Introduction

Welcome to Balloon Navigator documentation! This page explains everything it is to know about Balloon Navigator. Use menu on the left to move between sections.

If you have any questions not covered here, feel free to send an email to [email protected]


Requirements

Balloon Navigator is a Progressive Web App, which means it works inside internet browser. It doesn’t need to be installed to work offline. However, it relies on certain technologies which are not supported by all browsers on the market.

  • Google Chrome is recommended and fully supported browser for Balloon Navigator on Mac and Windows.
  • Safari is recommended for iPadOS.
Safari will delete all your data after 7 days of not using Balloon Navigator, unless you install it as an app (see below: Installation).

Balloon Navigator is designed to work on bigger screens like those on laptops and tablets. Support for phones is very limited.

You need to have enough free disk space to save offline maps and waypoints. Minimum 2GB of disk space is recommended for small maps. More disk space is needed for country maps, as they can reach up to 2GB per file.


Installation

While Balloon Navigator will work fully online and offline without installation, it is recommended to install it on your system as separate app. This will make it easier to launch (no need to remember web address, just app name) and ensure your browser won’t delete stored data if you didn’t use the app for a longer time, or when you clear cookies and browser history.

How to install on PC and Mac

Open app.balloonnavigator.com in Chrome and click small computer icon with a down arrow on the right side of address bar

You will be prompted to install Balloon Navigator:

Click Install. App will open in separate window.

Balloon Navigator can now be started from the launcher, home screen, start menu, or launchpad (depending on your system).

How to install on iPad

Open app.balloonnavigator.com in Safari and in top right corner, click Share button, then select Add to home screen.

Browser and installed versions of the app use separate database instances, which means your data (waypoints, tracks) won’t carry over. It’s best to install the app right away and be done with it.

Overview

Overview

App window is divided into few main components. From the left:

Left sidebar menu

This is the place where you control and access everything in Balloon Navigator. You can expand it by hovering your mouse over, clicking the hamburger menu on top left or pressing D key.

At the top, you will find buttons to create waypoints and areas. Next, buttons to show and hide panels (Windreader and GPS). Next, access to Maps, Waypoints and Tracks. Last part is Settings, Import/Export and other links.

Left sidebar expands on hover and hides when you move mouse away, but you can click “hamburger” menu icon (four horizontal lines in top left corner of the app) to manually expand or hide it.

Map

Interactive map. Works like any other map software you know already, like Google Maps. You can draw new waypoints and select them, zoom around the map etc.

Panels

Panels are overlaid on map window and you can show/hide them with single button click (W for Windreader and G for GPS) or from left sidebar menu.

GPS Panel shows data from your GPS device. Learn more

Windreader keeps track of your flight on different altitudes. Learn more

Selected waypoints

If you select any waypoint on map, its data will appear in the right sidebar. It shows everything you need to navigate to target.

You can have two waypoints there: one you navigate to, which is always first, and one selected, which is always below. That way, you can see navigation data for two waypoints at the same time.

GPS & View

From the left, GPS button shows current status of GPS tracking. Click on it to quickly start/stop GPS connection. Learn more about GPS button

Next, three buttons:

  • Follow position (F): if enabled, map follows your current GPS position
  • Follow rotation (R): if enabled, map rotates along your current heading
  • Set North (N): click to disable follow rotation and set map view to have North UP.

Last element is cursor position in both LonLat and UTM formats.


Keyboard shortcuts

Most common actions can be activated from keyboard.

On MacOS, ALT is replaced by OPTION (⌥)

  • SHIFT + ALT + mouse drag: Rotate view around center of the map

  • ALT + A: Create new waypoint
  • ALT + Q: Draw Point on map
  • ALT + C: Draw Circle on map
  • ALT + L: Draw Line on map
  • ALT + P: Draw Polygon on map
  • SHIFT: Hold when drawing, it will keep current action active so you can draw multiple waypoints

  • ALT + G: Enable/disable GPS
  • ALT + M: Open Maps
  • ALT + W: Open Waypoints
  • ALT + T: Open Tracks
  • ALT + S: Open Settings
  • ALT + I, ALT + E: Open Import/Export
  • ALT + K: Open User Account

  • D: Show/hide Left sidebar
  • W: Show/hide Windreader
  • G: Show/hide GPS data
  • F: Enable/disable Follow Map
  • R: Enable/disable Follow Rotation
  • N: Set map orientation to north

  • S + N: Navigate to selected waypoint
  • S + E: Edit selected waypoint
  • S + C: Center view on selected waypoint

  • ALT + V: Sync account

Map controls

Basic controls such as zoom and pan work exactly like every other app on your system or device.

