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  #1  
Old 07-03-2008, 08:57 AM
Sam Buchanan's Avatar
Sam Buchanan Sam Buchanan is offline
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Default How to Configure Your APRS Tracker

Reminder: A ham radio license is required in order to operate an aprs tracker!

Navigating through the configuration software for the Micro-Trak trackers is not particularly difficult but does involve dealing with some terminology that most pilots have not previously encountered. Byonics provides a good config document in the download of the configuration software, but the purpose of this sticky is to streamline the process and fill in areas that pertain particularly to airborne trackers.

The information presented in this sticky is already available in the VAF APRS forum but is in several separate threads. This thread will hopefully be a summary of information that can be retrieved in one location.

You will need a cable for connecting your computer to the tracker for the configuration process. The simplest and most reliable method uses a computer with a serial port. A laptop that only has USB can also be used but be advised that problems sometimes arise with low-cost commercial USB-serial converter cables. It may be worth the trouble to find a desktop or older machine that has a serial port. This also allows you to construct a very simple cable for configuring the tracker.

The homemade cable only consists of two female DB-9's (you don't have to install the shields) and some common wire (shielding not necessary). Wire up the cable using this format:

computer pin 5 ------------------- tracker pin 5
computer pin 2 ------------------- tracker pin 3
computer pin 3 ------------------- tracker pin 2

Note that 2 and 3 are crossed. This is intentional and absolutely necessary for the cable to function. This serves as the "null modem" mentioned in the Byonics manual. Do not attach a null modem to this cable or you will "un-null" it! By the way, this cable is bi-directional, it'll work regardless of which end you attach to the devices.

If you have a commercially available cable, you can add gender changers and a null modem in order for it to allow the computer and tracker to talk to each other. But the homemade cable only requires a few minutes to make, costs nearly nothing, and works like a charm.

Here is a screen shot of the configuration page in the Byonics software:



This screenshot is basically what I use with my tracker and this config has proved to work well for many users of Micro-Traks. Let's work our way through a few areas where questions often arise with new users. Start out by being sure the "Primary" tab is selected.



You have some choices for the call sign to use to ID your tracker. The traditional method used by most ground-bound trackers is to insert the FCC call sign into the "call sign" box. This works fine for our trackers as well. However, many of us wish to have our N-number appear on the tracking maps since those following our flights will be more familiar with the tail number of our plane than our Ham call sign. Using the N-number is legal as long as we ID the tracker according to FCC regulations and we will address that matter shortly.

The Digi Path determines how your tracker packets will be handled by the APRS network of repeaters. The recommended norm for ground trackers is "WIDE1-1, WIDE2-1" which triggers not only large repeaters but also small, fill-in repeaters that assist in getting your beacons to an iGate. However, since an airborne tracker can "see" to the horizon, and we only need to hit the big repeaters, eliminating WIDE1-1 will prevent unneeded bounces from the small fill-in stations. Either protocol will work, but using only WIDE2-1 is recommended for our use unless conditions in your local area dictate the addition of WIDE1-1. If WIDE1-1 is used, be sure it is placed before WIDE2-1 to prevent a wide-ranging cascade of repeater transmissions from occurring.

The symbol fields allow you ensure the generic little airplane symbol is displayed with the track of your flight on the internet maps. Use an apostrophe and a forward slash for the little airplane.



The Timing fields can be left with the default settings and you will most likely never need to make any changes unless you get really creative with the config of your tracker. This area is primarily for those who use the sister product, Tiny-Trak, with a handheld transciever.



The Status area is important because this is where you ID your tracker per FCC regulations if the N-number was inserted into the Call Sign field. The text field will accommodate whatever text you wish to use and some Hams get creative by inserting stuff like "Howdy Ya'll, Billie Bob's tracker is back on the road agin!" but keep in mind the text field adds to the length of the packet and increases the possibility of the packet getting dropped if the frequency is crowded. At the very least, your FCC call sign needs to be in the text field, and you might want to add the aircraft type.

FCC regs require our tracker to be ID'ed at least every ten minutes (but you knew that from cramming for the Tech exam...). Consequently, the status text doesn't have to be transmitted with every packet (keep those packets short!) so if we add a number such as "4" to the "send every" box we will satisfy the ID requirements if we are using an interval of sixty seconds or so for our beacons.



