Friday, 21 April 2017

How to connect an old vario to GPS Dump on Windows 10

I just dusted off my vario, an old Flytec. I plug it into my Windows 10 computer, load up GPS Dump, and can't connect. Face palm.

This is a known issue since Windows 8. Basically, the USB chip is obsolete and Windows decided not to support it anymore. This affects all old USB connected devices, including radios. Theres a good explanation on this forum here. There are some ways around this, like buying an adapter plug or getting the chip updated or even keeping an old computer around with Windows 7 on it. However, installing the old USB driver on Windows 10 will also work. Here's how!

Step 1: Download and install an old PL2303 Prolific USB driver. The version must be 3.3.X.X. The chip became obsolete in version 3.4. Flytec used to have a driver installer on the website and I have a copy here, since the link seems to be gone now.  You only ever need to do this once!!

Step 2: Open Device Manager. With your vario is plugged in, you should see the Ports (COM & LPT) option. Underneath should be a Prolific USB driver with a little yellow warning. NOTE YOUR PORT COM NUMBER.

Step 3: Select the port with the vario and update the driver to the old version.
Right click and select "Update Driver Software...".

Select "Browse my computer for driver software"

 Select "Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer." 

Select the driver with a version number 3.3.X.X, then click "Next". Note that you have multiple versions, so you have the option to switch back and forth between the newer driver whenever you like without installing any more drivers. 

 The driver should now have no errors.

 Step 4: Open GPS Dump and SET THE COM PORT.


You should now be able to connect to your vario!  This goes both ways, so you should be able to update to the newest software on your vario, too.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

XC Safety

I'm one of the cheerleaders out there that has been doing a lot of retrieves this season. Safety has been a priority for me and many other cheerleaders I'vs spoken with at launch. I've tried and researched a lot of the tech to keep myself calm knowing he's safe on those flights over glaciers and back country. We've finally come up with a good combination for maximum convenience and safety with minimum cost and effort:
  1. Online live tracking with mobile apps. Bonus: use a bluetooth enabled vario.
  2. Retrieval using Glympse. 
  3. A power bank to charge the phone after long trips.
  4. ResQLink PLB in the cockpit  - NOT SPOT!!!

Live flight trackers

There is a mobile revolution in live flight trackers! Best of all, many of them are free! They have let me celebrate when Eirik is having a spectacular trip, see when he's landed early, and helped me plan the retrieve. For watching the flight in action, my short list includes LiveTrack24, airtribune, FlySkyHy (iOS) and Norway's own GPSDump (Android). These apps use the phone's GPS to upload coordinates every 10s.
Better yet, many of the new varios are bluetooth enabled. This means the phone can upload the vario's GPS data instead, which saves phone battery power and improves location accuracy. Eirik has the Oudie 4, which uses it's own app to connect and upload live tracks to several different tracking sites.


For retrieves, my personal favorite app is BBM with the Glympse feature. This is a messaging app like Whatsapp, but has some unique features. Glypse is a lot like the Whatsapp location feature, except that it gives live updates and also shows where I am on the same map. I can see which path he's hiking along and he can see how close I'm getting. I can even add multiple people to the chat and see them all on the same map.
Of course, phone battery is a concern after a long flight, so an extra power bank is a requirement for any retrieve.

Satellite messengers are not reliable emergency systems

Live tracking on mobile is a great safety measure - it's easy to check if everything is okay, and if something goes wrong I know exactly where it happened. However, when it stops working I still need to know he's safe. Some of the issues I've had  include drained battery (signal just stopped sending at 20%) with almost no power on landing to call for retrieve, losing cell signal (I thought it was his battery again so he had to hike for two hours before getting cell signal), using up all my data by refreshing the track too often, and the website (airtribune) crashing so I couldn't load anything. Mobile is great while it's working, but there needs to be a backup plan.

