How to do XC tasks using waypoints

There seems to be some mystery around how a pilot uses waypoints to create an XC task. Flying it is less mysterious but still many pilots do not know how to put it all together. Here’s a quick guide using FlySkyHy to make that work.

Software & Gear

There are a great many different softwares and devices available for cross country or navigated flying. These include some amazing pieces of machinery like the Valorium, XC Soar, and XC Track. Some of these are devices and others will run on your phone. An easy way to get started is to use FlySkyHy for iPhone or XC Track for Android. When you need more, buy more but these 2 provide plenty of capability for under the $20 mark.

For this guide, I am using FlyShyHy and the only add on you need is the Waypoints capability. I highly recommend airspaces if you’re doing any XC flying. Mine might look different (the screen is configurable) and I also have the thermal assist and airspaces enabled. Quick note – be prepared for your battery life to be challenged using these softwares. They consume resources including location (with high frequency update) as well as suspend screen sleeping and can use audio for the altimeter. Many also hook up to a bluetooth Vario so there’s that power draw as well. My iPhone X has a 2700 mAh battery and I run it in a charge case with an additional 6500 mAh. My battery life, given there is very good (6+ hours). Meter as you need!

As far as gear, you realistically need a flight deck. If you have an open harness, consider this model by Woody Valley. It’s simple and effective. If you have a pod or a front mount, you probably have a deck to work with. I fly a pod and have an Ascent Vario mounted next to my iPhone. Its the right setup for me and also provides me with tunes and access to the phone while I fly.

You don’t necessarily need to make huge XC flights to use navigation software. My crew setup waypoints for our favorite thermic ridge site that allows us to do simple 1 and 2 mile triangles. Remember that most XC competitions are based on the premise that you take off, start racing at a set time and win the competition by hitting all the marked points in the shortest time. We commonly do the same thing on a smaller scale by setting a task and either trying to fly it on light lift days or trying to fly it quickly.

Waypoints

The basis for setting tasks is having waypoints. You can either inherit the file (someone else made it) OR you can setup the waypoints themselves. In theory a waypoint is a GPS defined spot that is surrounded by a cylinder extending upwards. The height, diameter, and type of contact for the cylinder can be defined. Often contact is simply passing through its outer perimeter. However, it can also be configured to mark time when you leave the cylinder or can be defined asa line that you cross.

Waypoints can be produced in a number of file formats. The following is a list of them that you can create with FlySkyHy and also a QR code that contains all the data for the waypoints used in this demo. Scan it with your phone and see if you can load them. Small FYI here, DO NOT fly this site without checking with us. We have a deal with Fish & Game to fly this and there are nuances.

If you setup a waypoint yourself, it looks like this. The name, latitude and longitude are self explanatory and the description space is used to further define it. Radius is set to define the diameter of the circle and the Start Time and ‘Reached on’ section provides the following options: (source FlySkyHy)

Waypoints are normally cylinders with a given radius around a geographic location. You can change whether the waypoint is reached on entry or on exit, determined by the “Reached on” setting. To reach an entry waypoint, you will need to fly from outside its radius to inside. It is not enough to be inside the waypoint already when the flight begins. In that case, you will need to fly out of the waypoint first, and then return back into it again. Exit waypoints are reached when you fly from inside the waypoint to outside.  When set to “Auto”, the app will determine automatically whether the waypoint is entry or exit, based on the shape of the route. 


Instead of a cylinder, the waypoint can also represent a line. The line will always be orthogonal to the direction to the center of the preceeding waypoint, and extends the “Radius” distance to each side of the location. A line is reached when it is crossed in the forward direction. 

When a start time is set, then the waypoint cannot be reached before that time. You can install an instrument on the main screen that counts down to the start time. 

A waypoint can be declared as End of Speed Section (ESS). In that case, the optimised route will lead straight to the waypoint over the shortest distance, without taking any subsequent waypoints into account.  I’ll add here that you often find the End of Speed Section just before landing indicating when the timing for scoring will stop. The reason is so that you don’t have a bunch of people racing to the ground, which would be dangerous.

An optional waypoint works in exactly the same way as a normal one. The only difference is, that it is not part of the official route declaration in the IGC log. With that, you can define an official route that you intend to fly, and which is declared in the log. Then you can add optional waypoints to help you navigate the route, avoid airspaces, etc. But you can skip the optional waypoints during flight, without invalidating the declared route. The optional waypoints are shown as dotted circles on the map.

So – a few options for waypoints which means now we have a set of pointe to hit! Let’s move on to routes.

Tasks

The next step is to define a task. If you’re flying with friends, you can absolutely do this yourself. When you fly a competition, the task is normally defined for you. There’s often a board with the task on it at the morning briefing. It looks like this:

Once you have the parameters of the task, we simply input them into the software. You create a route and make any changes to the waypoints in the route, (type of entry, ESS, Start time, etc) and you’re ready to go!

Here is a simple route we fly at our site.

Launch is optional (well, sort of) which means we recognize we are launching but it’s not really a point we try to hit. Once up, fly to the point and the time begins when you leave the circle. Then hit the scratches, fly out to the big knob and back to the point. That’s the triangle section and the landing line is in our landing area. The time ends then and the task is complete. Fly safe and land on the magic carpet. The entire thing is 1.1 miles (yes, all my stuff is in miles and there’s settings if you prefer different.) which is a pretty short course but for beginners, its a great way to start them flying using GPS and navigation. It also gives a bit of challenge and task to sites that you fly often!

The Next Point

Small tasks and known sites are easy flies. When you don’t know the next point though or it’s far away, how to do you get there? At the top of the software during flight, you’ll see my configuration of where you are in the process. See below:

At this point in the route (task), I am between the launch and flying into the Point. Note the map shows the route and arrows from point to point. Between the actual waypoints is a compass to show me what direction I am flying (green small arrow) versus where the waypoint is located (blue larger arrow) as well as the distance (mine is in miles). With that info, I can look at the map and navigate to where I need to go.

Note, you can’t always fly directly there – one needs to find lift, get high enough and glide to the point, then tank up and do it again. That’s the challenge of comp flying cross country!

Now go fly! [R]