PropVario, a Talking Variometer/Altimeter for RC Sailplanes

propvario

Lift. For a sailplane pilot it means the difference between a nice relaxing flight, or searching for an open area to land. Finding lift isn’t always easy though. This is especially true when the sailplane is hundreds of meters above a pilot whose feet are planted firmly on the ground. That’s why [Tharkun] created PropVario. PropVarioĀ is a combination variometer and altimeter for Radio Controlled sailplanes. We’ve seen a few variometers in the past, most often for full-scale sailplane or hang glider pilots. Almost every full-scale plane has a variometer as part of its suite of gauges – usually called a rate of climb or vertical speed indicator.

R/C pilots don’t have the luxury of looking at a gauge while flying though. At altitude even large 2 meter gliders can appear to the naked eye as no more than a dot. It would be somewhat embarrassing to lose sight of your glider because you were checking gauges. The solution is actually simple. A varying audio tone indicates the rate of climb of the plane. Higher pitched tones mean the plane is going up. Lower pitched tones mean the plane is descending. This system, coupled with a simple radio transmitter, has been in use by R/C sailplane pilots for years.

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DIY cell phone alti-variometer

AltiVarioFront

[Vlad-Andre] used some of his free time to build an alti-variometer. He does some para-gliding near restricted air space and wanted a backup altitude warning that would help keep him below the mandated altitude. His solution uses the SparkFun Weather Board in conjunction with their BlueSMiRF dongle to measure altitude and transmit it via Bluetooth. From there, he wrote a program to grab the transmitted data with his cell phone and display the information. His application also has the ability to set altitude warnings and log changes over time.

Using this system he is able to get altitude data with 3.5 inch accuracy. Because the capture application is written in Java it should be easy enough to make this work on other cell phone models. The project is clean and works well but we estimate the cost of the parts to be between $250-300, making it out of reach for those who don’t have a specific need for these types of measurements. This is especially true for paragliders who have much less expensive options available to them.
[Thanks Carl-Emil]