The first idea it seems most pilots have is to get a satellite messenger since it works in places where cell coverage doesn't.  Devices like the Spot 3 and DeLorne's InReach send GPS coordinates via satellite, as well as sending "I'm OK" messages to phones and SOS calls to rescuers. Cost for Spot 3 is about kr2300, with a basic subscription fee of 130kr per month. InReach is nearly double that for both the device and the subscription, though the messaging options, coverage, and signal quality are better. Sounds worth the cost, right? The catch is that these devices often don't connect to the satellites when needed most, and when it can't connect it's as useless as a dead phone. I'm going to get technical to explain this, so be prepared to geek out a little.
GlobalStar (Spot) coverage
Iridium (DeLorne) coverage

Both GlobalStar (Spot) Iridium (DeLorne) are commercial systems and operate on similar frequencies (1610- 1626 MHz range). The broadcast power is low and limited by radio laws. This frequency may not connect to the satellites since the signal is absorbed by thick cloud cover and dense forest and it reflects poorly off buildings and mountains.  GlobalStar (Spot) does not have global coverage, for example neither the Himalayas nor Africa is covered, and Norway has a "weak signal". Also, each satellite has a small footprint so it may take several minutes for your orbiting satellite to make contact with a receiving station, delaying emergency response time. On top of that, both companies have gone through bankruptcies and both satellite systems have lost satellites through collisions with other satellites, and reputations are tarnished.

Personal Locator Beacons are military grade SOS

The ultimate emergency solution is a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). This is hardcore lifesaving equipment and everyone that goes out of cell range should have one. Register it, and keep it somewhere easy to reach like your cockpit. It doesn't live track, but there is no question that rescue will find you anywhere with minimum delay. Key features that make rescue even faster include:
  • GPS coordinates for homing in to 100m
  • low power homing signal at 121.5 MHz
  • strobe light
I have a ResQLink+ that I bought in Canada. There are very few PLB suppliers for civilians in Norway and selection is limited with a cost in the range of 4000kr (vs $250 in US). While battery replacement costs about $150 every 5-6 years, there are no subscription fees. This is a non-profit international emergency service and it is totally free. That being said, Norway is special and charges an administration fee of 450kr/yr (Norsk English) and is only available to Norwegians. However, country regulations differ and PLBs can be bought or coded for counties with free online registration such as CanadaUSAUKSweden where there is also more PLB selection.

Now it's time to geek out again and explain why this satellite system is amazing.

The COSPAS-SARSAT network is an international satellite network dedicated to Search and Rescue. The regulated 406MHz frequency is for distress signals only and is monitored directly by government emergency services such as Norway's hovedretningssentralen. This 406MHz frequency can penetrate thick cloud cover and dense trees.
The satellite network has global coverage and includes low earth orbits (LEOSAR), geosynchronous (GEOSAR) orbits, and the brand new medium earth orbit (MEOSAR) for even faster homing time. The satellite system has two additional unique features that improves response time :

  • instantaneous relay of alerts to land units from the GEOSAR sats, and 
  • redundant signal processing to home in on the position (complements GPS).

When activating a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), two notifications are issued immediately. One notification is sent to the country where the PLB is activated so they can begin the search and rescue preparations, and the other notification is sent to the country where the PLB is registered so they can look up who you are. Registration is critical for rapid response as it tells rescuers who they are looking for, what type of sport you're doing, who you are with, and your emergency contacts that can give them more information. Activation of unregistered beacons are treated as emergencies, though you may be fined after a rescue or even pay the full cost of the operation for an accidental activation.

I'm delayed but everything is OK

I'm happy with the tracking and SOS system we have working now, but the only missing piece is messaging during non-emergencies outside cell coverage when things are delayed but OK. This is where satellite messengers like Spot make sense. However, I struggle to justify the cost for non-emergencies and carrying two devices seems like overkill. The manufacturer of ResQLink has come up with a low-cost solution for their PLBs called 406Link. For a small subscription fee ($40-60/yr), the PLB self-test function can be used to send a preset message to a cell phone including GPS cooridinates. Each PLB has a limited number of tests per battery life, but more than 12 uses in 5 years is expected, the AquaLink View has 60 per battery. If more than that is needed, changing battery early is an option that may still be cheaper than Spot. Unfortunately, 406Link it's only works with satellites over the Americas. Then again, trips to Brazil and Mexico may be where I want it most!

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Cloud seeding

A nice time lapse video of clouds seeding over launch at Hjartdal.

Cumulus time lapse from Eirik Johansen on Vimeo.

These weren't easy to catch but they were 5-6'ers and turbulent! About half an hour later, the thermals dried up and went another 800m over cloud base. :)

Friday, 17 January 2014

Ozone Mantra 6 MS

På start. Foto: Melanie Seguin
På start. Foto: Melanie Seguin
Forventningsfull M6-pilot. Foto: Melanie Seguin
Endelig var tiden kommet! Etter nesten en måneds ulidelig venting på en mulighet til å fly vidunderet. Og for en første-tur det ble!

