Here's where you set options that will be used each time you start the program. Selecting the File option at the top opens a popdown menu that lets you Open, Save, Save As files. So, you can save settings for each launch site, each flight or whatever. Whenever Balloon Track starts it ALWAYS looks for the file wbaltrak.ini in the Balloon track folder to get its initial settings.

Flight Info


The first tab [Flight Info] allows you to enter data specific to an individual flight. 

  • The Flight Name will be used in several printouts. 

  • The Flight Radio Callsign will be used to identify packets imported into the program as received from your Balloon in flight. The callsign for exported files is now separate from this callsign. You can enter an APRS export callsign on the folders tab, beside the setting for the default Folder for those files to be placed..

  • The Vertical rates. It is possible to enter a secondary ascent rate for high altitude. Click on Advanced Ascent Profile and a screen will allow you to specify them. When active the red warning is displayed, when inactive nothing appears below the "Advanced ..." profile button.

  • Burst Altitude - if Use Burst is checked, then all predictions will be propagated to this altitude. If the wind data file ends at an altitude below this value, the main screen's text output will be background shaded red. This will indicate that Balloon Track is making up wind data above the highest altitude in the wind data file by extending the last (highest) wind data to the burst altitude. If the wind data file contains data at altitudes higher than this burst altitude, the background of the printout is shaded green to indicate that balloon track is ignoring some data in the wind data file, but the prediction is using valid wind data to the altitude you have set for burst.

  • The UTC Offset is used to set local time on your computer and in the Packet Dashboard displays.

  • The Burst Mode covers several different flight scenarios.

    • Forced Cutddown - This option hinges on a preset distance that the ascent phase of the flight must not exceed. You set this distance in the "Cutdown Distance" box in the bottom of this area of the Setup screen. A note about this feature, Balloon Track only computes distance for each altitude present in your wind data file. So, suppose you have a file that has winds for every 10,000 feet altitude gain. If the balloon is 1 mile short of your cutdown distance when calculations are made then the program continues on. During the next 10,000 foot altitude gain the balloon might travel 10 miles, so your forced cutdown would actually be calculated at a distance substantially further away from your desired distance. Just be aware of this calculation method when you use this feature.

    • Burst is a standard up and down flight where the balloon bursts or, you use a cutdown device to bring the payload down while the balloon is still ascending.

    • Static Descent Rate - Some groups have been using twin balloons to haul payloads up. When one of these balloons burst, the second balloon gently lowers the payload at a constant descent rate.

    • Drop - Sometimes folks fly balloons into your area from far away. They your team cuts down the payload. This prediction mode starts at the descent phase from the maximum altitude of the balloon.

    • Float - Using zero pressure or Super pressure balloons, it's possible to ascend to altitude, and float around for a while then cut down the payload. Selecting Float and entering a float time will calculate a landing position based on the ascent winds profile, the winds at the float altitude and then the descent profile.

  • The Expected Launch Time is used in one of the exported APRS formatted strings. It is also used in the Ozi Explorer exported files. And recently as noted below it can now be used to generate time of day marks for data records output in general predictions.

  • Range and Bearing calculations from the launch point are always calculated. However you can add a range and bearing to the nearest (or desired) VOR for assistance in FAA notifications.

  • Measurement system (obvious)

  • Flight Time As

    • Minutes After Liftoff - This was the only available option in previous versions of the program. For each record generated an elapsed time in minutes after launch was displayed.

    • Time of Day - I've added the capability to display the data with an actual time of day. If you set the expected launch time, then the elapsed time to reach each altitude level is calculated and added to the launch time giving you a "real" time to work with.

  • Tracking Grid Initialization - See Tracking Grid Page

  • The buttons on the bottom of the screen carry over from tab to tab and:

    • Replace all values to those in the Config file.

    • Save all the currently entered values to the default config file and return to the program.

    • OR - Close the setup screen using the entered values for the next prediction run, but NOT saving these variables to the INI file.




The Second Tab [Location] - From this screen you can manually enter location data for several sites:

  • Launch Site - obvious

  • Landing Site - is used in Forced landing calculator and the altitude is used in all computations to predict the landing location.

  • Alt Track Site is used in the Packet area of the program. There is a "Dashboard" which shows lots of info about the payload. One series of data include the Range, Bearing and Elevation to the payload. Some folks wanted to have this data point to their home location so they could point antennas correctly. However they also wanted to see the progress the balloon was making from the launch point. So, I add another pop up screen so folks could track this data from two locations simultaneously.

