Every year one of the biggest and most exciting air races takes place testing the speed, precision and skill of the world’s best aerobatics and their planes. The requirement was to produce a navigation system that provided RTK precision with roll, pitch and heading at 20Hz. The output data would be broadcast from Mike Mangold’s Zivko Edge 540 aerobatics plane in the Red Bull World Series Abu Dhabi race in March, 2006. The data would be used in TV broadcast to overlay a real race over a virtual image of previous practice and competition runs. We were also required to produce hardware that weighed under 1kg, would operate to 12G and withstand 20G. The whole system had to be granted an airworthiness certificate when fitted to the aircraft.
We started work on about the 20th December, 2005 and commenced flight testing in the first week of January, 2006 at St. Neots Airfield in Cambridgeshire. We worked with NovAtel who modified the firmware to operate at 12G instead of 2G. They changed firmware during their working day and we tested in our working day. Working with Pi Research (now Cosworth) and an aerobatics team we tested the system constantly over a three week period. The end results allowed us to generate a 12G INS system that gave decimetre in-flight performance and weighed less than 1Kg when housed.
We used NovAtel’s OEM4-G2-RT2Wi (now SPAN) and an HG1700 AG58 ring laser gyro with a NovAtel GPS-532C FAA certified antenna. This GPS equipment was housed in a light metal CPUpak case specially designed for strength and weight. The IMU was housed in a Forsberg lightweight magnesium housing. The ground RTK base station was a standard CPUPak inside a Pelicase with a GPS702 antenna. All equipment apart from the ground station was certified airworthy prior to shipping to Abu Dhabi in February, 2006. Export clearance for the IMU to travel from the UK to Abu Dhabi was cleared in two weeks. Data was displayed in special F1 style display software showing roll rates, accelerations, position, speed all projected over a virtual 3D-view of Abu Dhabi.