Another update on the Garmin avionics issues, with results of a software update and another test flight

Monday we took N54SS back to Cheraw, SC to have the transponder updated to the latest version of the software. This was Garmin’s recommendation and one I wasn’t too keen on.

You see, when we connected to the GTX 345 only, things actually worked fairly well. We lost the 510’s connectivity to the iPads, but other than that, I felt that by connecting to the 345 for my trip, I could make the trip safely with proper data transfer between the 345 and the iPad. Both owners have trips  in the next 30 days so I felt like maybe the devil I knew vs. the one I didn’t was the better choice. But I needed to be in FAY on Monday to fly with the Civil Air Patrol, and Daniel was available to fly with me down to CQW that afternoon, so everything lined up to have the software updated and see what happened. We did have some actionable results from our update and test flight, which I will detail with screen captures below.

But before we get to the software update, let me share some of the tech support we received from Foreflight after our previous post.

As usual, their tech support is email only, but in my experience, very personable and written in plain English. And more importantly, in actual English as opposed to tech support from India English. Not a minor distinction when you are having to deal with tech support.

Foreflight tech Support and feedback

Hi Dan,

Chris here. I have been looking at your case.

There are a few issues at play here:

1. The upcoming software update to ForeFlight (version 9.5) will allow Regional radar data to stream to the app (in addition to CONUS radar.) Regional radar updates on a set schedule of 5 minutes, compared to the 15 minutes for CONUS.
More details here: [What does radar resolution look like when using an ADS-B receiver?]

2. The cross-hatched “Radar not available” message on your map stems from a bug that is specific to integration with Garmin. It is a problem with Garmin encoding clear air as “no data.” We are working with them on resolving this issue. I currently do not have a timeline for when that may be completed.

3. An observation: per your iPad screenshots, it appears that you are simultaneously connected via Bluetooth to your Flight Stream 510 and your GTX-345. This is generally not recommended by Garmin – instead, you should disable Bluetooth on the GTX-345, and on your GTN panel set your Flight Stream 510 as the ADS-B gateway. Your installer can likely provide instructions on how to do this.

This should account for each of the errors and discrepancies you reported. Please take a look at that and let us know if you have any other questions. We’re happy to help!

Best,

Chris
Pilot Support Team
team@foreflight.com

So based on the above from Foreflight, it appears that we know a few things.

One. There is a known issue between Foreflight and Garmin. Either all the other pilots flying Garmin panels out there were like myself and didn’t notice this error or we have something specific to our install. Maybe our software is newer than everyone elses? I don’t know. But there are thousands of pilots using Foreflight and Garmin every day, and yet it’s taken us this long to get to the point of “it’s a known problem.” Why is the internet not filled with these complaints? Why is there not an alert published by Foreflight/Garmin alerting people to this issue? We did do some internet research on this before calling in the experts, trying to find out what the issue was. Other than one person in an internet forum (Hi BGFYYankee!) that is having the same issue, nobody else seems to either have the issue, or notice it. In fact, our internet cohort has had to pay his shop to update his software and troubleshoot what we are now being told is a known issue.

Two. Version 9.5 of Foreflight will address this issue, at least partially. It will allow regional data to stream and update every 5 minutes vs. every 15 minutes for CONUS radar. Hmm, I’ve flown about 150 hours behind a Foreflight tablet now. Until I got into my airplane with this panel install, I never noticed an issue with update rates, streaming Regional vs. CONUS, etc.

When I look at weather 700 miles away, it’s blocky and pixelated. Everything within 250 miles is just fine. That I’ve noticed since day one. But having flown around thunderstorms with Foreflight (in VMC of course) I was very impressed with the resolution and accuracy of the radar returns, up to the point of penetrating light green bands and having the rain start pretty much exactly when the nose of the little blue airplane touched the edge of the green band on the iPad. I was of course watching the update time stamp very carefully at the time, and found the updates to be within a few minutes of current. I guess I don’t follow how updating at 5 minutes in a future release will be different from what we used to get just normally. Or better said, how is this enhancement new when I have multiple experiences with it working as is being described in the past?

