Originally known as loggers, flight recorders connect to a GPS and record its output. This includes time, height, latitude, longitude, and other information. Specialist software can be used to display the glider's flight path, and analyse its performance for badges and competition purposes. The name was changed to flight recorder because logger doesn't translate particularly well in some languages.
Types of Flight Recorder
There are IGC approved and non approved FRs. We are only concerned here with IGC approved units, the type currently in production, as who wants to buy a new FR that will not get them a badge. Fully IGC approved units can be used for all badge, competition, and record claims. Some non approved units can be used in competitions if the organisers accept them (I use one of these models), and second hand non approved units come at bargain prices for those who aren't interested in comps or badges.
Basic FRs have no build in gps engine, and need connecting to an external gps. The EW Model B and Model D are popular examples. There is usually a set of approved gps recievers that can be used with these devices, but if you have an approved model gps, then you will find these are cheaper than the other types. Often there are restrictions on how they can be used, even with an approved model gps e.g. not for World Records, although most competitions accept these without any problems at all.
Combined FR and gps units come in a couple of flavours as well. The original ones from Cambridge were all singing all dancing FRs with state of the art gps navigation features, and very expensive. They had the major disadvantage that to upgrade them in any way you had to sell the entire unit. If they develop a problem, you send off your FR and navigation gps as one unit, loosing both facilites even if only one has a problem.
To get round this, I suggested on r.a.s. about 1995 that the combined units should have the most basic gps engine that they required, and no way of connecting the unit to anything else other than a battery and an arial for input, and a one way output socket. There was no need for a navigation display, although one could be connected to the output socket. Many of the current odels folow this specification. This has the major advantage that you then never need to upgrade it to improve whatever navigation unit you are using, whether a seperate gps or a navigation display. You can be a fashion follower for the navigation unit you use independently of the IGC approved FR. I also suggested that any manufacturer who followed my advice should send me a free FR as a thank you. Strangely, none have. I'm still waiting, guys!
The majority of the latest models follow this design. They are small and portable, and some have a very basic navigation screen which can be used as a backup if your main nav gps dies. These are very popular and include the Colibri, Volkslogger, and FX 20.
The fourth catagory of FR is the panel mounted combined vario/FR/gps unit. The big selling point on these is the space saved on the panel, and that the vario output can be used by the gps nav computer for final glides (the same is true of some separate units as well). The big disadvantage is that you get the vario, gps and FR features of one unit, and thus have to upgrade everything to improve things (although some software upgrades can simplify minor upgrades). The unit usually has to be downloaded via a laptop at the glider. And if one part malfunctions, you have to return all of it for repairs!
Although some of these combined units are excellent devices, I personally feel that separate units is a safer route to take. Get the best of each that you can find, rather than accepting something you might think is a compromise in parts.
The EW Flight Recorder changed the face of gliding, almost as quickly as the original EW barograph did several years earlier. There are several variations available, and the one shown below is the comonest, Model B. This has now been superceded by the smaller Model D, (also known as the Mars Bar model by pilots).
EW Flight Recorder Model B
Sample rate 1 sec- 999 sec.. Storage varies depending on the sampling rate, but typically up to 11 hours at 12 seconds with a GPS connected (even longer if just used as a barograph).
Altitude range - 350m to 12.32 Km. (special 15 Km version available) NMEA 0183 1.5 and 2. GPS output supported. Works with most GPS receivers with NMEA 0183. Height resolution 10m.
For gliding badge flight verification, the following models have IGC approval: - Garmin GPS12, 12 XL, 12CX , 48, 80-Mil, 89, 90 and 95, 55 software versions 1.12 or later, GPS II, II plus, III, III pilot, III Plus , 92, GPSCOM 190, GPSMAP 195 and 295 . But check which version of the EW software it uses at start up.
In UK comps, it is accepted as flight verification evidence when linked to almost any model of GPS.
The latest flight recorders come with a built in GPS engine and are certified for all badge, competition and record claims. Those with special secirity features are known as IGC approved. Examples of these include the Cambridge and Volkslogger.
The small Volkslogger Flight Recorder includes a built in GPS and provides a small navigation screen. Many pilots use it as a back up to their main navigation GPS, sometimes with an on-route airfield displayed as an emergency bolt hole. Like several other GPS units it can also interact with Winpilot installed on a handheld computer running Windows CE. Winpilot converts the handheld computer to a moving map navigation computer.
Volkslogger Flight Recorder
30 hours logging at 12 sec intervals, 15 hours at 6 sec On screen FAI task declarations and GOTO function 500 internal waypoints - worldwide lists available Input information using buttons OR PC software OR WinPilot Engine Noise sensor for Motor Gliders & Turbos NO internal batteries - power 125 ma 9v - 24v
All flight recorders come with their own software to download the information to a computer. This software can usually also analyse the data, but specialist software is available with excellent features from independant suppliers and is usually much better. One of the first such programs came with the Taskfinder suite of gliding programs. The current favourite is SeeYou Software, a very versatile program indeed, which can even score gliding competitions. But remember you almost always have use the manufacturer's software for the actual downloading. Hence at one recent competition I was using seven or eight different programs (and the same number of connecting cables!) to download the information from competitors' flight recorders, but only one program to actually analyse the information.
Note that some flight recorder analysis software comes with copies of all the free downloading software that you can find on the IGC GNSS web site to save you searching for them (see my GPS Links Page for more examples). But some such analysis software claims that it can download flight recorder files for you. Be careful here, as they are just including the above files and not actually providing any extra facilities at all (unless of course it is the FR manufacturer's analysis softtware).