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Old Mar 05, 2012, 12:13 AM
Engineer for Christ
IBCrazy's Avatar
Amherst, VA
Joined Jun 2006
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Mini-HowTo
How to make a good ground station

I see a whole lot of tech on here, but not much on ground stations. Ground stations are generally more important than what is on the airplane. Here is a quick guide on how to make a good ground station:

#1. Consider your goals - This might seem simple, but not a whole lot of people put much thought into this step. If your goal is to fly within a mile, complex diversity and tracker schemes are pointless. However if you plane to do long range with no pre-flight planning, you might consider a tracker.

#2. Follow Occam's Razor (keep it simple) - The simpler the ground station, The less the setup time. Less complexity also makes it more fun to use.

#3. Try to keep it as compact as possible. You will be lugging this around. Keep it easy to transport.

#4. Make it stable. If the wind knocks over your station, you will be in trouble in a real hurry. People walking around tend to touch things as well. They'll knock it over just as fast as a wind gust.

#5. Consider your flight areas - If you fly with other pilots or in a multitude of areas, it might be a good idea to be capable of multiple bands so you can choose your frequency.

#6. Consider a ground recording device for any flight exceeding 1km. While you might have no use for a ground recording when flying, what about when you wreck or need to ditch the plane. The ground recording allows you to locate the plane and is more reliable than any RTH device. The little LCD screen is also a great emergency backup if your goggle battery goes dead on you.

#7. Consider powering everything from a single battery and monitor the voltage. Voltmeters are cheap and give you a good idea of how much battery power is remaining.

#8. Lock your cables. Use tape or velcro to keep your cables from pulling out of your goggles. If you pull your cable from your goggles, you are going to crash.

That said, I will show a few ground stations of various complexities for different goals.

-Alex
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 12:18 AM
Engineer for Christ
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Amherst, VA
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Near field station

For near field flying, nothing beats an all-in-one head mounted ground station.

FatShark and FOXTECH make All-In-One goggles. Quick ad easy. Good for flying inside 2km.

However, you can always make your own as well. Trimersion headsets are pretty good. You can also mount your RX to a hard hat with a flip down goggle or use a welding helmet with the screen cut out and the RX mounted to the helmet.

These stations do really well with circularly polarized antennas with gain less than 8dbic. The only restriction is the size of the antenna you are willing to mount on your head. 1.3GHz directional antennas are huge with CP. 5.8GHz is very small, though. With lower frequencies, you might consider CP omni antennas such as the BluBeams or TrueWired systems or a linear system with a 3 or 4 element Yagi. With higher frequencies (ie 5.8GHz) a 3 turn helical rules with a CP omni on the aircraft.

-Alex
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 12:27 AM
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Stand alone directional antenna

For moderate range with minimal planning, nothing beats a low gain directional antenna on a tripod. Simple. Nothing complex. You can even mount a recorder and/or a voltmeter to the back of the directional antenna.

If you fly multiple bands, you can incorporate them all into one complete ground station. In my case, this ground station covers 1.3 and 2.4GHz which uses a small 5.8GHz transmitter to "repeat" the signal back to a set of FatShark goggles. However, I can always hard wire into the VRX with wired goggles, too.

Dual band station features:

-Dual band (1.3GHz/2.4GHz). Changing frequencies requires moving 2 plugs to another RX.

-Voltmeter with an on/off switch.

-Built in recorder which is powered from the ground station battery.

-5.8GHz repeater. Transmits to a set of FatShark goggles. It is completely wireless.


Dual band station capabilities:


6 miles within a 75 degree beam in front / 4 miles in front within a 120 degree beam.

1 mile to the sides

2000 feet behind

2500 feet through buildings and hills or 1.5 miles through trees within a 90 degree beam.

3 minute set up time.
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 12:36 AM
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Simple Diversity station

This illustrates a really simple diversity station. An omni for close range and a moderate directional antenna for more distance. You can also use two directional antennas for broader coverage out in front of you. Generally these are restricted to single band, but cover the greatest flight area.

When considering diversity, figure where you intend to fly. If you only fly out in front of you most of the time, two directional antennas is going to be better. If you fly behind yourself, an omni antenna and a directional antenna work better.

The good thing about diversity is that it is so easy to setup. The problem is that the ground station becomes larger and more cumbersome and certain diversity systems do not play well with circular polarization.


Capabilities of omni/directional:

- 1 to 2 miles (2 to 3 km) in all directions

- 3 to 4 miles out in front (90 degree beam)


Capabilities of dual directional

- 3 to 4 miles anywhere out in front (180 degree beam)

- 1000 or so feet from the rear

Features:

- Minimal set up time

- Little or no planning required before flight

-Alex
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 12:42 AM
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Amherst, VA
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Tracking station

The tracking station is the coolest FPV gadget out there. Generally the rely on a GPS feedback to aim a directional antenna for you. These are fairly pricey and take time to set up, but they offer long range without any real prior planning. The downside of these is you need the OEM's OSD on board and will need a GPS lock. An AAT (auto antenna tracker) automatically sets itself where others need to be aimed manually.

However, the real treat with tracking is not long range. The real advantage is being able to fly behind objects with impunity. Use of a higher gain directional antenna and a tracker lets you drop behind objects with rock solid video. Mind you, you risk control loss of your airplane if you do this at too great a distance.

Capabilities:

- Up to 10 miles reliably in any direction with no planning


-Alex
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 01:21 AM
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What not to do

While there are many correct ways to build a decent ground station, there are many ways to do it wrong as well.

Tracking and diversity

This is a disaster waiting to happen and is a huge expense. If you think you need tracking and diversity, chances are you have not flown yet. Consider a single directional antenna on a tripod.

Dual omni antenna diversity

Occasionally I see a dual omni antenna diversity system. While this does work for WiFi, it doesn't work well for FPV. Diversity systems do not make a dual omni any more reliable. It actually makes it less reliable.

High gain antenna aimed straight up

This station is rare, thankfully, but every once in a while, one pops up. If you want to make an altitude attempt, the best thing to do is get out in front of yourself a bit and climb that way. Climbing straight up above you should be limited to 100 meters and at that height, you don't need a high gain antenna. An omni will do.

High gain antenna and a multicopter

This is getting very common. While this can be utilized to punch through solid objects allowing you to duck behind hills and buildings, it is often used for LOS operations. Helicopters are not long range vehicles and excet for cases where you intend to violate the Fresnel zone, anything more than 8 dbi is excessive.

-Alex
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Old Mar 05, 2012, 02:06 PM
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Nice one IBCrazy I certainly agree with #3. I swear groundstations are getting bigger and bigger these days and I also see most that have the entire grounstation in a case when most of the time all of it would fit inside a backpack quite easily.

#4 is definatly something rcexplorer would agree with. Ive seen some videos of his tricopter flying over niagra falls and his groundstation nearly fell down.
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Old Mar 12, 2012, 04:50 AM
Bazinga!
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South Africa, KZN, Durban
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Excellent info, thanks!
I couldn't help but notice that there seems to be a windsock on a pole stuck to your head!

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Old Mar 12, 2012, 05:19 AM
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WTB your ground station...!!! Those helicals look awesome...
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Old Mar 12, 2012, 05:52 AM
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I actually made a second one yesterday... my primary is the Skylark AAT which I LOVE...

I made another for grins..... it's a patch with a RX and a battery velcro'd to the back. Thats it.

It doesn't get any easier than that.
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Old Mar 12, 2012, 09:12 AM
Engineer for Christ
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Chip View Post
I made another for grins..... it's a patch with a RX and a battery velcro'd to the back. Thats it.

It doesn't get any easier than that.
My first ever ground station was just that! I set it on the trunk of my car. I could set the whole thing up before my OSD got GPS lock.

-Alex
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Old Mar 13, 2012, 07:30 PM
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Tracking and diversity

Hi dude,
Im newby.

I am wondering if I can not use both tracking and diversity?

thanks
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Old Mar 13, 2012, 07:47 PM
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Anybody try a tracking system with pan only? maybe with a 3,4 turn helical?
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Old Mar 15, 2012, 03:47 PM
Engineer for Christ
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Quote:
Originally Posted by k6821340 View Post
Hi dude,
Im newby.

I am wondering if I can not use both tracking and diversity?

thanks
Bad idea! Read the thread. Seriously. So many newbies "want it all" then end up gaining experience and shelving 70% of what they bought.

You are new. Your ground station should consist of 4 items:

1. Viewing screen
2. Video receiver
3. Single RX antenna with gain no more than 8 dbi
4. Battery

-Alex
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Old Mar 15, 2012, 03:47 PM
Engineer for Christ
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BCSaltchucker View Post
Anybody try a tracking system with pan only? maybe with a 3,4 turn helical?
I did one of those with a BiQuad once. I didn't fly it much as I hated the complexity of a tracker.

-Alex
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