Learn to Fly with Condor!

Learn to Fly with Condor!

Not too long ago I discovered the world of flying with Condor. As a technologist, I immediately wondered whether Condor would be a good training tool for RL flight instruction. I’ve read quite a few beginner books on soaring but some of the written theory did not really connect until demonstrated by an instructor.  The difference between crabbing and side-slipping, recovery from a spin, take-off weather cocking recovery on crosswind, and various other flight maneuvers are in my opinion much better explained with flight experience than on paper. A brief demonstration video in Condor would have given me the “aha” experience I got when first demonstrated by an instructor. Boxing the wake is another one of those experiences you could practice a few times in a simulator before attempting in real-life. The list goes on.

With that said, I wonder whether current glider flight instruction is outdated. Big time airline and fighter pilots all spend hundreds of hours in a simulator, practicing various maneuvers. As student glider pilots we get to spend 20 to 30 flights with an instructor and never actually experience a rope break at less than 200 ft. In Condor world, one can try to push hard on the rudder to “turn faster” in an attempt to land on the strip, but the incipient spin and disastrous consequences will also be felt. This may all be a “video game” but that’s not how I experience Condor.

With sufficient time spent on Condor, one gets immersed in this virtual experience so that crashes end up feeling very real and uncomfortable. It’s an emotion I take with me on real-life flights and reminds me to think about my contingency plan when floating behind the tug – a couple hundred feet above the ground with no way to “turn faster”.

UPDATE 5/20/2013 wrote a great article about how his Condor simulated experience prepared him to get out of a tough ridge soaring position.

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XCSoar for Android

XCSoar for Android

Recent Android mobile phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note 2, and Google’s Nexus 4 have built-in barometric pressure sensors, GPS, and compass capabilities. In other words, you have all the ingredients for a flight computer within the palm of your hand! Combined with XCSoar for Android, you can now turn your smartphone into a first-class glide computer.

For those readers who do not own one of these devices: Do not despair! There’s a good chance that your Android phone or tablet can still be used as a flight computer for Condor soaring simulation.

In this article I’ll show you how to prepare your device for glider flight. In a follow-up post I’ll show you how to get things set up in Condor so that you have everything to get started with cross-country flight simulation using the XCSoar flight computer.

As a Seattle resident, I am biased to use the Washington state area as the setup we’ll configure in this tutorial. You can obviously adjust the map and waypoints files to your preferred soaring location. Note that not all maps are available. Luckily you always have the option of building your own map. However, this is an advanced topic that I’ll keep for a future post.

Let’s get started!

Install XCSoar from Google Play

XCSoar is available through the Google Play App Store. You can find the app by searching for XCSoar on your phone’s Google Play app or by using the Web interface located here. When you search for XCSoar, you’ll find a few different editions of XCSoar. You want to install the standard edition with the blue icon.

XCSoar Logo

Launch XCSoar and bring up the main menu by double-tapping the screen or pressing the menu button on your phone; then navigate to: Config > Setup System (2/3) > Site Files > Site Files. At the top of the window, you’ll find the location of the site files directory at “/mnt/sdcard/XCSoarData” (Galaxy S3) or “/Internal storage/XCSoarData” (Nexus 4). This is the location on your device where you’ll copy the files we’ll download next. You can exit the menu by selecting “Close” until you’re back on the main screen. Note how the main screen is blank at this point. This is because we haven’t yet installed the maps. You’ll do this in the next step. But first; exit XCSoar by selecting “Quit” from the main menu. Again, you should double-tap the screen or press the menu button on your device to access the main menu.

Download Site Files

Download site files from the XCSoar’s Download – Data Page. There are three types of files we’ll be installing on our device: maps, waypoints, and airspace.

    1. Map database:
      • Under “Terrain/Topology”, select “Download Maps”
      • Select the “High Resolution Map” under “US_WA_STATE.” This will download a file named “US_WA_STATE_HighRes.xcm.”
    2. Waypoints:
      • Under “Waypoints”, select “Download Waypoints”
      • Right-click the “download” link under “United States” and save the target to the Downloads folder on your computer (or any other location, as long as you remember where you placed the file). This will download a file named “United States.cup”
    3. Airspaces:
      • Select “US Airspace” under “Airspaces.” This takes you to an external web site where you can find Airspace data under the second tab.
      • Download the “Tim Newport-Peace” file. This will download a file named “xallusa.v13.01-10.2.sua.”

At this point you’re ready to connect your Android device to your PC, using a USB cable, so you can copy the files you downloaded to the site files directory.

Make sure your device is connected as an external storage device. You should be able to navigate the device’s file system from Windows Explorer. Consult your owner’s manual if you have trouble accessing the file system or leave a comment here to ask for help. Copy the three files you downloaded to the Site Files location under “/mnt/sdcard/XCSoarData” On my computer, the result looks as follows:

Site Files Location

Now that we have all the necessary files available on our Android device, you can unplug the USB cable and configure the system to load these files. We’ll also configure the polar for our glider type to make sure the performance of our ship is taken into account.

Configure XCSoar

Navigate back to the Site Files configuration window (see first step in this guide for a refresher). From this window we will select the appropriate file by tapping on the blank fields, selecting the file listed in the window, and hitting the “select” button. When completed for all three fields, your screen should like the one shown below:
Site Files Dialogue

You can now close the Site Files window. Back in the “Configuration Menu” you need to select Setup > Polar and then press the “List” button to bring up a list of pre-loaded glide polars for various models. To keep things simple, I’ve selected “ASK-13 (PAS).” Feel free to select your preferred ship but note that not all models are available in Condor.

Go ahead and close all dialogues. Your main screen should show a colorful map (assuming you downloaded your local area). Your system is now ready for its first flight!

XCSoar Main Screen

In the next post I will show you how to connect XCSoar to Condor and we’ll make a first cross-country flight using our brand new flightphone.