GPS Simulators

Panel mount GPS units generally have a built-in simulator mode so it can be operated in a docking station at home. The manufacturers also provide computer sim programs that you can download to your computer. These are perhaps the best way to learn how to use your GPS. I’ve used the Chelton and Garmin sims (Avidyne units also have sims) to create color screen shots for my GPS manuals, but more importantly to learn how to use new units like the GTN 750, or create situations to explore intricacies of operation or to answer questions I frequently get.


Using your unit in a docking station to operate in the comfort of your home gives you the feel of operating the real thing (which you are).  But clearly the least expensive and easiest option is to use a computer sim, so here I’ll give you some tips and tricks for using them. Using a simulator in conjunction with a manual such as mine will guide you through all of its operations in an organized manner.


Simulators for the Garmin 400/500 series, and the GNS 480 can be downloaded from the Garmin website.  The G1000 sim can be purchased from the Garmin Store for specific aircraft for about $25, and the GTN 6xx/7xx sim comes on a DVD with the purchase of a unit.  The setup and startup for the computer sims can be different than the setup and startup in a docking station. So let’s begin with the computer sim for the 400/500 series units.


The 400/500 Series Simulators


Garmin 400/500 sim


A GNS 530W simulator is shown on the left, and includes an HSI, autopilot, and speed/altitude controls.  Before turning on the sim, there’s an Options menu for choosing which 400 or 500 series unit to use. Turn on the sim by pushing the C button, then under Options go to  Initialize Position. Usually this is your departure point, but if you make a full flight plan but want to fly only a portion, say the Approach, choose an initial position somewhere near your IAF.


Autopilot modes include HDG, NAV, and ALT (click on one), and there is a speed slider, and an up/down rocker switch for altitude select. To change the OBS course or HDG bug, click and hold on those knobs and drag left or right to change them. Click on any button on the sim to make that choice, and click on the appropriate arrows above each knob to simulate turning it.


Perhaps the most important tip in operating all computer sims is that the up/down and left/right arrows on your computer keyboard can move a cursor (up/down) or change a number/letter (right/left) that has a cursor on it. These arrows are also a substitute for clicking on the arrows over the GPS knob (FMS knob in the G1000 sim).  You’ll find that using the keyboard arrows is much faster and easier than clicking on the appropriate arrow over that knob on the sim.  Also, instead of clicking on ENT on the sim, you can push the Enter (or Return) key on your keyboard.


For example, to select the initial position waypoint in the box that appeared in Fig 1 push the right arrow on your keyboard to put a K in the 1st  slot. Then push the down arrow to move the cursor to the 2nd slot and use the left/right arrows to select another letter or number.  When finished push Enter (or Return) on the keyboard, or click on ENT on the sim.


Alternatively, to select an initial position by lat/lon, push the down arrow on your keyboard to move the full cursor from the waypoint box to the two lat/lon lines (the cursor highlights the whole thing), then use the right arrow to highlight the N.  Then push it again to change it to S, or push the down arrow to move the cursor to the next character, etc. 


You can also run this computer sim (or the GTN sims) in conjunction with the G500 trainer as shown here (download the G500/600 from the Garmin website).  A 2.4 GHz processor and Win XP or greater is required.  There is a Help menu with a variety of topics about this sim.


G500 sim


In this sim the OBS and HDG values are set on the G500. Push the HDG or CRS buttons and click on the arrows on the left knob (the keyboard arrows only work on the right knob). This is a good way to learn how to operate the G500, but once you’ve learned to use it you’ll generally find it faster to operate the 400/500 sims alone, as the combos are demanding of the computer. 


Operating a 430/530 in the docking station has the advantage of using real buttons and knobs, adding the tactile training that’s part of using a unit.  But the autopilot and HSI functions are missing, and the initialization choices of speed, position, and altitude are more awkward.  To make these choices, push the Menu button twice to enter the setup mode (this is also how it’s done in the G1000 computer sim). 


Now you can move the cursor (large knob) to 5 different boxes (TRK, GS, POS, ALT, VS), or to a small square above the TRK box. If you put a black dot in that small square (push the ENT button) you’ll follow the flight plan, but otherwise will follow the track chosen by the value you put in the TRK box.  Your speed, altitude, and initial position are chosen by putting a cursor in the appropriate box, then selecting the waypoint or value with the knobs.  Be sure to Enter (ENT button) when finished with each selection or it doesn’t happen.


