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Cyber Skywriting

EAAer Uses GPS to Plot Holiday Message


December 16, 2010 —Lynol Amero, EAA 805445, of Lake Tapps, Washington, may have tapped into a new way for wannabe skywriters to enjoy a new flying activity. In a post this past week on Oshkosh365, he wrote, “I wanted to share with you a flying activity that I recently accomplished, that I haven’t seen published anywhere else.” The activity? Cyber-skywriting using a “breadcrumbs” (GPS data track files) approach that, when plotted out on a computer screen, show an entire flight path. The example he used to introduce this activity is the traditional holiday greeting “Merry Christmas.”

Amero, who works at Boeing in Flight Test Ground Operations for the 787 Dreamliner, was inspired to pursue skywriting after reading the story in the February 2010 edition of Sport Aviation, “Skywriting…You Can Do it Too,” by Marvin Homsley. “This sounded like a fun activity to do with an airplane, and the desire to accomplish this remains in the back of my mind, but I had reservations of how I could accomplish it,” he explained. After all, he owns a low-performance airplane (Ercoupe), lacks a smoke generation system, and flies in Seattle’s Class B airspace.

So Amero, a 250-hour private pilot with an instrument rating, thought about it and came up with the GPS idea. Using a portable system, one could save a flight path and convert the file for use on Google Earth using an online program like GPSvisualizer.com, or upload the file to EveryTrail.com. This method also allows pilots to see their own skywriting and share it with friends via computer screen. Plus, there are no built-in limits on characters, they won’t drift about from the wind, and, maybe best of all, it gives you another good reason to go flying.

This works for any airplane, without any mods, and as low as 1,000 feet AGL to avoid Class B airspace issues. The only trade-off, it seems, is a person on the ground can’t see the end-product as in traditional skywriting.

Coming up with a something to write was the first step, he said, deciding on “Merry Christmas.” Next he penned it out on paper “as frilly and loopy as I thought I could fly it.” It had to be big enough so he could make some quick turns, but doable at lower speeds in the Ercoupe. He also had to make sure not to make the flight so big as to take him into the nearby mountains.

Amero started out creating a flight plan using waypoints in the AvMap GPS to spell out the letters. “I kept the spacing far enough apart that I thought it would work,” he said. “I just added waypoints at the major points of the letters to give me an idea of when to turn.” He also brought along a friend, who rode along to serve as an extra pair of eyes to spot traffic, and the two took off on December 9.

The GPS lags a little bit, he said, which is why some of the letters appear a little larger than the others. He noted that the “C” goes a little bit flat near the base of the letter when he adjusted the flight path for approaching traffic, which turned out not to be the case. (See the “Merry Christmas” GPS skywriting track here.)

Without realizing it, Amero plotted the base of the letters along a road, which made it much easier to anticipate the turns. He plans to do work that into future flight plans. In hindsight, Amero said he would have plotted “Christmas” backward “so I wouldn’t have to always write left to right.”
“Dotting the ‘i’ was a blast,” Amero said, referring to the nice, steep turn, which made for a fun maneuver before heading back to the airport. In the future, Amero wants to attempt continuous line drawings, such as faces or pictures of aircraft.

“This was the first attempt, and it turned out pretty neat, so I thought I would share it with you, too,” he said.


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