Over the first half of the competition year, we've run into a lot of people who are confused about the new logger rules and are unclear if their GPS complies with the BFA's protocol. While the rules are very clearly written, it is understandable how they can confuse even the seasoned competitor. To our knowledge there is not a published list of approved GPS devices, but we will be requesting a published list of GPS units that meet the new BFA rules. We hope to have it shortly.
If you're like us and had a chance to review the newly published 2010 rules on the BFA site here then you probably are wondering how the BFA plans to address the "backup" logger situation this year. We assumed it would be similar to last year, but because we've gotten several requests to clarify we did some checking and found out its significantly different. Essentially the BFA will issue you a GPS logger, but it will be up to the pilot if he/she uses that logger for results or his/her own personal GPS (as long as it meets published event criteria).
What's the same: The BFA will still issue pilots a GPS (likely the Geko 201 in a plastic case, as seen below), but what you do with it and how you decide to use it will be up to the pilot.
What's different: Based on the evolution of GPS scoring and the talent in the pool of pilots it was seen last year just how accurate we competitive pilots need scoring to be. Pilots will now have the option of turning in either the BFA issued GPS or submitting their own personal, approved device.
Why would it matter which one I turn in? In our opinion it will be to the advantage of the participating pilot (in steerable winds) to have his/her personal GPS in the basket with the coordinates they are flying to in the basket so they know exactly how far they are from the desired goal. Unlike last year the National Championship will feature a list of pre-measured intersections that are marked on the map and the coordinates provided to competitors -- this is a major improvement because of the innate variability of every GPS. In other words because in a "best case" scenario a GPS has +/- 4 meters of accuracy when the event measured the intersection, and when you flew to it (both at different times mind you) you inevitably received different results. This is an issue because of the level of pilots at the Nationals and event organizers should be applauded for finding a sufficient solution to this problem.
To setup your logger for competition you need to find out some info from the event. What coordinate format and map datum are they using? What is the time interval between track points? What time zone are you in? It is required that this information be published by the event so you shouldn't have any problem finding it. Most events in the states are standardized with UTM UPS coordinates and NAD27 CONUS for the datum (although Nationals will use WGS 84 in hopes of syncing up with Google Earth software), but it never hurts to double check. The time intervals, map datum, atltitude measurement and all other criteria needed to set up your GPS can be found in the rules of that particular event and you can change them in the tracking menu of your GPS.
Below, Bob Humbert put together a nice info sheet prior to last year's Nationals, which will give you an idea of what to look for, but please note it is based on last years rules. Please check this year's rules before you set up your logger.
Other useful info: When operating your logger during a comp you want to make sure that there is adequate battery life for the entire flight. New batteries are cheaper than a no result! During inflation, turn the logger on and let it acquire a signal prior to attaching to the envelope. This is the last chance for you to address any issues. As far as attachment just make sure you're aware that the potential exists for radio and cell phone interference (we've found this to be minimal at most), and that the burner can also melt it. The scoop loops are not ideal for logger attachment. The BFA rules call for an attachment point on the right side of the balloon about two meters above the mouth of the balloon. We suggest a key ring through a load tape. Once on the ground, remove the GPS from your balloon and let it establish your landing coordinates before shut down.
Recommended Unit: BalloonPong recommends the Garmin Geko 201 as a back up logger. The Geko is small, easy to operate, and it meets all the rule requirements set forth by the BFA. New Geko's retail for about $150, but you can find a factory refurbished device on Ebay for around $100. Pelican products has an ideal protective case that fits the Geko perfectly. The case will cost you about $15 and is available here. Be sure to get the clear lid so you can see the unit is operating. You will need to line the case with some flexible foam available at any hardware store. Be sure to update your Garmin products when you get them on their website. There was a problem earlier this season where a Geko was displaying and logging the wrong dates which confused the scoring program. Garmin issued an update and the problem was solved. Pictures of this unit are below
GPS logger rules can be found in Section II.17 of the new BFA rules. .