Finally the PROC button- short for ‘Procedure’ allows the pilot to select instrument departures (SIDs), arrivals (STARS) and approaches, with the GTN650 rated with RNAV capabilities. For example, clicking on Approach inside the PROC screen will automatically bring up Tri-Cities (KPSC) from my Flight Plan, then allow me to choose between seven different approaches including ILS and VOR options. For the purpose of this article, I’ll choose the RNAV 03L, assuming ATC will give me clearance for it later, choosing PSC as my transition point to the approach, then clicking Load Approach. This will add it onto the end of my flight plan after KPSC, but can be activated earlier when ATC authorise it, by simply returning to this screen and pushing the Activate Approach on screen button.
A scroll down on the home menu will display four final options, Waypoint Info, Music, Utilities and System, with a few extra sub menus for customising additional variables. These are covered well enough on the 356 page PDF guide available from the Garmin Website. Unfortunately, I could not find a way to play my own MP3’s from my computer through the gauge in Flightsim!
As far as I can recollect, this covers the majority of the functions that need to be understood in order to operate the GTN comfortably in the sim on cross country flights. If you’ve used the FSX default GPS, you shouldn’t struggle converting to the new layout of the GTN, as the foundation of its operation share many similarities.
Aside from the few screenshots of the unit functioning as expect in flight, there’s little more I can think of to demonstrate how seamlessly well this reproduction of the hardware works. I couldn’t pick up any bugs in the software that made me stop and think that the simulator limited its functionality in any way. In fact, over all I am very impressed and can only wish that some of my old Carenado favourites were able to incorporate the GTN into their VC’s! Good job Flight1, you’ve delivered just what your website promises with this one, and I recommend it to any simmers looking to add a bit of colour to their cockpits.
Showing the upper right icon and lower right GTN650 in 2D Panel mode. Incidentally, the A2A Skylane doesn’t come with a 2D panel, but the view is still accessible through FSX.