  • VOR data. The FAA places radio navigation aids all over the country which assist pilots. They sometimes request location reports relative to these Aids. So, you can enter VOR data, and range and bearing will be computed (depending on the setting on the first tab of the Setup Screen) for that VOR. VOR data is generated in Nautical Miles and Magnetic Degrees

OK, there's more here.

The checkbox to the right of the VOR data box will allow Balloon Track to automatically select the closest VORs for prediction purposes. If you check out the Main Screen screen capture you'll note that there are three VORs listed and two of them are visible on that part of the data that is displayed. Regardless of which VOR you have selected here on the setup screen, the program will make its own selections. This assumes you have at least one VOR saved to the "vorsites.ini" file. If you do NOT then the program simply ignores this checkbox and works in the standard manner using whatever VOR you entered directly to this screen and not via the "Select New xxx Site" dialog box shown below.

Select New Sites

All those "Select New ... " buttons. What are they? Well, if you type in a location on this screen, you can save that data to the ini file. But, if you want to quickly change from one site to another there is a MUCH better way. Clicking on any of the "Select New ..." buttons and a small dialog box opens:

Initially, this box will be empty. Click on Add New and the button labeled "Edit" above will change to "Save". Enter the Site data for any of the above sites. When you've entered all the data click "Save". You have added the new site information into the program but now you need to activate it so click on the "Activate" button.

From then on, just click on the combo box arrow to the right of the site name and a list of available sites opens up. Launch Site and Alternate Tracking Sites all go in one file. Landing Sites in another and VORs in a third. Note that this dialog is the same for all sites with the exception of VORs. Instead of Altitude, the last entry for VORs is magnetic offset.

What's nice about this. Well pop open the drop down list, select a launch site, click activate and that site is quickly and easily inserted into the main Locations Tab display. You can then save that new configuration to the INI file if you wish, but you don't have to. And then you can quickly generate new predictions for lots of different sites and VOR stations.




The Third Tab [Folders/Files] - The Folders/Files tab holds several folder locations which the program will use to obtain data files, write log files, write Street Atlas files and write APRS files.


When importing data from READY, there is no indication within the file itself to indicate which of the various models is being used or from which station the data is originating. I have created a way to use the input filename to carry this information. You can enter two variables into the filename, Station ID and Model Id. It must be in this format:


For instance: DEN_GFS-Short.txt

The separator to distinguish between the station and the model is the underscore "_" character. The program will then create and use these variables in various places. For instance, the exported DATA file for this input file would be:


And that filename would appear in the header for the general Flightpath.txt output file:

Balloon Track for Windows                                Version 1.9.5
Flight Prediction
Thursday, July 13, 2006           EOSS-107    GFS-Short_06_07_15_1200Z.dat
6:35:57 PM                       Deer Trail                   wbaltrak.ini
Winds DataFile
Station: DEN
Date: 1200Z 15 07 2006
DataFile Status: Intact
Intact Records: 18
Corrupt Records: 0

Note also that the Winds Datafile is IDed as coming from DEN.

On occasion I've forgotten just what was in a particular data file and this will help me keep them straight.

If you don't want to do this and wish to simply let the program go on recommending "Profile_yy_mm_dd_hhmmZ.dat" as the filename don't place a checkmark beside "Use Source Filename". Note: if you do NOT use the underscore character to separate the Station ID from the Model then the entire filename is used where ever the model would have been inserted.

I've occasionally wished I had a copy of the original raw data file I acquired over the net so I could look at other data besides the winds aloft (temperatures usually). Well, I was forever forgetting to copy those files so ... you can now set a folder where your source wx data files will be saved, if you put a checkmark in the box beside that option. The files are automatically renamed to the same filename that the program generated to save the data file. However, the ".dat" extension is replaced with a ".txt" extension. This should make it fairly easy to locate the correct source file for the prediction data you generated when first importing it. Oh, if you reimport the same source file over and over, it is NOT overwritten in the Source Wx Folder. Instead a letter is appended to the filename and increments one letter (a,b,c) for each re-import. This might be handy if you edited the original file for some reason.

You can also activate the prediction history file here. Place a checkmark in the box at the bottom of the form and the file "predhist.csv" will be created and maintained in your Log File Directory. If you haven't specified a Log File Directory that is OK, the file will be placed in the Balloon Track home folder.

Each time you run a prediction Balloon Track will export a record to an ASCII delimited text file that includes:

  • Flight Name (as entered on the first tab)

  • The system time the prediction was created. It's in numeric date format used by Excel, so if you import the file into that program click on that column and format it as a date or time field. For others, this date is in the form of the number of days and fractions of days after Dec 31,1899.