Uten alt for mye sammenligningsgrunnlag, så vil jeg påstå at vingen virker relativt snill. Til sammenligning relativt lik som jeg husker M4. Kanskje noe enklere å starte?

Startegenskapene til M6 må jeg si er veldig gode. Testet den i en liten bakke rett før jul i 3-4ms. Ingen tendens til overskyting, vingen kommer fint opp og er forholdsvis enkel og kontrollere selv ved assymetriske opptrekk.

Selve starten og flyturen ble foretatt på Eggebø i Ryfylke, eller mer konkret Nicostarten. Startet i 1-2ms. Vingen kom fint opp til tross for svake forhold på start.

Start. Foto: Melanie Seguin
I lufta var det litt småhump i begynnelsen av turen. Ufattelig nok var det termisk denne dagen! boblene varierte mellom 1ms og 3,5ms, så det var til forveksling likt en normal vårdag østpå!
Jeg ligger ca midt i vektområdet på vingen, med flyvekt på ca 87kg. Vingen klatrer svært godt selv i flisete termikk (dette skulle jeg spesielt merke senere på turen).

Handlinga virker svært god for en EN-D, vingen responderer raskt på innput uten noen tendens til å grave seg ned i svingen. Jeg måtte faktisk jobbe litt for å få den til å grave! Ellers vil jeg nevne at stabiliteten på vingen er overraskende lik min gamle Nova Factor 2! Litt løse ører, men det må man nesten bare regne med på denne typen vinger.

I lufta. Foto: Melanie Seguin
Etter å ha dinglet en halvtimes tid forran start fikk jeg en fantastisk 3,5 boble (som Per viste meg fra laaaaaaaaangt der nede, takk skal du ha!).
Toppet av denne på ca 750m (var ikke helt sikker på høydebegrensninga, viste seg senere at denne var på 1100m...) og stakk innover i lesida mot Lensmannsstarten. her vil jeg si det var en middels sterk leside, ikke uforsvalig turbulent, men absolutt nok til å få testa vingen litt (for ikke å snakke om rustne pilot-nerver)!
Vingen snakket høffelig til meg og ga nok varsel før den klappet. Her fikk jeg ett lite og symmetrisk frontklapp, som spratt ut før jeg i det hele tatt rakk å reagere!
Good times. Foto: Melanie Seguin
Termikken i akkurat denne bobla vær særdeles flisete og det virket for meg at vingen klarer å utnytte energien så jeg ikke taper unødvendig mye høyde mellom flisene (beklager, veit ikke hvordan jeg skal få beskrevet dette mer forståelig).

Sener fikk jeg testet vingen med speed i motvind, virker som den skjærer lufta godt. Det virket ikke som jeg tapte så mye høyde som jeg ville forventet. Fikk også prøvd meg i noe jeg vil anta var en deilig blanding av rotor fra fjellsida og vindskjæring nede i dalen. Vingen oppførte seg eksemplarisk og fant ikke på noe tull, gitt at piloten under svarer på de beskjedene vingen gir naturligvis...

Landet fint rett ved YX-stasjonen på Årdal som en særdeles fornøyd januar-pilot i Norge!!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Monday, 16 September 2013

Jæren-video 1!

Ja, det bli ikke så mye XC på meg i sommer, men fikk noen artige leketurer på jæren som plaster på såret :) Får se om man velger mindre jobbing og mer XC neste sommer ;)

Satser på å mekke noen flere videoer utover høsten. Har masse å ta av i allefall!
Kos dere!


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Dreams of XC

Imagine a bright summer day. Imagine soaring with an eagle as he circles his way up over a big green forest. Imagine flying silently beside white fluffy clouds, so close you could almost touch them.
These are the images of cross country paragliding that Eirik described while expressing his love for the sport.

I'm a pilot, too, and have been flying along the Norwegian coast for two years now. There's plenty of great ridge soaring on this side of the country, but not so much in the way of cross country. When he asked if I wanted to join him on a tandem XC tour near Oslo, I was all over the chance to see how a pro does it! We started looking at weather to pick a day. We'd missed the good spring time flying season so Eirik filled the time with stories of his adventures. I saw pictures of flying beside the clouds with little patches of farm fields far below. I heard all about the eagle he played with on his birthday. He showed me pictures of three peaks way off in the distance and then pictures as they got bigger and closer suddenly from the other side!

