Fancy pants flight computer on the cheap

 Inconvenient juxtaposition of photo of Simon with the rhetorical question "what if you are a massive cheapskate".  Snigger. Actually this shows the Kobo perched proudly on the Lap of Luxury.

Inconvenient juxtaposition of photo of Simon with the rhetorical question "what if you are a massive cheapskate".  Snigger. Actually this shows the Kobo perched proudly on the Lap of Luxury.

Simon Walker givers us the lowdown on his genius skinflint flight computer...

"Navigation Adventurist style has always been a non-precision art. However with the Icarus trophy, it’s pretty important to know where the next petrol station is and how to get there. And you are going to get in loads of trouble if you wonder into controlled airspace and mix it with a 747.

You’ve splashed out on a motor and a wing, and if you like, you could now spend a fortune (about $500) on a dedicated flight computer designed for the job.

But what if you are a cheapskate?

Well a bit of light googling turned up some excellent open source software called xcsoar. It’s free, runs on lots of devices – android phones and tablets and other Linux variants - and does all the clever stuff you’d ever need, including keeping you out of airspace. Job done.

Ok so we’ve got some software, but what to run it on?

 Don't run out of battery power and all the moments of eye watering joy it can bring about - fit a souped up one.  Like Simon says.

Don't run out of battery power and all the moments of eye watering joy it can bring about - fit a souped up one.  Like Simon says.

Well you could use your phone, but most phones can’t be read that easily in direct sunlight, and with the screen turned up to 11 and the GPS working hard the battery gets hammered. Not good as I want my phone to have some battery left when I land in a tree. And as previous Icarus Heroes found out the hard way, having a Facebook notification pop up covering vital info when you daren’t take your hands off the brakes can be a brown trouser moment.

You could have a dedicated tablet running it – but that still costs, doesn’t last long, can’t read it in the sun.

More googling and the (almost) ideal solution is to modify a kobo mini e-book reader. They are cheap (about $45 on ebay), and being e-ink they’re 100% sunlight readable. You can even use them wearing gloves and they are small, compact and sit really neatly on your coffee table (reserve or flight deck man-bag.)

 Soldering the GPS chip

Soldering the GPS chip

I said almost ideal, because there is a teensy problem – they don’t have a GPS! But if you are up for a bit of hacking, you can add one and end up with a cheap, kickass navigation computer.

Now being a bit of a nerd, I got a bit carried away.  As well as a GPS, I’ve added a Barometer/vario board. I also added a much bigger battery. The stock one seemed to last about five hours, this one is five times bigger. Should do the job.

So how do you do it? Well the main guide I used were here and here. They include links to the 3d printed files to cover your GPS or you can get a gps module on ebay, or if you really want to go Gucci, a combined GPS/baro/vario board from BlueFlyVario.

 The finished article: the Kobo flight computer, nestled coyly in the curves of Simon's Man Bag

The finished article: the Kobo flight computer, nestled coyly in the curves of Simon's Man Bag

Was it hard and what did it cost? Well as I said, I’m a bit of a geek and I’m comfortable hacking things - but anyone who can solder and follow an online guide to get the software set up will be fine. The worst that’s going happen is you’ll brick a £30 kobo. Cost wise, fully loaded, a kobo mini, GPS, extra battery and 3d printed bits cost me about $85. Better than $500.

What do I think?

I’ve used it on lots of cross country flights now– if I’m picky the maps are a little pants in black and white, but it tells where I am, where I’m going and how close I am to airspace. I love it!"

Simon is the Adventurists' non-executive director – Non-executive is probably a posh way of saying he doesn’t do anything particularly useful. He hangs around with Icarus types pretending he is flying the event.  (Actually that could be almost any of the team)