The Garmin GTN 650

by HPA · September 7, 2012

A Touch Screen GPS

by Hank Gibson, CSIP, Gold Seal CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI

I was taking a peek into a Cirrus a few weeks back, probably a 2002 or 2003 SR22. A quick glance at the panel and the GPS’s showed me everything was as it should be: 2 Avidyne screens, 2 Garmin 430s, the S-TEC 55x autopilot. The pilot offered to take me for a demo flight to show off his new GPS. I thought, well, I’m pretty good with a 430, maybe he wants some tips or something.

Once he turned the avionics master switch on after the engine started, I knew what he wanted to show me. I glanced down to check the frequencies in the top GPS and realized it wasn’t a Garmin 430. It looked very different. With a bit of awe in my voice, I asked the pilot, “What is that thing?”

He smiled back at me, amused at my fascination. “That,” he answered, “is a GTN 650.”

“Woah,” was all I could muster.

The Modernized 430

The Garmin GTN 650 is roughly the same size as the Garmin 430 (hence my nonchalantness in my initial overview of the cockpit), but is vastly different. First of all, it is a touch screen GPS. Second, it is incredibly easy to use. I went home and downloaded the simulator off of Garmin’s website and was able to have a pretty good working knowledge of the system in about half an hour. It also has all the functionality of a G1000 or a Garmin Perspective, just in a smaller body.

The Home Page

After it’s self-test, the GTN 650’s startup page is a fuel page. Here, you can input the amount of fuel on board and the expected fuel burn. Since it isn’t connected to any engine information, this is all manual. After pressing continue, the home page pops up. This the main page where all the GTN 650’s functions can be accessed. Instead of twisting a knob to access all the different chapters, now all one has to do is simply tap the screen.

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The different chapters are as follows. I will go into more detail on several of these below

  • Map
  • Traffic
  • Terrain
  • Weather
  • Default NAV (the equivalent to the first page on the Nav chapter in a Garmin 430, showing a CDI and trip information)
  • Flight Plan
  • PROC (Procedure)
  • Nearest
  • Waypoint Info
  • Music
  • Utilities
  • System

The Map Chapter

Just like it’s cousin, the G1000, the GTN 650 has a moving map that is very readable (a noticeable upgrade to the 430). The map has 5 different overlay options to choose from: Topo (Topography), Terrain (if this is selected on, Nexrad is unavailable), Airways, Nexrad, and Traffic. The zoom function is much more intuitive then the 430 or the G1000, also. In the lower left hand corner of the map page, there are two buttons that say “In” and “Out.” No more guessing on the range knob which way is in or out.

GTN 650 Map Page

The touch screen functionality really comes into play with the Com and Nav frequencies, as well as the transponder code (side note: the GTN 650 can control the Garmin GTX 33 transponder, saving panel space on the radio stack). To change frequencies, simply touch the STBY (standby) frequency box on the right hand side of the screen. That will bring up a page with numbers. Simply type in the full frequency (don’t forget zeroes on the end!), then press enter to place the frequency in standby. To switch the frequencies, either press XFER on the frequency input page, or press the active frequency. To change transponder codes, press on the transponder box and type in the code.

The Flight Plan and Procedure Chapters

The flight chapter makes inputting a flight plan extremely simple. Once flight plan is pressed, the current flight plan is displayed. Here, to add waypoints, press “Add Waypoint,” scroll through the alphabet with your finger, and type in the waypoint identifier.

Garmin GTN 650 Waypoint Page

To load arrivals, departures, or approaches, press the PROC button from the home page. To select a departure, press “Departure.” The GTN 650 then takes you to a screen to select the departure procedure and the transition, all without twisting a single knob. The same is true for loading an arrival and an approach.

The Waypoint Info and Utilities Chapters

In “Waypoint Info,” the GTN 650 will provide information about the different waypoints along the route, including the destination airport. The great thing is, when the information for airports comes up, it will actually say if it’s right or left traffic for the runways! No more wondering, am I supposed to be over this nuclear power plant while flying the traffic pattern?

The Utilities chapter contains vertical descent guidance (VCALC), trip and fuel planning, and even a clean screen button. This turns the touch capability of the screen off so it can get cleaned. On the fuel planning page, this is where the pilot would modify the fuel burn and such for the different phases of flight.

The Garmin GTN 650 is a modern marvel when it comes to aircraft GPS systems. It is a vast improvement over the Garmin 430, easy to learn, and simple to use.


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.

Training Begins

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.

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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.

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