Wednesday, April 20, 2005

GPS and Navigation

A couple of months ago I realized that when I start flying a higher-performance ship and start learning to go cross-country, I should get a GPS system and/or navigational computer. At first I thought I wanted a little handheld GPS, like a Garmin. I got some recommendations from club members and RAS members. I priced Garmin and Lowrance units that seemed popular. But they don't really have any features specifically for soaring, and the screens of the low-priced ones seem too small to be useful.

I thought about PDA-based nav computers. I decided against Palm OS devices. I have a Palm and I love it, although I don't use it much anymore now that I have a Blackberry from work. But I've had my Palm crash enough times that I don't trust the OS for flight duties. Plus they just are not as powerful CPU-wise as Pocket PC's. I was skeptical of Windows-based devices because I have a lot of experience with Windows on PC's and servers. But the best soaring software seems to be written for that platform. No one seems to be complaining about stability. I have decided that it will be more stable if I don't load a bunch of other personal software on it: it will be a dedicated navigation tool, not a PDA.

There seem to be some very nice slot-based GPS receivers that integrate well with the pocket PC platform. It's no longer necessary to run a cable to a standalone GPS box: the GPS becomes part of the handheld. 

So at the SSA convention I attended a session comparing features of soaring software. I remember narrowing in on one of the programs, although at the moment I don't recall which one I liked. I don't need all the racing features at this time.

I read lots of opinions on RAS about screen legibility. It's not perfect but some are pretty good.  Cumulus Soaring has a great rundown of devices and packages. So I settled on the HP ipaq 2200 or 2215. With a Transplant CF GPS and a big battery, it can run for many hours. Only problem is: it's not made anymore and it was expensive ($600 new). So ebay sounded like a good option.

After two tries I found a good deal on a (I hope) lightly used ipaq 2215 with lots of memory and the big battery. It's coming to me via UPS as I write. I hope I'm not buying someone else's problem device, but the refurb units from HP are too expensive.

Now I need to order the GPS unit. And I need  to dig thru my notes to refresh my memory about software, and get that on order.

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