I knew that Garmin made simulator modules for their products, but I had to search to find it. The FAQ "expert assistant" search returned the answer "yes" to the question of whether there was a simulator available, but didn't actually return a link. It's easy to install though and the 150% view makes it nicely usable on the laptop. I selected the C/V volume knob to turn it on, and it started up fine, running through the same integrity checks as the real unit. I verified that all the flags were as they should be and then noticed a MSG light, so pressed the key to find the message. "Main processor error." I've no idea where that came from. Who would simulate a hardware flaw? It only came up the once and never again, so as long as the real units don't do it, it should be good.
It's well-designed as a simulator. The screen consists of a photographic representation of the physical knobs of the unit with superimposed arrows so you know where to click in order to turn the ones that need to be turned. For the aircraft interface they depict only an HSI and generic simplified autopilot controls. Really simple: NAV HDG ALT, an altitude increase/decrease rocker switch that instantly puts the airplane at the altitude you select, plus a SPEED slider that instantly puts the airplane at any speed from 0 to 600 knots. This takes aircraft performance and configuration completely out of the equation, you just set the speed you would have for the phase of flight, and it acts as both a pause key and a fast forward. The only non-intuitive part is using the OBS and heading bug knobs on the HSI. You need to click on the appropriate knob then hold and drag straight horizontally, maybe all the way across the screen for a large change. It's easy to do once you figure it out, though.
My first surprise was that the menu screens don't wrap all the way around. That is, if you're exploring the suboptions of the NAV menu by turning the inside right knob, when you get to the seventh screen you can't go back to the first one by turning the knob one more click. You have to go all the way back through the way you came. Weird.
I set up a flight plan from Saskatoon to Prince Albert, because aside from having a NSFW name (don't google for images) PA has at least one of every sort of approach. I dial the speed up to around mach one so that by the time I've followed the instructions for selecting a full procedure ILS runway 08 approach and admired all the pretty menus, I'm almost there. I slow down to a more realistic speed for my aircraft, activate the approach and start the descent. It counts down to the beacon, and I set the heading bug to the outbound intercept, but nothing happened. It starts counting up how far away from the beacon it is. I activated the approach again and it started turning right toward the airport, not left on the outbound PT. I let it, to see what it would do, and it turned all the way around. Ack, the logic must have told it to fly to the beacon and then outbound and with the beacon behind and just a hair to the right, that made it do the right 270.
It tracks outbound and I fly the procedure turn then toggle the CDI to VLOC while inbound on the reversal. I notice that the glideslope is flagged off and recheck the frequency. Everything looks okay, but no glideslope indication appears and the distance counts down to the FAF, then counts up again as the map depicts reaching the runway and overflying it. Back to the manual.
This time I program in a sample flight plan from the manual, it's KFDK-KLYH. I finally figure out what I've been doing wrong: I have to make sure that the OBS key is not selected. The OBS option suppresses automated sequencing of waypoints. Silly me, I thought it enabled the OBS.
The example in the manual tells me to select VOR 03 but the simulator database only has VOR04: the manual is from 2009 but the simulator database only goes up to 2006 and the approach has changed. I choose the VOR 04 -- and the transition as told. It's loaded but not activated. How do I tell if it's activated by looking at the GPS display? What happens if I activate it twice by accident? I'm not sure. The waypoints sequence and I try the simulated ILS approach, but the glideslope doesn't work for this, either. I guess its just not simulated.
I set my location back to PA and try to do a VOR/DME arc. It's a 14 DME arc that runs from XEXEX to XETUL (the latter is in line with the approach). I'm starting at the YPA VOR, not the way you'd do a real one, but I want to see how this works. I can see how to go direct XEXEX, but I aim manually for the arc, west of XEXEX, trying to set the obs to a radial perpendicular to the arc where I will intercept it, as I would without the GPS, but it doesn't work that way. I have to set it along the arc and it does the conversion itself. Even when I set the CDI to VLOC I can't use it the familiar way. The main nav screen doesn't tell me my DME from the VOR. I'd prefer that this do a better job or enhancing rather than completely replacing old habits. It directs me to turn left onto the approach before reaching the fly-by waypoint at XETUL. I turned as directed and then had to correct back to the right in order to get on the radial by PUVER. That was no good. I don't trust it so I'm doing things myself and we're fighting and making a mess. Try again, this time from the south.
I go way out so there's lots of room and select vectors so I won't be asked to go to XIBEV. I fly direct BETIM. It's irritating that it doesn't tell me the ONE piece of information I want setting up for a DME arc: my DME! I'm 16 nm from BETIM, which is 3.5 nm from YPA and it's a 14 DME arc, so I have a few miles. If BETIM to YPA were a straigt line I'd be expecting to intercept at 10.5, from BETIM but they are not, so it should be before then. Yet, crap! I'm 9.1 from YPA and there's no arc intercept depicted and no turn instruction. I guess "vectors" was vectors to the final approach for the VOR/DME 08 and not for the arc. Try again.
What you have to do, is what I did before, set up for the DME arc, choosing one of the endpoints XEXEX as the initial fix, then go into the flight plan where you see the sequenced waypoints XEXEX, dme arc, XETUL, PUVER, BETIM all one below the other. Activate the cursor, scroll down to dme arc, and select direct to. This is going to work. I pull up the NRST screen that shows me the GPS distance from the VOR and it's showing 15.0 as I follow the directions through the arc. If I'm on the arc, the GPS distance should actually be less than the DME because DME includes slant range, and the depiction on the NAV map shows the same: I'm tracking outside the arc. It's good enough, I suppose but not really clear guidance for flying the arc.
And then it's straight down the approach to the missed. I always have to go missed in this simulator, because there's no way to see the runway. The missed instructions are straight ahead to 3100 then left to YPA VOR. I climb instantaneously with the little rocker switch, check to make sure the CDI is in GPS and not VLOC mode (I'm going to do that as part of every missed approach so that I don't forget on the occasions that it's an ILS approach) and then cancel the SUSP by hitting the OBS button. The simulator turns left as the missed approach instructions specify, but that was chance, because I've since seen it turn right, so remember it is not flying the missed, just going to the holding point. It is entirely up to the pilot to fly the missed as published.
When I did this on the sample approach from the manual, approaching the holding point it gave directions to fly the TEARDROP hold entry. I didn't actually fly the hold there, just repositioned and went back to Canada.
Canadian plates don't usually depict a published hold after the MAP, you just know that you can hold there, on the inbound track, and ATC can direct you to hold anywhere. Back in simulated Canada (don't you wish the real GPS had a transporter function?) I intend to enter and fly the hold manually, because after the missed I'm right on top of it, and too close to scramble into menus. Left turns, my outbound course just right of my current track to the VOR, makes it a parallel entry. I watch a messy station passage on the map view and I make the first right, using the CDI button to pop the unit into VLOC mode, verifying that the YPA frequency is the active one, but the flag doesn't flip. Map view shows I'm clearly past the VOR. Weird. I start the timer anyway and fly a minute outbound. Right turn inbound, flying an intercept heading on the VOR, but map view shows me cross the selected radial with no change to the CDI. Obviously VLOC mode doesn't do what I thought it did. I'll take a vacuuming break and read up on this later.