Garmin's Budget Autopilot Now STC Approved
There is now more competition in the growing retrofit autopilot market as Garmin announced it has earned an STC (supplemental type certificate) for its GFC500 entry-level autopilot. With roots planted in the experimental aircraft market, the GFC500 joins other experimental autopilot models (including TruTrak’s Vision and Trio’s Pro Pilot) that have been awarded an STC for installation in certified aircraft.
Garmin’s STC for the GFC500 includes a wide range of Cessna 172 and 182 models. But there’s more on the way. In its Jan. 3, 2018, announcement, Garmin said it expects to expand its list of aircraft models approved for the GFC500 to include the Piper PA-28, expected in the first quarter of 2018, and the Beechcraft Bonanza 35S/35V, expected in the second quarter of 2018.
The GFC500—which has a starting price of $6996—is approved via the STC for interfacing with Garmin’s own G5 electronic DG for autopilot heading command and nav tracking, plus the display of autopilot mode annunciation and flight director command bars when interfaced with the G5 attitude indicator. The price of a GFC500 with a single G5 DG instrument is just shy of $10,000, not including installation. Garmin said that third-party indicators are not approved.
Compared to analog retrofit autopilots from other brands that were engineered over 30 years ago, the GFC500 makes use of a deep digital interface—something buyers will expect in a modern system. In addition to envelope protection (including overspeed and underspeed), the system has a coupled approach go-around feature when it is interfaced with Garmin’s GTN750/650 panel GPS navigators. In that interface (which requires the optional GAD29 navigation adapter), a single push of the go-around button activates the loaded missed approach in the GPS and the autopilot flies the procedure. The system is also compatible with Garmin's GNS530W/430W navigators and Garmin's navcomm radios.
The GFC500 is equipped with Garmin’s ESP feature, which stands for electronic stability and protection. As it does in Garmin’s integrated GFC700 system for the G1000 and G3000 integrated avionics suite, ESP works in the background and is independent of the autopilot’s mode controller. For example, if preprogrammed airspeed, attitude and bank angles are exceeded (based on the aircraft’s flight envelope), the system inputs light control force in an attempt to nudge the controls back.
As proven in experimental aircraft applications, the GFC500’s drive servos should reduce maintenance efforts. That’s because the GSA28 “smart” servos use brushless DC motors and don’t have a mechanical clutch and shear pin arrangement for slipping the controls during pilot override. Instead, there’s a geartrain and internal engagement clutch that allows for back-driving the motor.
For a deeper look at features and performance, including a flight trial of the GFC500 in a Cessna Skyhawk, watch this video, and read a full report on the system in the September 2017 issue of sister publication Aviation Consumer magazine.
The GFC500 for the 172 Skyhawk and 182 Skylane are shipping now and must be installed by an authorized Garmin dealership. Visit www.garmin.com.