Google Earth Flight Tracks-Part 1
Setting Up Companion and Google Earth
Your Host: Larry Dunn (MrE on RC Groups)
Have you ever wondered how far away from your launch position you are actually flying? Do you remember going to an airshow and watching the stunt planes trailing long smoke trails while they did wild maneuvers and thinking that was really cool? Would you like to SEE the track your model makes in the air? You can do all that with your model airplane, a FrSky GPS sensor, Google Earth and OpenTx Companion software.
Flight Track on Google Earth
The image below shows the path flown by my E-Supra on a recent flight. I was amazed to see just how far out from my launch point I was ranging. The Taranis with OpenTx software and Companion 2.x running on your computer make it easy to create these images.
Here is what you need:
1) The FrSky Smart Port GPS-V2 sensor
2) One of the X series telemetry receivers with a smart port.
The first thing you need to do is get the GPS sensor connected up to the RX. The X8R and X6R receivers are the easiest to get set up. The GPS sensor comes with a twisted cable with matching servo connector plugs on both ends. Just plug the cable into the GPS and the receiver’s Smart Port being careful to get the polarity correct. Be sure you plug the cable into the correct port on the RX. You want the Smart Port – NOT the S-Bus and NOT the RSSI port. On the X8 and X6 relievers, it’s the port on the end with the antenna leads.
X8R w/Smart Port
The X4R receiver’s require that you do a little soldering to make up a custom cable. They have a different type of plug on the receiver. The X4R receivers come with cables with the correct plug on one end, but you need to wire up a servo connector on the other end. You can find the wiring diagram on Aloft’s website. (http://www.alofthobbies.com/frsky-x4r.html)
It’s important to position the GPS sensor correctly in the model. The sensor has a label on one side that says “UP”. The antenna for the GPS is directly under that label. That label needs to point mostly toward the sky while you’re in flight. It’s also important to position the sensor so that there is nothing metallic, like motors, batteries, wire bundles, servos, etc., blocking its view of the sky. Carbon fiber can also block the GPS signal, so try to keep it away from any carbon directly above it in your model. Carbon or metal off to the sides or below the sensor is no problem.
You don’t necessarily have to be fanatical about that. My GPS sensor gets a lock even inside my house. It is mounted under a fiberglass hatch that has a carbon fiber mounting rod running down the center and it works just fine. However, the fewer obstructions in the way, the better it will work. Here is a picture of how it’s mounted in my Supra. This was the only place in the fuse that had enough space and didn’t have carbon fiber in the way. I normally have a small piece of tape holding it in position because there is nothing below it to Velcro it down, but I removed that for the picture. Each installation will be different, so you may need to try different locations within your model to get good satellite reception.
Installed GPS Sensor
Ok, so now the GPS is wired to your RX and mounted in your model. You don’t need to do any setup in the radio. The default settings work fine.
To test if everything is working correctly, turn on the TX and power up the model (disable the motor or remove the prop FIRST) and wait for the GPS to get a lock. When you first power it up, the LED will be blinking fast. Once it gets a position lock, it will begin to flash slowly.
To check for position lock, from the home screen on the tx, do a long press on the PAGE button to bring up the Telemetry display screens. Then do short presses of the PAGE button until you see “Latitude” and “Longitude” displayed with three dashes after them “—“.
If everything is connected and working correctly, the numerical Latitude and Longitude will replace those dashes once the sensor gets a lock.
It can take several minutes to get the first lock, especially if you are indoors. If you have waited several minutes with no lock, try again outdoors. If that still doesn’t work, recheck your connections.
Taranis Logging Screen w/GPS Lock
Once you’re sure the sensor is working correctly, you need to enable Logging in the TX. The following applies to Companion 2.0.XX and the matching firmware on the TX. The steps are similar on earlier versions.
You need to turn on Logging using a Special Function. There are lots of different ways to do this, but I like to keep it simple so I’m using switch SF↓ to start the logs. I turn it on just before I launch and turn it off after landing. In the picture below, I am using Special Function SF3 to start/stop the logs.
In the parameters column, you select the time interval for logging. I have selected .3 seconds which logs a value every .3 seconds. The shorter the time interval, the more data points will be logged and the larger the data file will be. Longer intervals will result in smaller data files but with less resolution. It’s important to remember to turn OFF the logging when you land. If you don’t, you can end up with very large log files that can take a long time to load into Companion.
You need to have Google Earth installed on your computer. Go to the following link and install the version that matches your machine.
Make a note of where Google Earth gets installed. You might need that information in the next step.
SETTING UP COMPANION
Start Companion and go to SETTINGS. Click on the ‘Application Settings’ tab. The first thing you see at the top is ‘Google Earth Executable’ and then a blank box and then a button labeled ‘Find Executable’. Click on the ‘Find Executable’ button. It should find the Google earth program and put the path in the box. If for some reason that doesn’t work, you will need to find the Googleearth.exe file and copy the path into that box.
Finding Google Earth in Companion
OK, it’s on to Part 2: Working With Log Files.