GPS and Competition Information
Updated Jan 2010
A GPS (Global Positioning System) is a requirement for the competition. I will try to explain the various types used in the paragliding world with the major interest for competition use, though they are also extremely useful for cross country flying. On this page I'll try to briefly explain how the competition works, what gps units are available and some of the principles of using them.
A typical Competition
On the day before the competition you'll register; you check the details that we have for you, we check your details, experience, insurance etc. Next you get plugged in to the computer and are given the waypoints for the competition. Even if the waypoints are on the web and you have a copy loaded into your instrument, its still best you get a new set, in case you have the wrong set or there are new ones. Also you get your pilot number uploaded to your instrument to aid the scoring later on. Be ready with your instrument on and all of your instrument cleared of waypoints.
Every day you are advised to check your scores from the previous day some time before the morning briefing. If you have any queries then see the scorer as early as possible. Soon after the briefing, if it looks flyable, the whole shebang moves to the launch site. Please try to get there as quickly as possible; moving 120 people around without losing someone is challenging enough.
Aircotec XC Trainer.
Arriving at launch
As soon as people arrive on the hill they get their kit ready. This seems strange to newcomers but its a good plan. If the conditions look flyable then get yourself a space, get your glider and instruments prepared. Bundle the glider up and check the instruments work. Delete the previous days track log and check the gps is recording. Check your radio before the window opens, Please. The meet director will transmit every so often before the start window opens so you should hear it, if you don't then maybe you have not changed your radio from the retrieve frequency?
When everyone is on the hill a briefing is called to discuss the day's task. Often it is provisionally written-up on the task board before the briefing... our idea is to reduce all of the stress that can build up. The task board will show the waypoints and goal for the day. Normally the Launch opening and start gate opening times are decided at the end of the briefing. Everyone starts entering the task and the air fills with the sound of beeping instruments. The task will probably be a race to goal or an elapsed time to goal. In a race everyone has time to get to the start cylinder and the start opens at a specific time; everyone then gets to goal as quickly as possible. In the elapsed time there is still a start cylinder but you can cross that point and start when you like, then get to goal as fast as possible. The start point is likely to be an entry cylinder or exit cylinder around a waypoint. The radius of the cylinder does not have to be 400m and is often more than 2km, to spread people out and make it as safe and uncongested as possible. The task will be fully explained and we'll even tell you the best route, though its up to you if you listen or not! For safety reasons, a turn direction in thermals is specified until the first turnpoint or the start cylinder. Usually it is left on odd numbered days of the month and right on even days.
The launch window opens, you cross the start cylinder making sure it is after the opening time. Everyone flies the course, we hope everyone gets to goal and no one misses a turn point. Fly cautiously and courteously. If you fly with a group of people it is likely to be easier. The gaggle is your friend.
When you land in a safe place, not in crops, you bunch up your glider as soon as you can. If you leave the glider for too long it could be read as a sign that you are injured and people will start to worry pretty quickly. Radio your location to the retrieve on the retrieve frequency and follow the instructions to get picked up. Now turn off your GPS. XC Trainer users, make sure you know that the track log is being stored before you turn it off.
When you get back to HQ, be sure you are checked in and get your GPS downloaded as early as possible. We usually have everyone processed by 7:00pm and results out by 8:00pm.
Your competition day has nearly finished. You just have another few hours of post goal analysis, recounting how fantastic the day was, celebrating your personal best and how you got to goal first.
No height data recorded,
Not useable in comps
Know your instrument
Whether its your first competition or you're an experienced competition hound, not knowing your instrument will be detrimental. So if your instrument is new to you then take it out and play with it.
Make sure you can do the following
- Set up the instrument with the correct datum and coordinates format (see 'instrument settings' below).
- Enter manual waypoints, you may have to do this for a task and its good to know how beforehand
- Enter a route of more than 2 waypoints; you'll be doing this nearly every day
- Change a route; you may make a mistake or we may change the task
- Navigate a route: You can practice this by entering a short route and walking around it. Make sure the route switches automatically if that's what your instrument does, or get used to doing it manually if you need to. Normally Waypoint cylinders are 400m; if you change the cylinder size walking around a field then make sure you change it back to 400m (only in the case of automatic routes). XC Trainers don't switch the track recording on until you travel for more than 10kmh for more than 30 seconds, so you'll need to run fast!
