Garmin GTN 650: A Touch-Screen Dream

by HPA · August 15, 2013

Garmin GTN 650: A Touch-Screen Dream

by Brendan Boyd (Gold Seal CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, CSIP)


If you’ve ever used any of Garmin’s variety of avionics outfits, you know that the company has built its reputation on the prolific use of GPS technologies. You probably also know that Garmin products demonstrate a high level of quality, design, functionality, and execution. I was recently afforded the opportunity to use one of Garmin’s less established, but extremely functional units, the Garmin GTN 650. The component meshed well with the pre-existing equipment in the Cirrus SR22 I was flying. I’ll even draw the assumption that the GTN would look and feel right at home in almost any of today’s modern single-engine piston aircraft.



The logic used by Garmin in their aviation products remains comparatively constant across the board. Whether it is a simple single-unit GNS 430, a G1000 PFD/MFD, or a full-blown, top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art G5000 jet suite, the features at the heart of Garmin’s products remain relatively equivalent. That being said, with a little bit of help from the GTN 650 manual and some preparation with a GTN 650 simulator, becoming a master of the unit was all too easy. Garmin logic is extremely intuitive and made with the pilot’s ease-of-use in mind. While it may take a few tries to get down some of the basic mechanics, such as where to reach when changing frequencies, the general thought process remains unchanged from any of Garmin’s other aviation products. The biggest draw the GTN 650 has over a comparable GNS 430; touch-screen functionality. From typing in frequencies and waypoints, to changing flight plans and courses, Garmin has taken their game to the next level. In the day and age of smart phones, iPads, and touch-screen laptops, it was inevitable that this form of technology would eventually push its way into the cockpit – and we should all be glad it has.


I’m speaking out of opinion, but I believe the GTNs work flawlessly with nearly any avionics setup and aircraft platform. My experience using the Garmin units was in a 2006 Cirrus SR22 with the Avidyne Entegra PFD/MFD. It was a dream. The MFD seamlessly links GPS data with many other sources of information such as weather, obstacles, terrain, and navigation information. At my fingertips was near-limitless information that enhanced my situation awareness and decision making abilities like never before. Like many aircraft before, this unit could easily be used with standard six-pack, steam gauge instrumentation. I would presume that integrating the GTN 650 with other comparable avionics suites available could be done relatively easily as well (Aspen, Honeywell… here’s looking at you!). In any situation and any avionics setup, the GTN provides an added level of situational awareness and an extra layer of redundancy in the worst case scenarios.



If you are considering an upgrade to your aircraft’s avionics, give the GTN 650 some serious thought. The system is highly capable and offers the pilot a plethora of resources. The issue most Cirrus pilots will encounter is the console’s available space. You may notice that most Cirrus stacks are crowded as-is. The GTN is a slightly larger unit and will require an avionics shop to shift equipment. If you decide to go with a GTN 650/750 (the latter being essentially a larger-screen version of the prior with a little extra functionality), anticipate a more drastic change to your current panel. However, the end product will be well worth the investment. As for other aircraft, each make and model will provide its own unique quirks, but a good avionics shop will have the answers!

GTN 750

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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