Garmin’s New G3X Making Big Push into Experimental Market

 - April 8, 2013, 1:15 PM
Garmin engineers used new and lower-cost–but as-yet FAA uncertified–sensors and technology to develop the new G3X avionics for experimental aircraft.

Garmin’s release of a new version of its experimental G3X avionics system not only marks a major move into a big market but also the expansion of its Team X, a group of engineers and designers paving the way to new lower-cost products for experimental aircraft. The G3X system can be seen this week at Garmin’s booth (No. D-034) at the Sun ’n Fun Fly-in in Lakeland, Fla.

In the previous version of G3X, Garmin engineers adapted sensors and technology from certified products to build the G3X system for the experimental market. The prices were lower than those for certified avionics, but not as competitive with other purpose-built experimental avionics from non-certified avionics manufacturers. G3X basically took parts of Garmin’s certified G500 system and wrapped it in a new package. “Even though we didn’t take credit for its certification characteristics, we had TSO-candidate hardware going into experimental products,” explained Jim Alpiser, director of aviation after-market sales.

The problem with this approach is that the guts of the system, the sensors for the attitude heading reference system (AHRS) and air data system, are expensive because they need to meet certification requirements. What Garmin did for the new G3X, he said, was “take some of this newer and lower-cost technology and put the right package around that and not have to go through the certification requirements. We know the performance aspects of products like that but we don’t have to go and retest it. If we took those same lower-cost electronics, sensors for AHRS and air data, for example, it would be a multimillion-dollar project to recertify that. Instead, we were able to bring those newer and lower-cost sensors into the new LSA/experimental product line.”

The new G3X products start with a primary flight display for $4,375, which includes the GDU 370 display, GSU 25 ADAHRS, GEA 24 engine indication system (EIS) interface, GMU 22 magnetometer and GTP 59 air temperature probe. A two-display system is $6,495 and three costs $8,495.

Garmin understands that pilots of experimental and light sport aircraft (LSA) want autopilots, and G3X now offers a low-cost autopilot option. For less than $2,000, the autopilot includes two servos and installation hardware. This compares to a certified system that sells for about $30,000. “The certification side is probably the single biggest barrier to why Garmin has not entered into a retrofit certified autopilot,” Alpiser said. “The barriers for certification are extraordinary. [The new autopilot] is safe, reliable and smooth. It’s going to offer high-end performance characteristics where your level-offs are very smooth. It’s going to do all the turn anticipation and capturing.”

The autopilot offers options such as the GMC 305 mode controller ($750), just like sophisticated integrated certified autopilots with the ability to control trim and support yaw damping. Garmin will also include its blue level button with the controller. “So that way if there’s disorientation or the pilot becomes incapacitated,” he said, “somebody can push that button and it’s going to bring you straight and level and put you in a place where you’re safe for a period of time. We’ve not had an autopilot for this class of aircraft before, so that’s a huge new product for us. It uses a lot of the same high-end characteristics of our certified autopilot but at a fraction of the price. It’s an important part of what people want to put in their aircraft, they want that extra set of hands to allow them to focus and do other things in the airplane.”

An angle-of-attack indicator is another G3X option and ranges in price from $199 to $449, depending on which pitot system is needed (non-heated, heated or heated with regulator).

Team X has been around for about two years and helped develop the original G3X. Now the team has grown to six engineers who are passionate about building and flying airplanes and, Alpiser said, “having great avionics for those aircraft. They are the ones that put their lives on the line, because they’re flying this equipment, so they are just as motivated as our certified team.”