  • The date for the prediction. Usually lifted from winds aloft imported files but sometimes fabricated by the program. This date/time is in plain ascii.

  • Elapsed Time in minutes for the flight

  • Ascent Rate used

  • Descent Rate used

  • Maximum altitude used

  • Latitude and predicted landing point

  • Longitude at predicted landing point

  • Range from launch site at touchdown

  • Bearing from launch site at touchdown

I usually run many predictions prior to a flight and usually lose the data from previous predictions so... I wanted this.

If you have Microsoft MapPoint installed on your system but Balloon Track does not automatically detect it, you can place a checkmark in the "MapPoint Available" box and this will enable MapPoint within the program.

One note here. You can set callsign for APRS Export files on this screen. It will only be used to name APRS export files, and added to the APRS export strings as the originating (transmitting) station in those strings.


FAA Report


The Forth Tab [FAA Report] tab allows you to select flight levels to be reported on the main screen. Checkmark each altitude you wish reported. Then, when you click the "FAA Reports Only" button on the Main Screen the program runs a prediction and prints out reports for these altitudes and the burst altitude. It makes for a much less cluttered display and printout when you have to communicate with the FAA concisely and accurately.


Packet Parameters

The fifth tab [Packet Parameters] contains settings used on both the Packet terminal screen and the APRS/GPS Extraction screen. Note, the GPS time interval in both areas. 

It is VERY important to keep this window of time small in the APRS/GPS extraction part of the program. Otherwise, the course and speed data (found in $GPRMC)  might not match the altitude information (in $GPGGA).

Since the displays in the Packet terminal area of the screen are of less importance you might open up these intervals a bit.

The time stamps capability in the Packet terminal is "dangerous" to use, in that it renders the captured file un-importable by many other programs. I have made Balloon Track aware of these time stamps and you can safely add them to files and re-import them in other areas of the program (Import APRS/GPS) with no problems.

Setting the Comm Port or TCP/IP parameters is accomplished by pressing the button in the Upper Left of the window, "Setup Comm Port or TCP/IP". When you do, the "Setup Comm Port TCP/IP" window opens. That screen deserves its own somewhat lengthily explanation so click on the linked text to see how it works.


I ran out of room on the Setup window and had to split the Mapping setup features off onto their own page. Click on the Mapping Options Button and:

The first tab [Local Mapping Variables] - Originally used to just set track colors.

Now you can still set the colors Balloon Track will use to draw track lines on various maps. But, you can also make some adjustments to how the program will use MapPoint if you have that available.

Balloon Track can now use MapPoint in two completely different modes. I may actually abandon the original internal mode too, we'll see.

But, for now, you can use MapPoint as an external program controlled by Balloon Track or you can have Balloon Track create MapPoint maps within Balloon Track.

As far as I can tell, the former seems to be much more reliable because there is no reliance on a control object. Balloon Track just talks to MapPoint directly and that appears to reduce the possibility of incompatibilities.

So, select "Use External MapPoint Program" and try it out.

MapPoint has always been slow to load track data. It does it twice as fast (on my machine) if I keep the program window invisible until all the plotting has been done. So, if you have a slower machine check "Don't Show External MapPoint Until All Plotting is Done". It will take a longer time for MapPoint to appear, but when it does, the full plot is displayed.

Track Line Width (weight) for MapPoint - Enter a number (lower = thinner line, higher = fatter).

You can select the symbol/icon you want to represent the three points of interest in a prediction (Launch, Burst, Landing) and a separate symbol for the current position of a balloon you are actively (or in simulations) tracking. To find the numerical id of a symbol, open up MapPoint Help/Programming Information/Microsoft MapPoint Visual Basic/Properties/Symbol Property. In this window scroll down and you will see a table of symbols. Find the symbol you want to use and enter it's numerical designation in the boxes above.

If you have no problems with using MapPoint internally, and many of you apparently don't, then select that option. If Balloon Track has a hard time detecting MapPoint on your system you can try checking the "MapPoint Available" box.

Internet Map URLs

The second tab [Inet Map URLs] contains settings used to launch a browser pointing to a web based mapping service.

There are directions on this tab but note the words BTLAT and BTLON in each of the URLs. Balloon Track will substitute these terms with the appropriate latitude and longitude.

If you select Inet Mapping and picking one of the online services from the Main Screen, the predicted touchdown point will be mapped.

If you select that option from the Packet Terminal Screen then the last packet received from the Target callsign will be mapped.

You can set any URL on this tab, however it must point to a service that will accept a URL with latitude and longitude information in decimal form embedded in the URL.