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.

In 2001, when GPS was very new for aircraft navigation, I partnered with Tom Rodgers of Avionics West in Santa Maria (California) to teach GPS classes at his shop. He was flooded with GPS installs, and with questions on how to operate them, and I was a recently retired physicist, with lots of teaching experience and a strong interest in learning “all about GPS”. Classes began in early 2002, using Garmin 430/530 units (and later, GNS 480’s) installed in docking stations for up to 18 students. For the first three months I had the idea that I needed to teach the operations described in the Garmin manuals, the “knobology” of how to execute each of them. But half the questions I got from students were not of that type, and it slowly became clear to me that there was a whole other side to GPS that I hadn’t appreciated. Most of the difficulties my students have with any GPS are not how to operate the device, but in understanding how it works -- the foundations of a GPS. These involve flight legs, leg sequencing and suspension, autopilot signals (analog and digital) from flight legs, discontinuities between legs, and the addition of procedure legs into a plan. What problems arise and how do you solve them?

GPS for Pilots

My latest manual “GPS For Pilots” covers these fundamentals, and gives examples to illustrate common problems and solutions. I explore these issues on Garmins (430W/530W 480, 650/750, and G1000W), the Chelton EFIS units, and the Avidyne 440/540. Color screen shots from sims for these devices are used extensively. Autopilot use on flights is illustrated from many of the units in use today. It covers tracking lateral courses with either analog commands from your CDI, or digital commands directly from the GPS. Both GPS and baro-VNAV vertical commands are described both from the GPS side (commands issued) and Autopilot side (modes to use). This manual is available for $20 plus shipping ($3 in the US).

My Manuals

From my point of view, I think of GPS understanding in 3 different ways; the first is the set of basic ideas and fundamentals common to all units, and the above manual is devoted largely to that topic. Without these basics, learning is incomplete. A second view is the “handbook” of operations represented by manuals from the manufacturer, which ignores most of the issues raised by understanding the foundations of GPS. The third view is the practical use of GPS, represented by my manuals, which mixes the first two views but presents material as pilots expect to learn it; in building-block fashion, with scenario based examples used liberally.

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 ($3 in the US).


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

17. GPS and Magnetic Variation 18. The GTN 750 Find Key 19. Holds on The GTN 750

20. New GTN 750 Software



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