The G1000W Simulators


A G1000 sim is available for each specific aircraft in which they are offered. The one shown here is for a Cessna 182.  After powering this on, select PFD or MFD in the Options menu. Then enter the Demo setup mode by pushing the Menu button twice.  The selection on the MFD (right) has extra entries (Track, GS, and Wind speed and direction) that the PFD (left) does not.


G1000 sim 

Shown here are selectable items in the POS/VEL group.  Select your initial position, speed, and altitude in the list by moving the cursor with the large knob (down arrow) and set values for a particular selection by starting with the small knob (right arrow); then Enter when finished.  Other groups include GPS, where you can turn off WAAS or set different values of HPL and VPL. You can explore how these choices affect, say, approaches.  Without WAAS, vertical approaches are not allowed.


There is a Failures group where you can fail various items, and a group called Other to set Fuel on Board and Fuel Flow.  Again, you can use keyboard arrows to move cursors and change numbers and letters.  The FMS knobs are also operated by keyboard arrow, but these arrow keys don’t work on the ALT, COM, CRS, Baro, Range, or PAN knobs. 


Since the integrated G1000 is one of the more complex navigation systems to use, a training manual to organize the learning process should be used. For example, the digital autopilot has a variety of modes, and there can be one or two armed modes in addition to the active mode. So using it with my manual that describes the use of all these modes, you’ll  be guided through the intricacies of using it in a variety of flight operations. But whatever material you use for guidance, exploring all of the features of the G1000 with a sim is particularly useful.


The GTN SeriesSimulators


GTN Touchscreen sims

With its touchscreen design, the sims for the GTN series above are much easier to use than the others -- just click on the screen item you want to select. You never need to turn knobs, although that’s an option for a few operations.  Under the options menu -- Screen Capture, Settings, WFDE Prediction -- first choose the unit you want in Settings.  They include the 625, 635, 650, 725, and 750. There is also a Help menu with several sim topics.


Power on the unit, and during startup you’ll get a screen that checks the status of your CDI (top right in the figure above) and where you can set FOB and fuel flow as shown in the Figure.  To get into the Demo Setup mode from the Map, push Menu and then select Demo.


Demo mode GTN750


Now you can choose both GPS and NAV settings, which include the items shown above.  In the GPS setup you can select a starting Waypoint, and change HPL and VPL. In NAV Setup select the speed and altitude.  Use the Flight Plan + Vertical to track your flight plan or, to fly an arbitrary direction, select Manual (click on Track Mode, use the left/right arrow to change to Manual, then Enter). Now choose the Track value. Just a little practice will quickly teach you how to use a sim. Again, a good manual will guide your practice sessions so you can fully explore the features of the unit.


Using the Simulators


Once familiar with the use of sims you should use it on a regular basis. Preview each upcoming flight while sitting at home on your computer.  Make full flight plans, not simple D-> operations.  Adding waypoints, particularly airports, along the way let’s you quickly get info like AWOS frequencies with wind and weather for that airport, or VOR frequencies to send to active or standby in the unit.  Just put a cursor on the waypoint in the flight plan and get info on it by whatever method that unit uses.


You don’t actually have to follow this full plan, since you can shortcut the zigzags by going direct to any intermediate point or to your destination.  The important point is to include airports and waypoints along the way to organize the database for information retrieval.  Practice this retrieval on the sim. You might need to divert to one of those airports in an actual flight, so practice that in the sim, and add an Approach there to challenge yourself.


Add Departures, even if you don’t anticipate one, and Arrivals to get additional practice.  To practice an Arrival, choose an initial position in the sim somewhere before the Arrival Transition waypoint, then later add an approach.  Or, if just doing an approach, choose an initial position 10-30 nm before the IAF. 


If you plan a flight with a number of practice Approaches in the local area, do the entire flight plan of multiple approaches in the sim.  Do the missed approaches, and even add Alternates.  By flying a variety of approaches to a variety of airports in the sim you may reveal problems you would otherwise first discover in the airplane.


Whether just learning your GPS, refreshing you knowledge, or exploring advanced features of the unit, nothing beats a sim for concentrated practice without the distractions of flying the airplane.