Garmin recently released version 4.0 of their aviation iPad app, adding new features and a slick new interface. Along with this update came a name change, as they’ve dropped the ‘My-Cast’ at the end and are simply calling it Garmin Pilot now. We’ve followed this app’s development over the last ten years, and are very impressed with the results. Garmin has done more than just slap their name on another in-flight navigation app; rather they’ve integrated a lot of the logic and usability of their panel-mount and portable avionics into this pilot-friendly iPad navigator.
Ten years in the making
The origins of the Garmin Pilot app date back to 2002 when the software company Digital Cyclone created the Pilot My-Cast app for mobile phones. The functionality was basic due to the limits of mobile phones at the time, but the app provided a useful weather resource when on the go. The app continually added new features over the years and was optimized for the iPhone when Apple it debuted in 2007. Around that same time, Garmin acquired Digital Cyclone and began “Garminizing” the apps to make them function and look more like their panel-mount and portable avionics. That brings us to 2012 with the release of Garmin Pilot 4.0 for iPad.
To get started first download the Garmin Pilot app from the app store. Though it ultimately requires a paid annual subscription, the app itself is a free download and provides a 30 day trial period. Once installed you’ll want to get accustomed with how to move around the various sections of the app. Tapping the Home button at the top left reveals a graphical menu that will look very familiar to pilots who have used the GTN panel-mount or Aera line of portable GPS receivers. This menu is always accessible no matter where you are in the app, which is very helpful.
You’ll want to first go into the settings page to enter both your DUAT(S) credentials and aircraft performance data, including all the numbers for climb, cruise and descent. This will make the flight planning, briefing and filing steps a breeze down the road.
Next you’ll want to download your digital charts to the iPad’s internal memory. Like many of the other in-flight navigation apps available for iPad, Garmin Pilot provides all the charts needed for both VFR & IFR flight. This includes VFR sectionals, VFR WAC charts, IFR high and low altitude en route charts, airport diagrams and instrument approach procedures. The one piece you’ll find missing though is the airport/facility directory (A/FD). Garmin does a good job here with the download manager and allows you to specify individual states or regions to download so you don’t have to waste space with unneeded charts. These are updated every 28 days, and the use of red and green status text provides a clear indication when charts need to be updated. Updates are easy too, and requires just one button press when the new data becomes available (typically a few days before the expiration date).
Flight Planning & Filing
The Garmin Pilot app serves as an all-in-one resource to plan your flight. Tap the Home button again at the top left and select the Trip Planning button. Here you can enter your route, altitude, and select your aircraft N# from the list. All the trip performance numbers are then instantly calculated based on actual winds. From here you can review the detailed Navlog to get a feel for fuel burn and time en route. And selecting the Brief tab will automatically retrieve an official weather briefing using your DUAT(S) account (the landscape view limits the amount of data displayed, so this is best viewed holding the iPad in portrait mode).
When planning a trip around heavy precipitation we’ve found it useful to go to the map section and overlay the radar imagery over a sectional or IFR en route chart. This is a useful tool in selecting a route that avoids the weather. You’ll want to also use the Airport Info section to review all the information about the airport, including FBOs, runways, frequencies, NOTAMs, fuel prices and more. Tap the airport ID in the top left, and a search dialogue box will appear. To quickly access your destination airport tap the Route button at the bottom of the window and select it from the shortened list.
Once you’re finished reviewing the maps and airport info, head back over to the Trip Planning section. Press the blue “Touch to File” button at the top right and your flight plan will be sent to A.T.C. You’ll also want to tap the Activate Trip button to load the route into the app’s active flight plan.
In the Air
Next visit the Active FPL (Flight Plan) section in the app. This page incorporates a few features found in the Garmin avionics systems and shows a split view of your active flight plan alongside a moving map display. You can customize the type of chart displayed in the map window and also overlay various weather products. On the flight plan list tapping any of the waypoints brings up a menu of 8 options, allowing you to several options for editing the flight plan. Our favorite feature here is the ability to easily add SIDs/STARs to the flight plan by tapping the airport ID.
Moving over to the Map section you can see a full screen map view, complete with your route, VFR or IFR chart and weather overlays. Tap and hold anywhere on the map to bring up a Radial Menu, which allows you to to get more information about the airport, waypoint or weather located under your finger. Use the Menu button at the top right to display Navigation Info, which is presented in a row of 6 transparent boxes at the top of the map. Tapping any of these boxes allows you to customize the info that is displayed there.
When in portrait mode a press of the up/down arrow in the bottom right allows a split view showing additional navigation data, and the option to bring up Garmin’s famous instrument panel page (the indications are derived from GPS). You can also add widgets to the bottom of the screen in portrait mode by using the Menu button at the top right. These customizable windows allow for text weather, navigation and airspace information to be displayed below your map. Since there are many combinations for what can be displayed here, you’ll want to spend some time on the ground experimenting with the controls since they can be a little tricky when using them for the first time.
Speaking of weather, Garmin Pilot also interfaces with the mobile XM Weather receiver. This allows you to view a wide range of weather products during in the air, including NEXRAD radar and text weather products. Check out this article for more information on the XM WX hardware.
Like all the Garmin panel-mount and portable GPS receivers, the Garmin Pilot app features a dedicated Direct-To button. Similar to the Home button, this is always accessible no matter where you are in the app. This provides a simple, intuitive way to navigate to any airport or waypoint with just a few taps. And it’s also where you’ll find the nearest airports listing, very useful in an emergency.
Instrument pilots can access approach charts in one two ways: go to the Airports section and select procedures, or go the main menu and select Charts. The Charts section will automatically set up two binders for you which include all the charts for the departure and destination airports. They are color-coded for easy identification, and include all the approaches, SIDs, STARs, IFR takeoff & alternate minimums and the airport diagram. In the Charts section you can also set up custom binders, useful for organizing a custom set of charts.
The Garmin Pilot app’s pilot-friendly design makes it a pleasure to use. Because of the extensive feature set, we recommend you spend some time on the ground to fully understand how it all functions together (the same as you would do with any other new piece of avionics). You can access a comprehensive Help guide at any time from the Menu button at the top right. One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is that certain features are only accessible in portrait OR landscape mode, so keep rotating the screen during your first use to see how the view options differ in the various sections. And for the best results in the air you’ll want to use the app with an external GPS, such as the Bad Elf or Dual XGPS150.
We should point out that there are still a few bugs that need to be worked out (like being able to enter airports that have numbers in their airport ID in the Trip Planning section), but overall the app is very stable. Garmin has been responsive with app updates in the past, so we’d expect these to be resolved soon. And the app was recently updated with Retina display visuals as a bonus for iPad 3 users.
After the 30 day trial period you’ll need to purchase a subscription for continued access. An annual subscription is $99.99, or you can go monthly for $9.99/month. You can also add options for geo-referenced instrument approach charts for $49.99/year and SafeTaxi geo-referenced airport diagrams for $29.99/year (these are must-haves if you are an instrument pilot or fly into larger airports). You can download the trial version of the app for free here: Garmin Pilot app. There is also a version built just for Android tablets, available in the Google Play Store: Garmin Pilot for Android.
And we’ll leave you with one last screenshot: