First Visit to Brookfield Farm Strip and another test for PilotAware and SkyDemon combination

This Sunday Simon and I followed Colin and John over to Brookfield Farm for their annual Microlight fly-in. Well when I say followed we were some 20 mins behind them.

We took off from Chatteris and planned to route via Coningsby’s MATZ and pass through their overhead, however after a few unanswered calls we decided to divert around as the cloud base was not sufficient to go over the top, this added around 10 mins to the journey and we had already considered this as a backup route. One of the many great SkyDemon features is while in flight a simple tap on the route line unlocks the currently planned route and then we simply dragged it wide of Coningsby’s MATZ and we were all set.

I’m pleased to say PilotAware held firm again for the whole trip showing traffic around us, the only time we had to change our plans was on the return but more about that later.

On arrival at Brookfield Farm there was some confusion as we heard an aircraft call right base and the plates showed all circuits to be left hand, a radio call and someone confirmed 31 was a right hand circuit, as we joined and called joining 31 RH an apology was heard and a correction runway 31 was indeed LH so we changed and joined 31 Crosswind. The approach looked good coming in over some lakes but my touchdown was a little long and the runway a little short! Time to play it safe and do a go around needless to say it was actually a planned flypast, I wanted to buzz the tower (honest)!!!

 

On my second attempt I was down a lot soon and made the first exit with ease.

The fly-in hosted by Phil Read and Jin Wiles who greeted each and every pilot with a warm welcome they also laid on a good spread of food including a wide selection of cakes and hot and cold drinks all for free!

 

After spending a few hours there we decided to depart and flew back to Chatteris via the  same routing. As we approached march we made our call that we were inbound and a few seconds later we heard Pat call that he was inbound from a similar position, we looked but could not see him. We zoomed out a little on SkyDemon and there Pat was 600ft below and a little off to our left side, we then managed to locate him visually too, we made radio contact with Pat reporting our position and intent, we went around to the north west and joined downwind while he went to the east and joined on the base leg. I’m sure we would have seen each other eventually without PilotAware and SkyDemon, however having that early representation on the map is a great help.

Unfortunately, not all aircraft are equipped with ADSB Out we added it to ours and Pat’s for around £50 each. I just don’t understand why the CAA don’t mandate it or why people won’t spend £50 on adding ADSB Out to their existing Mode S transponder!

SkyDemon, Pilotware and a trip to North Coates

I have been having reliability issues with my home built PilotAware to the point where when I went flying it was not a case of if but when it would have a problem! Well (touches wood) I seem to have gotten to the bottom of my issues, first of all I would like to make it clear it was not a fault of the PilotAware software.

The issues I had were that it would take a good three minutes or more for the Ublox VK-172 GPS to get a fix when connected to my PilotAware and if it lost its position in flight at 70 knots it would not get its position back very quickly or sometimes it would never get it back. However, when connected to a PC running the Ublox software it worked fine! I eventually ordered another from HK via eBay, when it arrived a few weeks later I was somewhat dubious as it came sealed in a plastic anti-static bag, whereas the first one came in a blister pack with CD and manual too. I connected it up and within around 45 seconds it got its first fix and ever since it seems to take about 20 seconds and it’s ready to go.

The second issue I had been having is that the WIFI link would drop and I could not reconnect without rebooting the PilotAware however, this seemed to only happen in flight. I considered various things such as interference from the aircraft, vibration etc, but in the end a thicker supply cable (20 swg) as is recommended seems to have fixed it.

I had tried it on a few short flights without issue so now it was time to try it on a flight of more than an hour as previously the issue could take 30 -40 mins before showing up.

A flight up north to North Coates was selected and Sam and I set off, on route we occasionally saw or own trace on SkyDemon from PilotAware showing up but, later I found this to be a wrong setting and selecting the filter (beta) option seems to have resolved this.   We saw several different aircraft show up on SkyDemon however, one of interest at our altitude and heading in our general direction. We kept a keen lookout for this (and any other) aircraft. Eventually we saw the Aircraft on our left and by now both visually and on SkyDemon (thanks to the data feed from PilotAware) it was clear it would pass safely behind us.

We arrived at North Coates where the wind should have been at 40 degrees to the runway at 10 knots but in fact it was highly variable in direction at while landing it was 10 knots across the runway with turbulence coming off from the adjacent hangers. It made things a little more interesting but the final touchdown was nice and smooth.

North Coates seems a nice airfield with a small and friendly café and no doubt I will be going back at some point soon.

The Wild Cats were due in at 14:00 so we waited until 14:20, but there was no sign of them and we needed to be getting back so we left and shortly after calling that we have left the circuit we heard them on the radio inbound, I think that is called sods law!

The take-off and flight back was uneventful with the wind having died down, we had a few more contacts on SkyDemon via PilotAware on the way back but nothing near us. There was no loss of connection in either flight and the whole system was rock solid.

So with my fingers crossed and touching wood it seems like my PilotAware issues may be fixed and when SkyDemon with it new traffic radar display is combined with PilotAware the benefit is more than doubled, it is a very useful secondary surveillance device, your eyes must however remain your primary!

 

Set QFE in Dashware

I was recently asked how I managed to change the altitude to QFE (ground level) on my videos, well when I can be bothered to do it! So here is how to do it.

I use Dashware to add the tapes to the video before editing the video, I do this before to ensure the data is in sync with the video.

I capture the video using my TomTom Bandit, which has a built in GPS. However like all action cameras I know of, it suffers from strobing on the prop. To overcome the strobing I made an ND8 (neutral density) filter by ordering a plastic ND8 filter from ebay. I cut in a circle and held in place using some large heat shrink. Anyway that’s for another day today we are looking at how to offset the reported altitude. Or put another way QNH to QFE.

For this I will assume you have your data and video file ready and that you know how far out the altitude is.

Below I’m using Dashware version 1.9.1

Load your video in the normal way then:

1.      Open the load data screen

2.      Select the data file and click “Edit Profiles”

3.      Make a clone of the data profile you are using, so that you can edit it.

4.      Add a Math Calculator (bottom left area) that takes the Altitude and subtracts the offset                needed, you may need to play a little with this value. the value is entered into the “Constant Parameter”. use the other settings as shown below.

 

5.      Call this new channel QFE in the output value.

6.      Now add a mapping channel for QFE by clicking the + in column mappings

7.      Map the columns as shown below

8.      Click OK to close the Data Profile Editor screen

9.      Then back at the add data file screen ensure you have the newly create Clone profile selected and click add to show your new altitude.

 

I hope this helps!

A quick blog about a short flight testing PilotAware with SkyDemon

So a great day to fly on Saturday, however our microlight was booked out for the whole day, well actually it wasn’t, it was just that a booking failed to be cancel that a member of our group said they had cancelled, man vs machine! Not to worry Sunday was looking promising, but as it turned out it was not so good, rain and low cloud was the order of the day. I did get a 10 min flight in and my friend Simon and I went up for another 20 mins later too.

Hardly worth blogging about really, but I had built my PilotAware into a single case and wanted to ensure it worked so 10mins and a further 20mins was indeed worth it, well for me any time spent aloft is worth it!

So this is what PilotAware looked like before I rebuilt it:

 

And now it’s more robust in a single case:

 

 

I have also removed the casing from Both the GPS and DVB-T TV tuner dongle RTL2832U that is used for the ADS-B receiver. The ADS-B receiver runs quite hot so I have ordered some SMD heatsinks for it, but they have yet to arrive.

So on the first flight I had it wide open to all traffic and wow with the change of aerial to the “Rubber Duck” meant I could see traffic everywhere, all way out or way high! It could have also been that I had enabled the feature “Mode-CS (Beta)”.

The first thing to note was I was seeing myself as a target on my Skydemon, When back on the ground I added the Hex of our aircraft and rebooted the PilotAware, this resolved the issue of seeing myself. Next I downed the range from long to medium and the height in Skydemon from 50,000ft to 10,000.

So on our next flight and with Simon at the controls I had time to play with it and we were picking up traffic, but with the new settings the screen was a lot less crowded, however we did not see a Mode S equipped aircraft below us and landing and I’m unsure why that was, it was showing in the Traffic screens so I will be asking that question to see if it is my configuration.

Overall I would say this is a great supplement to your own lookout, which remains the primary way to observe in VFR.

Next up I have ordered a plug to connect my headset to the audio out so I get any warnings without needing to watch the screen. I will let you know how I get on with that soon.

Extra eyes in the sky with PilotAware and SkyDemon

I have dipped in and out of the PilotAware project for over a year, but as the weather was good and I was not flying alone last weekend I decides it would be good to try it out.

So first off what is PilotAware? Well for a full description I would suggest you head on over to their web site http://www.pilotaware.com where they will summarise it as:

“PilotAware is a low cost portable traffic awareness unit for use in all types of aircraft that shows where aircraft are in relation to you. PilotAware integrates with existing popular navigational equipment such as Sky Demon, Easy VFR, Runway HD, both Android and iOS, and is also compatible with other fixed navigation equipment such as Dynon equipment. Also includes audio alerts.”

All of which seems to be true! It is based on the popular Raspberry Pi 2 B and uses an uBox USB GPS, A DTV dongle, USB WIFI and a PilotAware bridge board for the reception and broadcast of their own system, which is supplemented by the reception of ADS-B via the DTV dongle, clever and cheap (comparatively speaking).

So why have I left it so long before flying with it? Well a number of factors, first it originally used an off the shelf transmitter, but they found this was underperforming and the all new board was only released earlier this year. Next and still a concern for me is the uBox GPS, it is very slow to get its first 3D fix and thus rightly or wrongly I’m concerned on what will happen if it loses its fix in flight and how accurate it is. I think I will raise my concerns at the 2016 Flying Show with the PilotAware team in December as they are showing the system there. Also I don’t like the exposed wires and USB dongles, I would prefer them all to be encased; lastly I have only recently purchased a 16Ah USB battery to power it in flight, the plan was originally to use our aircraft’s 12v socket, however no plugs seem to reliably stay in it, a problem with our aircraft not PilotAware.

So onto the flight!

Tom and I got to the airfield in time for our flight and we waited for the person before us to return to the airfield. While waiting I switched my PilotAware unit on as the GPS I have is not the fastest in the world to get a fix! I left it on in the car for around 45mins and had previously ground tested the PilotAware driving for around 1 hour, the flying time today was 2hrs 15mins and I left it on while on the ground for around 1 hour at Cromer. So a grand total of 4hrs 15 mins and the battery pack was still over half charge remaining! I’m using the RavPower iSmart 16.75 Ah battery which can be seen on Amazon  here

I use SkyDemon for my navigation and connecting the PilotAware is very easy, once setup. Simply select Fly and now you have a choice “Use Location Services” or “Use FLARM”, Pilot aware uses the FLARM protocol to pass location and traffic information to SkyDemon. If the system were to fail you can simply stop the Navigation and restart it using Location services or get the map out!

The first thing to say is the GPS did not drop its fix at any point and seemed to be very accurate. We flew to Cromer for the first leg and stopped there for lunch, where we met by chance some of the guys from Boston airfield.

Another feature of PilotAware is that it has an inbuilt track logger and the below image was up loaded from this test flight. SkyDemon also saves your tracks and they can also be exported into a map the same way.

I currently have the system set to 30,000ft separation, just for testing, on the flight back we saw on screen and in the sky a number of commercial aircraft way above us. Which we thought was pretty cool!

On our final leg back we had a RV8 cross us 7 miles out, we did not make visual contact, but it was on the display and we could see he was climbing out.

 

I think this unit has proved itself and adds even more benefit to flying with SkyDemon, even if just for a local flight.

My next task is to build it into a single all inside case, that I have ordered from eBay.

For those that prefer to fly with a paper map the unit also has an audio out for announcement of aircraft e.g. “Traffic, One O’clock, level, ten, kilometers” will be announced.

Many light and Microlight aircraft don’t have a GPS connected to there transponder, if this were to hardwired into the aircraft it has a GPS out option that can now be connected to a compatible transponder. See this report on the NATS web site http://www.nats.aero/news/successful-gps-trial

Overall I was very impressed, anything that helps you see other aircraft early has got to be a good back to your lookout and a safety improvement, I for one hope more people use PilotAware or at the very least connect a GPS to their transponder.

 

 

 

Turning a Rotax engine backwards

I have always been told never to turn the Rotax engine in the wrong direction as it will cause damage, but recently seeing someone turn a prop backwards a few degrees I challenged the person who said “what damage could it do!”, this got me Googling it and I found many hits saying it will damage the engine and as many saying it won’t, below is a summary of what I found, I have also emailed Rotax but not had any response!

image

  •  Turning an engine backwards will only cause an issue if it has a dry vacuum pump.
  • Turning an engine backwards to re position the prop is preferred as the engine will not fire even if the mags are on as they only work when rotated in the correct direction.
  • Turning the engine in the wrong direction causes oil to be squirted into wrong places.
  • Turning the engine backwards or forwards by hand causes no issues.
  • Turning the engine backwards causes the engine to suck in air, all you need to do is re burp the engine in the correct direction and all is OK.
  • Turning the engine backwards causes the engine to suck in air and if turned for more than one revolution this may enter the valve train, thus the engine must be vented.

What is the truth and what should one do if the engine has been turned in the wrong direction?

While there would seem to be some truth in a few of the above and others may be pure fiction, I’m not an aircraft engineer and I’m not going to comment on which are correct and which are not, but I what I have found out from 2 Rotax bulletins is this:

A rotation on less than one revolution in the reverse direction of the prop appears to require no corrective action, while a rotation of one or more revolutions in the wrong direction requires the engine to have the venting checked as layout by Rotax. The bulletin says that the rotation of the prop in the wrong direction may cause the ingestion of air into the valve chain.

Rotax references:

SB-912-036

Service Bulletin: Inspection for correct venting of the oil system for Rotax engine type 912 and 914 (series)
SB-912-036 R1 SB-914-022 R1

Cited in Compliance 1.5 – “engines which have had the prop spun for more than 1 turn in reverse direction allowing air to be ingested into the valve train.”

 

and

 

SI-04-1997

Service instruction: Venting of lubrication system for Rotax engine type 912 and 914 (series) SI-04-1997 R3

Cited in 1.3 Reason – “and/or had the prop spun in the reverse direction allowing air to be ingested into the valve train.”

 

I have not included the SB or SI documents as I have not had permission from Rotax, but just google SB-912-036 or SI-04-1997 and you will find the PDF files!

 

 

Grounded by the wind and how to take a strobe apart!

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford

A nice quote from Henry Ford and quite apt after my previous blog post here, but alas when the wind blows hard microlight pilots can but sit and drink tea!

Another disappointing day today due to a different reason; Mike let us know that there would be no flying due to the strong and gusting wind, I really wanted to fly in the hope of putting last week’s trials well and truly into the past.

I decided to go to the club anyway for a cup of tea and a chat. On arrival I saw my instructor Mike outside cutting drainage channels into the concrete slab, I asked if there was anything I could do to help, but my timing was impeccable as Mike had just finished so I went into the clubhouse and made the tea. In the clubhouse were Katie and Pat, passing the time of day with their usual banter, but welcomed the offer of a cup of tea.

I went and took some pictures of some of the Microlights which I have uploaded to the photos page on this site here. Talking about the site there has been quite an upturn on the page hits over the last week with a new daily high of 105 and a number of days above 70 hits per day. This seems to be traffic coming from Twitter, a post on the Microlight forum asking for people to upload pictures and from Google with people searching for “air law notes”, I hope that it will continue, but time will tell.

Shortly after I had made the tea Mick and Julie arrived and they were soon followed by Alan who was carrying a food parcel of savouries and cake, always a welcome site! We all sat around passing the time of day and optimistically hoping the wind would die down so we could fly, however it did not happen.

Collision avoidance strobe

The collision avoidance strobe light on our aeroplane had been removed as it had stopped working a few weeks earlier, I asked if I could take it home to see if I could find what was wrong with it and I also like seeing how thinks work. It’s a Skyflash 2000 self-contained strobe only requiring 12V dc and no external driver unit; it is a sealed unit with no obvious way of taking it apart that could be successfully reversed if it could be repair.

Inside the strobe
Strobe

After careful examination and noting another’s attempt to open it I came to the conclusion the aluminium ring must be holding an upper and lower plastic moulding with the circuitry sandwiched between them, but try as I might the aluminium ring would not turn or move in any direction. As the unit was scrap anyway I decided to take a craft cutting disc to the band, as I carefully cut throughout the band it suddenly sprung open a little, working my way around the band I managed to separate it from the plastic body to reveal the construction I had assumed they used. It looks as if the band, upper and lower parts had a silicon type bonding agent keeping all of them together.

Now it was open it was obvious where the problem was, the storage capacitor had blown its top and leaked its electrolyte out for good measure.

Warning: Xenon strobes use high voltage for striking the flash tube it may only be 12V dc in, but its hundreds of volts across the tube.

 

I have ordered a new capacitor which cost a little over £5 and we will see if that is the only thing that is wrong with the flash unit once it arrives. If so the next challenge will be to find a tube with an internal diameter of 55mm and 27 mm in length to hold it all together!

To be continued…

Web site hits new high

The blog hit a new high on Friday 24th Jan with 75 visitors in one day, I know it’s no Google or BBC but I was very pleased nonetheless.

Top search terms were “learn to fly” followed by “Microlight VFR” and then “e-Go”. The user stats have been bouncing around, as can be seen from the graph with a previous high of 66 (not on the graph) when a blog contained the words “engine failure” in the title, just goes to show how people like to read about drama.

A couple of people have messaged me to ask why I have not posted an update on my progress (or the lack of it!) for a while well it is quite simply down to the weather, if I don’t fly I tend not to blog. I did go to the fly club this weekend and the two instructors Mike and Katie were there, but no one else. The parking area for the aeroplanes looked like a small lake maybe we should fit floats to the C42s, now there’s an idea!!!

c42-floats

I went over as I was due to fly so I had nothing else planned and during the week I had bought myself a David Clark H20-10X headset from a well known online auction house. They were advertised as being in good condition and working, however when I got them they had two issues, the mic boom would not stay in place and the LED light that flashes to say the battery pack is supplying power was not flashing. I emailed the seller who assured me they were working when he last used them and that he had sold them with good intent, going by his tone I believed him and decided to keep them and ask my instructor to take a look at them, before sending them back to the sell if they still didn’t work.

Not everyone seems to know this, but if you use “buy it now” as opposed to bidding, even on a second hand item you are covered by the distant trading laws, no matter what the seller may say or put in their listing, they cannot be more restrictive than the rights you have in law. I’m not sure what the case is if you are buy from an overseas seller, but that was not the case for me anyway.

After having a little play with them I found the LED would come on if I put pressure on the connection to the battery pack and the mic stayed in place if I push the plastic sleeve back into the hole where it exits the head set.

Mike is very thorough in everything he does or so he seems; I guess that’s a good trait for a flying instructor, he tested them out tighten the battery connection and found one of the cable strain reliefs needed replacing so fitted a new heat shrink to it. I now have a working headset which I can’t wait to try out in the air, hopefully next week UK weather permitting

I’m thinking maybe I should write some reviews and then just maybe I would get some free samples!!!

My first visit to AAA Microlights

After searching on the internet, ringing around and exchanging emails with various clubs, I decided to take the plunge and go and visit AAA Microlights in Cambridgeshire. So on a nice day I took a drive over to Chatteris airfield where they are based. Finding them the first time was fun, you turn off the B1093 road on to a single track lane called Block Fen Drove that is signed for a parachute and microlight centre, then after around a mile you turn down an unmade up track that leads to the clubs. The first set of building are those belonging to the microlight club. I parked outside and walk passed the hanger and on to a small red “hut”, more a terrapin type building where a few people were standing, the chief flying instructor (CFI) had just gone up with a student so I was introduced to the assistant flying instructor ( AFI ) a very pleasant and welcoming young lady called Katie. We chatted for a while and then she took me over and showed me around a C42 microlight, including sitting me in it and showing me the controls. My first impressions were mixed, the wings were not made of metal I remembering thinking, they have an aluminium frame but are covered in a fabric call GT-foil! But sat inside it has more room than some other airplanes e.g. Cessna 152.

Invalid Displayed Gallery

We then went back into the clubhouse aka the “hut” and had a cup of tea, they drink a lot of tea, and waited for Mike the CFI to return.

Mike is a very approachable person with many years flying experience and not just in microlights, after we chatted for a while I decided I liked the club and the people in it and booked up my first lesson for Thursday 18th July 2013.

Birthday Trial Lesson

For my 50 birthday in 2013 I was bought a trial flying lesson as my family knew I always wanted to learn to fly, but could not justify the cost. In the voucher information it said I could take a passenger to experience it too, well my wife doesn’t like flying much on commercial aircraft so there was no way I would get her on board and my son needed to return back to his work placement, but luckily my daughter was fearless enough to offer to come up with me.

Gayton by Air

Gayton by Air

The voucher they presented me was from “Into The Blue” for a 60 minute trial lesson at Norwich Airport with a company called “Premier Flight Training” (http://www.premierflighttraining.co.uk/). I booked the trial lesson for Sunday 9th June 2013, Premier Flight Training were very professional and after having been introduced to the pilot David Hollingworth, he took us all through to an office where he gave us a talk on the principles of flight and how the control surfaces work, which was a lot more interesting then it sounds!   Next my daughter and I got to don some trendy hi-viz gear and we were driven over to the airplane a Piper Warrior PA28-161 (circa 1981) with a registration number of G-BNNO. David got us into the plane and then carried out the external per flight checks, everything was OK so next came the remaining pre-flight checks and then we were off. We flew west towards King’s Lynn flying over my village (pictured above) on route and then we turned north up to the coast and flew along the coast line for a while, but all to soon my 60 minutes were up and it was time to land back at Norwich.

 

pa38

 David and I about to go into the blue

I real enjoyed my present, but it reawaken my desire to learn to fly. I looked into learning with Premier Flight Training, but the cost were too high for me given the number of hours needed and the additional landing fees, VAT etc. I then came across a company down south offering training on what to me looked like a normal light aircraft, but for a lot less money, it turned out to be an Ikarus C42 which I now know is a 3 axis microlight, I had always thought or a microlight as a hang glider with an engine before this. A quick Google for C42 Microlight lessons and I found AAA Microlights (http://cambridgeshiremicrolights.co.uk/) in Cambridgeshire, who’s prices were much more affordable to me. Overall  learning to fly on a 3 axis microlight costs less money to fly per hour and less hours are needed to qualify so it works out about half the price flying with such a club.

Needless to say this was the route I decided to take and in my next blog I will tell you about my first encounter with the C42 and the club I decided to learn with.