Types of instrument
All in 1, Integrated Vario and GPS:
These are the top end of the market. Designed specifically for gliding competitions and gliding cross country. If you are serious about flying and have the budget available then one of these is for you. Each has its merits and you need to compare their attributes before investing. I cannot give too much information for these instruments as I don't have one.
Map Datum: Almost universally everyone uses WGS84. It is important to get this right.
6030 / Compeo+, 5030 / Compeo
all in 1s
- Coordinate Format: We use Lat / Lon, HDDD MM.MMM or 00º00.000'; this is what the local helicopter pilots use. Some competitions use UTM.
- Interface: When downloading Garmins need to be set to GRMN-GRMN (not NMEA). MLRs should have the serial port turned on (this particularly annoys the scorers when it is off... be warned).
- Units: We use km for distance and m for height. You are welcome to use feet for height but it helps if everyone is speaking the same units.
- Time offset: UTM +2 hours for comps in the summer in mainland Europe
- Turnpoint cylinder radius: 400m. For XC Trainers I recommend setting the radius to 390m. There can be a 10m rounding error when uploading waypoints, so to be safe give this 10m margin. DO NOT USE MILES.
GPS only units:
If you already have a vario then a gps only unit will suffice, though you will need a way to fix them both to a flight deck or maybe one on each leg, arm, riser etc. There are many to choose from:
- Aircotec XC Trainer (Aircotec Top Navigator): The Top Nav was the first, I believe, of the all in 1s and to this day has functions that baffle most pilots. The XC Trainer is more compact with a smaller screen (less items can be displayed at once) and a few of the more complicated functions removed. Unfortunately the Top Nav needs a new EPROM chip for every firmware upgrade, whereas the XC Trainer is upgradeable using the supplied download cable. The display has various screens, one of which is the thermal screen, showing geographically where the thermal you were in probably is now considering its drift due to the wind... very clever and it often works! An integrated battery needs a separate charger but battery life is reportedly 25 hours. The buttons and display take some getting used to but all in these are great instruments. The XC Trainer Dual has a more sensitive vario which is more useable than the non-dual version. The newer versions have USB as well.
Bräuniger Compeo+ and Flytec 6030 (updated from the compeo and the 5030): These are the comprehensive offerings from well established vario manufacturers. The instruments are quite small given their large displays and array of buttons. Pros are the big screen with many items displayed at once. You should never run out of battery power with 2 pairs of AA batteries and integral charger; cons are cost.
6020 / Competino+, 5020 / Competino
Superb all in 1s
- Bräuniger Compeo and Flytec 5030: These are the older chunkier offerings of the above. Pros again are the big screen and array of functions; cons are cost and an integrated battery needing a specific charger.
- Bräuniger Competino+ and Flytec 6020 (updated from the competino and the 5020): These are a little cheaper and a little less comprehensive than their heavyweight brothers. Packaged in the same case, they have the same large screen (but half the resolution) and buttons as Compeo+/6030. They are serious contenders for competitors who don't need all of the functions of the Compeo+/6030 (McCready and speed to fly, pitot tube, integral charger, 3 instead of 7 user fields per page). Two pairs of AA batteries with level indicators last a very long time.
- Bräuniger Competino and Flytec 5020: These are the older smaller offerings of the above. Super instuments for competitions especially now that the firmware is quite stable. These instruments also run on two pairs of AA batteries (20 hours per pair), so one pair acts as a backup.
- Digifly Leonardo and Leonardo Pro: I saw my first one of these last year and didn't have time to play with it. There is a blue-tooth enabled one too.
Number of trackpoints and trackpoint interval
The instrument must store your flight; it does this by storing your position at a certain tick rate. A 5 second tick rate is fine for competitions;
- MLR: MLRs come in various flavours of firmware, the most useful of which is the Vol Libre version (normally blue). This instrument was designed for gliding competitions; once the route is set the tracking and navigation is virtually faultless. Not so useful for cross country and now no longer manufactured, this instrument is becoming extinct. In its day it was a top instrument.
- Garmin 38, 40, 45XL, II: The very old Garmin units were slow and power hungry. I really wouldn't recommend them particularly as they have very few track points stored (see later) and only in 2d which is a problem in most competitions including the Ozone Chabre Open. There is a table here with some parameters of older Garmins.
- Garmin 12, 12XL: A very popular old and rugged unit. 1024 track points make it just useable but it only stores 2d track points which is a problem in most competitions including the Ozone Chabre Open. Route navigation has to be done manually or you are likely to miss waypoints.