On Windows:

  • Zoom in or out: Place two fingers on the touchpad/screen and pinch in or stretch out, or double click
  • Pan around: hold click and move around
  • Rotate: hold SHIFT + ALT, hold click and move around

On Mac:

  • Zoom in or out: Slide two fingers on the touchpad up or down, or double click
  • Pan around: hold click and move around
  • Rotate: hold SHIFT + OPTION, hold click and move around

On mobile:

  • Zoom in our out: lace two fingers on the screen and pinch in or stretch out, or double tap
  • Pan around: hold one finger to the screen and move around
  • Rotate: rotate with two fingers to the screen

Additionally, in top left corner of the map there are +/- buttons and slider to zoom.

If map is rotated away from North, small arrow will appear and will always show direction of North. If you click it, map will rotate back to North Up.


Basemaps

Basemaps are map backgrounds, with the world data on it. You can open Maps menu by clicking Maps (ALT + M) on the left sidebar.

Balloon Navigator provides some built in maps to help you get started. To change map, simply select it from the list (more maps will appear when you scroll down).

Every map has power lines embedded to it. Powerlines show only when you zoom close enough and are represented by red dashed lines.

By default, all maps are online and require internet connection to work. Click blue Download button on the right to save map for offline use. Only maps which are less than 2GB can be downloaded. If map of region is bigger than 2GB, it’s marked as Online Only and cannot be used offline.

If map of your region is not available, refer to Download your own map below:


Download your own map

If you need custom offline map of an area, you can generate one yourself inside an app.

On the left sidebar, click on Maps (ALT + M) and select Download custom map tab.

Follow the instructions on the screen. Entered coordinates mark middle of the map. You can set coordinates on your current position by clicking blue button on the bottom.

When you’re done, click on Download map button. New map is generated on the server and it will take few minutes to download. File size is around 300MB and when it’s done, it will be added to list of maps in Basemaps tab.


Upload custom PMTiles maps

Open Maps from left sidebar menu and click on blue Add map file button:

Pick your map file and select Open. Custom map will appear on the list and you can use it right away.

Requirements for custom maps

Balloon Navigator uses OpenMapTiles schema with additional entries for powerlines:

  • power_line
  • power_minor_line
  • power_tower
  • power_pole

You need to provide PMTiles file with these layers if you want power lines displayed on map. power_tower and power_pole are currently not used (not rendered).


Connect GPS

To setup GPS connection, open Settings (ALT + S) from the left sidebar.

There are three ways to obtain your position in Balloon Navigator:

Internal GPS

If your device has built in GPS receiver (ex. tablet), you can use it by simply clicking Enable internal GPS button. Most of the time, however, internal GPS has low accuracy, not good enough for flying.

You can greatly improve mobile GPS accuracy by connecting external Bluetooth GPS such as Garmin GLO 2 - its signal will replace built-in GPS. It works out of the box on iOS and iPadOS. On Android, you will need additional app to to do that, ex. Bluetooth GNSS

External GPS

Balloon Navigator can receive NMEA data through serial ports. It’s the most common way of connecting GPS receivers to computers.

When you connect your GPS to computer, first, you have to select correct serial port where your receiver sends data by clicking Select External GPS Serial Port. Then, make sure connection settings are set properly. Default values should work with most receivers on the market. Your GPS manual should provide you with connection details, too.

GPS Simulator

The last option is to simulate GPS by manually providing heading, speed and initial position coordinates. Click on Start GPS Simulator after you provide those. Simulator has 1Hz refresh rate and hardcoded altitude of 500m (1640ft) AMSL.


