back to article El Reg Playmonaut soars to 113,000ft

The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team has just about recovered from last Saturday's successful test flight of the Special Project Electronic Altitude Release System (SPEARS) control board, which featured a dramatic attempt by our newly-recruited replacement Playmonaut to break the Paper Aircraft Released Into …


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  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Nice one all - a very exciting day

    but why is intrepid chasecam-girl not in the team photo?

    1. Corinne

      Re: Nice one all - a very exciting day

      Because in my experience the one female present at this type of (non-girly) event is the one that ends up taking the photo of all the intrepid adventurers etc.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: Nice one all - a very exciting day

        Three females - only one of whom was taking pictures. By her request.

    2. Anomalous Cowturd

      Re: Nice one all - a very exciting day

      She was rushed to hospital to have her finger removed from her left eye! ;o)

      Well done all.

      Have a pint chaps! And a glass of sauvignon blanc "for the ladies".

  2. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    The Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) team has just about recovered from the celebrations in the pub after last Saturday's successful test flight of the Special Project Electronic Altitude Release System (SPEARS) control board

    You missed a few words out? But certainly well earned success, and celebrations. A pint to you each and all, and especially our intrepid Playmonaut jr.

    And stratodangle now has to enter the English language, or at least the project management language for when important projects which have risen to visibility at high altitudes in the management tree suddenly look to be going pear-shaped. Unfortunately I think it may apply to one I'm currently working on :(

  3. Parax

    What is this CHARM?

    Surely this is not a standard El'Reg Acronym...

    Clockwork High-altitude Umbilical Fracture Facility?

    1. Phil W

      Re: What is this CHARM?

      Well no, not that. Since umbilical is spelled with a U and CHARM has no Us in it.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: What is this CHARM?

        Look again at Parax's name, and see what acronym is produced. It is certainly more in keeping with El Reg standard nomenclature!

  4. Elmer Phud


    That little chute looked like it was doing its best to either break something or set it free.

    Superb shots, Chapeau! to the team.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Fishtail

      What WAS that shute for... an anti-spinning aid maybe? Loved how at high altitude you could see it dangling as there wasn't enough air to support it.

      Also, nice lense flares! But what was with the stuttery video on the descent - recording issues or encoding/editing?

  5. Cliff

    Related YouTube videos

    Offered to me were one of someone pulling a fat hair out of their neck, and a bird being eaten by a plant.

    Congratulations on being grouped with the weird bit of the Internet

  6. Vortex

    Thanks for the Saturday entertainment. I should imagine the Playmonout's arse was "winking" for much of the descent. Was CHAV actually intended to have an autonomous phase?

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge


      Chav should have separated at either <classified for the moment> metres on the way up, or failing that, at 500 metres below the highest achieved altitude on the way down. It should then find its own way to the ground.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    What about the poor bugger strapped to the side? Unless my ageing eyes deceive me (always a possibility), there were two playmonauts involved in this breathtaking feat. Unless of course one was a stowaway, perhaps an American spy? The plot thickens!

    1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

      I'm thought that was a rescue diver just in case the CHAV wound up in the drink somewhere. Oh look, a drink, another round for the team.

  8. Peter Simpson 1

    Well done, team!

    All those fields and one magnetic forest. But we knew that would happen, right?

    Love the Burberry plaid title.

  9. taxman
    Paris Hilton


    On seeing your sub title LOHAN test flight ends in dramatic stratodangle my first thought was - when found - the intrepid pilot ended up like Michael Hutchence.

    Must get out more.

  10. Don Jefe


    Was the little chute supposed to act as a drogue?

    1. daveake

      Re: Drogue?

      The plan was to release the glider before burst, with a tethered line to pull a large 'chute out of the back of the fuselage. The small chute was to help make sure that happened. We had to ensure that the glider fell by parachute and didn't actually fly.

      In the end the release mechanism didn't release the glider, so the whole lot came down together. 1.3kg of balloon came down with it to, so the tree-landing was a tad faster than we aimed for. Not that we aimed for a tree either :-)

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Drogue?

        Thanks for the info!

  11. Rob

    Last shot in the video...

    ... looked very peaceful with the sun glinting through the leaves, probably just what the Playmonaut needed after that white knuckle decent ;-)

  12. jai

    awesome stuff!!

    we need a playmobile reconstructi.... oh wait a minute...

  13. Gavin Jamie

    Very stable

    From a position of ignorance it seems a very stable platform. Not much twisting around at altitude.

    Does anyone know why the horizon seems concave rather than convex as the system bobs up and down? I assume it is optical but it seems more to do with movement than angle.

    1. David Given
      Thumb Up

      Re: Very stable

      I believe this is an artifact of the way the pixels are read off the CCD sensor --- that is, instead of taking a snapshot at a single instant, each column is read off in turn, which means that if the camera is moving, each one sees a slightly different angle and you get those weird wobbling artifacts. I'm sure it can be corrected in post to a certain extent but I doubt anyone will bother.

      I'm curious, however, as to why the (undoubtly impressive and congratulation-worthy) CHAV video is glitchy. I'd have thought that if the Pi was working at all it would be recording smooth video, and if it was unable to record smooth video it was fail to work at all...

      Also! Wot no undocking video? Or is this being saved for the documentary?

      1. James Hughes 1

        Re: Very stable

        I am also wondering why the Pi video is a bit glitchy - shouldn't be. I'll investigate!

        The concaveness of the flight up imagery I think is simply down to the fisheye (or similar) lens being used.

