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. PropVario 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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Variometer build for gliding aircraft

If you’re flying through the air in a non-powered vehicle your rate of descent is something that you want to keep any eye one. With that in mind, [Adrian] decided to design his own Variometer (translated) what will have a place in the cockpit next to the other instrumentation. It emits a pitch whose frequency is dictated by the rate at which altitude is being lost or gained.

He went with a PIC 24FJ64 microcontroller to drive the device. It’s reading data from an MS5611 barometric pressure sensor. This measures changes in air pressure associated with a change in altitude. As a user interface he chose one of SparkFun’s Nokia 5110 LCD screen breakout boards. He also went with one of their boost converts which lets him power the device from just one battery cell. The case itself is cut from several layers of plastic using a CNC mill.

In the video after the break you can see how sensitive the device is. Moving it just a few feet up or down has an immediate effect on the sound and the displayed data.

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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]