Avionics 101: Now that you’ve bought it, do you know what to do with it?

What do you do when you can’t find an easy-to-use manual for your GPS?

If you have a background in aviation and technical writing, like John Dittmer, you write one of your own. That’s what the instructor pilot did about 11 years ago when his clients had trouble learning to use the Bendix/King KLN90B GPS. He now runs ZD Publishing, Inc., which specializes in producing manuals to help pilots learn everything they need to know about GPS or other new avionics.

“I was working for FlightSafety at the time and saw that the learning curve on the KLN90 was very steep, especially if it was the first unit you were exposed to,” he says.

Dittmer, who has been a CFI since the 1960s and has a degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University that involved technical writing, said the manual that came with the unit was very difficult to interpret. “As my wife says, ‘it was written by technocrats — the engineers — for bureaucrats’, meaning the FAA,” he says.

After hearing from many of his students of their difficulties in learning to use the unit, it occurred to Dittmer that the fault was in the manual, not the students. He sat down with the manual and went through it page by page to figure out a way to make it easier for pilots to understand.

“These units are often like computers,” he says. “If you skip one step or do one out of order, it isn’t going to work. I sat at the dining room table for hours and hours and itemized the steps that you need to do to get the tasks done. I wrote down every step that you need to take to file a flight plan. That was the beginning of the whole thing. The first manual we did was for the KLN90, and it still sells well today.”

Manuals for other GPS units soon followed.

“Our manuals are task-oriented,” he notes. “There is a table of contents that lists all the tasks that you can do, so if you want to add a way point, for example, or go to the nearest airport, or make a flight plan, you go to that page in the manual and it walks you through it step by step — and by step by step I mean it says ‘press this button’, ‘rotate this knob’, etc.”

When a manufacturer makes an improvement to a product, the appropriate manuals are updated or reworked.

For example, when Garmin added WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) to the 430 and 530 units, Dittmer had to write a whole new manual, because the way the unit now handles holding and procedure turns is completely different. “In addition, RAIM (Received Autonomous Integrity Monitoring) is not so necessary anymore,” he says.

Officials at the Wichita-based company are now working on an update to its G1000 manual.

“We have a manual on G1000 already, ‘GPS Operations on the Garmin G1000,’ so it doesn’t get into the autopilot or the Primary Flight Display as much as some people would like,” Dittmer says. “In the new version we are getting into Flight Direct and the Autopilot.”

According to Dittmer, an advantage to his manuals is that they are portable, unlike computer-based manuals.

“You don’t need a computer to use it,” he says. “You can take it with you in the airplane to refresh your memory if you forget how to do something.

But a ZD manual does not take the place of a unit’s FAA-approved manual, he cautions.

“You also have to remember that there is no one product that will do it all for you,” he says. “The computer-based trainers are nice products, but you still need the manual.”

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