Leading up to Maker Faire Detroit 2013 we’ll be showcasing a few of our makers you’ll see in Henry Ford Museum and out in the midway. Today we’ll kick it off with Mark Deseck and his Powered Paraglider Simulator.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and the Powered Paraglider Simulator
My name is Mark Deseck, and I live in Saline, Mich., with my wife, Geneva, and son, Trevor. I work as a project planner in the defense industry, and I have a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering.
One of my passions is flying a powered paraglider (more commonly referred to as PPG). I’ve been flying them for nearly 15 years and have over 1,500 flights in my flight log. It’s one of the most fun, economical, portable, and safe methods to fly. Launches are accomplished by foot-launching the glider or with a wheeled trike. The paraglider wing is very maneuverable and generally flies at a speed of around 25 mph.
A paraglider wing is a two-surface elliptical glider which has no rigid primary structure. It’s a specially designed form of ram-air parachute, with openings in the front to allow air to pressurize and inflate the glider. Forward motion will inflate the glider, causing it to become a rigid wing, and it will provide lift to the pilot suspended underneath due to its aerodynamic design. Once airborne, a paraglider is very easy to fly as the pilot simply turns the glider left or right by use of hand loops (also known as toggles or brakes). These are also used to flare the glider for landing. A paraglider is also controlled by weight shift (leaning left or right in the harness) which will turn the glider in more efficient manner than using the brakes. A paraglider has to be flown off of a hillside or be towed aloft; however, with the addition of a motor on the back of the pilot (hence, a powered paraglider), it can be launched from almost any open field. The glider and motor are very transportable as the glider can be folded down to the size of a backpack and both can fit into the trunk of a car.
The Hang-Time paraglider simulator does a great job reacting to the brake, weight shift, speed bar, and throttle inputs, both physically through the controls, and virtually through the software. The controls are actual paraglider brake handles, and along with a swinging frame for weight shift, speed bar attachment, and custom throttle grip, they all do a great job translating the physical inputs to your simulator computer model. The brakes are weighted and the throttle is spring loaded which gives them an appropriate response. You can feather the throttle and brake for low altitude ground skimming, porpoise the wing over objects by pumping the brakes, perform spirals, and do massive wingovers. The computer model converts the paraglider potential energy into kinetic motion and inertia, just like the real thing.
Control inputs such as trim tabs, big ears, and B-line stalls have not been implemented, but with additional hardware and software updates, they could easily be added.
The controller package is fairly compact, with the control box less than a cubic foot in size. All control inputs feed into the control box. The throttle control is attached to a slider potentiometer (or pot) which has a spring return to keep the throttle at zero when the lever is released (similar to an actual powered paraglider throttle). The left and right brakes are connected to independent retractable wire pots and can extend up to 50” (which makes them ideal for control inputs). Weight shift is accomplished by a wire pot attached to the hang-frame which can tilt left or right based on the pilot’s body position, and speed bar is activated with a wire pot attached to the harness and is engaged by the pilot’s feet. All control inputs are wired to an analog interface card which takes the analog inputs from the pots and sends the signals to your PC via a USB interface. Simply put, the controller appears as a joystick to your PC. Like a regular joystick, calibration of the various controls is accomplished through the joystick configuration menu in Windows.
For my simulator, visuals are done through the use of either a set of projectors focused onto two side-by-side 70 inch projector screens, which allows a wide viewing area encompassing nearly 70 sq ft, or by using a 46 inch LCD display.
My first sim prototype used a virtual headset from Headplay. Although it allowed for a VERY compact visual display, the viewing angle and resolution were poor and it also provided an immense amount of eye strain. Using the headset for more than 15 minutes became unbearable. Using the large screen also benefits others in the room being able to experience your flight as well.
Finally, use of a head tracking device allows you to turn your onscreen view and look in any direction, which adds another element of realism.
The flight sim software which I use and highly recommend is called Vehicle Simulator Framework, or VSF for short, and was developed by software engineer Ilan Papini. The software has great graphics and, more importantly, has a fantastic flight model for paragliders. The great thing about this software is that the flight models are fully customizable, and it’s easy to adjust settings to match the flying characteristics of different wings. I’ve created several models that simulate (as close as possible) powered paraglider wings that are on the market. In my opinion, VSF is the best flight simulator product on the market for simulating an accurate paraglider flight model.
My simulator project is fully documented and can be constructed by following the directions as found here.
What was the inspiration for your project?
My wife was my first inspiration for building the ppg simulator as, due to an ongoing medical condition, she was not able to fly a paraglider herself. With this in mind, I created the simulator to allow someone who is unwilling or unable to fly a real-life paraglider the ability to simulate the experience in a realistic, virtual environment. Secondly, I created it as a training tool to be used by aspiring ppg pilots to gain confidence and command with flying a paraglider. Finally, I built it simply to see if it could be done. What I found was that the simulator is actually quite fun to fly, whether it’s a newbie who has never taken a paraglider flight to even the most experienced pilot who simply wishes to explore a virtual world when the outside weather conditions don’t warrant flying. Certainly, nothing beats flying the real thing with the wind in your face and hundreds of feet of empty space below you, but I’ve been able to accomplish bringing the flying experience as close to the real thing as possible.
How long did it take to create your project?
I started working on this project in 2009, and I have slowly evolved its design since then into its current rendition. I hope to garner some feedback from people at Maker Faire Detroit to further improve its design.
As a maker, what inspires you?
I enjoy working with my mind and hands and challenging myself, and being rewarded with building something that at one time was just a passing thought. The design and construction of the simulator has been both challenging and rewarding, and the outcome has certainly met all of my expectations.
What are you most looking forward to at Maker Faire Detroit this year?
I look forward to participating as a maker for the first time at a Maker Faire event, and I hope to bring a sense of what it’s like to fly a paraglider to those who wish to give it a try.