This area only needs minimal attention. The only check you will definitely want is "send altitude" so the altitude of your plane will appear in the data on the internet maps. Some airborne tracker users also check "only send valid". This means the tracker won't transmit unless it is receiving good data from the GPS receiver (green light is glowing steadily on the tracker). If you want the tracker to transmit for set-up or diagnostic purposes without a GPS connected, this box should not be checked. Use your own judgment on this one. In my case the GPS in the plane is generally locked on prior to tracker activation so this is a moot point, your installation may be different.

Update: See this thread for information concerning disabling MIC-E and adding time stamps for increased tracking reliability.



Use the default setting for the other boxes.



SmartBeaconing is a really cool feature of our trackers. The Byonics doc is pretty good in this area and should answer most of your questions. By all means enable SmartBeaconing if you want the highest quality track that shows the aircraft as it maneuvers. The first column of boxes that deal with angle, slope, etc can be left with default settings. The speed and rate settings shown in this example will work fine and get you up and running but you may want to customize them as you get more familiar with your tracker.

The remaining area at the bottom of the page is pretty much self-explanatory and covered in the manual.

There you have it! This should get a tracker to the point where it is functional in your aircraft and performing at a high level. We didn't discuss the secondary tab but it allows you to have a second configuration that can be used if you want the tracker to transmit a different packet protocol. This might be used if you want to transmit a unique emergency packet or maybe you want to use your tracker on the ground and a different configuration would work better for ground ops. A switch is required to activate the secondary config so you can ignore the secondary tab if you don't intend to do something special with the tracker.
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1999 RV-6
1918 Fokker D.VII replica

Last edited by Sam Buchanan : 08-11-2011 at 02:25 PM. Reason: added reminder about license being required
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  #2  
Old 07-03-2008, 02:24 PM
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kevinh kevinh is offline
 
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Default

Great post Sam.

At least in my area, I've noticed that when I removed WIDE1-1 from my path my coverage got much worse. I'm guessing there are folks who are running at home iGates that we're now ignoring me.

I want to be a good citizen, but I think I'll go back to WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1 the next time I'm working on the plane.
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  #3  
Old 07-03-2008, 02:43 PM
Sam Buchanan's Avatar
Sam Buchanan Sam Buchanan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kevinh View Post
Great post Sam.

At least in my area, I've noticed that when I removed WIDE1-1 from my path my coverage got much worse. I'm guessing there are folks who are running at home iGates that we're now ignoring me.

I want to be a good citizen, but I think I'll go back to WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1 the next time I'm working on the plane.
Thanks Kevin.

The digi-path won't have anything to do with how an iGate picks up your tracker. An iGate (even if part of a digi-peater) is a receive-only operation (at least in regard to your beacon getting to the internet) and will port any beacon it hears to the internet regardless of the WIDE settings.

It may very well be that you are not getting to iGates as readily without the assistance of the fill-in repeaters, and that may be what you are saying. Whatever the reason, if the inclusion of WIDE1-1 is necessary for satisfactory performance of your tracker....ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.

Be sure WIDE1-1 is inserted in the string before WIDE2-1.
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Last edited by Sam Buchanan : 07-03-2008 at 02:45 PM.
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  #4  
Old 10-13-2008, 02:48 PM
N523RV N523RV is offline
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Default FCC Call sign with a -X

Gang,

Do the dash numbers after a call sign mean anything? Does it matter one way or the other?

The following is Pete's info, highlighted the -1.

N789PH - info
2008-10-11 18:09:40z
11 MPH 181° alt 932 ft
KD0CVN-1 RV-9A
[TU0X5U via N0NAS-10,K0LAV-8,WIDE2*,qAR,N9MEC]
being tracked - [stop tracking]
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  #5  
Old 10-13-2008, 04:31 PM
Sam Buchanan's Avatar
Sam Buchanan Sam Buchanan is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: North Alabama
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Quote:
Originally Posted by N523RV View Post
Gang,

Do the dash numbers after a call sign mean anything? Does it matter one way or the other?

The following is Pete's info, highlighted the -1.

N789PH - info
2008-10-11 18:09:40z
11 MPH 181° alt 932 ft
KD0CVN-1 RV-9A
[TU0X5U via N0NAS-10,K0LAV-8,WIDE2*,qAR,N9MEC]
being tracked - [stop tracking]
Matthew, the dash number doesn't mean anything in particular. If an operator has multiple trackers or stations under his control, he might assign different dash numbers to each.

Many of us like to use our tail number as the callsign for tracking purposes, then put the FCC callsign in the comments text. That satisfies FCC requirements for station ID.
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  #6  
Old 10-13-2008, 05:57 PM
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petehowell petehowell is offline
 
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Default -1

Actually it means I am #1, the top dog, the big Kahuna - oh wait, that one is taken already......