        1. daveake

          Re: Very stable

          Yes the Earth concave/convex thing is down to the lens on the GoPro Hero 3 that took that video, popular for their ability to cram everything into the field of view. The downside of course is the enormous distortion, which is kind of OK in some stills but hideous when recording video of what should be a slightly curved Earth.

          As for the Pi, the video part was a late addition. A script took small images during the launch phase, then larger images during flight (from 3km up, then down to 2km), and finally it ran a single 10 minute video for the landing before reverting to the small images again. The video part was the standard current Pi Cam software with no special parameters. Guess #1 is the SD card wasn't fast enough. Guess #2 is the processor was a tad busy (but was generally around 20% on the telemetry etc., which I'm guessing isn't enough to cause a problem). The jumps were visible when playing the video back on a Windows PC, as well as in the converted-to-mp4 version uploaded to Youtube.

        2. daveake

          Re: Very stable

          Just to confirm my earlier suspicion, the glitchy video is down to a sub-par SD card.

  14. James Wheeler

    Affinity for treetop landing?

    Not much forest in the landing zone. It's uncanny how it seemed to be drawn to the trees.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Affinity for treetop landing?

      The treetop landing function is built into all flying craft. Please see 'Unavoidable Truths in Aerospace Experiments' by F.U. Murphy for more information.

      1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Affinity for treetop landing?

        See also ongoing saga of Charlie Brown and his kite

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Affinity for treetop landing?

      Trees are magnetic.

      So are balloons, kites, aircraft, etc.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Affinity for treetop landing?

        > Trees are magnetic.

        Yep, ask any beginning skiier!

  15. Number6

    Good effort.

    I thought easily-obtainable GPS units weren't supposed to work above 100,000feet? If so, I assume yours wasn't easily obtainable or you had some other method of measuring the height achieved?

    1. Cliff

      High altitude GPS

      Above 100,000' you just wait until the unit bounces off a satellite, then you have a fresh fix using NFC.

    2. joeW

      As I understand it, the altitude limit on civillian GPS is paired with a velocity limit of around 500m/s. The chip only stops working if both limits are being exceeded - one or the other will work fine.

      1. daveake

        yes, some (not many) GPS units correctly operate this way, but many stop if the velocity OR altitude limit is exceeded. Generally we use ublox modules which are known to work at high ltitudes (up to 50km which is higher than we can get our balloons), provided that we put them into "flight mode" first.

  16. BlinkenLights

    Danger Area

    It looks like it landed right in the middle of an MOD training area. The Playmonaut could have been mistaken for an enemy spy and shot down.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Danger Area

      Salisbury plain - the birthplace of British Army aviation - seem appropiate

  17. a_mu


    fantastic flight and pictures.

    one thought,

    from 35 Km up,

    if you can make the glider glide at 4:1 ,

    the glider could cover most the width of the UK,

    you could gps it back to any landing place you wanted to ?

    have a chat with James May ?

    ok at altitude you would not not 4:1

    but at lower altitude you should get better than 4:1

    so average of 4:1 could be a good average ?

    1. daveake

      Re: glider

      It had to have a chute - CAA won't allow flight from altitude whether the glider is guided or not.

      The James May thing had to stay within sight of an operator at all times.

      1. Martin Budden

        Re: glider

        Does that stupid rule also apply in Spain, or would they let you guide a glider home?

  18. We're all in it together
    Thumb Up

    Hidden oxygen feed is the key

    Said Blighty's launch provided oxygen to the Playmanaut so he could launch his vehicle back to earth at the required height. Said Yanky naut was too busy eating has fries with cheese to notice a distinct lack of oxygen and therefore failed.

    "Houston we have a problem"

    "Eh up, champion, we don't. Put kettle on me throat's gasping"

  19. Retro Man
    Thumb Up

    Outstanding atmospheric endearment

    Watched that video through twice. On coming to the end of the 2nd rendition, I was thinking, now which government department did my taxes go to to for that and which advertising behemoth did that escapade ?

    Quick reality check - El-Reg - all is right with the world !

    I just love it when when backyard tinkering, care, some engineering know-how, genuine intuition and a fair amount of common sense, fun and beer make for a memorable experience, which beat the big boys hands down.

    A really interesting project with great feedback - Well done to all involved - much appreciated.

    (subject line has nothing to do with the content of the post - just an attention [de]grabber).

  20. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    ... and boldly go

    ... where no playmonaut has gone before.

    Well done team!

  21. Pookietoo

    Who thought that it was a good idea to have lines dangling ...

    ... where they could snag things? I'm guessing the drogue was to stop the glider going into a flat spin - did it have a cut-away mechanism?

  22. Astarte

    Good Landing

    Congratulations. An RAF saying is that a good landing is 'one you can walk away from'. Navigation good too - If only it had landed about 2 miles further to the south-east the ground support and emergency vehicles would have got to it very quickly.

    Keep it up!

  23. khisanth

    More helium wasted

    I do love these kind of things, but this yet another waste of a rapidly dwindling supply of helium

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: More helium wasted

      Odd, thought they used Hydrogen....

      1. daveake

        Re: More helium wasted

        Yes, it was hydrogen. More lift less money and as a bonus stops Lester from lighting up too often :-)

  24. Paul 77


    So could you have legally fitted the glider with a radio control receiver so that it could ditch the should if you could see it on the way down and then glide?

    What hoops do you have fo jump through in order fo use

    amateur radio from HAbs etc in the UK now?

    Thanks and well done!

  25. SheppeyMan

    All that ground to aim for - and it missed?!

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