Three. We were erroneously connected to both devices, the 345 and the 510. While that is true for myself, the other owner had only ever connected to the 510, yet we both have and had the same issues. “Connected to too many devices” is something I’ve heard from our avionics installer, from tech support, and my goodness, from the internet. And I’m ok with getting rid of redundant connections, yet I’ve found it to not actually be the problem.

As I said, one iPad, for the Dan who actually noticed the problem to start with, was never connected to the GTX345. I was connected to both, because I was there to pick up the plane after the install and we went through the connection procedures for both at the time and simply never changed it. While I have found the bluetooth connections to become unstable with the repeated connects, changes, forget devices, reconnect, etc. of testing, through all the testing we’ve done, I’ve not actually found much problem with the connections once they are established.

Not to introduce another topic here, but I’ve found that occasionally I would get out to the runway for runup and Foreflight had no bluetooth connection. Each time, I’ve found the problem to be on the iPad, not anything else. I restart bluetooth, restart Foreflight, or on one occasion restart the iPad itself and everything connects normally for the rest of the flight. Multiple bluetooth connections seem to be relatively robust, and when they do fail it seems to be an overall bluetooth issue, not something specific to the airplane. Said another way, I have as many issues with my phone not connecting to my car stereo as I have with my iPad not connecting to my Garmin panel, and with a failure mode exactly the same.

Regardless, we’ve connected to both, one, neither, all three(including the Stratus, which is wifi I know) and with as few as one iOS device and as many as four and actual bluetooth connections seem to be reliable and stable. We’ve found no evidence that connecting to more than one bluetooth source causes problems. I get the impression that the advice to connect to only one device is kind of like having you reboot your computer as step one to any tech support question on a PC. It’s always to first thing to try.

Garmin Tech Support and Feedback

We also had written feedback from Garmin. Again, they had someone speaking English, which when you are dealing with a global corporation, is a blessing. They also have phone in support, at least for the professional shop, which is great. Here is what Garmin had to say.

I ran the latest blog past my engineering team and they found the GTX 345 software to be out-of-date at v2.05 (see attachment, red brackets) – the current version for the GTX 345 is 2.12. They stated that this needs to be updated to address the issue. If, after everything is completely updated, the customers are still experiencing this issue please let us know because it will need to be addressed by our engineers.

Best regards,

 Zach

Aviation Product Support Specialist-Pilot Ops

On Tue, Dec 5, 2017 at 8:49 AM, Shannon R. <peedeeavionics@gmail.com> wrote:

Just to keep you in the loop, I recieved the following from Garmin.  Disregard their request for the software versions and the Garmin Pilot app information.  I sent them the link to the updated blog entry.  There is no need to perform any additional testing at this time, until they have a chance to review the new information.


Shannon,

I’ve reviewed the entire blog and honestly have to applaud the level of testing and detailed record keeping they put into troubleshooting this issue. It appears from their description of events that the issue can be narrowed down to either the ForeFlight application, the FlightStream 510, or compatibility between the two. Previously, there was a known issue with ForeFlight having trouble receiving weather data, much like this, from a FlightStream 510/GTN cockpit installation. This was supposed to be addressed in the latest version of the ForeFlight application and GTN software v6.41. Before anything else, please double-check that the GTN has been updated to the latest v6.41.

It would also further our knowledge of the problem to see if this radar display issue persists on the iPads while using the Garmin Pilot application instead of ForeFlight. While the customers said they’d eliminated that possibility, the only information I see on here is multiple screenshots indicating a successful connection and streaming of weather information from the FlightStream 510 to Garmin Pilot. If this is the case and Garmin Pilot is able to receive the weather information from the FlightStream 510 it would heavily indicate that the issue resides within the ForeFlight application and it’s coded ability to connect/exchange weather information with the FlightStream 510. Please let us know if you have the chance to test that possibility as our engineers will need that important piece of the puzzle so we can determine what requires attention.

