• Lowrance 500 GPS

    I finally broke down early this year and decided to buy a handheld GPS with a budget of up to $1000. After comparing those available long past the point of diminishing returns, I decided on the Garmin 196. However, at AOPA's open house last June I took a last look at the Lowrance 500 and 1000. I ended up buying the 500 for $350 total cost. I chose the smaller screen because the only practical place to mount it in the plane was on the yoke, and I didn't want the 1000's big screen blocking 2-3 instruments in front of me. (I fly alone most of the time, seldom with another pilot. The passengers I take are not GPS literate and in any event much more interested in looking out the windows.) I wondered if I would regret my choice.

    I can say now that I couldn't be more satisfied with it. All the aviation GPS's use the same Jeppesen Americas databases, so I didn't miss anything by not buying a Garmin 196. However, what makes the Lowrence 500 a super Best Buy is that all the accessories you could possibly want come with the package. The yoke mount allowed me to put it just in front of the right horn of the yoke, blocking nothing on the panel. In that position, the screen is only about a foot from my eyes. It's closer to me than a panel mounted GPS. The flat, thin, trapezoidally shaped auxiliary antenna mounted firmly on the glare shield at center bottom of the windshield, is maximally exposed to the open sky. It's lead sits on the glare shield and can easily be plugged into the back of the mounted GPS. That thin cable obstructs no view of the instruments.

    But what about performance? Like I said, I couldn't be happier. There is a fairly steep learning curve at the outset, but the manual is outstanding, and the constant clicking you have to do to enter a route and utilize options is in a consistent pattern for all functions.

    There are five pages, each with its own menu. Repeated clicking of the page button will cycle you through them. The ones I like best are the HSI navigation page which makes it possible to fly a radial much more precisely than with a VOR needle, and the split screen navigation plan which appears any time you have a destination or activate a route. The top half automatically zooms to keep you and your destination on the screen, and the bottom can be zoomed at will. One click will move you to the full screen navigation page. The HSI page has nine parameters at the top and bottom of the screen, destination, track, bearing, distance, groundspeed, etc. and the map screens each have four. I'm using the factory defaults for these parameters, but you have a choice of many others you can substitute.

    The updating and screen refresh rates happen every second--no delay is noticeable-- and the screen's readability is as advertised: good in direct sunlight. At night one click turns on back lighting. The unit has 12 parallel channels and is WAAS enabled. I was able to calculate that it gave the MSL altitude of my tiedown spot at FDK to within two or three feet though on the satellite page it only claims an accuracy within about 20 feet.

    While flying on course, it seems to read up to 100 feet higher than my altimeter, set to local barometric pressure. I didn't think I would have much use for the Mapcreate ground database which comes on two CD's along with a card reader, but I have found it useful. (This feature is a $150-200 option if you buy a Garmin.) I uploaded a detailed map of my $100 hamburger local area, and now can identify minor roads, streams, factories, etc. as I fly over them. Incidentally, Lowrance GPS's use MMC and SD cards. They are the common ones used in digital cameras and other electronic devices.

    Practically speaking, there is no limit to the number of detailed aviation and detailed databases you can have available to upload into your GPS. If you sail or fish or scuba dive at sea, without buying any more options, you have all the navigation and data information you could possibly want. It even includes the location of famous wrecks off our coasts.

    In the plane, you can power the GPS either by plugging it into your cigar lighter with the connector provided, or use two AA batteries. I use the latter since my cigar lighter now powers my portable intercom. The one major negative is how fast this unit will drain the AA batteries. Always have replacements handy. However, while playing with it indoors or inputting routes or running it in simulator mode, you can turn off the search for satellites function which apparently is the main consumer of battery power.

    Finally, another feature I like especially: once you have input a route, with two clicks you can reverse it for the return trip. Also, it is possible to modify existing routes at will. For the rest, I refer you to Lowrance's web site: www.lowrance.com. There you can even download the manual, and a simulator (with which I did not have much luck on my old desktop). 28 day updates of the aviation database cost $35.00 to download, or little less if you subscribe. Carl Bastiani N21KM

    Submitted by Carl Bastiani

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