Thursday, December 20, 2012

Video with the Swann FreestyleHD

UPDATE - April 2013 - 
I've shot a number of hours of video with the Swann Freestyle HD camera.  These videos have been from an RC glider platform, a paraglider inflight, and hand-held.  It's my opinion that the color quality and general video sharpness are not up to the quality levels of the new Go-Pro HD 3 line.  I still find the quality to be as good or better than the GoProHD (the last generation) and certainly, for the money, a good camera for the price (as low as $150).  If you want the best, you will have to pay for it (as much as $650 for the GoPro Black).

As I wrote previously, the Swann FreestyleHD is a small format action sports video cam that rivals many of its competitors with regard to pricing.  If the durability and video quality are comparable this is quite a find.

The durability is yet to be demonstrated since I've flown with this camera for less than 3 hours.  The video quality does have some noticeable variance from the GoPro standard however.  As you can see in my video below, there is a noticeable darkening in the corners of the frame - it's not overly distracting, but it is there.  I've also noticed an occasional vertical line through the frame caused by something unknown.  Please note that I'm no video expert in either the editing nor filming areas, so your mileage may vary.

Does this variance in quality change my decision to purchase this camera?  No.  It fits my needs and was within my price justification zone.  Is it as "good" as the new GoPro White?  Probably not.  But for half the price it is a product to consider when shopping for an action sports camera.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Baofeng UV-5R Transceiver

Baofeng UV-5R

Over the last 5 years or so, I've been depending on a pair of Icom transceivers for my communications while flying XC. I managed to lose one during a search mission last Summer and the remaining HT has become a bit unreliable. The Icom is a good HT but it's bigger than it has to be and the last few years have brought some really nice, small form-factor, Chinese units to the market.

One of the models that caught my eye is the Baofeng UV-5R - A dual band radio with a great price (around $50 US) that has built up quite a following among hams and outdoors sportsman.

I decided to buy a pair from one of the major eBay outlets. Each HT came boxed with a 110V wall charger/stand, rechargeable 1800mA Li-ion battery, earpiece/mic combo, antenna, and belt clip.

The radio can be programmed with memorized frequencies and repeater settings using the keypad, or programmed using a computer and USB cable.  I installed CHIRP on my mac  (a programming software used to program a long list of makes and models) and soon was able to program in some local repeater sites. 

As I mentioned earlier, there is quite a following among users of this radio.  Its performance is impressive with 1 watt output in 'low' mode, and 4 watts in 'high'.  This radio is capable of communication via 2-meter and 70-cm  bands without restrictions.  FM reception is also available on this unit, as is a LED flashlight.

At this point, I haven't used the radio in flight, but all indications are that this unit works as advertised and has features that put in on par with other, more expensive units.  The build is good and it appears that the unit is robust and durable.  Only time and some abuse will tell, but this unit looks like a good fit for those of us who need a small reliable 2-meter transceiver at a reasonable price.

Fly Safe -


Saturday, December 8, 2012

XC in the Mag

In the 2012 November issue of the USHPA mag Hang Gliding and Paragliding Magazine, author Andy Pag put together Chris Galli, Bill Belcourt and me for a collaborative look at what's required for a pilot to fly a 100k XC.  It was nice to be included in the same sentence with guys of the caliber of Chris and Bill - they have each held state XC records of over 150 miles, while I'm just a regular joe on my "classic" EN-D with a 100-miler under my belt.

If anything, I hope that my contribution to the article shows that you don't need to be a sky-god to fly long XCs.  You just need to commit.  It's not easy to blow off the security of the local site, but that's what it takes to go far.  Something to think about while the off-season lets you dream -

Fly Safe -

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Swann Freestyle HD - flight test

Today I had a short flight with the Swann FreestyleHD attached to an extension pole.  Because the flight was short and close to the terrain, I just used the pole as a platform for the camera without changing the viewpoint.  This video was shot in 1080p 30fps and imported/exported/edited with Imovie without any enhancement.

Swann Freestyle HD - PG flight test from Tim O'Neill on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Swann Freestyle HD Video Camera

This month saw the launch of the new and improved GoPro line.  The prices for, what I consider an 'optional' piece of kit, have exceeded my personal price-point.   But when I saw an ad for this video camera on Woot for $135, I decided to give it a go.  It appeared to have good HD video specs and, considering the included peripheral accessories, at that price it was a steal.  The box arrived yesterday and here's a pic of some of what was included.
All this was included in the Swann package.  

The mounting hardware is of good quality and design.  All plastic pieces fit well and appear to be suitably durable for action packed video work.  The waterproof case is good to 65'.  The "helmet mounting pad" fittings are of slightly different dimensions than those used with GoPro units so I will need to swap out the old mounting pad.   Included are an AC wall charger, USB/miniUSB charging cable, video out to composite video cable.

Included with the camera are two very useful features - The LCD screen "piggyback" and the wireless remote control.  The LCD screen attaches easily and is used to program the unit and preview/review video.  Video can be shot with the screen attached as a view-finder, however the waterproof housing does not accommodate the accessory.  The camera is useable without the case due to its (long overdue on the GoPro) integral 1/4" screw mounting pad and lanyard attachment point. 

The wireless remote is mounted on a high quality plastic clip and includes a button each to take snapshots,  record video, or stop video.  One feature that seems simple, but is going to make GoPro users of old smile, is that the video record button only turns the video ON.  If you are unsure if it's actually recording, you just hit the record button again.  

It's been raining this week so I've yet to try the camera out inflight.  Preliminary (indoor) video looks good. If the camera and accessories are durable and the video quality is reasonable, this camera will be a welcome, affordable alternative to the GoPro line.   

