At the Cloud 7 special meeting on May 29, the membership approved a motion to perform a fleet wide replacement of our GNS 430W navigators with Garmin’s next-generation GTN 650. The first units will be ordered in early June, with one of our C172s scheduled to upgrade first, and all six aircraft to be upgraded this summer. This is part of our continuing efforts to remain the Twin Cities’ premier flying club.

The most obvious physical difference you’ll see is in the screens. The full-color GTN 650 screen is 49% larger than the GNS 430W, with over five times the pixel count – see the pictures below to get an idea of how much of an improvement this will be.  Its touch interface uses a menu system and on-screen buttons that are much more intuitive than the knob controls on the 430W.

Comparison of GTN 650 (top) and GNS 430W (bottom), showing sample flight plans

Initial Impressions

I had a chance to use a demo unit (i.e. actual hardware) provided by Modern Avionics before the plane wash, and spent nearly an hour using Garmin’s trainer software on the PC in the clubroom afterwards.

My initial impressions were that while the touchscreen operates in a similar manner to, and appears superficially similar to the iPad version of Garmin Pilot, the interface was always instantly responsive. There were never any delays in the animations or data entry as there sometimes can be on the iPad. There is also far less “overloading” of functions onto hardware buttons than the 430W, since most functions have been moved to the touchscreen. For example, instead of pressing “OBS” to unsuspend missed approach guidance, an “unsuspend” button appears on screen.

Compared to the 430W, where the 650 really shines is entering flight plans. On the 430W, you use a series of big dial – little dial – enter –big dial – little dial – enter inputs to type in letters and numbers, something that can be tedious and time consuming if you have to enter more than a few waypoints. On the 650, you simply type on the touchscreen. Since the 650 also understands airways, you just need to put in the entry and exit points; the rest of the waypoints are automatically entered. For those of you who do anything more complex than direct-enter-enter, this will be a large time and workload saver.


The club CFIs will be preparing transition materials and distributing them over during the next few weeks. We’re also planning a group training session for a cookout at the hangar, scheduled for July 17.

Until then, if you want to familiarize yourself with the 650, a free software trainer is available on Garmin’s website ( This is a large download (about 1 GB) but is very comprehensive; it includes worldwide navdata, as well as terrain and topography data for North America.

The first time you run the trainer, it will default to GTN 750 mode. You’ll want to change it to GTN 650 (Options > Settings >Unit Type) and resize the window if you like. Once you click “Power On”, the simulator behaves exactly like the real thing – click through the onscreen startup buttons, and you will end up on the Home screen.

From the Home screen, the Demo button will let you set up your initial location (Demo > GPS > Waypoint) and speed, altitude, and whether you want to track a heading or the GPS navigation (Demo > NAV). From there, you can try out the features of the GTN 650 – entering flight plans, loading procedures, defining waypoints, changing frequencies.

The trainer install includes PDF copies of the GTN 600 series pilot’s guide and cockpit reference guide (look in Start Menu > Programs > Garmin > GTN Trainer Lite > Manuals). Garmin also has a series of tutorial videos on their website ( All of these materials will also be put onto a couple of DVD-Rs that will be left in the clubroom for any members that don’t have reliable broadband internet.