January 24, 2010

Cross Country Planning Tool - Google Maps

This week's post is inspired by my upcoming visit to Little Rock, AR for the SSA Convention where I will be giving a presentation Thursday at 10:00 in Ballroom C on the topic of Using Google Maps for cross country planning.

I started flying cross country the weekend after I became a licensed glider pilot. It was always my goal, fly beyond glide of the airport. Luckily where I learned to fly cloud bases we always very low so I didn't need to go far to get out of glide. The issue was, as soon as I lost sight of the airport I lost sight of my confidence as well. I realized early on that to fly like the experienced pilots in my club I needed the knowledge of their experiences, but being wet behind the ears I didn't want to wait to gain it. At the time there was an old topo map in the clubhouse that provided some information - local airports, names of local mountains and ridges, etc - but it was in the club house and I couldn't study it every night. What I needed was an online map that contained all the local knowledge that I could gather from club members that could also support future soaring pilots looking to go cross country from our home field or the airports we visit throughout the year. What was developed is shown below; using Google's My Maps utility I employed all the members in my club to add a few bits of information to a map so that their knowledge would be available to all.

View Evergreen Soaring - Local Spots in a larger map

What I ended up with was a great repository for all the local knowledge that I gained on each flight along with what all the other pilots flying with me learned. Immediately we had a place to post pictures, information, and details about a new land out field; the same day someone lands out! It was easy to add markers for the local house thermals, the local ridge with the name that we call it - which doesn't appear on any map I have ever seen, land out fields were quickly populated, areas in the mountains where no glider pilot should willingly go, and hints on how to connect from one ridge to the next. When the winter wave season came around it became a great place to report wave entry points with wind directions to start a build a picture of the wave cross country possibilities. And for those who want to do more post flight analysis, the map can be exported along with any .klm file downloaded from the OLC to see if the pilot took advantage of any of the information presented on the map.

Here is my impression of why every club and airport should start a soaring map online -
  • A lot of people doing a little work creates something big
  • Search for mountain peaks, lakes, other geographic points of navigation
  • The map is available to everyone, everywhere, all the time (iPhone app)
  • Glider specific airport information, i.e. Landing patters, glider staging
  • Local and distant Landout options, where and where not to land
  • Ability to add photos to landout descriptions
  • Accurate terrain features, enough detail to recognize peaks and topo overlays are available
  • Each user input has a date and a link to the editor to verify currency of data
  • How to make crossings, how to connect lift, when and where to start
  • Publish dimensions and locations of wave windows and wave procedure
  • Location specific safety procedures; Procedure alpha, VOR locations for Reno ops, high traffic areas, etc.
  • Current weather overlays, links to webcams, Google webcams, other utilities
  • Local backup copy can be saved
  • Map the story of great flight – Alby’s Voyage
If you are attending the SSA convention and would like to learn more please stop by Convention Center Ballroom C at 10:00am on Thursday, January 28th. If you can't make it, I will be posting the presentation here next weekend.

Keep Soaring, but only if you know where you're going


  1. I expect this kind of information will encourage pilots to explore more, because studying it will give them some confidence they can have successful flight in a new area. Locally, we joke the Ephrata pilots never go beyond the fold in their sectional, and partly that's because they don't know what to expect in our direction to the south.

    I'm looking forward to discussing this with you at the convention.

  2. Eric,

    Thanks so much for the comment. I know I have felt much more comfortable pushing into unfamiliar terrain having been able to study the map with tips from pilots before hand. I think flying out of Ephrata south is a great example, it would only take a few flights to get some data up on the map and have people start thinking about going south. A few reliable landuot options, airports, and hints on where to find lift and where to avoid the wet areas over near Moses Lake and venturing further south starts to seem normal.

    Thanks again for the comment; I hope more people post questions and comments!

  3. Hello

    It´s very interesting this article. I think it´s a very good idea, although it depends a lot on pilots´will to talk and write about their tricks and knowledge of the area (in my country it would be almost impossible...).

    Kind regards from Spain (We own another libelle 201, very proud too...). This is the link to our club, if you want to visit: http://www.clubom.org/web/index.php

    Jaume, e-mail: xoriguer33@hotmail.com

  4. Hi Michael - I'm interested in the potential of this for our clubs in Australia. I have linked to this article on the Australian Gliding forum here:




  5. Smith,

    Thanks for the link. After a couple months down time I'm back up and running with my blog posts. Hopefully you will have success setting up a map in Australia!

    Michael 'BK'

  6. Michael,

    Ive started one for the Lake Elsinore Soaring Club and have used your standards already. Just want to point out the creative process behind it.

    As such I am hoping to repost this in our newsletter with your permission. Would you prefer links, or reprint ok?