A software developer has teamed up with a leading manufacturer of GPS avionics units to produce a useful and practical computer program for the private pilot.

Fsgarmin, developed by Sim Systems, in conjunction with Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002, simulates the functionality of Garmin’s GNS 430 and 530 GPS avionics suite, giving pilots the opportunity to familiarise themselves with data screens and selection processes.

The program replicates the real unit. The interface, software to power the moving map, databases containing COMs and NAV aid frequencies and Instrument approach procedure plates are all self-contained without the need to download extra data plug-ins.

Users will need to download and install 2 files for each unit (GNS 430, 530). One consists of Garmin’s trainer software, available from their website, then the actual program (Fsgarmin) from Sim Systems hosted at FlightSim.com. Lastly, a program to generate a product key will need to be downloaded, again hosted at FlightSim.com and it’s all-free of charge! The key generated will unlock both Garmin units.

Once invoked, Fsgarmin can be resized and placed anywhere within the current window, allowing users to integrate the unit on any instrument panel. There are no keyboard shortcuts, so a mouse is necessary to simulate turning knobs and pressing buttons.

Pilots familiar with earlier GPS units will probably be able to work their way through the array of pages, but those without any prior knowledge will need to read the manual and use the trainer to familiarise themselves with the program’s features. The manual is in PDF format (Adobe Acrobat is needed to read it), and is taken from Garmin’s own user guide written for the real units. More practice now will mean less head down time in the cockpit later!

So what is Garmin and what do they do? Garmin is a manufacturer of GPS units designed primarily to provide pilots a visual indication of position and situation awareness. They can also be used to aid flight planning. Instrument approach plates, radio navigation and communication frequencies and a nearest airfield, VOR or NDB facility are all contained in databases with information supplied by Jeppesen. Users can also input there own waypoint data based on the aircraft’s current position or known co-ordinates.

The visual indication is by way of a moving map. The map can become quite detailed if flying close to a major airport, with airspace indications, major road tracks, rivers and even named towns adding to the clutter – especially if using the 430 which has a smaller screen. Pilots may zoom in providing a way to decrease map features, and this can be automated when approaching an airfield. A flight plan can be created and when activated is visually placed on to the moving map allowing pilots to fly the route, following vectors – with a facility to have this coupled to an autopilot.