Pablo's Mission Planning Website

Home Links Tips Downloads MPSSF Tips

Greetings Mission Planners,

Just another friendly reminder to sign up for the Mission Planners User's Conference (MPUC), scheduled for the week of 8 May in Las Vegas NevadaIf you didn't have enough incentive before, I'm on the hook to teach a class on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon on Excel2FV (and its slightly more legitimate cousin In2FV) as well as the FalconView TST Enhancements (FTE) as used at the CENTCOM Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC).  You can register for MPUC at https://www.paulrevereafa.org/MPUC/06/index.asp, and now you can sign up for breakout session classes (like mine) as well.  Don't forget to register for a room at the Flamingo Las Vegas, our official hotel.  

For those of you who use ESRI's ArcView or ArcMap, you can find a nice plug in that will allow you to talk to your Garmin GPS at http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mis/gis/tools/arcview/extensions/DNRGarmin/DNRGarmin.html.  Provided courtesy of the state of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources.  

Microsoft is giving away thumb drives!  Go to http://www.microsoft.com//windowsxp/mysterysolved/corp/default.mspx from your home PC and sign up for one today!  Of course when you get the drive it'll be filled up with various and sundry Microsoft information so please take the time to review it all carefully.

There's a new version of Excel2FV posted at http://www.mission-planning.com and it's a fairly major update.  Thanks to Lt Houston, USA in Iraq, Excel2FV now has the ability to import data directly into a Shapefile.  Behind the scenes the method to communicate has shifted from DAO (old Microsoft "preferred solution") to ADO (new Microsoft "preferred solution").  This shouldn't cause any issues, but please let me know if you encounter any issues.  The only other additions are subtractions, i.e. the OC-135 tab has been removed and Map Path Management doesn't appear for PFPS 4.0 users.

And now, uncensored from a blog in Iraq comes a review of FalconView from the field...

The first was a simple escort mission. A couple of OGAs needed to go into the Green Zone (the center of Baghdad - cleared and patrolled by us) for a meeting. No problem. Me and the other team leader got together and plotted routes in and I got FalconView printouts of the highway intersections for us.

Falconview is a cool-ass program that gives you imagery of a grid location in various resolutions. You center on the grid and you page through the available imagery in that scale until you find what you like or go to another scale. It keeps track of ALL TYPES of imagery, from one meter satellite pictures to road maps to flight maps, etc. Itís really cool to see an area of interest displayed in several different formats - all in the same scale, mind you - one right after the other.

Anyway, I got the Falconview one meter of the intersections weíd be using. Since weíve got our own names for stuff the road signs are essentially useless. You canít find a road sign that says, "Camp Slayer" or "Green Zone". They say "Baghdad Intíl Airport" or "Downtown Baghdad". Or they say "Massouri District". Okay, what the f**k is that and what MSR is it? So, if you canít figure out to take the second off ramp, youíre f**ked. So, I scored satellite imagery of the intersections we were interested in.

Couldn't have said it any better myself!  I'll also point out that the imagery they're using is 1 Meter CIB, so NGA should also get some credit for providing such "cool-ass" imagery.

MP Tip:  FalconView 3.3.1 Moving Map Display

In PFPS 3.2 you had a "GPS Tool", but that's been superceded in 3.3.1 by the new "Moving Map" Tool.  Same tool - different name.  Why the name change?  The GPS Tool was developed to drive FalconView from a NMEA 0183 (civilian GPS) signal.  PFPS 3.2 saw the addition of a PLGR data feed, but the tool name remained the same.  PFPS 3.3.1 sees the addition of an MQ-1 Predator UAV position feed coming from a Predator Ground Control Station.  There's a GPS on the Predator, but it's tough to argue that you're directly connected to it when you're sitting in front of a PC hundreds or thousands of miles away.  AF Special Operations Command has also fielded an add on using the Moving Map feed to drive FalconView from their aircraft position pulled from the 1553 bus.  Sure, the aircraft uses a GPS to determine it's position, but it also uses sensors like an INS.  The bottom line is that FalconView can be driven by any data feed that includes a Latitude and Longitude.  It doesn't really care what sensor you use.  FalconView 4.0 takes a further step away from the traditional "GPS feed" model, but more on that later.

How can you tell that the tool's name has changed?  Just put your mouse over the toolbar button formerly known as GPS:

The Overlay Options has been changed too:

The Moving Map Options look more or less the same as what you had in GPS options in 3.2, but you now can select "Predator" as the Moving Map Feed type.  (Ignore the second "Predator" in the dropdown - a symptom of an older install)  You'll also notice there's another new moving map feed type - "NMEA (GPS) TCP/IP".  This new feed type lets you connect to a GPS feed across a network.  If you select the NMEA (GPS) TCP/IP feed type (man - that's a mouthful) you'll have the following options for the feed:

In the example above you're set to receive a feed from your own computer (localhost, otherwise known as 127.0.0.1) on port 5678.  Before we go further, perhaps a brief review of TCP/IP and port numbers is in order.  TCP/IP is the main way that two computers on the Internet (or any other IP based network) exchange information.  For example when you want to connect to a webpage your computer sends a request encoded in TCP/IP packets to the IP address where the data is stored.  The computer with the data acknowledges receipt of the data back to your computer so you know the request has been received then follows it up by sending the actual web page to your browser.  When you go to a website you may see messages in your status bar that you're "connecting to xxxx".  This means you've sent off your request but haven't gotten any information back.  Next you'll see "waiting for xxxx".  This means your request has been acknowledged via TCP/IP packets but you're waiting for the actual data.  Finally the page will start loading.  Even though you don't see it, your computer is acknowledging (via TCP/IP) the receipt of the data.  For HTTP (normal webspeak) the data is sent across port 80.  FalconView's NMEA (GPS) TCP/IP feed works much the same way.  You provide an IP and port and when you press the connect button FalconView goes to that location and says "send me the data".  If you've entered in the IP/Port correctly the data should start flowing.  If the previous discussion sounds like so much techno mumbo jumbo don't worry.  If someone tells you the IP/Port where the data is coming from then you're golden.  Enter the information, press connect and your Moving Map symbol will appear on the FalconView screen.

