Garrett's Tracking Setup

Garrett's kept pretty busy with keeping everything running while tracking balloons. In addition to his laptop with a hi-speed wireless internet connection, a Garman Nuvi 350, another GPS and several radios  are used to receive tracking data and talk with others tracking the balloon. With an internet connection, a laptop and Google Earth is all one needs, and my favorite way, to track a balloon and know where other vehicles in the group are, but Garrett was also using a Garmin Nuvi 350 and running a number of other programs to make landing predictions plus log and I-Gate received data to the internet for others.

For those that keep asking how we track and make landing predictions, Garrett does a much better job of explaining it all then I could so I'm simply going to quote his reply to one of those requests.

I’ll quickly detail what I’ve found to be the “ideal” tracking/prediction and recovery solution (assuming you're a licensed amateur radio operator).

  1. An APRS tracker attached to the balloon and beaconing its position is the crucial step.
  2. A GPS connected to the PC
  3. A PC connected to a TNC receiving the packet transmissions. (still simple to this point)
  4. Software configuration, this is where I believe the key is …
    1. Run AGWPE (AGW Packet engine). I prefer the PRO version so incoming TNC data can be shared with multiple applications.
    2. Run UI-View with UI-Route installed to map the data on Microsoft MapPoint, the 2006 version (reasons why to follow)
    3. Install UI-Point32 as well. This allows mapping to google earth if you choose to use it.
      (actually, I might have UI-Point and UI-Route confused, but not sure)
    1. UI-View configured as a local APRS Server. This will pass all packet data on an internal port for other app's.
    2. Download Balloon Track for Windows ( and the BETA executable, you need it.

Now assuming everything is configured correctly (I’ll have to detail that later, there are a few kinks here and there) here’s how the last two flights went at least …

  1. PC is powered up and ready, AGWPE is running connected and sharing the TNC, UI-View is running, configured to get data from AGWPE and getting GPS data from the GPS…
  2. UI-View logging is turned on, all received packets are being logged to a data file.
  3. UI-Route is running, plotting your position and the received positions in MapPoint. Your now ready to track.
  4. Balloon Track is fired up, you’ve already entered the crucial flight info, calculated rate of rise (from liftwin 0.41 available at
  5. Balloon Track is configured to use MapPoint to estimate your landing area as well as to use the local UI-View as an APRS server.
  6. Using Balloon Track, download the most recent upper air data that’s available for your launch area and run a prediction calculation. It will plot in MapPoint.
  7. You make the go, no-go call. If it’s a go, fill and launch the balloon.
  8. The MapPoint UI-Route window shows your position, the balloons position and hopefully the position of other trackers, UI-View is logging all your data for later use and balloon track is giving you a heads up of predicted vs. actual flight data from the UI-View feed its getting.
  9. You track your package making sure to stay under or in front of it at all times.
  10. Once it bursts, you can use balloon track to predict a new landing estimation based on the actual flight data.
  11. You travel towards that area, watch the sky, watch the PC and wait to see what it does!
  12. Hopefully, if all goes well, it lands a few feet from you and not in the middle of a river.

When we are planning our flights, the biggest asset is balloon track. We have data on what the balloon will do, like rate of rise, weight, burst altitude, etc., and we run predictions constantly, waiting for the weather to look “right” and then pick a launch day.

Don’t be afraid to scrub based on wind data. The last thing you want is for your package to take off and not be recovered. Just wait until the next good day and have fun!

Garrett VE6RKY

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