Friday, January 26, 2007

Thermal Hound I - Robot Glider Prototype

‘Super’ Dave McCutcheon’s first prototype glider - Thermal Hound I (THI) - is being designed as a self-thermaling robotic glider able to fly a specific search pattern while looking for thermal lift. Once it encounters columns of rising air, the glider will then look to stay within and begin to climb in the lifting air, transmitting data back to the pilot and ground crew.

I caught up with project leader and team pilot Super Dave over the phone to learn more about the thermal glider robotic prototype that he’s currently developing and testing.

“Well, it’s a Great Planes ‘Spirit’ with a 2 meter wing span and four channel transmitter and receiver. The choice for this specific model of glider for a prototype Thermal Hound was easy. “It’s basically an entry level glider – very stable for beginners to learn to fly and easy to put together... and repair. I needed a sort of a ‘crash test dummy’ since I knew I’d probably be crashing it a lot as I was developing the software and hardware for it.” Currently, Thermal Hound I has flown over thirty successful test flights. “It’s a cheap, stable platform for R&D,” he added.

Basically, it works like this. “There’s a control/telemetry module that goes in-line between the onboard receiver and the actual servos onboard.” McCutcheon explains. He calls his control module or ‘Robotic Pilot’ the Onboard Computer Controller; bringing together a GPS, accelerometer, Gumstick computer and the controller board – the interface between the Gumstick computer and the outside world, like the receiver and the servos and other critical sensors.

“I gotta a lot of work to do today if I’m going to get any test flights in,” McCutcheon announced. I wished him good luck. More to come so stay tuned…

Friday, January 12, 2007

Paragliding in Argentina

Argentina was host to the 1999 Paragliding World Cup or PWC. Some of the best flying in Argentina is in the central Sierra's above Córdoba, just outside a little town called La Cumbre. The Chuchi Coral launch brings fliers from around the world to enjoy the incredible natural beauty and awesome flying conditions with a brilliant LZ down by the river.

'Condor' Pablo Kuniss won the Argentinian leg back in the 1999 PWC tour. Now Pablo gives tandem or bi-place flights for visiting tourists and aviators alike. His nick name 'Condor' was given to him by fellow pilots when learning to fly back in the early 90's he followed a young condor up out of Cuchi Coral, watching when it turned and at what angle and soaring for which thermals. Together they flew all the way back in to La Cumbre for the longest flight at that time in the area.

Cold beers at the beautiful LZ below are always warranted. Here Condor highlights key points of the land on a map while Junior, the local parilla/cervezeria owner looks on.

High Above Cuchi Coral

1,500' (approx.) above and behind the Chuchi Coral launch you can see the old dirt road leading back into La Cumbre, Córdoba. As the small fluffy cumulous clouds indicate there is good lifting air in pockets or columns to be flown in. If you click the photo to enlarge it you can actually see the other glider pilots higher and further out, following the natural 'cloud stree'.

Aerial view of La Cumbre, Córdoba, Argentina

The beginnings of a thermal

Shining from the reflection of the sun in the hot desert-like valley of Calingasta in the North of Argentina, the whirlling spiral of hot air is known as a 'dust devil' or 'twister' or really the beginnings of a thermal that will take the air within its path as well as the skilled paraglider pilot, spiraling upward to cloud base.