November 2, 2018

Online Flight Planner Help

Hints & Help for SkyIMD’s Online Flight Planner

SkyIMD’s Online Flight Planner – alpha –  is located here: Online Flight Planner

As we improve the application, we’ll improve this help page.

Note: this is a late alpha release – there are known issues with the application. There’s a good chance you may encounter one or a few of them along the way.  If you get stuck, just hit the reload button on your browser to start new.

For a successful experience, keep it simple – use closed polygon’s, .KML files with only polygon data, don’t expect to draw thousands of flight paths that are 3 feet apart over a 20 square mile parcel, etc.

Some bugs include an extra odd path being drawn at some headings, and a random or skipped photo locations (circles) along paths. Also, the dreaded “this page is using too much memory.” (Yeah, we have to refactor the code big time). Oh, and stalls, the interface just sits there with a rotating thingy on the screen – this usually occurs when you adjust something that causes the app to plan a 20 square mile parcel with flight lines every 3 feet and photos ever 5 feet. We’re working on error checking and graceful failures. Please be kind.

 

Getting Started

If you’re unfamiliar with flight planning applications for aerial mapping, aerial surveying and aerial photogrammetry, here’s a brief overview of the user interface:

The region on the left side contains all the settings and selections needed to to calculate three main items:

  •   Ground Spatial Distance (GSD)
  •   Lateral Flight Path Distance
  •   Image Distance Interval

Select a camera or enter custom image sensor information.  Adjust the Altitude and Speed that you plan to fly. Select Forward and Side Overlap.  As you do this you’ll notice that real time results are being calculated based on your entries or selection. Other results are calculated as well and we show that because we did the math!

After importing a KML, a flight plan will be calculated for the parcel boundary (polygon) and both will be displayed in the main section of the page.

What is a KML file?? Most folks use Google Earth (free) to draw a parcel boundary (closed polygon) on a map, then save this as a KML file from within Google Earth. Search for “kml file” on Google and learn more.  

Note: KML files can be very complicated with markers and lines and such. Items other than closed polygons may cause this application at this development stage to hang up or crash or display continuous pop up messages.  If that happens, reload the web page of the application and start new (and use a different KML file).

The handle of a slider is highlighted by clicking on it. Then use left and right arrow keys to adjust with finer control.

If you import a KML that has multiple polygons, the app will try to select the one that contains the largest area.  If you import a KML with paths only, you may not see anything drawn on the map.

Feel free to Import a KML file before tinkering with the settings.  The first flight plan will use the default settings.

Hint: click on the handle of the slider and use your left and right arrow keys to increase or decrease AGL or Groundspeed with finer control.

If you adjust any of the settings on the left side, the flight plan on the map will be updated dynamically! 

Map Options

The map options section of SkyIMD’s online flight planner

 

 

 

This region above the map only appears after a KML file has been imported. It includes 

  • Import KML Boundary – import a new/different KML file and have all your current settings applied to the new parcel.  Yay!  No need to re-enter data all the time! If you’re mapping many different parcels at the same settings like we do, this will speed up your pre-flight planning.
  • Lead-in – measured in meters, this will add “this many meters” to the ends of each flight path. If you fly manned fixed wing aircraft like we do, this is helpful to line up the plane along the path prior to getting to the imaging area.
  • Heading – When you first import a KML boundary, the heading is calculated from the Longest Edge of the polygon and the flight paths follow that direction. Enter a new heading in the input box the flight paths will be updated to follow the new heading.
  • 90º icon – This will adjust the heading 90º from the current value. If you need to make a quick cross hatch flight plan, this will save you from doing some math in your head. 
  • Help Button – takes you to this page.

Map Data

The map data section of SkyIMD’s online flight planner

 

 

 

This region above the map only appears after a KML file has been imported.

This region between Map Options and the Map contain various data points about the parcel and the plan.

We call these “data blocks.”  Data blocks only appear when a flight plan is created. They show different data points about each boundary and flight plan. Any adjustments you make can affect the data (e.g. Total Images may change if you change the heading). We will add to this data in the future. 

