Dashboard attached to transmitter. (Eagle Tree picture)
|Variometer:||In lift or sink?|
|Dashboard:||Gives real time readings.|
|Recorder:||Review the data on your computer.|
|Altitude:||Measured to the foot now.|
|Airspeed:||What's your airspeed?|
|Battery:||This real time reading saved my glider!|
|Available From:||Eagle Tree|
Back in 2004 I had the pleasure of reviewing the Eagle Tree Flight Data Recorder and my review came out as an article in December of 04 entitled: "Eagle Tree Systems Flight Data Recorder Review." In that review I came up with a series of tests to try and determine if the flight data recorder gave good solid information or just a bunch of numbers. My tests, despite my design short comings and lack of budget for test equipment, proved to me that the flight data recorder provided good solid information on a number of functions including: servo data, altitude data, temperature data, motor rpm, voltage and airspeed.
At that time the only way to get the data was after the plane had landed. You connected the flight data recorder to the computer and downloaded the information. Since then Eagle Tree has come up with new devices and expanded the uses of their flight data recorder and what it can do. The biggest addition to their line-up is the Seagull Wireless Dashboard Telemetry System. Since I am first and foremost a glider pilot, I reviewed the Seagull Glider Wireless Dashboard Telemetry System.
In this review I will discuss what data can be transmitted during flight from your plane or glider...all data that the flight data recorder receives... and received by the Dashboard unit...all that you program your Dashboard to receive. I will also try and qualify how accurate I found the information to be in my test flights. Although I will briefly mention what additional data can be obtained from the flight data recorder using your computer, I direct you back to my previous article for more detailed information on the flight data recorder itself.
Before going on with this review I would like to apologize to Eagle Tree and the RC Group members interested in this product for my delay in completing this review that was started in August 2005. Let's just say that life got in the way and I am sorry for the delay.
The Seagull Glide System starts with a new and improved Flight Data Recorder (FDR) -- I now have the Pro model. Although it initially appears the same on the outside as one I tested previously, a closer inspection showed changes.
Some of the differences in the Pro FDR:
The transmitter plugs into the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and sends all of the information from the FDR to the new DashBoard receiver that supplies the data to you.
A number of optional expanders are sold including those discussed in my first review and some new ones -- the most interesting of which is the GPS Expander Module that can supply live or recorded latitude/longitude, ground speed, GPS altitude, distance to pilot, course and more. This accessory is now available and will be reviewed for RC Groups in the future, but was not available when I did the field work for this review. It is an intriguing addition to the system and shows the continuing improvement and expansion by Eagle Tree.
For the major components of the Seagull system there was no assembly required. Merely simple installation. In the instruction manual this was covered in the first few pages of instruction under Basic Installation.
In the basic install the airspeed Pitot tube and hose was the most complicated item to install. In fact with proper planning this would be a component to build into the nose or wing of your glider. The top priority for a proper installation was to have the tube facing forward in the direction of the leading edge of the wing with the entrance in front of the wing. The Pitot tube was connected to the FDR via the Pitot hose (a plastic tube). This was well explained in the instructions and can be seen in my pictures below on my Multiplex Brummi wing.
The altitude measurement was the second item mentioned in the instructions and it's built into the FDR. It was important that this was placed in the glider where the internal pressure was not much affected by prop wash or openings that allow air movement, as that movement will affect the readings. A closed interior of a non powered glider proved to be a perfect location for this to work properly.
Item three was the plug-in battery harness to power the FDR. You simply plug the supplied Y harness into a used or unused servo slot in the receiver and plug one end of the Y into the FDR and the other end can be connected to a servo if necessary. Minimum voltage needed was 4.5 volts thru the receiver and that was not a problem. Thus the FDR and Seagull transmitter don't require a separate battery. They draw their power through the receiver. It was a low draw and the lack of a separate battery saves a lot of weight.
The fourth and final set-up item in the glider was the Eagle Tree Seagull transmitter. Per the instructions they wanted this as far away from the glider's receiver as possible and they recommended setting up the antenna vertically if possible. In my Brummi I normally taped the transmitter to the bottom of my wing in the area inside the fuselage for most flights with the antenna going forward from between the wing and the fuselage. While not exactly per instructions it proved to work well. In my glider set-up the antenna was horizontal just under the wing and that worked equally well.
