Avionics West GPS Training

Aircraft navigation has been revolutionized by modern GPS receivers driving color moving map displays.  These displays can import weather, fuel, traffic, and radar information to assist in the flight.  Information from the systems is used to drive autopilots that can fly a complete flight in both horizontal and vertical modes.  But this complexity comes at a price -- they must be understood thoroughly so that their operation doesn't become a hazard to the flight rather than the formidable assistance they can provide.  You can learn to use your system with my GPS training classes and /or my GPS manuals (click on this link to order or send to thomassen@avionicswest.com) on Garmin and Chelton flight systems.

GPS Manuals

Written from my perspective as a pilot, instructor, and educator, my current manuals for the Chelton EFIS system, G1000W, GTN 650/750, GNS 480, and GNS 430W/530W are all in full color, with several hundred simulator screen shots.  They are printed on glossy paper with a 14 font for easy reading, have heavy glossy covers, and are plastic spiral bound so they lay flat or easily fold over. All manuals are $35 plus S&H ($5 in the US).

   Garmin Manuals

Why my manuals?

The typical manual is a step by step guide to carry out the operations your GPS can perform. This involves both the capabilities of the device (what operations are included, like adding airway segments) and how to do it (the button and knob sequences).  I call this the "knobology" of the device, and it's what most people think of as the things you have to master to learn how to operate it.  But shortly after starting GPS training classes it was apparent that there is another element to learning to use GPS, and that element I call GPS fundamentals.  For example, what are the 23 flight legs defined in the ARINC standards, and which ones sequence automatically in your GPS? Are there NAV commands in addition to Roll Commands for a particular leg?  Can your GPS create them all?  When you add legs that represent a procedure, what problems can arise and what do you do about them?  In short, there were as many questions from students on these fundamentals as on how to do something. My manuals not only answer the "how to" questions, but the "what happened" and what to do about it questions. They explain the features of the device, and how to deal with the problems that arise after you carry out a specific operation.  What are those problems, and what tools and strategies are available to you to deal with them?  From experience gained teaching courses on GPS receivers over the last 10 years, certain questions come up repeatedly so the material in my manuals anticipates the most common of them.  My manuals differ from all others in their detailed treatment of such issues.

Training Classes

Full day or hourly classes are offered on the Chelton EFIS or Garmin 400/500 series or 480 GPS units, using docking stations to run them in their respective Demo modes on the desk.  PowerPoint presentations for the specific unit, describing all operations of the device, are used while students (up to 3 at a time) follow along on the GPS.  Training on the GTN 650/750 and G1000 is also available using computer simulators. The courses all begin with a "getting started" section and then proceed to cover all of the major uses of the device: using maps; getting information from it's database; making and editing flight plans; using the autopilot; importing datalink, fuel, and traffic information; adding procedures and flying them; and any other subject specific to each device.

Training Units

To take a class, send me an e-mail (click here or send to thomassen@avionicswest.com) to work out a schedule.  Classes are held in Grass Valley, CA.  Fly commercially to Sacramento (KSMF) and rent a car (1.2 hours), or fly to the Grass Valley airport (KGOO) where I will arrange transportation.  I personally conduct all classes.

GPS Articles

There is a commonality among GPS receivers in the principles behind them.  Here are links to my articles on various fundamental concepts that bear on how a GPS works.  These include the concept of flight legs, sequencing, autopilot commands from legs, GPS altitude, Vertical Courses, etc.  Click on them to learn more. 





Garmin Tips and Tricks

These short articles were written for the Twin Commander newsletter and monthly magazine Flight Levels, and were originally intended for the Garmin 430W/530W.  More recently they include examples using the GTN 650/750. Each Tip comes from my experiences in teaching how to use these units, and they deal with common issues, misconceptions, or confusion about some fundamentals of GPS operation.

1. Direct-To    2. Flight Plans    3. Jumping Ahead    4. Activating Approaches   

5. Vectored Approaches    6. Convert to Vectors    7. Vertical Courses  

8. Approaches    9. User Waypoints    10. Approach Transitions   

11. Changing a VTF Approach    12. GPS Simulators    13. Practice Approaches   

14. Autopilots   15. The OBS Button    16. Crossing Airways

About the Author/Trainer

I'm Keith Thomassen, the author of the manuals and the workshop trainer. I earned my first pilots certificate in 1958 and pursued a professional career of scientific research and teaching while expanding my aviation interests.  With a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University I carried out Fusion Energy research at Stanford, MIT, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.  During my career I held professorships at MIT and UC Berkeley, and also taught courses at Stanford, UCLA, and Harvard.  I am a Flight Instructor, with Airplane, Instrument, and Glider ratings.  On retirement I developed a strong interest in all things GPS, have been giving GPS classes since 2002, and have written for several aviation magazines in addition to publishing the manuals described here. I am available for talks to flying clubs, for FBO seminars, and educational talks on various avionics topics.


This website formerly belonged to my training partner Tom Rogers, at one time the owner of Avionics West in Santa Maria, CA.  After selling that business he moved to Tennessee where he maintained this site for his business, Avionics West of Tennessee.  Tom was a great friend, and his passing in October, 2009 left us all saddened. With his business now closed, this site will be used to promote GPS use and understanding, with articles and items of interest as time goes on.  We miss you Tom.

Tom Rogers