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Arduplane on a Mac

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The standard ground station for ArduPlane is Mission Planner, but there is no “official” version for the Mac.

But don’t panic – you don’t need to use Windows !!!

There is a Mac version of Mission Planner that is built from the same source as the Windows version. It has some disadvantages (see below) – but it works. (Get it here from GitHub – make sure to pick the latest green OSX build). Michael Oborne is doing some great work to get this going, but you will have to be patient.

One thing that Mission Planner for Mac can’t do is flash the firmware on your flight control board. I know this for a fact on the PixRacer – I think it is true for other flight controllers. But don’t worry. QGroundControl to the rescue. (get QGroundControl here).

At least for PixHawk based boards, including the PixRacer, there is a Mac version of QGroundControl that can be used to flash whatever version of ArduPilot you need. For me this meant ArduPlane but it should work with any ArduX. So here is what you do.

  1. Start QGroundControl and connect via USB.
  2. Click “Firmware” and follow the instructions to flash ArduPlane, or whichever version of ArduX you need.
  3. Exit QGroundControl and reboot the flight controller
  4. Start the Mac version of Mission Planner
  5. Plug the flight controller into a USB port on the Mac
    1. or use WiFi to connect tot he flight controller if you have something like the ESP8266 WiFi module connected to the “PixRacer” WiFi SSID
  6. Use Mission Planner to configure the flight controller

If you want to upgrade the firmware, for example if a new version of ArduPlane is released, simply fire up QGroundControl again and use it to flash the new firmware.

QGroundControl is quite a nice native Mac app and fairly straightforward to use, but it does have limitations configuring some of the advanced features of ArduPlane. I kind of wish it was more full featured, it’s much nicer than Mission Control to use. But you can use it for basic configuration if you like.

I’m going to see if I can use QGroundControl for setting up missions now that I have my PixRacer R15 up and running.

I hope this helps – see my videos about this on my Tim the Planeman channel on YouTube and feel free to ask questions on twitter @timtheplaneman

There are some things that you need to know about the current unofficial version of Mission Planner for the Mac.

  • It runs on 64 bit OSX (I’m running it on 11.6 Big Sur as at 15 Oct 2021)
  • It uses a lot of CPU. I don’t know what its doing but it’s a bit of a hog.
  • There is a weird thing that happens when you edit values (e.g. when setting parameters), when you click the field to edit, a window opens up that takes up the whole screen – just to enter a single value. It’s a bit scary – you might think it has crashed or there is a virus or something but no – it’s just using the entire screen to enter a single value. When you type in the value and press enter, the window closes and the value is accepted into the screen.
  • You can double-click on the HUD screen to pop it out, but once you do that you can’t click on actions or display messages so its not very useful. But it is the only way to resize the HUD screen, so you might eat to do it.
  • If you are going to connect to the flight controller via USB or wifi, make sure to start Mission Controller first. If you are already connected when you start it, Mission Planner probably won’t be able to connect.
  • Don’t have QGroundControl and Mission Planner running at the same time, they will get very confused and you might break something.
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