That completes the set-up under the basic plan. Nothing outside of the parts supplied was needed except for some tape to secure the Pitot tube and hose as well as the transmitter. For the Dashboard receiver a 9-volt battery was needed and installed. Per the instructions this battery, if Alikaline, should last for about 12-14 hours of use.
The instruction manual gave about three full pages of discussion for setting up the Dashboard and how to get it to display the information I wanted and to hear the beeps for tracking operation and alarms if desired. There was really nothing that I needed to do for basic operation and the instructions walked me through how to get to the various screens and how to reset certain functions and what the different sounds mean. I found a yellow marker handy for this portion of the instructions.
Once you know the program you may want to mount your Dashboard to your radio transmitter. To do this use the supplied mounting clip to attach the unit to the transmitter's antenna and some velcro (you supply) on the top of the transmitter and bottom of the Dashboard to complete that process. I did not mount mine but kept it separate so I and others could watch it away from the transmitter if desired.
In actual operation I turned on my radio transmitter that controls my plane/glider first just as I always should. For me that was my Jr 9303. Next I powered up the plane's receiver and that supplied power to the Seagull's FDR and transmitter. Lastly, I powered up the Dashboard receiver by pressing the right most of it's four buttons. The Seagull receiver looked for a signal just as my plane's receiver does, and so, just as with my plane's radio, I needed to turn on the transmitter first. That was why the airborne unit was turned on first -- it was the transmitter.
Power up sequence:
As for the four buttons, the left most button advances you to other screens of which there can be five. The second button from the left takes you back down through the screens. The third button from the left takes you out of live mode and shows the maximum reading you have since you last cleared your FDR's buffer/memory. The right most button mutes and unmutes the sound and turns on the power. It turns itself off a few minutes after it stops receiving a signal.
It didn't matter if I started flying on the beach by the ocean or a park in the high Sierras. When I powered up my FDR Pro it read zero altitude (give or take a couple feet but usually zero). My altitude information related to my starting point and not sea level. So my readout of 1,000 feet above the park in the mountains may be over 6,500 feet above sea level -- the FDR and Dashboard read 1,000 as it was 1,000 feet higher than where I started, at the park. My FDR Pro is supposed to be accurate to about 1 foot. I did no scientific testing but it gave me a reading of 18 feet (plus or minus a foot) when I flew around the top of the 18 foot flag pole and it did this consistently. It gave a reading of 91 feet for the platform level for the lights for the baseball field consistently (again plus or minus a foot or two). I found the readings in general matched what I thought they should.
The FDR Pro model will give negative altitude readings so you can now find out "how low did you go" when you zoomed down the slope.
If you have the Pitot tube set up properly just holding your plane into the wind will give you the airspeed at the slope. No need for a separate handheld gauge for an air speed reading.
What is the most important information for a thermal glider pilot to get? My answer was: Was I in sink or lift? The Seagull's variometer function supplied me with that information audibly so I didn't even have to take my eyes off of the plane. Let me quote a short paragraph from page 5 of the instructions as it explains it very well:
"The variometer produces a varying tone, which changes as you ascent or descent at different rates. When ascending, the tone will be broken, with the tone frequency increasing as the rate of ascent increases. When descending, the tone will be continuous, with the tone frequency decreasing as your rate of descent increases."
Broken tone going up, glider was going up, solid tone going down meant glider was going down. This tone was audible from the dashboard or could be heard thru headphones or earbuds. [For contest days I recommend the use of some earbuds (not included). No sense telling other contestants through your Dashboard tones that you found the lift!] I found the Seagull's variometer to work very well in telling me if I was or wasn't in lift and this was more important the farther I roamed from the field in search of lift and getting back became more critical and difficult. On one flight in the Phoenix area it told me I was in lift and I milked that to get the necessary altitude to get back to where I was standing. It also helped get me up to 1600+ feet above where I launched. As with any such instrument, practice helps improve the understanding of the information I was receiving. Set-up properly in my plane/gliders, the system didn't give false readings from use of the elevator. During flight you can change the parameters for the Vario sink rate, climb rate, pitch rate and more. I found it best to stick with one and fly for the plane's designed speed envelope and the sound confirmed if it was in sink or lift. Adjusting while flying was a bit challenging for me. I admittedly didn't practice it much because I was busy flying. However, adjusting while someone else was flying my plane was no problem.
