Christmas came early this year! It started snowing in late November and a parcel arrived, containing a brand new G430 module from Elite Simulations.
Elite is well known for their FAA approved simulation solutions which are used in flight training centers, as well as for their custom simulations software that runs on a PC. Less well known is that you can buy home cockpit components from Elite - everything from a complete Bendix-King radio stack, to a single control module, like the G430, and use these with FSX.
Here some examples of Elite professional products: the PT136 cockpit and the AP4000 radio stack.
If you look closely at the AP4000 stack , you can see the G430 module towards the top.
From the Elite web-site: “The ELITE 430 control module is the most cost-effective and convenient way to train with the GNS 430 WAAS. Whereas the real 430 can cost thousands of dollars, this module has all of the knobs and buttons just like the real Garmin unit has, providing you with life-like functionality and a plethora of opportunities. Whether you are just learning the ropes of the 430’s functionality, or want to practice some of your favorite GPS or WAAS approaches, this module is your ultimate training solution.”
So why is the G430 such a big deal, you might ask. Well, there is a big change happening in General Aviation.
The VOR to VOR navigation that many of us grew up with is rapidly being enhanced by, or replaced by GPS based navigation. Everything from GPS waypoints to GPS runway approaches. At latest count, there are over 10,000 official RNAV GPS runway approaches in the US alone. GPS navigation has many advantages over land based VOR navigation, not the least of which is cost. Just like the younger generation may never have a land based phone line, but use cell phones instead, younger pilots may grow up with GPS based navigation and never see the need for land based navigational aids.
OK, even if VORs stay around for a long time, you better learn GPS based navigation techniques if you have not already – for that is where it is going...
Garmin was an early leader in GPS based cockpit units, and with the upgrade of their 530 and 430 units to WAAS level accuracy in the 530W and 430W, you can do pretty much everything you need to, including precision vertical approaches, with a small radio module sized unit, that fits into existing aircraft as an avionics upgrade.
So any serious GA home cockpit really needs a Garmin unit in the stack, to offer the complete avionics experience.
I’ve long had a dream of one day building a complete home cockpit. I’ve got the suitable room set aside in the basement level of my house (on the drawings, it was called “Media Room” – but it is used mainly for my shop and for storage).
At past Avsim conferences, you could find me wandering around, looking at the exhibits of various home cockpit suppliers with great interest! So, when I got the chance to review this piece of professional hardware, I jumped at the opportunity.
Installation & Documentation:
So what is the box? Well, the module, a USB cable, and your choice of rubber or Velcro feet. That is it!
My favorite GA airplane is the Carenado Bonanza, with Reality XP gauges, including a GNS430W - so this seemed like the perfect platform for the review. In addition, I currently have the FTX Lancair in review, and it comes with two 430s in the panel – so that was a good match also.
If you are building your own home cockpit, you can have the Reality XP GNS screen show up on a separate monitor or on the main monitor, depending on your design. One day, I would like to upgrade to having the outside scenery projected on the wall in front of me, and only have the instruments showing on my monitor, but for this test I simply used the two aircraft with a single 22" monitor configuration.
The documentation is short, but sufficient to get the software loaded, and warn you that to turn the unit on, you have to push the V-Volume button, rather than twisting the C-button, like the real thing. I downloaded the USB driver and G430 plug in software from the Elite site, installed both on my system and was now ready to plug the unit into my computer!
Flying with the G430:
First time through, the Elite plug in software which can be accessed from the FSX Add-ons tab, did not find the G430 module, but after unplugging and re-plugging the USB cable, it woke up and announced that it had found a G430 module and all was well after that.
Pushing the V-button caused the 430 on the screen to power up and a couple of Enter pushes later, I was in full command.
As you can tell from the picture, I clamped a piece of maple flooring to my desk to rest the G430 unit against and to keep it from moving when I pushed the buttons. This actually worked quite well, but is hardly an example of classy home cockpit design..
At first, it seemed unnatural to have the G430 screen up on my monitor while the knobs and buttons were off to my right, but it did not take long for this to become second nature. The knobs are really nicely made and feel very professional with just the right amount of resistance and nice clicks for every increment. This is way better than having to position my mouse over the inner or outer knob on the screen and then using the mouse wheel to turn. Entering data with the right knob or selecting radio frequencies with the left knob was now a real pleasure!
The buttons, likewise are well made, with the exception of the Range rocker switch which was a bit finger unfriendly. Luckily I do not adjust the map range that often, but that switch could use an engineering change.
So how does it feel? Well, it is a major upgrade from my keyboard/mouse. The knobs in particular make programming and adjusting the unit a breeze.
One function that was not working and which Elite is looking into, is that on the real unit, you can push and hold the CLR key which then returns you to the default NAV page. Other than that, all the keys performed exactly the way I expected them to.
While I had the unit plugged in, I also used the G430 in test flying the Lancair as can be seen in the pictures below.
All in all, a nice piece of gear! At $549, not exactly inexpensive, but “welcome to the world of real avionics”. As a comparison, a real Garmin GNS430W costs $8,000 new, or about $6,000 refurbished!
The only real quibble I have with the G430 design, is with the sizing and layout of the module. Elite tells me that it was designed to fit into their existing radio stacks which I can understand. However, the module is less tall than the original, and maybe because of that, the knobs have been moved outboard of the upper buttons, as can be seen from the following picture which shows the Elite G430 at the top and the Garmin GNS 430 at the bottom.
Big deal, well maybe not – you can get used to pretty much anything. But I miss being able to rest my fingers on the right hand knob and know that by feel alone, I can find the enter key above it. Here, I found myself looking over to my right to visually locate the key which is actually in the 10 o’clock position. This is something for Elite to reconsider – I would think that having the knobs in the same position as on the actual unit would teach valuable motor skills which can be transferred directly into the real world cockpit.
Other than that, I can find little to fault with the module. It worked right out of the box and did pretty much everything I would like it to do. It certainly is a great partner to go with the excellent Reality XP GNS430W.
If you are building a GA home cockpit, you will certainly want to include a Garmin GPS unit of some sort. The Elite G430 fits into a standard radio stack and is manufactured with the mechanical precision that makes it feel like the real thing. The software works right out of the box and all you need on your computer, is a USB port. The Reality XP GNS430W takes on a whole new personality when controlled by this unit and going back to your Mouse for control is a real step backward!
I wish that Elite had chosen to align the knobs and buttons exactly like the real unit, but other than that, I can find little to critique.
What I Like About The G430 Module
What I Don't Like About The G430 Module
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