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An autopilot does it better!

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I'm sure most of you have seen those thrilling "above the clouds" FPV videos on youtube. Very exciting... how about safety? What if the video link stops working? What if your RC-link stops working? What if you can't find your way back? Gluonpilot to the rescue :-)


First we need a plane which can climb fast enough & has enough endurance. An autopilot can control the plane much more efficiently than a human does, which means an "average" performance plane should do. I used my trusty 1 meter wing with a 1600mAh battery.

We also need a script to fly our route. Make sure to use the SetBatteryAlarm command to let the plane return home automatically in case the battery is empty. You just can never fully depend on a wireless link!


Safety first! Despite this being a controversial topic, I prefer to show how to do it as safe as possible instead of simply ignoring it.

Airliners fly at about 10.000 meters, which is a lot higher than we will fly. Still, don't take any risks:

  • Check if you're not in an approach route of an airfield. On these approach routes, the planes descent and start their route towards the airfield.
  • Useful are ADS-B receivers. These receivers allow you to receive basic telemetry data of every "large" plane. Are there any planes approaching your flying field? What altitude are they at? Critical information! As an alternative you can use a virtual radar such as RadarVirtual.
  • Use a low impact plane. Don't do this with a 2kg plane with a large engine. Use a small foam plane with a rear-mounted engine. This will minimize the impact energy. My foam wing is about 450grams, which is less than a pigeon! Airplanes are designed to survive such an impact.
  • Temperature drops about 7°C per 1000 meters. We don't want to fly through icy clouds, we don't want ice on our wings. Calculate your maximum altitude depending on the ground temperature. Zero degrees or lower are a no-go.
  • Winds are stronger at a high altitude. Find a website where you can find information on this. Personally I use this one. Don't fly when winds exceed one third of your flying speed (which is the horizontal (GPS) speed when climbing in this situation).
  • Don't fly in densely populated areas.
  • Monitor your flight from beginning to end. Keep your finger on the standby button to abort your mission. Use a spotter to visually keep track of the plane. You should be able to see it until about 1km altitude.
  • Use a bright color. A small plane is a lot easier to spot from above than from the ground.
  • Keep flying along a predetermined path. A small, fixed circle will limit to area you fly over. Also, on visual contact it will be a lot easier to predict the path the plane will follow.

The result

(set quality to HD)

I must admit, flying above the clouds is magic!

Here is the full movie

And another high altitude one without clouds

Tom (talk) • 15:36, 7 August 2012 • one comment

Automating your flight!

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