(I previously had a variometer with my Cross Country Sagitta years ago and it felt like it weighed a ton, with its batteries and all. It was old technology but it worked in the same sound pitch formula as the Seagull. To now have this ability in such a small lightweight package was a great improvement.)
On screen one I liked to glance at the airspeed and altitude readings but my eyes were mostly on my plane or glider in the air. However the receiver voltage reading became my favorite feature. On a day of great thermals last summer my Bird of Time was skied out when I noticed the receiver voltage began dropping very quickly. It started at 5.15 and over an hour had gone down to 4.85 but than in a few minutes it had dropped five more points and was falling. I brought down my Bird of Time and landed, taking about ten minutes in the process. By then the reading was 4.55. I left all electronics on and a minute later the Dashboard stopped receiving a signal. Ten minutes later the BOT's receiver had insufficient juice to operate. Based on past performance I would have thought the receiver battery had about another half hour to hour of flight time. However, the battery was getting old and no longer held a charge as well as it used to. I Saved my BOT glider thanks to having that data transmitted down to me on the ground.
(I now set an alarm for the receiver battery.)
While the variometer was perhaps the most helpful feature for a thermal glider pilot that was only the beginning. The Dashboard Glide comes with two standard screens. The default displays on page 1 are: airspeed, altitude, variometer climbrate and receiver voltage. Page two defaults are signal strength, received packet percentage and raw climbrate. Other than checking it out for this review I didn't have much use for the info on the default second page settings.
"What speed is terminal volicity for a Brummi in a dive?" asked my friend. Seems he thought we should do something dramatic for the review and videotaping the Brummi in a terminal dive while getting a speed reading would be just the thing, according to my friend. I told him that saving my kit built Bird of Time from being destroyed due to battery failure had plenty of drama for this story and I had no plans to determine the terminal velocity for my Brummi or any other plane. Thus with thoughts of what might have been... the testing phase of the basic operation of the Seagull Dashboard came to an end.
In recap: The Seagull comes ready to run and transmit the seven basic operations mentioned above via the screen and the variometer by tone. You don't need to do anything but install the airborne unit into your plane and the Seagull transmitter onto your radio transmitter.
For the person buying the basic Seagull Glide Dashboard Telemetry System the basic set-up was all that can be done without the purchase of accessories. The Pro model supplies some additional sensors. From my previous review I already had the connectors to monitor my servos, one temperature sensor and the magnetic operated RPM sensor. The instructions take you through how to install each sensor and how to set up the flight data recorder for which items it records and how frequently it takes those readings. While it can record every sensor and it can transmit all information it has, the pilot can set it up to record only what he wants and at the rate he wants it recorded to allow for recording data for very long flights. There is a limit to the space for recording so the number of items monitored and the frequency of the readings affects the length that these items can be recorded in a given flight. You select the items using your computer and the supplied Eagle Tree software. That handles gathering the additional information and you can see it post flight by connecting to your computer.
By connecting your Dashboard receiver to your computer with the included USB cable you can add and delete items shown on the Dashboard. You can add pages/screens of information if you want, up to five total screens with four items per screen. Concerned about a servo? Monitor it! Suspect the motor is getting too hot? Monitor it! Any item the FDR can monitor and you could see post flight can be viewed live on your work bench or monitored in flight using the Seagull Dashboard and click and pick choices from the software.
For this review I normally monitored the elevator servo, and sometimes the temperature and RPM of the motor in my Brummi. I simply used one Y connector from Eagle Tree to monitor the servo and one temperature wire to monitor the motor. The magnetic RPM set-up was still installed from my first review. The sensors and equipment were working fine but the point was the monitoring was simple to do. but rather than discuss it in detail I did a short video to show how to program for advanced operation.
As touched upon above, my primary test plane was once again my Multiplex Brummi. This was simply a matter of convenience for me as being a slow flying electric I could run test flights at the local park where I live. Additionally, I had previously mounted the Pitot tube to its wing and it was easy to do that again. Besides, it thermals better than some of my gliders.
My second test platform was my kit built Bird of Time glider with 118 inch wing span. This plane was built for me by master builder Arlie Stoner several years ago. It is a classic glider and had lots of room for the gear.
Neither the Brummi nor the Bird of Time seemed to be affected by the addition of the approximate two ounces of weight the Seagull gear added to them. I did notice a difference between these two test platforms when it came to altitude readings. The Bird of Time with its basically sealed fuselage gave a steadier consistent altitude reading when flying level such as in a speed run over a football field. The Brummi that has some air (but not much) flow into the fuselage has the altitude reading bounce up and down by a couple feet in the same course. I attributed this difference to the slight airflow into the fuselage causing a greater fluctuation in the internal air pressure in the fuselage as the planes appear to my eye to be maintaining level flight.
seagull_006.jpg:Ed Holt launching the Brummi for video demo flight.
First and foremost if I still had my X/C Sagitta cross country plane I would always want the Seagull with it. The weight would not be noticed at all and the variometer function is tremendously helpful when flying cross country as the plane gets so far above and away from you it becomes hard to quickly tell if it is in sink or lift without the variometer. Additionally, if you are successful and have a long flight it is nice to track the voltage in the receiver battery to make sure it is still good.
Two meter, Standard and Open class thermal gliders are all good for the Seagull. Some of you may balk at adding two ounces to a 30-34 ounce two meter glider but I would certainly recommend you try it and see how the glider performs and if the variometer helps you fly it better than before. Space considerations may prevent using it in some two meter size gliders. The larger standard class (100" wingspan) and open class have the room for the system and the weight becomes even less of a factor. With slope planes the weight would not be a factor in most of my fleet and it would be fun to get the altitude (How low did I go?) and the speed. I will definitely use it if I try for an 8 hour slope to track the battery and have something to help entertain myself if I ever go for LSF (League of Silent Flight) Level V.
I will not use it with my handtoss planes as there the weight and size prevents it. Nor would I use it in any slope combat planes as I wouldn't have time to check the readings and it is too nice (and expensive) a piece of equipment to use in a combat plane anyway. (I would use it post flight if I thought a servo might have been damaged for bench testing.) I won't be using it in my fleet of small parkflyer warbirds from WWI & WWII.
The real advantage is with my larger thermal gliders as I try to fly them higher and sometimes further away from myself to max out my flights. There the variometer is most helpful and the speed can be a protective reading as I sometimes start to come down too fast without knowing it and might be overstressing my glider. Those flights are also the highest so that makes altitude readings more interesting.
The only real drawback to using it in about half of my fleet is the need to install the Pitot tube and hose so that it is out of the way and not creating drag. Ideally you would build the Pitot tube into the wing or fuselage so that the hose is inside the wing or fuselage and not creating drag. I will be retrofitting several of my gliders with a permanent Pitot tube and hose in the fuselage so that I can just plug and go in switching the unit from plane to plane.
Don't forget that the flight Data recorder can be used to bench test or flight test your servos, the heat of the battery or the motor and this can supply useful information for getting the best performance out of a plane or glider. With the Dashboard you can get that information live without hooking the FDR up to your computer.
Here are some pictures of my computer screen reviewing data from this test and trying to make sure I had the current software upgrade from Eagle Tree systems Internet site.
Click on pictures to enlarge and read gauges and numeric readout.
I had my Bird of Time up at 1,600 feet and about 700 feet down range so that means it was about 2,000 feet away from me and still working fine. I did have a couple of moments at two fields where I lost signal for a couple of seconds and then the read out resumed. Range and consistency of operation were very good.
Everyone in your club or flying field can have one operating at the same time as it uses an ID number that can be programmed into the FDR and the Dashboard and these involve at least four digit numbers so there would be no conflict problems.