Best Regards,
Zach
Garmin Aviation Support

So what did we take away from the Garmin tech support? First, on a personal note it was very nice to hear that they appreciated the work we put into documenting everything that is going on. I spent about 5 hours putting the first post together, bringing in all the different screen captures, writing up the post, etc. So it was nice to see that the effort was worth it and appreciated.

Second, it looks like we needed to test the Garmin Pilot app, and figure out if this is a Foreflight issue or a Garmin issue (Spoiler alert, it’s a Foreflight issue, Garmin Pilot connects just fine).

Third, Garmin wants the latest software on the GTX345, hence the need to fly to CQW and have it installed.

Results from test flight, post software update to GTX345

Initial look of Foreflight after leaving CWQ heading for Charleston
Initial look of Foreflight after leaving CWQ heading for Charleston

Note the Radar not available message.

So on Monday both owners flew the plane to CQW, which is about .9 on the hobbs meter one way. Our able tech installed the update in about an hour (including some testing) and we were then on our way. We had an impromptu trip to Charleston, SC to pick up a friend and no weather on the Eastern seaboard so it was an easy day for a flight.

Our weather for the flight

As you can see we had pretty much CAVU weather everywhere. This screen shows that there is no radar available beyond what you see depicted. This was allowed to percolate for several minutes to see if additional data would display and it would not. This is something I haven’t mentioned before, but maybe it will help with troubleshooting. As you can see, we are over 30 minutes into the flight so data should be flowing (and is to the GTN and Garmin Pilot).

Garmin Pilot display at the same time
Garmin Pilot display at the same time
Garmin Pilot connectivity screen capture, 1 of 2.
Garmin Pilot connectivity screen capture, 1 of 2.
Garmin Pilot connectivity screen capture, 2 of 2.

As you can see, the Garmin Pilot app shows good connectivity, no errors, and radar updates that are all within several minutes. By all accounts the Garmin Pilot app is working correctly.

Download error in Foreflight
An error I haven’t spoken about in the past

I haven’t spoken about this error in the past but occasionally I am getting the above on Foreflight. It seems to be when we are having problems updating otherwise. I don’t ever recall seeing it prior to this new panel install, or in other aircraft with Garmin products. The above was taken while in flight, connected to the GTX345 after the software update.

Radar data is updating only every 15 minutes, again on a set schedule. 4:00, 4:15, 4:30.
Radar data is updating only every 15 minutes, again on a set schedule. 4:00, 4:15, 4:30.

The above was taken while connected to the 345 or the 510, I don’t recall exactly. The time stamp was now not updated for 15 minutes. It did eventually update at 4:15. Why it didn’t update at 4:00 I do not know.

Garmin Pilot app at approximately the same time as the Foreflight screen shot
Garmin Pilot app at approximately the same time as the Foreflight screen shot
Bottom half of Garmin Pilot app connectivity page
Bottom half of Garmin Pilot app connectivity page

As you can see, the Garmin Pilot app appears to be connecting and updating correctly during this same time period. While CONUS radar is slow to update, as we would expect, the rest of the data is updating on a consistent and acceptable schedule.

Complete failure to update
Complete failure to update

While working with Foreflight, and switching back and forth to the 510 and the 345, I found at this point that the 345 had completely checked out. As you can see, everything except traffic had stopped updating and we had zero towers connected. By connecting to our onboard Stratus, I was able to restore data long enough to get us on the ground in Charleston.

Garmin Pilot connected at the same time

As you can see, the Garmin Pilot app was having no issues at the same time. Bluetooth obviously was working and passing data to the iPad. But Foreflight was unable to use or load the data.