The weekend weather forecasts continued to promise stable weather. Eirik explained all about the best conditions for thermalling. High pressure days make for stable air masses, which means thermals aren't strong. We've got to wait for a low pressure system to move through. Cold nights and hot days make great thermal days. Cloudless days are great because the sun can heat everything. Then again, once at altitude, clouds make great lift when you fly beside them. Cloud streets are an XC dream!

We started discussing the practical elements of the flight. He showed me the options we had for launching and typical distances that could be travelled on good days. He explained how we needed a good "strong" wind at altitude so we could use it to push us along further. He talked about finding thermals and how they drifted and how sometimes it could be pretty far between them. He explained the flying with friends increased chances of finding them and that meant longer trips. He talked about finding the right lines with less sink. And sometimes you just have to hold your breath and hope you get lift. We talked landing options and how far we might have to hike to the road and back to civilization.

When the X-Alps started, I was watching it like a hawk. We were watching when the race started. We watched as they waited for good conditions at the top of the first mountain and how one man getting lift meant the whole fleet of them had to get in the air as fast as they could. We were zooming in to analyze flight patterns. We were checking wind directions, looking at google street view, and trying to guess where they were headed next. I finally understood some elements of the challenge and the race took on a whole new dimension.

Finally we got lucky with a promising Saturday forecast. Eirik calls around and scores us a tandem. It's a four hour drive north and a good launch isn't too far from there. If we want an early take off, we need to prepare today and camp out there overnight. Food! We need to eat a lot tonight. We need a proper breakfast. We need snacks for the flight and food for the hike out. The days are hot but we'll need warm clothes and gloves while we're up so high.

 It's getting late but we're finally packed. Our shoes are on and keys in hand, ready to walk out the door. Now for the four hour drive. This is going to be a tough night. The phone rings.

 Score! Stein Are has a tandem we can borrow since he had a cancelled flight. We can go to a much closer launch and that means we can drive out in the morning. Eirik gets excited and calls around to see who else will be flying there. Seems we'll have some good company!

Suddenly it hits me. This is really going to happen. Now I admit I'm a bit of a chicken - not something you expect a paraglider to say! Just like all sports, the more time you spend at it, the more horror stories you hear. I worry. What if the clouds start to suck us straight up? What if the wing stalls? Worst of all, what if I start screaming like a little girl? I have to calm myself down. I fall asleep trying to dream of small white fluffy clouds, bright sunshine and laminar winds.

I'm still nervous in the morning. It feels like I'm still dreaming. Being passenger on an XC flight just doesn't happen often. I trust the pilot, but I want to hear him say that he will fly safe. We have a few hours to drive ahead of us.
I say I'm worried.
He says so is he.
Really?! About what?
Because we might be flying over some desolate areas and I don't know where we'll land. We don't know how long a hike it will be to the nearest road. Not even sure if we'll have anyone to pick us up, if we even have cell reception.
But you're not worried about the flight and falling out of the sky at high speeds with a collapsed wing while screaming like a little girl?
Nah... the flight will be the fun part!

We've got food and water enough to last us a day. The furthest we'll have to hike is 30km if we land in the most desolate forested area. We've got a beacon for an emergency outside cellphone range. And it's Saturday... I don't have to work until Monday. What's he worried about?

Driving to the launch, we slow down and Eirik points out the landing field in case we bust. It's covered in bushes and little trees knee high.

We finally get to the parking area and the other guys pull up behind. 
So... you're the passenger, are you?
They aren't laughing... that's a good sign.

We get to the launch after a nice long hike upwards. The launch is very small. There's a cabin at the top and the bottom has a small pit full of tall weeds and rocks before it gets flat again. Eirik lays out the tandem to check it. With the top of the wing near the cabin, we have just over a meter before the small drop into the weeds. He gathers up the glider and puts it to the side.

With everyone at the top and a promising forecast, the guys get together to discuss their flight. Seems these guys are some of the best cross country pilots in Norway. This is one of the secret cross country launches where long distances are usual. The weather looks so promising they decide to declare the flight... 170km! They all gather around and start plugging coordinates into their varios.

This doesn't feel real.