The unit can do so much that it could be easy to sometimes forget to set it up properly or to clear the memory for the next flight. I found it best to have the instructions with me at home or the field just to help make sure I use it right. (That is where my use of a highlight marker on the instructions helped me.) Additionally, I needed the instructions when using my computer to set up the components for advance mode (the use of accessories). Be sure to set the FDR for a rate of data that is compatible with your Dashboard (most of them are).
Let me make it clear that the unit was not hard to use. But you need to remember to set it up properly for the information you want that day.
NO! A true beginner should not try and use the Seagull wireless unit as flying requires his/her complete attention. After the beginner has become completely comfortable with flying and landing their plane they will start to have time to focus part time on the dashboard and learn what their glider/plane is doing per that information. If they want to start tracking their flights they can buy the unit and hook up just the Flight Data recorder and download the information into their computer post flight. Save the wireless transmissions until after they are past Beginner and into intermediate skill level. I think the Dashboard can help them advance quickly as a thermal pilot because of the variometer helping them read and use thermals but they should become a pilot without thinking about wireless transmissions.
Yes! First of all the variometer is very helpful in training you to find and maximize climb in thermals you encounter. Some light thermals I heard from the variometer without noticing any change from my BOT. Plus many of the other readings are useful and fun. Even the initially boring Rx battery read out became exciting to me.
This accessory was not available when I did my field testing of the Seagull but it is available now. From the pictures below you can see it provides some very interesting information. It can provide live or recorded latitude/longitude, ground speed, GPS altitude, distant to pilot, course, UTC timestamp and can supply 3d graphing of your flight, post flight. Per the picture you can see it is small. I will be reading more about it and hope to get my hands on one to use in my planes. But right now I only know what I have seen on their website. But you can get the data transmitted to you live and that is helpful as well as cool. Just imagine having your plane show you where it went down with the GPS feature when flying at the slope or flying cross country and it lands over the ridge out of site. With a second GPS unit you can walk right to it without a search.
If you have an existing older system please check out the price to upgrade your existing components to use with the GPS accessory. I believe I have to upgrade my transmitter unit for $10.00 but my Dashboard and FDR Pro I think are good to go. Still I will e-mail Bill at Eagle Tree to confirm before I order.
Support is right at your Internet. Just go to: www.eagletreesystems.com and for no charge you can get the latest manual or download the newest version of the software. Have a question then send it to Bill and get a response to solve your concern. I just downloaded the manual for the GPS expander to let me know what it will do and confirm that I really want to add this module. In fact if you have questions after reading this review I suggest you go to the website and read the manual for the FDR, the Dashboard or both.
I am impressed with how well the Seagull unit works. The Seagull is a fine piece of precision machinery and with the FDR Pro gives the pilot useful as well as fun information in a real time format. My previous review of the basic FDR showed me they made quality products. Their continued expansion and improvement of their product line is impressive.
The fact that voltage information on my receiver battery, supplied by the system in real time, saved my Bird of Time showed me how valuable this unit really was. I was focused on speed and altitude and only happened to glance at the receiver read out (It was mostly the same until...) because it was there. Thankfully, it was there. I had no intent to fly until I was out of juice. Of course part of the reason that I ran low on juice was that the variometer kept helping me find thermals. I found the variometer to be very helpful and to make me a better thermal pilot. I did at times get tired of the sound and I would hit the mute button. Admittedly, this was usually when I had a lot of altitude and I would unmute it when I started getting low.
The Seagull is not a toy. It is a valuable scientific instrument that supplies necessary information such as lift or sink or a dieing receiver battery. It supplies fun information such as airspeed and altitude. It can monitor how your systems are running including RPM, two temperature readings and how four of your servos are operating at the same time. For the serious pilot with any type of scientific bent this is a must have item. It can help you set up your planes to fly better and in flight help make you a better pilot. The real time data is a big advantage over seeing what happened in a post flight review. While both are helpful nothing can beat the real time data. The Seagull unit isn't cheap, but than quality never is.
Author's note: Some of the still pictures were downloaded from the Eagle Tree website. This was done because I don't have some of the accessories mentioned and simply because I liked some of their pictures better than the ones I took.
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