What is Long Edge Heading?
Long edge heading is the heading of the longest edge of the polygon you imported. When flights paths are first calculated and drawn over the parcel, they will use this edge’s heading. If you change the heading, use this data point as reference to move it back.

Questions & Answers

We’ll add to this section as real questions and comments come in. For now we’ll use anticipated questions and real answers (e.g. Frequently Anticipated Questions … FAQ’s).

Why did SkyIMD release an alpha version product?

Couldn’t we have at least waited until it was beta? (beta = no known critical issues, or all other known issues are minor). If we waited, it could be several months before we got enough testing in to make sure we addressed all the issues to get to beta stage. That would have also opened the door for “feature creep,” the “constant addition of new and exciting features and ideas” which would have continued to delay the release.

There are several flight planning applications on the market, some are a bit expensive, and some are more robust.  We built this one so we can run it anywhere (on our Mac’s, in the plane on our flight laptops/Windows, etc.) where we have an internet connection (which is, oddly enough, readily available at 1,800 ft. AGL where we fly most).  Perhaps other flight planning software developers will improve their applications based on some of the ideas presented here and everyone will benefit.

What about Elevation Data?

See? That’s feature creep.  Yes, as soon as we get this version stable we’ll start to look into elevation data so that your flight plan can contain the altitude variations and image distance intervals over varying terrain. Let’s agree to call that “version 2” for now.

The Interface, it’s so… PLAIN!

Yeah, well, at least it’s functional and hopefully unambiguous.  This isn’t really one of those applications that you’re going to stare at all day, it’s a productivity tool.  Think of it as your dynamic flight planning spreadsheet. Spreadsheets aren’t pretty either (though some of you do look at them all day… why?). Just calculate the plans based on the data entry and go fly!!!

When we finally get to beta stage, we’ll start looking at making the user interface a bit more appealing.

Why did SkyIMD create this application and why is SkyIMD making it available at no charge?

SkyIMD’s flight planner application was developed as an internal tool for planning our own aerial imaging and mapping flights.  We had been using a commercial application, but were frustrated at times by the constant re-entry of data to view iterative results.  Creating a dynamically updating map was crucial to stem our hair loss. 

Workflow is key and speeding up workflow makes us all more productive. Deciding to make this available at no charge lessens the expectation of perfection and immediate technical support if something is amiss.  

We’ll still endeavor to address issues quickly, but we have other things to do. Like building some pretty cool camera and sensor configurations for customers that acquire our FAA/EASA/ANAC certified aerial camera and sensor mounts for manned aircraft (e.g. shameless plug for our main business).

SkyIMD may change the business model in the future, especially if we get high use rates and Google starts charging us for use of their Maps API.  For now, it’s a fun project that in turn helps our customers (and hopefully everyone else in the aerial mapping business).

Did SkyIMD use Google Map’s API? How’d that go?

Yes. It was challenging and fun.  Google publishes the API specs and, well, we just had to read them.  We think we came up with some novel approaches to solving some of the flight planning needs, though all the heavy lifting is performed by Google Maps API.

Once we had an idea of what we wanted to do, the bulk of the coding was done over the course of two weekends (our only free time at the moment). The code ain’t pretty, we still need to do a ton of refactoring. 

There’s a limit to the number of API requests we can make. We’re wondering when we’ll need to start paying for higher limits? Maybe that’s when we’ll ask for contributions or change the business model… or not.

Where to send feedback or comments?

admin[at]skyimd.com. This mailbox receives the least amount of email and it’s feeling slightly undervalued. The good thing is that it will be easy to sort through feedback and comments because this account also receives the least amount of junk mail (until maybe now, I suppose).

Do you want to know about bugs?

Sure.  There are several.  Please keep it simple though – use closed polygon’s and KML files with only polygon data.  

If you try to break it, you’ll probably succeed.  If you send an email, please don’t be offended if we don’t respond. 

What’s Next?

First we need to get this one stable, then we’ll look at deploying other online apps for the aerial imaging, mapping  and data market.