Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ups and downs (mostly downs)

The weather forecasts looked good for soaring today (77-80 on the ground, much cooler aloft, no wind), and for some the conditions worked. But not for me this time. There seemed to be an inversion up to about 4500' MSL or so. Some of the big ships who got above that could work lift up to 6000' or more. But I never got above release altitude in the PW5. I found some heavy sink, and the little lift I found was no more than zero sink. I was down in 22 minutes. J also flew the PW5, for 55 minutes, but most of his time was down low. I think it was because of the heavy cirrus clouds that came in after noon. I really want to get in some good soaring. I haven't had a long solo flight since last spring! And my next goal is two 2-hour flights for my Bronze badge.

The PW5 is really fun and easy to fly! Its handling is so light that it's nearly effortless. The audio vario was acting up, though... noisy, scratchy... so we need to check the speaker system.

I still need to work on my aiming point. I seem to aim about 50-100' too short, and end up trying to float into the box. I know why, and I know what I need to do, but by the time I get lined up on final with my altitude and speed correct, I forget to carefully look for the marks I need to hit - I just seem to aim for the beginning of the "smooth" area of dirt, which is much too early.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Google Earth: Looking at airplanes flying into LAX in real time

For background, see my first post on Google Earth.

A web site called FBO Web has some (so far free) resources you can layer on GE. One of these is a near-real-time display of air traffic flying into and out of five major U.S. airports. LAX is near me, so I played with that view. It shows the flight path, altitude, airspeed (I think), and identification of aircraft. If you zoom in to a low altitude and tilt the view to near horizontal, you get a 3D view.

Google Earth: Looking at airplanes and gliders in the air

For background, see my first post on Google Earth.

Some people have gone searching through the Google Earth imagery looking for pictures of airplanes captured in flight. If you already have GE installed and running, click here to access the list. It automatically loads the list into the Places pane of GE, so you can just browse through the list and click on whatever you want to see. There are just a few gliders on the list, including one just southeast of Hemet-Ryan Airport where I fly, and one on tow in Florida right near Seminole-Lake Gliderport where I have flown.

Google Earth: Displaying GPS traces

For background, see my first post on Google Earth.

I've recently started using a PDA-GPS combination in flight. I'm not using it for navigation at this time (since I never go anywhere), but I have started to refer to it for L/D, wind, glideslope to the field etc. a little bit. Of course it records the flight as a trace file, in IGC format. I know people display their IGC traces in 2D and 3D in SeeYou etc. to go back and study their (and their friends') flights, but so far I don't have that software. I had seen a reference to Google Earth and IGC files a while back on RAS, so I thought someone had probably figured out how to link the two. I was amazed at how easy it really is!

This morning I sync'ed my PDA to my PC, to get my latest IGC files. Then I went searching on the web to see what people might have written about GE and IGC. I quickly found a link to GPS Visualizer which is a free web-based service to convert IGC files to GE-compatible files.

This could not be any easier! Just go to the page called Convert your GPS data for use in Google Earth. There are Browse buttons to let you select one or more .IGC files on your PC. Set just a couple of choices on the form, such as "Altitude mode: Absolute", and click "Create KML file". Then you don't even need to download the .KML file. Visualizer downloads the file and presents you a link. Click on the link, and it starts GE, points it to the .KML file, and takes you right to the area! Extremely cool!

Google Earth: Flight visualization and planning

For background, see my first post on Google Earth.

As I mentioned here, I am planning a simulated cross-country flight. To prepare for it, in addition to reviewing the sectional chart, I thought Google Earth could be a useful tool. It sure is! In GE, simply go the the area of the flight, set the view altitude to about the level of expected soaring flight, and set the "tilt" down to nearly horizontal. Then you can zoom around and see what the landscape is going to look like.

Tilt back up, then look at the ground to search for (hopefully) landable fields. The detail is not sufficient to really look for obstructions, wires, etc., but it can give some idea of the size and texture of the field. By looking at the size on the screen of my usual landing area, I can estimate whether a potential field is large enough, though I can't really see fences etc.

GE also has some distance-measuring tools. (I've used them in the past, but not yet in flight planning.) It can calculate a straight-line distance between two points. So you could use it to find the distance to a landing spot or turnpoint.

A web site called FBO Web has some (so far free) resources you can layer on GE.
  • Sectional charts! It overlays your choice of charts onto the GE images. If you're viewing in 3D, the chart is mapped onto the topography. You can use a sliding bar to change the transparency of the sectional info vs. the topography. So you can really see what the ground under the chart is going to look like.
  • Airspace. This one overlays the boundaries of the special use airspaces on to GE. They're in 3D, so you can view over, under, around, and through them. They seem to be accurate, but incomplete.

These layers can coexist in GE at the same time. So you can get a composite view of topography, roads (with names), sectional chart, airspace, whatever you want - and view it from all angles!

Google Earth

I've been using Google Earth for several purposes related to soaring. I'll write separate posts about several GE topics.)

If you are not familiar with GE, it is a fairly new free program/service on the Internet. It showed up first as a program called Keyhole, and then Google bought it and has continued enhancing it. You need high-speed Internet access to make use of GE, because there's a lot of data transferred. Just go to and download the program.

It presents a view of the globe, and you can browse, zoom, and search. The images are a mixture of satellite photography and aerial photography. If you get down close to the ground level, the terrain is show in 3D. You can tilt the view so you can really see the mountains etc. as if you were at the chosen altitude. (Some buildings in major cities are shown in 3D, but they are wireframe drawings rather then photos.)

GE has become really popular and a number of companies and individuals are "layering" other information and images onto the GE service. I'll detail some of those in the next few articles.

Here's how I've found it to be useful already:

  • Flight visualization and planning
  • Previewing airports
  • Displaying GPS traces
  • Looking at airplanes and gliders in the air (just for fun)
  • Looking at airplanes flying into LAX in real time (just for fun)

Someone is writing a blog about how GE is being used by those interested in flying and airplanes.