Minimalistic live Belgian aviation weather (METAR) map with a Raspberry Pi

After almost 5 years of more-or-less continuous operation of my DIY weather and air-quality monitoring system, I decided that it was time to do something else with my Raspberry Pi, so I spent an evening on making a small, live METAR map of Belgium (and Luxembourg). I used the same hardware as in the previous project, you can check that out via the link above.

I simply placed the airports that provide METARs (Meteorological Aerodrome Reports) via the free CheckWX API on the low resolution matrix display (by selecting the most appropriate pixel, keeping especially the relative positions correctly represented), colouring each selected pixel according to the current weather condition, ranging from purple (LIFR – the worst), via red (IFR) and blue (MVFR), to green (VFR – this is what we like). This minimalistic display works very well, if you are familiar with the shape of Belgium and the location of the airports.

The coding is pretty lazy, but it does what it needs to do. The only extra feature that I added besides polling the API every 2.5 minutes (to stay inside the daily limits of the free tier of the API) is that the brightness of the LEDs changes according to the time of the day (or the altitude of the Sun to be precise): they get slowly dimmed approaching and past sunset so that the display is not disturbing at night (as it is placed under our TV).

It is nice to see the changing weather from the couch without having to check my phone :)

What is in my flight bag and how do I record my flight videos with audio (2023 edition)

I often get questions about the gear I use for flying, and about the gear I use for recording video and audio in the cockpit. I try to answer all of these questions in this post. I will start with an overview of the contents of my flight bag. I will give comments on each item as I see fit, in order to provide some background information supporting my choices, and to make it easier for you to see if a similar item would make sense for you. Then I will cover the settings used on my main media recording devices. Finally, I will provide a few tips and tricks about editing flying videos.

So what is in the bag?

My flight bag is an old North Face laptop bag, I don’t even know its type anymore (as it is not in production anymore for a long time already). I did not manage to find anything better which would fit all the stuff that I personally need in the plane, even though I must have checked out at least a hundred flight bags online. It is showing heavy signs of wear and tear already, but I think I will be using it until it really breaks.

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Vesterålen and Lofoten at 50mm

As a slightly mad experiment I took only a single normal lens for our two-week road-trip in Norway last summer. This is definitely not the standard choice for landscape photography, but I wanted to do something different than usual. And for the touristy (Instagram) shots I had my trusty iPhone Pro with me anyway. This phone is actually the main reason why I tend to do less and less photography with “a real camera” – it simply takes too good photos, which makes carrying a heavier camera and the related equipment (bags, lenses, tripod, filters, etc.) less attractive lately.

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Beyond the PPL: EASA Night Rating

To become night rated (at least in the EASA countries in Europe), one must follow theoretical knowledge instruction, and have at least 5 hours of flight time in the appropriate aircraft category at night, including at least 3 hours of dual instruction, including at least 1 hour of cross-country navigation with at least one dual cross-country flight of at least 50 km (27 NM) and 5 solo take-offs and 5 solo full-stop landings.

After sitting through five hours of theoretical briefing, I had an additional one-hour simulator session to go over some basic instrument flying principles in a controlled environment, including – for example – recovery from unusual attitudes in IFR conditions without external visual references, and some more advanced VOR flying. Nothing special if you remember what you did during your PPL training, especially when you have some flight simulator experience under your belt.

Since that went very well, we immediately proceeded with flying patterns at night at Charleroi over two consecutive evenings, which is the main topic of the first video. During the first flight, we covered the differences in ground procedures (especially checking that all lights are operational), the night landing, and some emergencies with stress on unusual runway and aircraft light configurations/availability. I will quickly go through these, but I have to apologise for the video quality, as recording at night is not easy, and the necessary longer exposure times do not play well with the airframe vibrations (by the time of the 2nd flight I decided to hang the camera from the canopy again, which proved to be a more stable platform).

Fast forward to the second flight, we started with one more circuit to cover the one remaining special situation: landing without instrument lights – this is the main reason why you must always have a flashlight (for each crew member) available in the cockpit. Then I went on to complete the solo requirements of the night rating. There was a significant crosswind, but it helped a lot that I had the track also displayed on the HSI thanks to the digital Garmin (GI 275) instruments which are available in the two new planes (OO-NCE and OO-NCF) that I have flown with during these flights.

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