Flying RC gliders and the International Hand Launch Glider Festival
Discus launch gliders (DLGs) are small radio-controlled models. They are unpowered, thrown into the air like a discus, and rides rising warm air (thermals) to stay aloft.
I first saw a DLG at a park in 2007 while still living in London. There's something magical about throwing a model into the air with your hands, seeing it climb high into the heavens, and coming in gently for a hand-catch. Soon after, I purchased a Longshot, a popular beginner's model at the time.
When I moved to the US in 2008, I brought my hobby and continued flying DLGs for fun until my first competition in 2011, the Red Rocks Challenge event in St George, Utah.
Okay, that's great, but what does that have to do with PurpleAir? DLGs have provided me with the fundamental skills to make PurpleAir a reality and the connections to help PurpleAir grow.
The building blocks
When I started flying DLG competition events, I noticed two deficiencies: firstly, the organizers did not have the support software to allow them to plan and execute events efficiently, and secondly, DLG enthusiasts did not have an easy way to practice for competition tasks by themselves as it required a separate timer to assist. I've been interested in learning how Java programming works and decided to create an Android app called F3K Master that simplified the running of these events for organizers and allowed enthusiasts to self-practice competition tasks. F3K is the official DLG event classification under the world air sports organization, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. F3K Master became very popular with organizers and enthusiasts worldwide, which motivated me to continue refining my Java skills to improve this app.
One important thing that makes DLGs so exciting is the physical aspect of throwing the model into the air, and enthusiasts practice launches to gain an advantage in competition. While there were ways to track your launch heights for practice through an altitude sensor plugged into the model, nothing on the market allows the user to get real-time altitude data. With nothing available, I took the opportunity to learn hardware design and C++ to create the Bluetooth Open Altimeter (BTOA). The BTOA captures the launch heights from inside the model and sends the information to your cell phone, allowing you to adjust your throwing techniques and model settings to find improvements quickly.
When I wanted to know how the air quality was affected by the gravel pit in our town of Draper, I looked for an air quality sensor that provides real-time data, and I couldn't find one available. So I went to work and used the Java, hardware, and C++ skills picked up from these projects and created our first air quality sensors and real-time air quality map. If I were not involved with DLGs, I would not have had the building blocks at my disposal to attempt the PurpleAir air quality sensor project.
Finding the right partner
Thomas Lee of ArmSoar first contacted me as he was organizing DLG competitions in Asia and wanted to use F3K Master to streamline their events. ArmSoar is a world-leading DLG design, manufacturing and retail company. They create many of the DLGs flown worldwide, and I became a US distributor for ArmSoar to help make these DLGs more accessible to enthusiasts in the US.
Later in 2016, as we started purchasing laser counters and other electronics in volume, we spent a lot of valuable time sourcing all the different components and dealing with the myriad of suppliers—time which better used to improve the sensors and grow PurpleAir. It clicked in my head to see if Thomas was interested in helping us source these components from Asia. Since late 2016, Thomas and ArmSoar have sourced many critical parts used in all the PurpleAir air quality sensors.
While PurpleAir has been growing steadily, we wanted to add some fuel to the fire (figuratively, no PM2.5 emitted!) with a revamped marketing team. Having always been impressed with ArmSoar's marketing, I reached out to Thomas earlier this year, and as luck would have it, he was setting up ArmSoar Media. This new division focuses on digital media and marketing for direct-to-consumer eCommerce clients, and PurpleAir became their first client. Within the first three months, we have experienced sales growth beyond expectations.
Without DLGs, I would not have met Thomas and his team at ArmSoar, who have allowed us to focus on innovating and making PurpleAir air quality sensors.
International Hand Launch Glider Festival
Last week was the 27th annual International Hand Launch Glider Festival (IHLGF), held in Poway, California. The IHLGF is the largest DLG event in North America and draws many participants worldwide. This event is infamous for challenging flying conditions that push pilots beyond their comfort zones and remains one of my favourite weekends every year. The camaraderie between pilots, the push to keep improving, and the sheer enjoyment of hanging out with friends for a few days in the Southern California sun encapsulate what DLG flying is all about.
To show my appreciation for DLGs and the IHLGF, PurpleAir has sponsored Saturday's on-field pizza dinner this year. The IHLGF hosts a not-so-silent auction to sell products donated by sponsors like ArmSoar. The proceeds go to the United States F3K team going to the World Championships, and this year PurpleAir has matched dollar for dollar the first $1,500 generated in the auction.
While I don't have as much time as in the past to fly DLGs, I am forever grateful for how the hobby has helped shape PurpleAir and will continue to enjoy it until I can no longer throw a plane in the air. If you have been curious about DLGs and the joys of RC soaring, you can check out the following resources: