Tools & Toys – Garmin GPS 695

Accessorise! While that mantra may be an excuse for the fashion-conscious, pilots will find that equipping themselves with the latest gadgets or software is a life-enhancing, if not life-saving, affair.

A map that weighs a ton but lifts a load

Replace your paper with the richer GPSMAP695. Copyright: Garmin

Replace your paper and lessen your workload with the GPSMAP695. Copyright: Garmin.

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By Paul Jansen

When I first started flying an age ago, human navigators were alive and well. But I was not so fortunate to share my cockpit with one. So, I had to carefully mark my plastic-wrapped paper map, fold it origami-style so that I could flip it open to the right section with one hand, and then fly the route I marked with continuous reference to the squiggles I had written on it.

I still carry a paper map. I still carefully mark my planned routes and alternates on it. But I no longer pore over it. I do not need to.

Thanks to Garmin.

The advent of handheld electronic navigational devices for aviation has made life easier for pilots. Creating routes and literally changing them on the fly is practically child’s play today. Such devices are great time-savers. In a pinch, with the weather or an emergency suddenly closing off your options, they make it simple to go directly to an alternate aerodrome or even zig-zag through terrain without having to whip out a map and ruler and start doing instant calculations in the cockpit. Dig deeper into your wallet and you can take home a navigator that can practically duplicate your “six-pack” – the key flight instruments on your cockpit panel.

Split display on the Garmin GPSMAP 695

A virtual instrument panel that may save you in a pinch. Copyright: Garmin

I never leave home with my Garmin 695. And every time I use it, I thank Gao Min Huan and Gary Burrell.

Burrell, an electrical engineering graduate of Wichita State University, worked for King Radio, which by 1969 was providing Boeing with aircraft radio equipment. Burrell, a recreational pilot, was then leading the development of some of King’s navigation and communication products.

In 1983, Burrell hired Dr Gao Min Huan, who had obtained advanced electrical engineering degrees from the University of Tennessee after moving to the United States from his birthplace of Taiwan.

While working with Burrell, Dr Gao and his team developed the first GPS navigation system to be certified by the US Federal Aviation Administration for aircraft use.

According to Wikipedia, the array of satellites that formed the backbone of the Global Positioning System (GPS) was still being established at the time. Space Shuttles were deploying the satellites and when the Challenger blew up, the programme was affected. It was completed two years behind time, in April 1989.

The story goes that Dr Gao had been thinking of going into business for himself and his dream was given a boost when school friends he met in Taiwan encouraged him to do so. One, an investment banker, assured him that raising money to launch his company would be no problem. Dr Gao returned to Taiwan with Burrell almost immediately after, to explore the idea further. A few months later, they had raised a warchest of US$4 million.

The company they created in 1989 had to change its name two years later when it was sued for infringing the trademark of a competitor. So they merged their first names, Gary and Min, and came out with “Garmin”.

Garmin's website shows its wide range of products for pilots and others.

Garmin's website shows its wide range of products for pilots and others.

Garmin makes a range of products: handheld, marine, road, aircraft devices and even a mobile phone. The sheer volume of their devices and the useful feedback have made the Garmin brand “top of mind” when people shop for navigators. All these have made Dr Gao and Burrell rich men, with personal fortunes of reportedly more than US$1.5 billion and US$940 million respectively.

I am happy for them. The Garmin number that interests me more, however, is 695.

That is the model of the device I faithfully carry with me each time I take to the skies.

The GPSMAP 695, and its US weather radio-equipped sibling, the 696, were launched late 2008. The flagship portable aviation GPS devices quickly became top of the wish lists of many General Aviation pilots and continue to do so.

I got mine a few months later, in April 2009, from Sporty’s Pilot Shop for US$2,695, excluding shipping. When it arrived, the deliveryman asked for the GST, which came up to several hundred dollars, before releasing it to me. Ouch.

If you are flying in this region, the additional features of the 696 are superfluous, and the 695 is good enough. Also, be sure when you get your 695 to ask for the International base map and Pacific aviation data or you may end up with base maps of the Americas.

The package came with a robust yoke mount. The set was already a hefty 2.3 pounds. Add the yoke mount to your flight bag and you will appreciate the weight distribution of a backpack or the value of a roller bag. But this problem is quickly forgotten once you are in your aircraft and using the Garmin.

