First look: the new Garmin Pilot iPad app

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Garmin's Pilot app incorporates a new menu system and graphical interface.

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.

Getting Started

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).

Easily complete flight planning and filing within the app.

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.

Customize the map view with various weather & airspace widgets

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.

Conclusion

The Active Flight Plan page shows both map views and a waypoint listing.

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:

39 COMMENTS

  1. I purchased the Garmin Pilot app and am fairly pleased with its operation. I am however, disapointed with the weather display. You can get radar OR metars, but not both at the same time. Why is that? Every other product I have used can overlay any number of weather information types at the same time.

  2. The XM_Weather-Baron link will download lightning and TFR data, but the Garmin Pilot will not display them. Note, you have to upgrade to 2.0 firmware in the Baron Box to get these.

    And again, you can display radar OR metars OR TFRs or lightening… pick only one at a time.

  3. It would be nice to be able to make a VFR A->B flight planning, and have the program deviate from TFRs and A/B airspaces, is this already possible ?

  4. The Garmin Pilot won’t even display A/B/C/D airspace. Many other products will. Another hole in an otherwise great program.

  5. As you stated, entering an airport starting with a number is not possible, so it is difficult to plan from my home base. I did find several flight plans where I did have the home field in a flight plan, not sure how, but I just open one of those and edit the route to get a new flight plan. I’m looking forward to a fix for this problem soon!

  6. Version 4.0.2 was just released, it fixed the number entry problem for airport ids in the flight planner. This release seems to have better performance and smoother Radar displays.

    Most of my gripes listed above have not been addressed.

  7. How ’bout Track-Up? So far only Anywhere Maps have Track-Up. If they can do it why can’t Garmin?

  8. I am disappointed that the app is not available in the Canadian Itunes store. Even if it has limited Canadian content I do fly in the USA often enough to want to have it available and to try out.

  9. Track up? Simply lock your iPad screen rotation, remove the iPad from its mount and position it on your lap with the track up…. voilà, track up!!!

    But seriously, I agree, Anywhere Map was the only product with a good “Track Up” capability, but the AWM iPad product is still at demo/beta quality.

  10. Garmin Pilot is not available in Europa. I used Airnav pro for a while till I discovered Skydemon. This is realy a great product and gives you a lot of information (even during flight) such as airspaces, notams, wheather, minimum heights etc. You buy one product and get the PC version plus the iPad version in one package. It;s a great flight planning tool as well. Check it out on http://www.skydemon.com to see all features.

  11. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how to interface this app with my external bluetooth GPS that I use with fore flight and WXPro. My iPad is the WiFi only version so there is no built in GPS. What am I missing?

  12. There is another iPad App that I suggest trying. It is SkyDemon in the App Store. It has a 30 day free trial. I suggest you try it. I like it so far, but will retain my other GPS Navigation Apps until I am certain I really like it.

  13. What about international charts ? When will they become available ? Have a look at airnavpro, they have charts for South America (my area) as well as Europe.

  14. Just finished trying the SkyDemon trial version. It is awesome! Does everything you would ever want. Track up…easy intuitive programming. Everything except…it is VFR only (no charts or approach plates) and it ain’t cheap. $242 initially and $80 annual renewal! Anyway, I suggest you all take a look…the trial version is free. Garmin…you take a look, also, give me these features and I will be your’s forever.

  15. Yes, Garmin are masters at international content for their panel mount models, where is the same sort of coverage for the iPad version. AirNavPro manages, why can’t Garmin?

  16. I’ve been experimenting with the new Garmin app but there seems to be some diferences in the trial app. For instance, I can’t get the graphic display of instruments like they show in the article above. It doesn’t even show up as an option on my menu, which is where the instructions say it should be.

  17. I just downloaded the app and like the panel display options. I have been using fltplan app. I cannot enter a user waypoint using a VOR radial and distance. Fltplan has a different syntax than what you use when using DUATS but it works. Has anyone tryed this?

  18. I live in Canada, near the US border. My plane is home based at a US airport. I can’t get, or try Garmin Pilot because I have a Canadian IPad. Not sure if this decision was Apple or Garmin, but I am so disgusted I will spend a long time avoiding anything with the name Garmin on it. What an insult, thankfully there is WingX. WingX is absolutely amazing, my last instrument trip, the sky radar ADS-B worked beautifully.

  19. After reading the comments for Garmin Pilot I am confused; is this app available for Canadian users or not?

  20. The Garmin Pilot app is not in the Canadian app store. If you change your country to United States in iTunes, you’ll then be able to find the app.

  21. You can see the app in the US store but if your Ipad is registered in Canada you can’t download from the US store – so that is not much help.

  22. The App was working fine until I needed to down load updates. Message says “unable to download application. 4.0.3 is what it is trying to update to. I can not open the app.

  23. Well… I’m a WingX user and curious about the virtues of the Garmin App for iPad. Thanks to the folks who have posted their experience with the Garmin App. I’ll check back again in the future but from what I have read here… I already have made the right choice and have been using it flawlessly for more than a year. Many thanks to WingX !!!

  24. How about it Garmin, going to add Track UP to the iOS iPad version of the Garmin Pilot App? The Andriod version has it..

  25. I was and still are disappointed in this app. I thought that it would be more like the G1000 but it is not. I went through months of not being able to down load the updates.

  26. The app is very buggy and unstable. I’m running an ipad mini 4g ios 6.1 Its buggy to the point of being dangerous and to the point of being useless. It cannot be relied on for any form of navigation and if it cant be relied on then it is useless. Every-time I run through 55 knots it crashes and closes, a distraction one doesn’t need on the climb. The flight plan is deleted and has to be reentered. If you do have a flight plan and want to go direct to someplace, after a few min the saved flight plan reenters itself and could do so unnoticed. Not good. It randomly stops tracking you on the center of the map, again very distracting. The auto change for frequency list is a cool idea but usually updates on it own timing which is usually too late. If you deviate from a flight plan track, like allot of weekend warriors do, it freaks out. Not having predetermined heading before your rolling is kind of weird. There are a dozen more issues I’ve run across.

    • Newb user finding it useful coupled with the Dual XGPS150…How to delete recent airports is a question I’ve been in search of…If any seasoned user can assist or even throw me a pointer or two …

  27. What is the battery life running this program? I am finding that if you have the retina display IPad it will Discharge even plugged in running Foreflight? Neither Foreflight or Apple has a solution!

    • Just make sure you get as high a capacity car plug as you can. You need at least 12 watts. They are more expensive, but work much better. Still, I have noticed that it will not hold 100% with the screen up full and the Bluetooth connected to the GDL-39. But I have flown for several hours and it is still above 85%.

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