Whether you’re looking for the best handheld aviation GPS, or something a little bigger and with more features, there are several excellent models to consider that are suitable for all budgets.
Table of Contents
- 1 6 Top Rated Aviation GPS Units
- 2 Best Handheld Aviation GPS
- 3 Best Aviation GPS Receiver
- 4 What Pilots Should Consider When Buying an Aviation GPS
6 Top Rated Aviation GPS Units
- Top Pick (Handheld): Garmin inReach Mini, “Ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a handheld model.”
- Runner-Up (Handheld): Garmin aera660, “Its touchscreen display will win many pilots over.”
- Most Portable (Handheld): Garmin D2 Air Aviator Smartwatch, “GPS doesn’t get more portable than a watch.”
- Best GSP for iPad (GPS Receiver): Stratux ADS-B, “An excellent choice for pilots who are budget-conscious yet aren’t willing to compromise functionality, or especially compatibility.”
- Most Features (GPS Receiver): Garmin GDL 52, “If you’re looking for the most feature-packed GPS receiver, you’ve found it in the Garmin GDL 52.”
- Also Great (GPS Receiver): Garmin GDL 50, “If you can live without SiriusXM, save some money and go for the Garmin GDL 50.”
Best Handheld Aviation GPS
Top Pick: Garmin inReach Mini
Ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a handheld model.
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This very cute-looking aviation GPS ticks all the right boxes for anyone looking for a handheld model.
I found it to be very compact, yet its oversized display still made everything easy to read.
I especially liked how there were several ways to connect the device (compatible with Garmin handhelds, wearables, and many other mobile devices); the inReach weather forecast service, so I knew what conditions to expect; and, of course, the GPS satellite communication system that was highly accurate and reliable.
If you want a similar model with more features, take a look at the Garmin inReach Explorer+. The tradeoff is that it’s a bit more expensive and is bigger.
Also Great: Garmin aera660
The Garmin aera660's touchscreen display will win many pilots over.
The Garmin aera660 isn’t quite as portable as other models, but its touchscreen display will win many pilots over.
It has built-in GPS/GLONASS that when I used them together provided more accuracy than other units that use either alone.
Besides coming packed with more features and capabilities than other GPSes, the aera660 richly colored, easy to read display in all conditions is a big selling point over other models.
Most Portable: Garmin D2 Air Aviator Smartwatch
GPS doesn't get more portable than a watch.
It’s fair to say that GPS doesn’t get more portable than a watch.
The Garmin D2 Air Aviator smartwatch is able to fit a lot of functionality into its touchscreen display, including an instrument-like HSI course needle to keep you on the right flight path; a pulse oxygen checker, and weather reports, including TAFS, METARs, and barometric pressure.
Related: 3 Best Smartwatches for Pilots
Best Aviation GPS Receiver
Best for iPad: Stratux ADS-B
An excellent choice for pilots who are budget-conscious yet aren't willing to compromise functionality, or compatibility.
The Stratux ADS-B is an excellent choice for pilots who are budget-conscious yet aren’t willing to compromise functionality, or especially compatibility.
The Stratux is compatible with iPhones, iPads, and Android devices, as well as ForeFlight, FltPlan, Avare, and pretty much everything else out there.
It was able to quickly receive and display air-to-air traffic, data, and FIS-B weather; in addition to METARs, TAFs, NOTAMs, winds, and temps aloft, and more.
Most Features: Garmin GDL 52
The most feature-packed GPS receiver on the market.
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If you’re looking for the most feature-packed GPS receiver, you’ve found it in the Garmin GDL 52.
It provided GPS position, speed, and altitude information, as well as backup attitude reference. Weather conditions were displayed in an animated graphical matter, and METARs, TAFs, NOTAMs, etc. were all displayed too.
Two features that really set the GDL 52 apart from other GPSes are SiriusXM access, and its TerminalTraffic display that showed all the aircraft trajectories which were most likely to converge with my own, resulting in an invaluable safety feature.
Also Great: Garmin GDL 50
If You don't need SirisuXM, save some money and get the Garmin GDL 50.
If you can live without SiriusXM, you might as well save some money and go for the Garmin GDL 50.
It contains all the features that the more expensive GDL 52 has, but at a lower price point.
What Pilots Should Consider When Buying an Aviation GPS
While many GPS systems are compatible with both iOS and Android devices, it’s not uncommon for some models to either only support one or the other. There’s also compatibility with ForeFlight FltPlan Go, and other Electronic Flight Bags to consider.
Plug-in vs. Wireless
Take a look at your other devices and consider if they are better suited for a plug-in or wireless connection.
Ease of Use
How easy the aviation GPS receiver is to use should be one of the main things you look for.
When you’re in the cockpit, you don’t want to be fiddling about and frustrated as you try to get the receiver to do what you want it to do. Some models are just more intuitive to use than others, and those are the ones you should focus on.
Large buttons and a bright display are other important considerations, especially when flying at night.
You’ll find that GPS receivers can function just off batteries, are aircraft-powered, or a combination of the two. Consider a model’s mode of operation, and how many hours of continuous operation you can depend on before a recharge is required.
Some models offer basic GPS functionality, while others come packed with animated graphical weather, and traffic services, TAFs, METARs, NOTAMs, backup attitude, etc. Some pilots very much want these features whereas others can happily go without.
Consider your needs and what your budget allows.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.