A new generation of portable weather receivers has hit the market over the last year, with new hardware from Appareo, Garmin, and uAvionix offering new features and (in general) lower prices. ForeFlight recently announced support for the latest receivers from Garmin, which means new options for pilots – especially in the world of satellite weather. Here are the details.
Garmin’s current lineup replaces the popular but aging GDL 39 with three products:
- GDL 50: The GDL 50 includes a dual band ADS-B receiver (978 and 1090 MHz) for subscription-free weather and traffic, plus GPS and AHRS for backup attitude. There’s also an 9-hour battery. The GDL 50 is available for $799.
- GDL 51: For pilots who prefer satellite weather, the GDL 51 swaps out the ADS-B receiver of the GDL 50 for an SiriusXM antenna. It receives the full complement of satellite weather and radio, provides GPS position and backup attitude, and has an 9-hour battery. The GDL 51 is available for $649, and there’s a $200 mail-in rebate through the end of the year.
- GDL 52: This all-in-one model includes ADS-B weather and traffic, SiriusXM weather and radio, plus GPS and AHRS. It has a built-in antenna and a 5-hour battery, making it a great, no-compromise receiver. The GDL 52 is available for $1149, and the same $200 rebate applies. It also comes with a three-month trial subscription of SiriusXM Pilot Preferred weather and All Access audio, a great way to try out the service.
We went flying with the GDL 52 and ForeFlight to see how the pair worked. In short, just like you’d expect.
We placed the GDL 52 on the dash of the Cirrus SR22 we were flying, flipped up the antenna on the back, and turned it on. Then we went to the Settings app on the iPad to pair via Bluetooth with the GDL 52. After that it was a matter of opening ForeFlight and flying the airplane.
You can check complete status information in ForeFlight by tapping the gear symbol at the top of the Maps page, then Garmin Connext at the bottom of the menu (that’s the name for all of Garmin’s connected cockpit products). This menu includes battery condition, SiriusXM subscription level, and much more. It’s also a great place to review how current your weather products are – and to review the long list of products the GDL 52 can receive.
On the Maps page, you can select the same layers you’re used to seeing, including METARs, winds aloft, TFRs, and PIREPs. The traffic display worked just like a Stratus or Sentry, with nearby targets displayed on the map:
One benefit of SiriusXM weather is the additional weather products, like satellite, lightning, and enhanced radar imagery. Below is a screenshot of the storm cell feature, which shows tops and movement for convective cells. Simply tap on a cell marker to read the details:
You can also compare base and composite radar, which is helpful on low level flights. Composite shows the strongest returns from all altitudes over an area, while base shows mostly what is coming out the bottom of the cell. Here’s a comparison, first with composite:
And then base, which doesn’t look quite as intimidating. You wouldn’t want to fly through this at 8,000 feet, but it does suggest some of the rain on the leading edge of the line isn’t hitting the ground.
The GDL 52 also drives synthetic vision with a real-time pitch and bank indication. This was rock solid for us, although it’s worth noting that the only calibration option here is to zero pitch and bank. You cannot adjust attitude one degree at a time, as you can on some other ADS-B receivers.
While the GDL 50 faces stiff competition from the less expensive Stratus 3 and Sentry, it is compatible with ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, and Garmin portable GPSs, a unique mix of options. The GDL 51 is more of a niche product (the lack of ADS-B traffic is deal breaker for some pilots), but it is a great replacement for the SiriusXM SXAR1 – which is soon to be discontinued.
In our opinion, the GDL 52 is the most interesting product here. There simply isn’t another portable receiver that combines as many features into one unit. It’s a great way to view high quality SiriusXM weather, while still receiving ADS-B traffic and backup attitude information. It is not inexpensive, but the feature list is long and the $200 rebate gets the price under $1000.
One important note – SiriusXM audio controls are not available in ForeFlight at this time.