It's a hot day and the sun is beating down. Time to take off. The guysput on winter coats and thick gloves. I'm wearing a tank top and am sweating. Definitely surreal.

The three of them take off in succession with their crispy class D gliders, making the launch look easy. There's a bit of sink straight out, but they found the thermal so now they're all flying way overhead. There's a small crowd of hikers gathering at the top, all of them cheering and taking photos.

Now it's our turn.
I put on winter pants, a sweater, my jacket, a scarf, and put my gloves in the harness. Eirik lays out the glider and I strap into my harness. He secures us together and points the direction he wants me to run - right between those two boulders at the end of the weedy pit. The crowd stands around us as we wait for a good wind cycle to fill the wing. Still unreal.

Okay. Good cycle. Go! Run!
I get over the edge and try running down into the pit, but my feet aren't on the ground. Suddenly I'm barely hanging above ground and one of the rocks is headed straight at me. Good thing we land in a bush first.

Take two offers the same scare, but by take three we're pros. I'm still on my feet when Eirik yells at me to stop because we still don't have any pressure in the wing. The crowd has disappeared. Perhaps they are too embarrassed to watch us anymore? Eirik's radio'ed the guys to say go on without us, but they probably guessed that already.They didn't wait around long.

Last try before we give up and try a nicer launch without XC possibilities. The day is getting too late. We wait several cycles to make sure we get a good one.
Go! Run!
My feet are off the ground again and my face is skimming the ground. I see the massive rocks coming up and we sail between them. Last chance to bail? Suddenly the ground drops away and we're flying! We actually launched!

I'm hanging in my harness and Eirik is squirming behind to get comfortable. I'm just hanging there, wondering how strong the straps are because I'm definitely not in the seat. He tells me to hold on a moment longer and that moment stretches out. I finally feel a little space behind me and I quickly squirm myself into the seat. Alright. This is starting to feel like a PG flight I'm used to. Now with company and auto-steering!

He catches a bubble and we go up up up! And then it's gone. And then we catch the next one and it's up up up and a screaming vario. We're catching 3s! and then nothing and we sink. Searching searching for where the bubble might be and suddenly lift... and so it goes until we get way up high and it starts getting cold. Eirik tells me to zip up my jacket and hands me gloves. The vario is now beeping every few seconds as we bob at the same altitude. Eirik points out an inversion near the horizon. Turns out we hit it at 1400m, which means no more lift. We're going for the glide!

Out we go, further and further away from the mountain and the car. Eirik points out several places we might get lift... but nothing. The other guys are long gone and there's no birds flying. We're sinking like a stone. All this talk about picking good lines with minimum sink and we're just going down down down. Suddenly we're not far above the trees and Eirik says he'll try to get some mechanical lift on a hill side until a good thermal cycle comes along. Nothing. We're sinking and we need to land. There's a small dirt road that ends in a circle. Perfect.

On the ground with the glider all packed up, I'm back in a tank top and shorts. We're ready for the hike back! But no cell reception? No 3G! That means no map! Which way does this road lead? Better to hike along a road than through dense forest and it's going mostly in the right direction. We've got the late afternoon sun to point us westwards and keep our bearing, and we do have our coordinates. We can find our way to the launch. The road turns and it's not heading our direction anymore. We're striking off across this bog. And then the bog turns into dense forest. And then more bog. The bugs are coming at us and my shoes aren't as waterproof as I thought.

We're finally back at the car. Over two hours of hiking to get here and we only landed 6km away. Possible the other guys have landed by now. Calling around to see if anyone needs a lift. Several phone calls and a cup of coffee later, we find out everyone else landed in Sweden. One of them flew 91km! and his lady was driving to go find him out in the boonies.

We struck out towards the border to get the other guys. They managed 60km from launch. Seems they got a lift from the Swedish boonies, and the lovely couple offered them lunch at their home before giving them a lift back into Norway on their way to a cabin. Lucky guys! We found them enjoying coffee at a gas station and managed to stuff everyone and their gliders in the car. We had gliders on laps and a two hour drive ahead of us.

The tandem glider is returned and we find out it was a vintage 1999. That explains the glide ratio.

By the time we got home, it has been over 24 hours since we'd started calling around for the glider. The flight was a total of 30 minutes.

Seems this is what to expect when flying cross country.
I'm already dreaming of the next flight.

Melanie, PP3