Avionics News February 2013 - 23
And most of today’s offerings in portable GPS navigators provide the option of linkage to stand-alone
traffic sensors (the Zaon line) or, even more attractive
for some pilots, an ADS-B In receiver.
With the ADS-B In receiver, the GPS can show
traffic – via the FAA’s free traffic information servicebroadcast – and datalink weather via the FAA’s alsogratis flight information system-broadcast. And the
weather is subscription free.
Options for GPS receivers range from the diminutive
Bendix/King AV8OR and Garmin Aera units to tabletsize units, such as Garmin’s 795/796 Aera, and the
many Garmin 495/496 and 695/696 units still available.
On-Site Expertise – The Shop Advantage
Both types of portables – handheld VHF and GPS –
can be integrated into the panel with the installation of
a mounting unit or docking station. The performance
of both types of units also can be enhanced with the
installation of a power connection to the airplane and,
most important of all, external antennae. It’s here
that the avionics shops or dealerships can differentiate themselves from – and offer more than – the many
low-cost Internet and mail-order options pilots enjoy.
Mounting stations can, depending on the GPS unit
and other equipment, provide a connection to ship’s
power to keep the portable running and its battery
charged and ready for its standby role.
Those same docks also can provide a connection to
other equipment, such as the aforementioned traffic
sensors, ADS-B In receiver and even some autopilots.
In some aircraft, the shop can provide the installation and get the Form 337 field modification approval
– even if the units aren’t TSO’d. For VFR use, there’s
no restriction on their use.
As a backup to panel gear, the mounting dock can be
ideal in experimental or certificated aircraft.
Even many business-turbine airplanes flown in recent years boasted a docking station for a portable GPS
– with an interface to traffic sensors in the event the
panel-mounted GPS or MFD go dark.
Being Heard Above the Din
For the handheld VHF radio, there’s simply no comparison to their performance through an external antenna
and with a connection to the ship’s electrical system.
Try working with a pilot to test the range and effectiveness of the rubber-ducking antenna on the handheld
VHF radio in the cockpit while flying. It’s as simple
as sending a demo flight out a couple of miles with the
pilot’s VHF handheld and let the pilot hear the performance of the original equipment antenna from inside the
A repeat of the demo with the handheld’s antenna jack
connected to an external whip should be all it takes to
drive home the point.
The likely outcome: three miles away and barely audible.
Ditto for the GPS antenna; whenever an option exists
for an externally mounted antenna – or, at the least, a
remote antenna on the glareshield – it can reinforce the
value of the enhancement.
Spending hundreds or more for a device with lifesaving potential makes little sense if the airplane denigrates
the handheld’s performance to the point of making it
more of a handicap than an asset.
A Battery of Power Alternatives
Finally, the local shop should be the pilot’s go-to
source for standby power for the standby and backup
This means, in the absence of ship’s power, either
spare batteries or spare battery packs to assure the pilot
of power when it’s needed.
For the pilot who uses these devices regularly, the
replacement of disposable batteries will be routine.
Using rechargeable batteries can work, as long as the
pilot is made aware of these units’ trickling-discharge
All batteries slowly discharge with time, though today’s alkaline and lithium-ion disposable batteries hold
their charges far better than only a few years ago.
Rechargeable batteries slowly lose their charges
more quickly, so carrying extras and working out a
routine for rotating and recharging them should be
as second-nature for the pilot as updating charts and
Offering spare rechargeable batteries and their chargers will be handy to a number of pilots – as will a
system to help them remember that it’s time to rotate
the battery supply.
Even those using rechargeable batteries would be
well advised to carry a couple of fresh sets of disposables, and those standby disposables should be rotated
into another role after no more than two years.
After all, the whole point of these portable powerhouses is to help the pilot in a pinch.
Nothing will pinch the pilot more than lacking the
power to make them work when the chips are down. q