Seattle, WA
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RAM Mounting Systems

Like most pilots, I like gizmos. Some of these devices, such as my Garmin GPSMap 396 portable GPS, have become cockpit essentials, regardless of the type of airplane I’m flying, whether I’m VFR or IFR.

The Garmin 396 and its high-tech cousins make managing the information flow in modern flying much easier. But they also can clutter the cockpit. At worst, they can become a serious distraction when they get in the way of other controls, block the pilot’s outside view, or prove hard-to-reach and awkward to use.

The FAA has strict rules about what you can “permanently” install in an airplane. The approval process, even for a simple modification (such as adding an AirGizmo panel dock to a standard-category airplane), can involve piles of paperwork and usually requires several hours of a certified technician’s time, so most pilots prefer temporary solutions.

I have tried several options for securing the Garmin 396 in the cockpit of my Beechcraft A36 (stock photo here). None has proven suitable. Based on my happy experience with RAM Mounting Systems products, however, I recently bought a RAM-B-166U Suction Cup Twist Lock Mount and RAM-HOL-GA7U cradle designed for the Garmin 396 and similar Garmin portables. So far, it’s working great.


Suction Mount Solution

I’ve used the clever RAM Mount ball-and-clamp systems for many years to keep my portable GPS handy when I fly my Extra 300L on cross-country trips. In the Extra 300L, a U-bolt holds the clamp and ball mechanism firmly to one of the cockpit braces.

But I wasn’t confident that a suction mount could hold the same GPS securely to an open space on the Bonanza’s metal panel. I had tried the new RAM-B-177U Glare Shield Clamp Mount without success. It just couldn’t grip the slippery pseudo-leather-like material Beech used for the glare shield in my airplane. Twirling the screws while holding the metal strike plate in place proved frustrating (let's just say you wouldn't want me to be your surgeon—or even your barber). So I was ready to try another option.

To my surprise, the suction mount works very well. It is finicky about the surface to which it’s attached. Anything other than a smooth, clean, flat plane won’t work. It’s not a barnacle. But if you have a space about the size of a typical instrument cutout available on your panel, installing the mount is a simple, quick procedure. Just press the suction cup against the surface and rotate the big twist gizmo on the base to make a vacuum.

RAM Suction Mount on Panel

Next, open the clamp mechanism and insert the GPS cradle (which is mounted to a RAM-compatible ball) into the socket.

By loosening the clamp mechanism, you can rotate the mounting arm and/or the cradle to almost any position.

RAM Mount View

I found it easy to adjust the Garmin 396 so that I had a clear, glare-free view of the screen and easy access to the unit’s controls. (If you’re looking closely at the picture below, the Class B warning doesn’t count—I was on an IFR clearance.)

Garmin Mounted on Panel

GPS 396 on Panel

Flexible Options

I’ve flown with the RAM Suction Mount on several trips, including some with bouncy segments in the clouds. It has held the GPS securely. It was easy to read the display (in the Bonanza, I use the 396 primarily to display real-time weather information). A couple of loops of VELCRO® help corral the cables. The portable always gets a solid GPS signal in this position, and it’s reassuring to know that I have a reliable backup should the panel mount GNS530W hiccup.

Equally important, the RAM System makes it easy to remove the Garmin 396 so that I can use it in the variety of other aircraft that I fly with students and customers, and then return it to the Bonanza for personal trips. (The Model 241 040 Instrument Panel Mount from Angerole, Inc. is an elegant-looking solution that seems to avoid the “permanent” installation issue, but it costs $149, and I need a transportable GPS mount.)

Finally, the investment in the suction cup mount (about $40) can be amortized by adding cradles and clamps for other devices, such as cell phones, that need to ride along in my own ground vehicle or rental cars.

So if you've got the gizmo gene but want to keep the cockpit organized, check out RAM Mounting Systems products at the next aviation trade show you attend. The company sells its products through many dealers (aviation and marine) nationwide.

Garmin in RAM Mount