Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

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Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

Postby pfeijao » Sat Jun 11, 2016 2:47 pm

After using a thermal camera for some months for Paragliding especially for thermal flying I see this as a potential must-have instrument for XC pilots.

Although you could not see the thermals themselves you could easily find the best potencial sources of thermals kilometers away before you reach them because this is an optical instrument (a camera), not dependent on distance.

This is a link to a video I record days ago to show that it really works and helps to know where the thermals are.

The video shows the before, using a normal camera, and after using a thermal camera over the same area. The Red areas show where the ground is hotter.
After some experimentation I recon that these areas are indeed the ones with the higher thermals.

A thermal camera is nowadays cheap (about 250 dollars) and can be adapted to a smartphone.
There are many brands. I am using the FLIR ONE from FLIR systems with MSX technology (dual camera, one thermal, one normal, superimpose both to see the details of the image and thermal beacons).

I havent seen anyone yet to use it as a flight instrument maybe because a few years ago it would cost 10 000 dollars.
I think, in my own opinion, this is a very nice information to have in flight. If you go flying to an unknow place where you dont know nothing about it, seeing possible thermal areas 10 km away while in XC flying is incrementing your possibility of a greater distance flight.

I have testing it for 2 or 3 months now. I tested it in many situations. I get a very good degree of assurance with it. The reading experience is getting better and better.

The background sound is from my altivario (I use FLYME app for centering Thermals).
I use an extension cord for fixing the thermal camera in the wing risers and connect it to my samsung galaxy S6 smartphone in dual screen to use the FLIR App and XCSoar for the flight.

Of course in a windy thermal place the termal is not directly above the site but I can get the general view of the thermal sources many miles away. And the camera can be callibrated to a certain temperature variation .

When the altivarios appeared many people commented it would kill the sport. Nowadays everybody is reliyng on it and the 100+ miles flghts people are doing is now not only related to the wings but also on the many flight instruments we use today.

This video was recorded on the 4th July 2016 in Serra da Lousã, Portugal, at about 1200 meters MSL.

Please comment.
Your opinions on the subject will be helpful. :P
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Re: Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

Postby Tony Deleo » Sat Jun 18, 2016 6:48 am

Looks interesting but it looks like the pilot's "decision" making process while by being "aided" is being "lessened" by being taken out of the "equation", I guess to "each his own". I would liken it to in sailplane/glider flying to having a retractable motor that is to be used in the event that the pilot makes the wrong decision. For me and for the pilots such and Sundowner the "decision" making process was what the great majority of cross country flying was about the rest being the mechanics and the execution. In sailplane flying you are generally taught to fly with your eyes out side of the "cockpit", more and more with the "advancement" of technology "pilotage" is becoming less important, that is until the equipment malfunctions and the pilot is left flying the aircraft without the benefit of the equipment and only his abilities. It is not uncommon for many pilots not to fly if their flight equipment is not functioning. From the "peanut" gallery my vote would be "no" and a yes for less technology and its' use-like life cross country flying is all about the journey and the decisions made along the way.

"Always fly cross country that is where freedom and adventure are"

"Always fly cross country, that is where freedom and adventure are"
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Re: Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

Postby *jp* » Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:45 am

Another issue is simply sensitivity. The images shown all depict hot ground (typically several degrees hotter than surrounding terrain) rather than rising parcels of air (at most a few tenths of a degree warmer than the surrounding air). I think most pilots can figure out that sunlit dark rock or a bare patch of earth amid trees will be warmer than their surround. The important question for pilots, though, is whether this locally warmed terrain is associated with a thermal. As we all know this depends on lots of factors other than simple heating (shape of terrain, winds, and simple cycle timing among others).

While I have seen demonstrations of advanced IR cameras imaging actual thermals it is not all all clear to me that something like the FLIR 1 has the necessary sensitivity for this task.
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Re: Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

Postby Jonno » Tue Jun 21, 2016 7:44 pm

I think it will come, whether you want it to or something like Google Glass or heads-up google display. You WILL be able to see a thermal someday. That may make the sport more accessible, at the cost of purity, and perhaps safety, and perhaps good campfire stories.

Technology isn't good or bad, it just is. This is a preview. And so it goes.
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Re: Perception

Postby sd » Mon Sep 12, 2016 4:01 pm

pfeijao wrote:After using a thermal camera for some months for Paragliding especially for thermal flying I see this as a potential must-have instrument for XC pilots... Please comment... :P

I have to partially agree with all 4 contributors.

I applaud pfeijao's effort to increase our capability, however, I also concur with JP that the information as presented in its current development state is of marginal use. Diablo points out that the keenest instrument is the pilot himself and the experience he brings to the equation. Jonno notes that the sun will rise tomorrow, with us or without.

I can be a bit slow to adopt new technology (but not in all scenarios). I just did purchase my first “smart phone” (so I can Uber :), which is a huge game changer locally). I didn’t start flying with a GPS until a couple of years ago []. I don’t use many of the GPS features, but I am a better pilot now because of it. Particularly enlightening is the post flight analysis capability to review my decisions on Monday mornings.

I counsel the newer pilots to avoid focusing too much on the “technology”. Instruments can enhance our performance and I’m noticeably handicapped without a vario, but it is good to fly without instruments occasionally. A pilot’s ability to “read” the scenario and formulate a perception can be aided by instruments, but too much info can distract our scan for subtle variations that add up to more than today’s computers can calculate. If we spend too much time staring at our instruments we might not notice a light “draw” toward potential lift, or how tight a redtail is coring a thermal, or a turkey vultures zig-zag flight path marking subtle micro air mass edges. Our experience reminds us that a gap will often funnel venturi flow, and a wind shadow can sometimes permit us to duck-in and ride an eddy upwind.

There is a reason that "Cracka" can outrun most of us on our local range at altitudes we though were too low just a few years ago, and it’s not because he is an IT guy (which he is) staring at a computer screen plugged-in and on-line with all the latest gadgets.

Potentially, I agree that adding a display to our scan that color codes the surface temperature variations could enhance our decision process, however, the video example that pfeijao posted [] leaves a lot of room for polish. In its current state, the additional "baggage" doesn't fit my personal cost/benefit preferences. One of the reasons we fly paragliders vs hang gliders or sailplanes is the elegant simplicity. There is value in quick dispatch on short notice.

We also want to keep one of the primary mantras prominent on our list or priorities. We are trying to perceive the complex behavior of a somewhat transparent fluxing gas driven by physical forces, but we preach to newer pilots that a "take it to the bank" golden "rule" is "The Lift is Where You Find It"...

Pilots consciously manage their focus. We scan and strategize on glides, but low in the hole needing a boost we focus tight on a thermal core. David Connolly (blind) flying solo at Plasket Creek demonstrated that we can close our eyes and thermal up by "feel".

So… Thank you pfeijao and all the authors that contribute to build our collective capability beyond what any lone individual can achieve solo.
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Re: Seeing thermals: Facts vs fiction

Postby gearjammer1 » Thu Sep 22, 2016 5:57 pm

Other than the cool factor of using the camera the other issue I see is its just one more bit of technology to distract you while flying. We already know the results of distracted driving. I'd hate to have a distracted pilot crash into me!
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