Glass Cockpit Retrofit
by Aaron Mingle, CFI, CFII, MEI, A&P
Question: Want all the benefits of those brand new glass cockpits? Don’t want to buy a brand new
aircraft? Even better, want it to work with your existing Garmin avionics?
Answer: A retrofit Garmin G500/G600. You get to keep your airplane, your Garmin GPS, and still get the
benefits of a glass cockpit.
Both the retrofit Garmin G500 and G600 are split into a primary flight display (PFD) on the left side, and
a multi-function display (MFD) on the right side. The PFD can be considered a six-pack replacement,
displaying attitude, heading/course information, airspeed, altitude, vertical speed, and more. The single
round knob on the left side is used to set bugs (heading, altitude, and vertical speed), select a course (for
VOR or GPS OBS operation), and change altimeter setting. Use the soft keys along the bottom to show/
hide bearing pointers, and to switch the CDI between GPS/VOR mode.
But of all these features, probably the best is the synthetic vision (standard on the G600, an option on
the G500). With synthetic vision enabled, you will watch in amazement as you fly over mountains and
valleys, see the airports pass by, and watch traffic cross in front of you (with an installed traffic system),
all on the PFD. You can even turn on airport signs and see a “billboard name” for an airport as you fly
One of the most helpful tools integrated with the synthetic vision is the flight path marker (the “green
dot” to us pilots). To ensure you are tracking straight down the final approach course in a stiff
crosswind, just make sure the marker is situated on the end of the runway, and you know the aircraft
is tracking straight to the landing site. The marker is, of course, no substitute for actual instrument
…with so much more
Adding to in-flight awareness is the high-resolution moving map on the home page of the MFD. For
those used to the moving map on the GNS530 or GNS430, this one is a welcome upgrade, as the map
looks great, and pans, zooms, and refreshes quickly.
On the ground, at hundreds of airports in the country, zoom in to see your position on the taxiways
(no more asking for progressive taxiing!). In the air, your flight plan route is there, including airways, navaids, and much more.
For those of you already familiar with the G1000 or other glass cockpits, I hear the questions: where do I
tune frequencies? Where are my engine gauges? How do I enter a flight plan? The best way to answer
this is to remember that the G500 and G600 are, as described earlier, six-pack replacements, not what
would be considered fully-integrated systems.
What exactly does that mean for me?
As a result, the G500/G600 must be paired with a Garmin GPS Navigation system (such as the GNS430
or GNS530). For the sake of comparison, on the G1000 (fully-integrated), flight plans are created and
frequencies are tuned on the PFD and MFD. However, for the retrofit G500/G600, frequencies are
tuned and flight plans are entered using a separate Garmin GPS, the same way they would be if the glass
panel was not there.
Consider the MFD “view-only”: flight plans can be viewed, but not changed. The advantage of this
system is if you already have or are familiar with a GNS430/530, or even the newer GTN650/750, the
G500/G600 is an easy upgrade!
As with all new avionics, it is imperative to spend time on the ground familiarizing yourself with the new
systems. For the G500/G600, that process is made even simpler due to a couple of key facts: First, your
existing Garmin GPS is still the backbone of this system. Second, Garmin has a great Windows simulator
that pairs a GNS530 with a G600, allowing pilots to learn at their pace.
What’s not to love?
Garmin’s website says it best: “Flying with a glass cockpit doesn’t have to mean buying a new aircraft.”
The G500/G600 is an easy way to make an older aircraft newer (or a new aircraft even newer). If a
less-cluttered panel and an increased “cool” factor aren’t enough to convince you, then consider that
the exact same safety advantages of all those other factory-installed glass cockpits can be seen with a
retrofit panel in the aircraft you already own and operate.
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
Would you like more information?
Send us a message below.