GPS Button

GPS Button is in the bottom left corner of the app. It shows current status of GPS tracking, and works as the ON/OFF button for GPS.

Click on GPS button to enable/disable GPS tracking

Available GPS statuses:

Status Description
ON GPS is enabled and tracking
OFF GPS is disabled and no tracking data is being sent
WAITING GPS is enabled, but not receiving data
WAITING FOR FIX GPS is enabled and is receiving data, but no fix has been obtained yet
NO FIX GPS is unable to get position data
STALE GPS is enabled, but did not receive new data for over 5 seconds
ERROR Could not enable GPS (ex. serial port is not available)
SIM GPS Simulator is enabled

Current position

Current position is marked with black arrow, specifically on the tip. Green line starts from the arrow tip and goes 5 km forward.

Balloon Navigator uses longitude and latitude values for positioning. Position in UTM coordinate system is rounded to 1m accuracy, while short UTM position in GPS Data panel is rounded to 10m.

Create waypoints

You can create new waypoints using elements on top of left sidebar:

Add waypoint

First option, Add waypoint (ALT + A), let’s you create points and circles. It will open new window where you can enter waypoint details: name, description, coordinates, altitude, elevation and radius (for circles).

Coordinates can be switched between Longitude/Latitude, UTM and short UTM formats with a dropdown input.

Short UTM will select zone based on where the map is centered on.

Balloon Navigator uses LonLat coordinate format, which means Longitude (East-West, or X axis) goes before Latitude (North-South or Y axis). The same order applies to UTM coordinates (Easting before Northing).

Small button on the left (with a mountain icon) will find ground elevation on provided coordinates and fill the elevation field automatically. It queries online API and needs internet connection to work.

Second small button (with pin icon) will copy your current GPS position as coordinates for waypoint.

Draw Point

Select (ALT + Q) to draw simple points on the map. Hold SHIFT when placing point to keep drawing enabled, that way you can mark multiple points faster.

Draw Circle

Select (ALT + C) to draw circles. First click on the map will mark center, then move your mouse to create radius. Second click will finish drawing.

Draw Line

Select (ALT + L) to draw lines. Click on the map to keep drawing segments. Double click to draw last segment and finish.

Draw Polygon

Select (ALT + P) to draw polygons. Polygon is similar to line, but it has to be closed (last segment meets first). Double click or click on first coordinate to finish drawing.

Draw Freehand

Select (ALT + U) to draw freehand. Hold click to draw a line, release to finish. Freehand line will snap to existing waypoints if close enough.


Only Points and Circles allow for precise positioning (exact coordinates). If you’d like to have precise coordinates for Line, Polygon or Freehand, first create Points there. Then, when drawing, they will snap to existing points and have the same coordinates.

List waypoints

Select Waypoints (ALT + W) from left sidebar to show a list of all waypoints in your database:

With buttons on the right, you can:

  • Navigate to waypoint (see below)
  • Select
  • Edit
  • Delete

Select waypoints

To select a waypoint, click on it on the map. Its label outline will turn green and waypoint details will appear on the right sidebar:

Waypoint data

Sidebar will show various navigation details for selected waypoint. At the top, there is a name, description, coordinates, altitude and radius (if circle).

Blue panels show data related to air. Yellow are time. Orange are ground related.

Distance to target is different based on waypoint type. For Points and Circles, distance is measured to the center of waypoint (right on Point or middle of circle). Circle has additional metric distance to edge which displays closest distance to reach its radius. For Polygon, Line and Freehand, distance is measured to the closest point of the shape.

Descent/Ascent to target tells you how fast you have to ascent or descent to reach target precisely at its altitude, based on your speed, distance and altitude difference.

DROP IN panel is Drop Calculator and shows data only if waypoint has elevation data filled in. It will calculate the closest point you can reach when dropping a marker and will tell you when to drop based on your altitude, speed and target elevation. Hover over small i icon to learn what’s the best possible result of the drop.

