19 November 2008


First, a story:
One of the fondest memories of my life started off badly. I need to give you a little background so you'll better understand...
He barely made it into High School, but my Dad was one of the smartest people on earth.
Give him something that didn't work and he generally could figure out why it wouldn't function.
Most frequently, if it was fixable he could fix it.
But if you looked in the dictionary under MACHO, you'd see a picture of my Dad. There was nothing he hated worse than being embarrassed. He'd do ANYTHING to avoid being thrust into a situation where he might be embarrassed.

Dad flew airplanes, and was fascinated by helicopters. When the guy that was supposed to come home from California with me in an R22 canceled out, Dad jumped at my offer to fill the seat.
I was delighted with the idea of spending three days flying cross-country with my Old Man.

I borrowed a Garmin 296 GPS from a friend for the trip. To my Dad I said, "Getting out of the L.A. basin, unfamiliar with the area, with all that controlled airspace and all the student pilot traffic is always stressful. I need your help to stay out of trouble."
So I put the unit in "simulation mode" and handed it to him-
"You can't hurt it Dad. Play around with it until you're comfortable. Let me know if you have any questions." And I walked away figuring he'd be busy for an hour or so.

Fifteen minutes later I check on him and find the unit turned off, sitting next to him on the end table. I disguise the fact that I'm furious as I ask, "So, you know how that thing works now?"
"I'm afraid I'm gonna break it."
I know him well enough to know it's hopeless. I'm stuck with flying, navigating, communicating, and avoiding other traffic safely out of L.A. with a live bag of potatoes in the co-pilot seat.

And with the necessary planning I did fine. I had Dad hold the 296 where I could refer to it, and he watched as I pushed buttons to get the information I needed. He watched as the moving map on the unit unfolded. He shook his head in amazement as he'd look at the airplane on the 296 fly over a railroad track, then look below the helicopter to see we were EXACTLY over a railroad track.

When we got home he asked, "How much do these things cost?"
Then he went and bought a Garmin Streetpilot III.
It wasn't cheap. At the time, I think he paid $1,300 for the thing. For three years he enjoyed showing it off to all his friends and family. A few days before he died, he gave it to me, and five years later it still works great.

But time marches on, and I've been exposed to newer GPS units. You've probably seen them or seen them advertised...
These machines talk to you.
They prompt you to enter an address and then guide you to your destination.
Push the "home" button, and they will guide you home when you are hopelessly lost in a scary neighborhood.

Two weeks ago, Sara Jean bought this unit for me.
For a little over $200 we got the GPS and a bean-bag mount that sits securely on the dash to keep the unit in place. I'll be able to program it and be confident Sara Jean won't drive into that dangerous neighborhood. Many of you probably have a GPS already. Those of you that don't, for whatever reason, need to look into buying one. And cost shouldn't be an issue...
We've seen some good ones selling for as little as $100 on EBay. Big Bubba bought one and is more than satisfied with it.

More gadgets-
Pilots, have you ever used these?
Yeah, I know... Yikes! A thousand dollars?
We have two of them in the R22, and I think they're worth the cost. It's difficult to describe the amount of noise they cancel out. If you've never used them, find someone that has a set and have them demonstrate them to you. You'll be amazed.
In certain frequency ranges I'm nearly deaf. I believe a pilot starting her/his career today using an active-noise-canceling headset may not suffer my fate at career's end.
Here too, perfectly good substitutes are available for a lot less than $1,000.

There are several models of noise canceling headphones intended for use in non-aviation environments that are reasonably priced. I'll assume they're as effective as the aviation headsets at reducing noise levels, and I'd recommend buying one if your work exposes you to a lot of noise.

Sometimes gadgets seem like toys...
Until you start using them and get accustomed to 'em.
Then, (remember your first microwave oven?), you wonder "How did I ever get along without that?"


jinksto said...

"More gadgets-
Pilots, have you ever used these?"

I think you've got the wrong link there... that one goes to a Pharos GPS instead of what I assume you meant to be noise canceling headphones.

Being a computer geek I'm also a gadget geek. I bought some of the first hand held GPS units as soon as they were available. The progress that they've made just in the last 10 years is simply amazing. I have "in-dash" GPS units in all of my vehicles. All are after-market additions that get installed within a week of purchasing the vehicle. At first these were fun to play with. Now configuring the unit and getting it set up for a trip is just part of the normal startup procedure for the vehicle. It only takes a few seconds once you have the procedure down. On long trips it's nice to be able to quickly find the nearest Walmart or hotel and on shorter trips "Becky" the Navigatrix is just keeping you company and making sure that you don't miss a turn.

The Old Man said...

I notice your new GyPSy doesn't show a "home" feature. The Lovely and Talented was thinking about a GyPSy for Christmas. What say you about your new gear?

ddf said...

I could not agree with you more. I started flying...eh, well it was after the Wright Brothers, and I was forced to get away from it for many years. A few years ago I was fortunate to start again. The first thing I noticed was the audio available. Having first learned with a scratchy cabin speaker and a hand mike, I found the new noise-canceling headsets simply fantastic. GPS for someone who grew up with pencil lines on a on a chart is miraculous....and a GPS approach compared to an arcing VOR/DME to the same runway is simply Wow. One additional note: I'm not nostalgic and don't believe you need the pain of steam gages and obsolete procedures to be a 'real' pilot. You do need to completely understand the fundamentals (and remember to look outside), but manually creating something like a Nav log is a waste of time.

Greybeard said...

Thanks Jinks for the heads-up on the link. Fixed.

Old Man-
You're right, I had the wrong unit linked... Also fixed.
The Nuvi 255w has the "home" feature, and it's great to push it and see if the unit takes you home the way you normally would go. It has, at times, pointed us in directions we hadn't considered but will use from now on.

One of my problems is learning to utilize all the information available on the aviation gps's I use. There is SO MUCH information available there... it boggles.
And most (including the highway units) have the ability to be updated online now.
Just incredible.

Epijunky said...

We bought our first GPS last Christmas...

100% of the time it will get us to where we need to go. Unfortunately 15% of the time it takes three times as long as it should.


The next one I purchase will be a Garmin.

Matt said...

I've always flown with a pair of David Clarks. The Cardinal I had flown for a bit as part of my commercial training had a pair of Bose headsets in them and my god I never wanted to go back to my DC's. You can really notice the difference when you shut them off in flight for any reason. The initial noise threshold was almost unbearable until my ears adjusted themselves.

In the air I love the GNS430, but on the ground I'm still stubborn and insist on a map and finding my own way out of the bad areas... lol

Samantha Xeon said...

Sound cancelling headphones are awesome. I've been using a pair of Koss PortaPro ( yes the name sound like a toilet I know ! ) and they are just great. Cheap too.