Here is a quick indoor test of the video in rather low light
I built the comparative chart below based on information found on the manufacturers' websites. The specs compare the GoPro Hero3 White edition ($299 retail) to the Swann Freestyle HD kit. Keep in mind that the Freestyle HD kit includes a LCD Screen and Wireless Remote at no extra charge. These two accessories cost $80 each from GoPro.  The prices at the bottom of this chart link to actual deals available Dec. 2, 2012.

Swann Freestyle HD

GoPro White

Video Format
MPEG4 Codec, 
MOV File Format
H.264 codec
1080p (1920 X 1080) 30fps
720p (1280 X 720) 60fps
1080p(1920X1080) 30fps
960p (1280X960) 30fps
720p (1280X720) 60fps
Photo Format
Photo Resolution
8MP / 5MP / 3MP 5MP 
Capture Mode
Single Shot, Continuous every 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 30, 60 secs, self timer every 0, 5, 10 secs Burst (3/sec.)
135 Degree angle view at 1080p resolution
170 Degree angle view at 720p resolution
"Med" at 1080p
"Ultrawide" at 960p >

Yes - Built in Built in
Audio Format
Stereo 48kHZ, AAC compression Mono, AAC with AGC

Storage Type
MicroSD Card (not included) MicroSD Card (not incl.)
Storage Capacity
Up to 32GB Up to 64GB

Record Time
Up to 2.5 Hours per charge Varies with resolution
(Info on website is vague)
Battery Type
Rechargeable Lithium-ion (1000mAh) Rechargeable Lithium-ion (1050mAh)
Charge Method
USB (computer or charger) USB (computer or charger)
2.36" x 2" x 1.6" / 60mm x 51mm x 42mm ?
2.9oz / 82g (without screen)
3.8oz / 108g (with screen)
2.6 oz.
Storage Temp
-4 degrees F ~ 140 degrees F
-20 degrees C ~ 60 degrees C

Working Temp
-4 degrees F ~ 122 degrees F
-20 degrees C ~ 50 degrees C (When inside waterproof housing)

$166.01 $259.99 + $160 for acc.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Relining my Gradient Avax XC3

My trusty Avax XC3 has served me well for the last two seasons.  While it's no slouch - it carried me to my personal best 110 miles in Sept. - I have put more than 250 hours on the lines and can feel the performance and handling getting a bit sluggish.

My last wing, an Avax XC2, was revitalized by the replacement of the lines after 2+ seasons so I decided to get a new line set for the XC3 and fly one more season on it.  This seems the best course with the rule change limbo that we find ourselves in.  My good ole' "Traditional EN-D" is still a lot of fun.

The first waves of a four day Pacific storm are rolling through California so it's a good time to apply the new line set that has been sitting in the cabinet.  My buddy Scott generously offered the use of his big shop, so we were in business.

Gradient does a great job of labeling the lines and provides a line plan with lengths and diameters of all lines.

Scott started clipping the old lines at the wing while I got organized.  Soon I was applying the lines and after a couple hours we had one half of the wing relined.  After lunch we knocked out the second half in less than an hour.

The hardest step (for me, anyway) is the connection of the risers to the lines.  Each set of lines is placed on the mailion in correct order and uses an "o" ring to secure them in place.

The weather hasn't allowed me to kite the wing to verify its configuration, but I am looking forward to the improved, sportier flying with the new lines!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Off-Season Preparation

From Cross Country Magazine -
This week's Tuesday Tip comes from Guy Anderson. In the current issue of Cross Country magazine he writes an amazing account of how he survived after crashing in very remote terrain in Sun Valley USA earlier this year. I am no survival expert, just very, very lucky. 
So what would I do differently? I’d recommend using a Spot or InReach satellite tracker. Juan, a pilot who landed a couple of kilometres away from me, had a Spot and was picked up at midnight on the first night. Even if I’d been out all night, being able to send a position and an ‘Injured but OK’ message would have spared all the anguish at home. And I’d pack an ‘emergency kit’: Spare radio batteries; a powerpack to charge everything else; a little food; a lighter; a light plastic mirror for signalling; a light waterproof or even a siltarp (very light tarpaulin); mosquito netting; headtorch; strong painkillers; water purification tablets (I drank from a stream but was lucky); and a whistle (I couldn’t shout due to the punctured lung). And finally, to help your rescuers, if you have the strength, try to spread out your glider to make it as visible as possible and even if un-deployed put your reserve out too. Then concentrate on saving your skin.
* * *
I spent two long days, along with more than 60 other pilots, while searching the big country of Idaho for Guy. When we heard he had been found *alive* it was great news. His candid comments regarding his lack of preparation are refreshing - and a good reminder.   I've written about this before and, at the risk of sounding a nag, I'd like to list some of the stuff I've written.

Regarding the SPOT TRACKER and Survival -
Regarding Survival Kits for XC flyers - Nice Harness - What's in it besides your butt?
And please see my last post.  A special deal ON SPOT - THIS WEEKEND ONLY


SPOT Deal - This weekend ONLY

For those who plan to fly XC this year, whether it is in competition or not, owning and using a SPOT tracker is a great idea. If your decision has been delayed after some negative reports about coverage and dependability I understand, but must respond with anecdotal personal results. I have used a SPOT since 2008 with much success and reliability. Anyone who flies XC in the Western US uses this product religiously. Most leagues and competitions will REQUIRE use of this equipment or it's equivalent. A great deal is available this week and I got mine - I hope you get yours too -

The deal is a time limited offer to get the SPOT unit free for the cost of the $149/yr. service fee.  I'm partaking since it allows me to upgrade my hardware for the annual fee (which may be $30-$40 bucks more than usual, but that's a cheap unit)  Go to to have a look at the deal.

Seeya in the air -