Garmin MAP72, MAP76, MAP76S: The classic instrument. Monochrome screen, 10000 trackpoints. The MAP76 can take Less waypoints and less memory for maps but is still fine. The MAP76S has an extra barometric altimeter (more accurate than the gps altimeter, best used with auto calibration off) and an electronic compass which is best turned off to save batteries. Route navigation should be set to manual. Whilst navigating the route go to less than 400m of the turnpoint then turn towards the next waypoint. Manually advance the route by hitting the NAV key, then enter. Sounds complicated but it works very well. The MAP72 does not have this feature, the route has to be switched completely manually.
Garmin MAP76Cx/76CSx, MAP60/60Cx/60CSx, MAP96/96C: The generation after the 76S with improved menu navigation (discuss). These units can change to the next route waypoint once you are within a settable distance of the waypoint. Set this to 400m and you can use automatic routes. The colour screen is not as clear as the monochrome but is still very good. The 'x' in instrument name means the unit has an SD card slot for strorage of more map information and the 's' in the name means sensors like a compass and a barometric altimeter (more accurate than the gps altimeter, best used with auto calibration off). The 96 series has airspace capability which could be very useful.
- Garmin Etrex series, Gecko Series, Emap, Foretrex series: I'm not familiar with all of the variations, of which there are many. Generally they have 10000 track points but some have less. The Geckos are very small and difficult to navigate by. I don't know if you can enable automatic routes with these instruments so if you have one then read the manual.
- Garmin Oregon and Colorado: These are the latest from the Garmin stables. They look fairly neat and comprehensive and include usb and SD card. I do not know if you can download direct to a PC rather than saving to the SD card first; if you cannot then these instruments will not be allowed in competitions.
for 10000 track points (a normal number for modern machines) at 5 seconds per point you can store 13.89 hours of track, plenty.
for 1024 track points at 15 seconds per point you can store 4.25 hours, or at 20 seconds per tick 5.7 hours. If you are using older units with a limited number of track points you must set the time interval accordingly. You must also wait inside any turnpoint cylinder for enough time that you can guarantee that a point has been captured.
Note: Some gps only units have an option to set the interval to automatic. Do not use the automatic option for track interval. Points will be taken every time you change direction and the memory will fill very quickly whilst you thermal.
Wrap or Fill (Garmins only)
Often there is an option for the track to wrap when full (wrap) or stop recording when full (fill). Generally I recommend the wrap option. When the track memory is full it starts at the beginning of the memory, over-writing the oldest data. In this case, if you forget to clear your track log then the data will wrap and still be stored. The danger occurs with instruments with few track points: In this case make sure that the track interval is sufficient to not fill the instrument in one flight, otherwise the wrap will over-write the start of the flight destroying the proof of start time.
A saved track is no good for downloading for competition scoring because time data is removed. Do not save the track, just let the scorer download it. All of the tracks are available on the website after the competition.
Automatic or manual route (Garmins only)
All of the modern Garmins are fine using an automatic route. This means that they change to the next route waypoint once you are within a settable (400m) distance of the target waypoint. The only problem is when the same waypoint appears more than once in a route, in which case it can select the wrong next waypoint... this is bad. My advice: Know if it is likely to cause problems; know the route for the day and be suspicious if your gps tells you to go in the wrong direction. Be ready to manually go into the route and set the next route waypoint.
Garmin MAP76, MAP76S
The best of the bunch in my opinion.
Route navigation should be set to manual. Whilst navigating the route go to less than 400m of the turnpoint then turn towards the next waypoint. Manually advance the route by hitting the NAV key, then enter. Garmin MAP72, 12 These units are not user friendly for routes. You must not activate the route or you will miss waypoints at some point in time. Route waypoint switching must be done manually. You need to practice it so that you know how to do it in the air in a competition.
I am a great believer in rechargeable batteries. I use NiMH AA batteries in all of my gizzmology. Using a fast charger I charge everything the night before I fly, even if they are nearly full already. Recharging half charged NiMH cells is no problem. Only once have I had problems with this system... when the charger went on the blink!
GPS information on the web
There's loads of it. Remember to relate the information out there to paragliding though.. we work in 3 dimensions!
There's a good page here: www.gpsinformation.org/dale/
Any new informationI hope this guide is useful. If you wish me to add anything to it then please let me know. Thanks, Mark Graham (scorer for the Ozone Chabre Open until they sack me).