The first thing you will notice is the impressive acreage and resolution of the screen:  7 inches diagonally and 800 by 400 pixels. This is large and clear enough so that you can switch to a split screen mode of a simulated instrument panel and map and yet read the direction, speed, rate of climb/descent, altitude and turn and slip, clearly, without sacrificing anything in the map below.

Garmin GPSMAP 695 displaying airways

Low and high airways are easy to see on the GPSMAP695. Copyright: Garmin.

A joystick makes panning across a map a breeze and clicking and twisting it enables you to enter and access data much more easily than with a four-way cursor, although you still have to go through the alphabet sequentially to get to the letter you need. Another advance are the five “soft” keys at the bottom of the unit. Their function changes according to the mode your 695 is currently in, reducing the number of pages you have to scroll through. When you are flying solo on a long cross-country, every second less you need to spend looking inside the cockpit is precious.

The 695 has all the features a General Aviation pilot can wish for in addition to accurate maps: a flight log record, user waypoints, an E6B calculator, multiple aircraft profiles, weight and balance calculator, among others.

A lot of thought has gone into how to reduce the cockpit workload. For instance, the joystick makes it simple to get to a rich trove of information once you press the “NRST” button on the right of the device, including: airports, VORs, NDBs, road intersections, user waypoints, cities, air traffic control centres, and airspaces. This makes tasks like determining the radial from an VOR a snap.

I found the brightness sufficient to overcome the glare of the brightest equatorial sunshine and did not need to go higher than 6 out of 10 on the backlight intensity scale.

The internal GPS antenna works like a dream. I have no problems accessing the GPS satellites either from my study or the cockpit, unlike my Garmin 296, and have never needed to use an external antenna no matter where I place the 695. This makes one less thing to carry or worry about. And the fast 5 Hz GPS update rate is no slouch.

The built-in memory allows you to key in up to 3,000 user waypoints. This can be easily expanded as an SD card slot provides extra memory space.

G-Force GF-2 mount putting a Garmin 695 at eye-level in a Cessna 150

G-Force GF-2 mount puts my Garmin 695 at eye-level and off to the side in a Cessna 150

The unit is 7 3/4” high, 5 3/4” long, and 1 1/2” deep, about the size of a hardcover book. This can pose a challenge of where to place it without blocking your view of the cockpit panel.

When flying a Cessna 150, 152 or 172, I use a third party product, the G-Force GF2 Mount (US$69). Its twin suction cups let you mount the 695 to a window. The G-Force allows me to have the screen at eye-level and off the panel (see picture).

But I prefer to use the Garmin-supplied yoke mount when I fly Piper Archers and Warriors because the shape and location of the windscreen and windows puts the 695 too close to me for comfortable use. The 695’s footprint is large, so I am careful when I adjust the yoke mount, to make sure I do not block my view of any instruments on the panel.

The set can be disengaged from both mounts, enabling you to take your 695 home or to your hotel for safe-keeping or for updating. However, I found the G-Force required a little bit more fiddling to separate the set from the holder.

Garmin GPSMAP695 on yoke mount

Garmin's supplied yoke mount for the GPSMAP695 should be adjusted properly to avoid blocking the pilot's view of cockpit instruments. Shown in use here on a Piper Archer II.

Another thing you should look out for is the battery life of the 695. On a flight to Malacca (WMKM), delays to accommodate inbound traffic at the outbound holding point resulted in my running out of “battery juice” on the return trip, even though the battery had been fully charged before I left. I estimate I had used the 695 for a little more than two hours. Now, on long flights, I make sure to plug it into the panel instead of relying on the internal battery.

This is not a real problem for me and does little to counterbalance the many plus points of the 695. All in, the Garmin 695 is a must-have in my  flight bag.

You will need to spend a bit of time learning how to use all its features. Once you do, you will find the 695 can lift quite a load off your mind when you are in the left seat.

Copyright: Paul Jansen 2011. All rights reserved.

Next: When things get gloomy, I reach for my Smith and Wesson

One Response to Tools & Toys – Garmin GPS 695

  1. The Editor says:

    Garmin has just released the touch screen 796/5 Aera. The street price is around US$2,500 for the XM weather model and US$2,200 for the one without. If you have tried one, or have an opinion on touch screen portable GPS units, send us your thoughts.

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