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Don't Lose Your Plane - Plane Locator

PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2003 8:07 pm
I am a brand new pilot. I learned a lesson the hard way and wanted to pass
along what I learned to, perhaps spare you the same unfortunate experience.

I didn't know enough to avoid a windy day for my first flights. There were
10-15MPH winds which were gusting to 20 MPH. I also wasn't watching my flight
time. Between the heavy winds and, perhaps having the battery run down to
cut-off level, my Aerobird was carried off by the wind. I ditched it in woods
near the flying field, but never found it. I replaced the plane, but wanted
to make sure this didn't happen again.

I have since learned about plane locators which are devices that beep to help
you find your plane in the woods, corn field or whatever is near your flying
field. For someone using a typical 72 MHZ set-up, these plug into a spare
channel on the receiver. They start beeping when they loose the transmitter
signal, which assumes you have gone out of range, or your
transmitter has failed.

Here is a review of an Emergency Locator Beacon that illustrates its value
(this site is somewhat unreliable) ... b-revi.htm

Sounds like a good idea to me. Every plane I ever own will have some kind of
locator from now on. Here are examples of locators for 72 MHZ flight systems,
They cost between $15 and $30. They typically go inside the plane. Postings
I have read say you can hear them for about 50-100 feet however if the flight
battery becomes disconnected, they lose power and don't work.

A Locator for the 27 MHZ crowd

If you are flying one of the 27 MHZ based ready-to-fly planes, like I am, they
are usually based on an electronics compartment that is not easy to get to
unless you take the plane apart. I for one, have no interest in doing that
and I don't think there is a typical receiver with a spare channel in there.
These are planes like the Firebird, T-Hawk, e-gull, or my Aerobird which are
usually purchased by inexperienced flyers who are more prone to lose the
plane. So what do we do?

I found an answer. I ordered a pair of these:

They look like a small clicker for your car door locks. They work by sound.
You click one of a pair which sends out a chirp that the second one hears and
answers. Since the unit has to hear the tone, it is best mounted outside of
the airplane or the range will be dramatically reduced.

I tested them, with a clear line of site, and got reliable first try response
to about 175 feet with a response on a second or third try at about 200 feet.
You can hear the tone at that distance, which is pretty far. I then placed it
behind my car's tire away from me. Range when down to about 150 and 175 feet
respectively. Still better than the ones above which go inside the plane.

My plane weighs 16 ounces ready to fly and the keyringer is about 3/4 ounce,
or about 5% of the plane's weight. I think it will be very manageable. I am
going to try attaching it in one of two places for testing.

I will rubber band it to the right side of the body, tucked close up to the
wing using the posts that hold the wing. This places it substantially out of
the air stream, behind the rubber bands, and at the front/rear center of
gravity. We will see what the effect is left right.

The other place will be on top of the wing under the rubber bands that hold
wing. It will definitely be in the air stream here, but should balance nicely.
Using it here, it would be very easy to move between planes that use rubber
band mounted wings.

If it works out, I will develop some more permanent mounting method using
screws and epoxy or something like that. If anyone else tries this, I would
love to hear your feedback.

Since this is outside the plane, I don't think I would recommend it for a fuel
plane as there is an open speaker/receiver, so fuel might get inside and
damage it. I see it more for parkflyers, especially the ones that really don't
have a place inside to put the traditional locators. Even on 72 MHZ planes, it
might work out well on "stick" models and flying wings might be good
candidates. Also, since it has it's own batteries, there is no need to attach
it to any of the internal electronics, so there would be no power concerns if
the flight battery came lose, and no concerns about effecting the flight

I think this could work out. I will let you know how the testing goes. If
someone else has a better idea, let me know.

PostPosted: Sat Aug 09, 2003 4:47 pm
by aeajr
It has been several months since my original post. I thought I would update with what I have learned. ?

I have been flying for months and approaching 100 flights. I have learned how hard it can be to find a plane that has landed in the woods, tall grass and other places where you can't see it.

I learned this lesson the hard way and wanted to pass along what I learned to spare you the same unfortunate experience.

In March I didn't know enough to avoid a windy day for my first flights. I lost my Aerobird by crashing into deep woods. This is a 4 foot wide orange plane. I was sure I would find it but I didn't, even though I was certain I knew where it went down. That was in March. I bought another Aerobird and fly it often. I love it!

This past weekend I was flying my new glider, a Great Planes Spirit 2 Meter
with a 6.5 foot wing span. I got into trouble and it went down into heavy
woods and brush. I went into the woods to find it. Twenty feet into the
woods, trying to decide how to proceed since the area the plane went down
could not be seen from a trail, I heard Beep Beep Beep. My plane locator had
activated. I had the plane located and out in 10 minutes. Believe me, where
it had landed I likely would not have found it.

What was the difference? A plane locator. A little device you put in the
plane that gets attached to the receiver. If you turn off the transmitter,
the thing starts beeping loudly. Several companies make them. Typically they
cost from $15-$30.

I have three different ones:

This is in my Electrajet which is a delta wing parkflyer with an electric
The Air alert is intended for electric planes. It connects to the throttle

I have this installed in my Glider ... e=1&XCARTS
It hooks to any channel or it can share a channel with one of your servos. It
has the connector to pass through to the servo with no impact on the servo.
This will work in any plane with a 72 MHZ receiver.

Low Voltage Watch

In addition to helping me find the planes, both of these devices also monitor
my battery pack voltage and sound an alarm if the pack voltage gets below a
safe level. So, even if the plane is in the air, if the pack voltage drops
below safe levels, they beep so I can land the plane before the battery runs

This is especially valuable on my glider. If I catch a good thermal, I could
be in the air for over an hour, so a pack that tested good on the ground could
run low during the flight.

Channel Conflict Warning!

They can also serve as a test to make sure no one is flying on your channel.
Turn on the receiver only. If the device does not go into lost plane mode,
then someone else is on your frequency.

For 27mHZ planes

My Aerobird does not have a conventional receiver that I can connect to. The
electronics and servos are one integrated circuit board. No place to connect
one of the above locators.

On the Aerobird I use one of these on the plane and one stays in my pocket.
If I am looking for the plane, I click the one in my hand and the one on the
plane answers:

Here is a review of another Emergency Locator Beacon that illustrates its
value (this site is somewhat unreliable) ... b-revi.htm

Every plane I ever own will have some kind of locator from now on. Of course
you only need one. You can move it from plane to plane, but at $15-30 they
are cheap enough you can put one in every plane and forget it!

For really long range finds, measured in miles, there is the Walston system.
The plane unit is about $150 and the tracking unit is hundreds of dollars.
This is good for clubs, especially glider clubs where the club buys the
tracking unit and the members buy the tracker. If you glider costs $1200, a
$150 transmitter is worth the cost. ... _cover.htm

Many new pilots don't know about these devices. Now you do!