So how do you get NMEA GPS information to a TCP/IP port so you can share it?  Good question.  Thanks to the Air Force HH-60 program we have both the new TCP/IP NMEA GPS feed and a cool new tool called Splitter.  The HH-60 has an interesting serial port feed that contains an interlaced Near Real Time (NRT) threat feed and NMEA GPS position.  In FalconView 3.1.2 and earlier releases it was possible for both the GPS Tool and the Threat Feed to read the data simultaneously.  This wasn't a planned feature, but it did work.  Starting in FalconView 3.2 that feature was broke and an alternate path was needed.  Splitter was developed to split the Threat and NMEA GPS information from a single serial port feed to a pair of TCP/IP feeds, all within the same PC.  Fortunately Splitter works just as well to receive any data on a serial port and forward it on a TCP/IP port.  It also can receive/forward on a pair of TCP/IP ports.  You won't find Splitter in the PFPS or PFPS Administration program groups.  The executable is in the \PFPS\Falcon directory and you can double-click to start it from there, or create a shortcut on the desktop or in the Start menu:

You'll also note there's a splitter.hlp file with more information on the program.  When you start Splitter it will immediately go to the Windows Taskbar - lower right corner of your screen, i.e. it does not appear in a normal program window on startup:

When Splitter is forwarding data you'll see the small yellow boxes flash red to show activity.  Clicking on the Splitter icon will bring up the large Splitter window and let you control it's setup:

You can set Splitter's input source to a Serial Port (where you traditionally get a GPS signal) or from another TCP/IP port.  By default Splitter's Serial Port Options are setup for a normal civilian GPS.  Splitter does its "split" and sends TACELINT messages (near real time intel) out on port 1234, NMEA GPS messages out on port 5678 (default "receive" port on the new NMEA (GPS) TCP/IP moving map feed) and everything else out on port 6789.  Although Splitter was paid for by the HH-60 community to forward TACELINT and GPS messages it's perfectly capable of receiving and forwarding any data - as we'll see below...

So who'd be interested in streaming GPS data across a network?  Well if you're the only person on your aircraft who's tracking your position then it ain't necessary, but what if you're on a multi-seat aircraft where there are several people who want to drive a FalconView moving map?  If that's the case then it's likely that some are forced to stick a GPS antenna in a side window with pretty crappy reception - especially in a turn.  With an on aircraft network you can put your one GPS antenna in the best position and drive the moving map for everyone.  How can you have a network on your aircraft?  The easiest way is with a crossover cable which lets you easily connect two computers without a hub or switch.  I did this with some MC-130 crews during OIF and they still owe me some beers.  If you need to network more than two computers there are actual usb powered 100BaseT hubs out there, although they aren't common.  If you're using a wireless 802.11 network you can connect multiple computers in "ad-hoc" mode without any wires or additional hardware.  As always, make sure the solution you choose is compatible with your aircraft, phase of flight and security needs.

At this point you may be saying a network GPS feed is all well and good, but what I need is a way to connect one of the new Garmin GPS units that has a USB, not a serial connection.  Unfortunately that isn't provided in PFPS 3.3.1, but it is in PFPS 4.0, along with the ability to upload/download information to a Garmin USB GPS from the Handheld AWE.

In the same way we can send and receive NMEA GPS data we can also send and receive the Predator's Exploitation Support Data (ESD) position feed.  ESD is a little different from NMEA in that there are two positions encoded - one for the sensor Field of View (FOV) centerpoint and one for the aircraft itself:

The Predator feed can receive data from either a TCP/IP or a Serial Port, but everyone who's using the feed today (that I know of) is receiving it via TCP/IP.  There are several options you can select:

  • Use heading to target:  Your moving map will track the aircraft position, but the nose of the aircraft will "look" in the direction the camera is looking.  Slightly disconcerting as it appears the aircraft isn't flying straight!
  • Filter out erroneous points:  When replaying some older Predator video tapes to get an ESD feed you can occasionally get noise that causes the aircraft position to bounce from one corner of the world to another.  Filtering out the erroneous points puts a "bozo filter" on how far and how fast the aircraft can jump between updates, i.e. if the Predator jumps from Iraq to North Dakota it's a pretty good bet the second point is "noise" and should be ignored.
  • Use system time:  The Predator feed has both the date and time encoded.  Using system time will force FalconView to ignore this information and use the computer's system date/time in the recorded trail file.

Right now the Predator positions (and several other UAV's) are being fed across the SIPRNET.  Once you've got PFPS 3.3.1 loaded all you need to do is enter in the required IP/Port and connect.  Unfortunately what you get in PFPS 3.3.1 is the second generation Predator feed capability (circa January 2003).  PFPS 4.0 includes the fourth generation Predator feed capability, but more on that next time.  There's so much new moving map stuff in FalconView 4.0 that it will take a whole email just to give it the most cursory review...

Paul