Return flight to KFAY from KCHS

Connected to the Garmin 510

For our return flight, we’d established that the GTX345 wasn’t working so there was no need for further testing. I connected to the Garmin 510 for the flight home and spent some time testing it. The first thing I noticed was the continued lack of data available after takeoff. Because the radar updates on the 5:00, 5:15, 5:30, every 15 minute blocks, we ended up flying till 5:30 (we launched just after 5pm) before we had the first update for radar. Again, there wasn’t a spec of precipitation to show on the radar and we’ve been told that our problem is that radar only updates every 15 minutes when there is nothing to show. However we haven’t had any weather to test with other than our initial flight back to HRJ where we did have weather but the updates were still only every 15 minutes.  In other words, we are told it will work when we have actual weather, but we aren’t willing to trust this statement because the one time we had weather, it still only updated every 15 minutes.

Time and distance till we received our first weather update
Time and distance till we received our first weather update

This is where and when we received our first data update with Foreflight, after 30 miles had been covered in the climb. Again, there is a lack of trust in what is displayed.

During this time, the GTN650 and the Garmin Pilot app had updates that were 1-8 minutes old so weather information is being sent by the ADS-B network (not 15 as we were told). It is being received by the GTX345. It is being passed to the iPad via the bluetooth connection, regardless of whether it is the GTX345 or the Garmin 510 because we see the updates in Garmin Pilot. What is not happening is it is not being displayed by the Foreflight app. Why there would be any schedule of updates controlled by Foreflight I have no idea. If new data is available and onboard, why would Foreflight not retrieve it and display it?  Why wait 15 minutes, or 5 minutes? Once the GTX345 has new data, I would expect it, as a user, to flow immediately over to my iPad.

Conclusions

One. We need to fly in the weather. Having no returns at all creates a difficult environment to test. (When I looked at national radar one day this week, there were literally no returns of any kind in the continental US.)

However, having no in cockpit weather updates for a significant amount of time after departure makes flying in the weather a challenge. Basically there is a lack of trust in the depictions provided by Foreflight, and a lack of familiarity with Garmin Pilot. We need an acceptably VFR day but with some weather to display and we simply have not had that this fall and winter. The only weather days we’ve had in the last 30 days have been hard IFR and I’m not going to launch a questionable setup into hard IFR conditions. 

Two. Updating the GTX345 software made things worse, period. Connectivity was lessened and we seemed to introduce some instability into the data connection. This is very frustrating as we spent time and money to make things work not as well as they already were. This also jives with our internet friend who is chasing these same issues, as he’d already paid his local shop to update his software and it had not fixed the same problems. I actually believe if we could roll back to an old version of the software, maybe a 2016 version, we’d eliminate the issue. The GTX345s in the NC Wing for CAP are older units and my copy of Foreflight works just fine with them.

Three. Version 9.5 of Foreflight is supposed to fix some of our problems and it has just come out the day after our last flight. Had we known the expected release date we likely would have postponed out test flight to accommodate this new release as part of our testing. For future reference, that would be good information to pass along to a customer.

Also, I read through the release notes for 9.5, and there is no mention of this update fixing anything like what we are experiencing. Why is this problem not documented in a public location?

Four. We have yet to disable bluetooth on the GTX345. Although I’m not as against it as I was before since the update to the 345 software made things worse, I still have not actually disabled bluetooth at this point. We will do that in a future test. However I still do not believe we actually need to disable bluetooth as it certainly doesn’t seem to be the root cause.

Next steps

We need to fly, again, to test, again, to see what Foreflight 9.5 does. Hopefully that will happen this week.

We also have a flight coming up the 15th of December. This will be a non-test (family trip) flight so we won’t have the same level of data as our test flights, but hopefully this will allow some additional feedback on what we are seeing in a cross country setting with the new 9.5 release.

We have another flight January 8th which will be out of the country. I fully expect to see some weather on this flight so we’ll have another data point for testing.

All of these flights will be flown with the Stratus 2 as backup so that we can safely operate. Foreflight updates and operates normally with the Stratus. Something that is particularly frustrating after spending 30k on a new Garmin panel.

We will not be making any adjustments to our setup between now and after our January trip for fear of making things worse again, but we are anxious to hear of solutions to our problems from tech support. Something that we can look forward to testing after our January trip.

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