Hmmm - what Sam said, then.

KD0CVN-2 will be the APRS unit in the car that my teenage twins will be driving soon. I will be glad to have the speed readout..........Poor Ryan claiming GPS speed is inaccurate. It is just plain unfair.
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Amateur Plane - RV-9A N789PH - 1750+ Hrs
Amateur Radio - KD0CVN
Doggies Delivered - 20 and Counting
St. Paul, MN
Track me!
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  #7  
Old 10-15-2008, 11:20 AM
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rv7boy rv7boy is offline
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Default A Question about Configuring the Micro-Trak MT-300

I took Sam's advice and bought one of the latest run of the MT-300 model which turns out to be Version 1.5. Since my RV is very much in the gestation stage, I have been in the shop devising a "portable" package for the MT-300, a 9 volt battery and associated switch and wiring all in a single enclosure. So far everything is coming together nicely. I'm not ready to show photos yet because it's no beauty contest winner, but I may show a photo later.

I'll be using an old Garmin GPS III+ unit I bought for the motorcycle I used to ride. APRS looks like a good use for an old GPS that has not been used for three or four years. As soon as I modify the wiring harness of the four-pin connector to supply data to the MT-300, I'll be almost there...

Well, not quite. I bought the Gordon West study book Sam mentioned and with the practice tests on the QRZ.com site, I am now ready to take the test. I also need to devise an antenna, but I have a plan for a 19.45" piece of wire...Soon...very soon...

Question for Sam, Pete, Allen and others: Do I need to power up the tracker before I download the configuration values?

Yes, the tracker must be powered up to read/write the configuration. S. Buchanan

I unzipped the file last night and entered the values from Sam's post, but decided to wait about downloading to the MT-300 until I am listed in the FCC/ULS database...(to be legal). Something tells me power must be supplied to the MT-300 to make the configuration changes, but since I'm not licensed yet, I guess I need to wait.

My thinking is get licensed, power up the first time with the standard configuration, then load the software changes. Is there anything else I need to do? Also, are the values for the config setup for the MT-300 the same as the values used for the MT-8000?

For anyone else out there, I would suggest reading all the MT-300 manuals (Versions 1.1, 1.3, 1.4.1 and 1.5) in sequence. It seems the manual for the 1.5 doesn't include all the information a newby like me might need to know. Of course, Allen is phasing out the MT-300 so it really doesn't make much sense to totally re-write the manual.

I know with the low power output of the 300 mw tracker, my range will be limited, but in the spirit of amateur radio, I am anxious to see what it will do with "just enough" power. I plan to use it in the car, hiking on a mountain and maybe just maybe in the C172. The internal antenna in the C172 may be a problem. We'll see. Seems like the RV-9A pilot who attended Burning Man had an MT-300 and an internal antenna. I'll have to check that. [Update: It was Paul Eastham, but he didn't post any photos of his antenna installation. I think he just velcroed/taped it inside his canopy.]

I really need to get busy on my RV-7 elevators, but this APRS sure is fun. I hadn't soldered anything in years until the other night.

Don
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RV-7 Wings
KDCU Pryor Field
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N79599/APRS Automatic Position Reporting System

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." Miriam Beard

Last edited by Sam Buchanan : 10-16-2008 at 07:36 AM. Reason: added reply; S. Buchanan
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  #8  
Old 10-15-2008, 01:41 PM
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Default Where to find exam sites

http://www.arrl.org/arrlvec/examsearch.phtml

I just got mine last Saturday.

bob
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Last edited by Sam Buchanan : 10-16-2008 at 07:38 AM.
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  #9  
Old 10-15-2008, 02:37 PM
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Wink

Thanks, Bob...Seems there's several clubs/groups that don't list on the ARRL site and the only way to find them is to ask around. That's what I'm doing...
Thanks.
Don
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RV-7 Wings
KDCU Pryor Field
Pilots'n Paws Pilot
N79599/APRS Automatic Position Reporting System

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights;
it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." Miriam Beard

Last edited by Sam Buchanan : 10-16-2008 at 07:40 AM. Reason: edited for archival purposes
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  #10  
Old 10-26-2008, 08:41 PM
acepilot acepilot is offline
 
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Default NMEA Data?

I have an old Garmin 55AVD I use in the Corben. I didn't see data in the operating manual as to whether its NMEA data is TTL or RS-232 (I *think* it is TTL). Can the Byonics Micro-Trak 300 accept TTL and/or RS-232?
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