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MacFixer, the iPhone, iPod, and iPad specialists

GPS for the Amateur Pilot

17th May 2003

 Article by Peter Bailey


(An introduction to some of the alternative solutions currently available.  We hope to follow with more detailed independent tests of some of the software and hardware)



Learning to fly is clearly one of the most demanding and enjoyable projects, with the normal objective of achieving a Private Pilots Licence (PPL) However most flying schools operate quite elderly aircraft without in-built GPS systems and PPL navigation training does not include GPS, nor is it encouraged as a "reliable" primary system.  Training for VFR (visual flying) and IFR (instrument flying) relies on paper maps and runway layouts, plastic "flight computers" (to allow for wind direction and speed effects), magnetic and gyro compass, air speed calculation, timing and use of the various type of radio beacons depending upon the sophistication of the on-board instrumentation.

Modern "professional" in-built GPS systems, usually combine detailed and zoomable aeronautical map, and airport diagrams as well as a comprehensive database. This equipment, when used as the primary navigation aid can revolutionize the way you fly and make life easier for navigation, flight regulations and restrictions and radio communications.


Category 1 Equipment - (Memory-Map and Aeroplanner software)

For "fly aways" or just the experience of using GPS in the air the variety of portable equipment can provide an attractive option although it is normally considered as a SECONDARY navigation aid.  For those who already possess a Pocket PC and possibly a GPS antenna there is a relatively low entry cost. (e.g. about £50 for a CAA 1/500K U.K. map.) which allows the facility of waypoint and route planning PLUS live tracking of actual position with height, speed and position data as a bonus.


Memory-Map Pocket Navigator


Category 2 Equipment  - (Winpilot, Anywheremap, gonavgps etc.)

More advanced PDA sytems can use the same hardware but with screens and data comparable to the pro. in-built kit. If you are regularly flying then the typical cost of $200 – $400 plus upgrade fees could well be worthwhile. 


Category 3 Equipment  - (Garmin GPSMAP196)

To start from scratch the excellent purpose built Garmin range becomes a realistic option. The GPSMAP 196 is a well specified map and data device (ca. $1000) and the colour screen 295 (ca $1500).  A separate antenna would be a preferred option.


Category 4 Equipment - (Pocket FlightPlan)

There are also various "utilities" for the Pocket PC which can be used as flight calculators for ca $10, replacing the beloved "plastic disc computers"


Other essentials to be considered will include holding and mounting devices. The screen positioning must allow for easy viewing and touch control whereas the antenna must have a clear sky view.   Panel mounts as well as "knee pads" are some of the choices.  For longer trips, and to activate some antenna a power source will be needed.  If a "car accessory plug" is available this will be fine but, if not, some battery pack must be considered.  The last thing you need when flying is to become tangled in the GPS wiring, therefore plenty of consideration is needed in the positioning of the components and their connection.  Bluetooth components should be a practical solution although I have not seen any definitive acceptance of yet more radio waves in the cockpit!!!


Here is a selection of kit available:-


Category 1

Memory Map with CAA Maps

These come as regional packages at scales of 1/250k and 1/500k together with the invaluable airport diagrams. The maps are clear and well marked but for in flight use the 1/500k is most practical. No Com. frequency or other data provided.


Aeroplanner The Aeroplanner website can provide detailed information on most European airfields with frequencies etc., ideal for pre-flight planning. The downloadable maps (ca$7.50) are only 1/1m scale and have a bluish haze.  I have found that my iPAQ 3850 is a bit lacking in screen clarity with the Aeroplanner maps and would love to upgrade to the newer, high contrast, PDA’s.



Category 2

Anywhere Map v1.35

Anywhere Map v1.35 offers a comprehensive set of map and flying aid displays together with airport diagrams. Complete packages with iPAQ 3950 are offered at $1,295 but I have not yet been able to find the cost of software only packages nor of European mapping and data.  Looks very comprehensive and worth a serious test flight.



NavGPS Pro

NavGPS Pro is certainly a contender with worldwide vector based mapping, excellent displays and a single user price of only $174. Subsequent 13 issues of updates at 28 day intervals cost $80.




Winpilot is a very flyer friendly package with UK and French maps available. Displays are clear and comprehensive but cost is stated as $299



Efis Ce

Navtech Software provide Efis Ce as a good mapping system with a facility for scanning in your own maps at £70.  Their PPCe6b is an approach to provide comprehensive data but no maps.



Teletype Aviation

Teletype offer a very comprehensive aeronautical package which, for Europe, also includes street maps for a price of $224. From the spec. it would appear that maps can be stored on PC with world wide aeronautical data to be selectively transferred to the Pocket PC.




Category 3

Garmin GPSMAP 196

Here Garmin appear to lead the field with comprehensive, aeronautical specific equipment.  The GPSMAP 196  provides a B/W package for $1049 with full regional data and a battery life of 4-16 hrs.


The colour GPSMAP 295 has similar capabilities but 6xAA batteries only last for 2.5hrs.  Garmin do provide a good range of accessories including battery packs and external antenna. Some pilots use both ‘Garmin’ and PocketPC together with the ‘Garmin’ providing the gps signal.




Category 4

Quite a few small developers provide simple software packages for basic calculations; such as wind effect and take off performance.


Deloach Flight Calc

Deloach have a flight calculator at $10, a holding pattern calculator at $8 and a ‘takeoff performance calculator at $10.



Personally I use a versatile flight planning calculator which does wind, load and fuel calculations from Pocket FlightPlan at £13.36 and find it quite useful, fully replacing the traditional plastic disk flight computer.

Other software, obtainable from Handango, includes:- Embedded Flight Computer, Aviators Navigation Calculator, Flight Calc, Flight Planner 2001, and Aerocalc.


These comments and descriptions are by no means comprehensive and do not include very precise evaluations of specific products. However they should provide some insight on cost, benefits and choice.


For the future, with the fast developments in Street Routing Software perhaps we can look forward to voice instructions and prompts as well as 3D "heads up" displays soon.


Mobile Battery Sources

Most people don't realise, but most aeroplane dashboards are similar to car ones, so it's quite easy to use an In-Car GPS Receiver.  However many older planes do not necessarily have an accessory socket that can be used, so without power you have no way of powering the GPS Receiver or a Pocket PC.  What you can do is create or purchase differenet battery chargers that should help supply power.  Check out the following reviews that may help to power the receiver and charge the Pocket PC, or just simply allow charging when you don't have any power.



Click here to read the review

Click here to read the review




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