Introduction

oziTarget is an extension to the popular mapping tool Oziexplorer. It has been written to give competition balloon pilots the extra tools needed in preflight planning and during their actual flights.

The main functions include the following;

  • a customisable dashboard for all the important navigation information
  • drawing multiple rings or arcs for minimum and maximum distances or 3D tasks around waypoints
  • drawing windreader data for flight planning
  • drawing of scoring areas and lines
  • tracking multiple waypoints for tasks such as a hesitation waltz.
  • recording of the latest wind data during flight as experienced by the balloon
  • quick entry and positioning or waypoints using 8 figure grid references as given on task sheets
  • marker drop angles for use with a clinometer
  • AGL calculations based on DEM data

oziTarget uses the API (Application Programming Interface) supplied with Oziexplorer to control Oziexplorer and get Oziexplorer to perform various functions.

For example to drawing lines and rings on the map, oziTarget will calculate the points, generate a track file and then load it into Oziexplorer. It is not the most elegant way to do things but Oziexplorer is the only mapping software that I am aware of that allows such flexibility.

Unfortunately not everything I would like to control in Oziexplorer can be controlled but the API makes Oziexplorer a very powerful tool for pilots who are prepared to learn how to use it.

For competition ballooning there are lots of options and platform choices for digital mapping. The problem with just about all of them is that they are designed initially as a "finger on a map" to show you where you are and do not have the tools that pilots need in our sport.

Obviously knowing exactly where you were on the map was a massive advantage but all of the other flight panning tools that pilots would traditionally do on a paper map were not available or were not fast enough in the computer.

You still see people in briefings today with a laptop on the desk and a paper map with compass, rulers and grease pencils doing the planning. It is crazy but it happens because the tools are not there in the mapping software.

The main areas I found lacking were as follows;

  • you could only draw a single ring around a waypoint where we normally need two as a minimum.
  • drawing lines to represent wind data is either complicated, slow or just not intuitive or is limited to one line at a time
  • the display of navigation data was not customisable or took up too much space on the screen

oziTarget fixes all of that and more.

I started using Oziexplorer back in 1998, right near its initial release. Straight away it was obvious that what I wanted as a pilot was different to what the author wanted as a 4WD enthusiast.

After bugging him with ideas and asking questions, Des from Oziexplorer finally pointed out the abilities of the API, gave me a some sample code to play with and suggested I just program whatever controls I wanted.

The first hurdle was learning to program but I fumbled through and soon had a small window for showing the navigation data the way I wanted. From there it was onto figuring out how to draw rings and wind lines.

I had all of this working by 2003 and used it to great effect during many National, Pacific and World championship events.

After a few years off from competition flying I came back in 2013 to see that nothing had changed. Some people were using other software but it was even more crippled than vanilla Oziexplorer and people were still drawing and planning on paper maps. It was time for change.

Probably the single biggest question people have is what computer do I need to run Oziexplorer and oziTarget?

The computer needs to be a Windows PC running either XP, Vista, Windows 7, 8 or 10. You can also run Windows OS on a Mac with Parallels if you wanted to use Macbook Air or similar as I know some people do.

If you are still on XP it is time to update and right now I am loving Windows 10. Check it out.

Windows RT, iOS or Android are not an option for the full version of Oziexplorer that can use oziTarget. Oziexplorer is available for Android but it will not work with oziTarget and does not have all of the tools that the PC version of Oziexplorer has. I have used Ozi for Android in the retrieve but that is all.

In the actual computer side of things, my personal preference is for a Tablet PC. I find that interacting with the map using a stylus is not only intuitive, it is faster than a trackpad or mouse. I have been using a Microsfot Surface Pro 3 since December 2014 and it has not missed a beat. The battery life is perfect for a full day of competition, the screen is bright enough in even the brightest glare and it has more processing power than we really need for this application.

While not the cheapest option the Surface is about a third of the price with better specifications than the Motion, Fujitsu or Panasonic offerings. It is not as rugged so you will need to protect it more but you can break three of them to every rugget tablet PC and still be in front.

Yes, laptops are cheaper but they are a pain to use in the basket by comparison. They are harder to mount, harder to protect and just slower to work with by comparison.

I started with a laptop, have used an Acer convertible tablet back in 2004 and moved to the Motion LE1600 in about 2005/6, I even tried a cheap Windows 8 tablet from Aldi of all places while waiting for the right tablet to come along.

My main advice on tablets is get one with a bright screen, big battery life and an active digitiser that works with a stylus. A capacitive digitiser will allow you to use your fingers on the touch screen (like an iPad screen) but compared to using a Wacom style pen as used in the Motion tablets or Microsoft Surface tablets, fingers are just not as good and you either need capacitive tipped gloves or one hand not in a glove to work it. Most tablets like the Surface will allow you to do both so you can pan arounf the map with your finges and do the detail work with the stylus.

The final thing is screen size. Lots of the low cost tablets available now have small screens - 10" or smaller. Go as big as you can go with the screen size to see as much map as you can. It will make life so much easier. Microsoft now have the Surface Pro 4 with a 12.3" screen and even the Surface Book with a 13.5" screen - now that would be awesome to use!

I have made a custom mout for my Surface Pro 3. It is an iteration on previous tablet and laptop mounts and clips to the topo rail of the basket using a piece of PCV downpipe.

I put the Surface in a UAG case for extra protection.

The tablet slides in under a piece of webbing on the left hand side and is secured with two loops of shockcord on the right hand corners. I also have a padded har cover than can be folded over the top of it all for those extra exciting landings.

The mount slides on the PVC pipe so it can be folded down inside the edge of the basket during inflation and landing for extra protection.

Photos of the set up are here

For some reason, probably battery life or cost, most Windows tablets at the moment do not seem to have a GPS built in. Initially it was annoying when I was looking for a new tablet but I have decided it is not actually a problem.

In competitions using the CIA logger you will want to run the logger as your GPS input. That way your position and in particular altitude will match the logger data you are being scored to. Using your own GPS in a logger competition is a big mistake in my opinion.

I also have a little Bluetooth GPS that works really well and finally an old Garmin 60CSX as my backup. In all cases, understand and learn how to change your GPS settings and COM port settings in Oziexplorer. Write a cheat sheet, practice swapping from one GPS to the other so that if you get a GPS communication problem in flight, you can fix it fast.

As with all Windows computers, a reboot often fixes everything and thankfully despite the learning curve with Windows 10, it is very fast to restart making it worth the effort for that feature alone.

Always do a proper shut down and restart of your flight computer once per day during a competition. Windows hibernation and sleep mode does introduce gremlins over time and you don't want that midway through a flight.

Disable all automatic updates during an event. There is nothing worse than opening your computer before a flight to find it has 20 minutes of updates to install!

This is problematic on Windows 10 so do some research on the best settings and ways to prevent updates from automatically installing.

If you have questions or ideas, email me. I am happy to work with individuals on their ideas and either extend oziTarget through private extensions or improvement of the public feature set.