Buttons at the bottom are:

  • Navigate to waypoint (see below)
  • Edit waypoint
  • Delete waypoint

Navigate to waypoints

Navigating to waypoints is very similar to selecting them. The differences are:

  • Waypoint you navigate to is marked with red outline on the map.
  • Map will show purple dashed line leading to closest point of navigated waypoint
  • Waypoint is always on top of the right sidebar, marked with red ribbon on its left side (it pushes selected waypoint below)
  • Additional NAVIGATING label will appear below waypoint name

You don’t have to use this mode, as simply selecting waypoint already shows all the data. The idea for navigating is to use it for the current target you’re flying to, and always have it on top. At the same time, you can select different waypoints and quickly compare data without losing track of your current primary target.


Edit & delete waypoints

To edit a waypoint, click on blue outlined button with a pen. You can find this button on waypoint list or right sidebar, when waypoint is selected.

Window to edit works the same way as the one when creating new waypoint.

Short UTM zone is based on current waypoint coordinates or, if there are none, on where the map view is centered currently.

Delete waypoint

To delete, click red trashcan button on waypoint list or right sidebar, when waypoint is selected. You will have to confirm it by clicking on the button again.


Tracks

Tracks are saved automatically whenever GPS is enabled and position changes. Trackpoints are recorded on every GPS update (with minimum 500ms between updates), with coordinates, altitude and time.

Tracks appear on map as orange line:

You can display list of all saved and imported tracks by selecting Tracks (ALT + T) on left sidebar:

Click blue button on the right side to show selected track on map, red trashcan button to delete track.


Windreader

Windreader keeps track of your flight on different altitudes. You can show/hide it with W key.

Altitude is rounded to 10 meters / ~30 feet and shows average of last 20 measurements for each level. Columns show, from the left: altitude in feet, direction of flight in degrees, speed in m/s, time since last measurement in minutes.


GPS Data

GPS Panel shows data from your GPS device. You can show/hide it with G key.

Blue panels show data related to air (ex. altitude, speed). Yellow are related to time, and Orange relate to ground (ex. coordinates).

All data panels are click-through, which means if you click on waypoint hidden behind a panel, it will be selected.

Import

Balloon Navigator supports importing waypoints and tracks in GPX and OziExplorer formats.

Open Import/Export menu from the left sidebar (or ALT + E) and upload file using blue Import file button. Format will be automatically recognized from file extension.

GPX import

When reading, GPX routes (<rte>) are converted into Lines, and GPX tracks (<trk>) into tracks in app. Any properties on route and track waypoints are ignored.

OziExplorer import

.wpt files are converted into waypoints and .plt files into tracks. Custom styles are applied for waypoints only.


Export

You can export all waypoints and tracks to GPX or GeoJSON files.


User account and sync

You can access user account menu from the left sidebar:

New window will appear:

From here, you can sign up for a new account or log in to existing one. New account requires clicking on a link in email message to confirm email address.

After you login for the first time, all your waypoints and tracks will be assigned to this account and start syncing to Balloon Navigator online database.

All new waypoints and tracks will be synced to server in real-time as long as you are connected to the internet.

Additional two-way sync happens on app launch and every 10 minutes. You can also trigger a manual sync by clicking Sync now button on User account panel (it’s visible only when logged in) or with ALT+V:

You can be logged in to sync on multiple devices at the same time. For example, you can have two people entering waypoints during pre-flight briefing to make it faster, or ground crew can create or edit points for pilot during flight. The other device only needs to do a manual sync (ALT+V) afterwards, or wait for auto-sync every 10 minutes.
Synced waypoints and tracks are assigned to logged in user. If you login using different email, you will not be able to sync objects created before, on previous account (they will stay in app on your device, but won’t be updated to/from server). Newly created waypoints and tracks will start syncing under new user account.

Frequently Asked Questions

Balloon Navigator crashes when downloading a map

If that happens, it means that your device does not have enough RAM to process map file. You have to either download smaller map or switch to newer, more powerful device.


End remarks

If you have reached down to this point, I can only assume you are pretty invested in Balloon Navigator now :)

Please let me know about your ideas for features and improvements at [email protected]!