XC Retrieve

30 second “Quick Start” guide for the criminally impatient…

  1. After you’ve landed open Telegram and share your location in your retrieve group (paperclip > Location)
  2. Send a message that includes the tag “#map” and the message will appear on your pin on xcrt.aero (when you click the pin) –  eg. “Trying to get back to Milk Hill #map
  3. Look at xcrt.aero in your phone’s web browser to see if there are any other pilots nearby
  4. Message them directly by clicking on the “Message…” link when you click on their pin (NB. This only works if they have set their Telegram username – HINT: SET YOUR OWN by going into Telegram Settings and scroll down a bit!)
  5. If you move location, then share your new position, and send another #map message (NB. only the most recent #map message posted AFTER you’ve shared your location will be displayed)
  6. If you no longer need to share your location then post a message which includes the tag “#cancel” or “#home” – eg. “back at the hill #cancel


XC Retrieve is a system which integrates the group messaging app Telegram and Google Maps, in order to provide an easy to use system for pilots to log their position when they land and see both their position, and other pilots’ positions, on a single Google Map – see xcrt.aero. So it’s perfect to see if any other pilots have landed near you, and perfect for retrieve drivers to pick up multiple people in one swoop.

Hint: if you’re a technophobe or are otherwise struggling with the concept, please take five minutes to read Nigel Page’s (author of “50k or bust!“) notes here which he wrote because he found it difficult to grasp initially. I think you’ll find it helpful.

Sunday 7th June was a great day!!! (pins are colour coded by recency, with red being the most recent)

How does it work? An overview…

Group messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram are great for sharing your current location with other members of the group, but the trouble is that if someone in the group clicks on that map, it only shows the position of that one person, not everyone else who’s shared their location that day, which makes it difficult for coordinating retrieves. In addition, you have to be a member of that group to see other people’s positions. To get around this, Alan Birtles (a PG pilot), has developed a website, xcrt.aero, which shows everyone’s locations on one map. By clicking on a pin on the map, you can message that person directly, and get directions to them, and also see their most recent message.

How to set it up (don’t worry, it’s really simple!)

NB. Please read to the bottom of the page before trying anything – you’ll see why when you get there!

  1. Install Telegram on your phone and set your name, profile picture, and username in the app’s settings page.
  2. Join one of the following retrieve groups (NB. Due to a small number of trouble-making non-flyers joining our groups via publicly available invite URLs we’ve had to change the procedure for joining these groups. Please join our vetting group by clicking here (on your phone), and once joined, state which groups you want to join. Once we have verified that you are who you say you are you’ll be given links to join the group):
    * South West Retrieve Group (Skysurfers, Thames Valley, Avon, Wessex, Condors, N & S Devon, Kernow, Malverns)
    * Southern Retrieve Group (Southern Club, Dover & Folkstone)
    * Central Retrieve Group (Derbyshire/Peak District)
    * Wales and Welsh Borders Retrieve Group
    * Yorkshire Dales Retrieve Group
    * Lakes and NW Retrieve Group
    (NB. Please Telegram me directly if you’re interested in starting a new group)
  3. When you land, open Telegram, go to your Retrieve Group and share your location by clicking the paperclip (bottom left), and click Location. Wait a few seconds for your phone to get an accurate GPS fix, then click Send.
  4. Send another message to the group saying something like “bombed at 10km, will try to hitch back #map”, or anything that you think will be useful to a potential retrieve drive and this will be displayed on your pin, as long as you include the keyword #map.
  5. That’s it, you will now appear on xcrt.aero as a red pin, along with everyone else who has shared their location that day.
  6. Open xcrt.aero in your phone’s browser to check whether there are other pilots nearby – you might want to join forces and share a taxi say.
  7. If you move location to a more appropriate place for hitching say, then simply share your location again – only your most recent location will be displayed on xcrt.aero. Also send another #map message.
  8. If you’ve got a lift and no longer need your location shared with everyone, simply send a message which includes the word #cancel or #home. NB. The hash (#) must be at the beginning (ie. not cancel#). Your pin will remain on the map in its last position, however its colour will change to white.

How to use xcrt.aero

  1. Click on the menu button (white square with three horizontal stripes) in the top right corner of the map to open the XCR menu, then you can choose the map type (default is road), and also your own position refresh frequency (to save battery).
  2. If you’re not in the UK then scroll down the menu and choose the correct Area
  3. Click on a pilot’s name in the list to jump straight to that person’s pin.
  4. When you click on a pin on the map a popup appears displaying the pilot’s name, their Telegram @username, and a link to get directions to their location. Click their @username to message them using Telegram.
  5. Markers are colour coded: red = 0-15 mins, orange = 15 minutes-1 hour, yellow = older than 1 hour, white = cancelled.
  6. The map auto-updates every minute or so, so no need to refresh your browser window to see new pins.

How to register your LiveTrack24, SPOT and InReach accounts with XC Retrieve

You need to sent a special message to @xcr_bot – do this by going into Telegram > Contacts > Search and enter @xcr_bot, then click on the user that comes up, then tap the Start button at the bottom of the chat window. A list of instructions will then be presented to you – choose /livetrack24, /spot or /delorme and follow the instructions (NB. Some of the intructions are for admins only and won’t so anything).

NB. Your SPOT ID is the 33 character string of numbers and letters at the end of your shared page URL – eg. 0rt50YNF1xzsZglGEnFodIb9q0zeRubAz. Your InReach (Delorme) ID is the last bit of your InReach MapShare URL – eg. JoeBloggs.

How to set your Livetrack24 activity type in XC Retrieve

The default Livetrack activity is PG, so if you’re an HG pilot or you’re driving retrieve, you can set your activity type so that your pin on xcrt.aero is set appropriately. The idea of the “Driving” activity type is so that you can keep your livetrack running when you’re retrieving (Hint: download the Livetrack24 app) so that the people you’re retrieving can see where you are. To do this send a special message to @xcr_bot – go into Telegram > Contacts > Search and enter @xcr_bot, then click on the user that comes up, then tap the Start button at the bottom of the chat window. The list of instructions will then be presented to you – type “/activity” and follow the instructions. Don’t forget to set it back to PG or HG once you’ve finished.

No mobile data where you’ve landed?

GPRS only but you can’t connect to the Telegram retrieve group to send your location? Worry not – Alan has implemented a very cool new feature which allows you to send an SMS to the XC Retrieve number, and if you include your coordinates it’ll create a pin on xcrt.aero for you!

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Register your phone number XCR by messaging @xcr_bot in Telegram and typing /sms, then follow the instructions (NB. you will be told the SMS number at this stage so save it in your contacts as “XCR SMS”)
  2. Next, you need to set the retrieve group that your SMS should go to – do this by messaging @xcr_bot in Telegram and typing /smsgroup, and it will list the available retrieve groups.

Now, how do you use it when you land in a remote area? Well, simply send your coordinates and your position will be plotted on xcrt.aero. The easiest was to do this is by using an app – “GPS Status” if you’re on Android, or “GPS to SMS” if you’re on iOS*. You can also include a message such as “walking to the main road” as part of the SMS.

(* NB. The app, “GPS to SMS”, no longer works with iOS 11, however you can copy your current position by using the built-in Compass app. Open the app then long-tap on the lat/long co-ords displayed and then tap “Copy” in the pop-up menu. You can then paste this into a SMS which you’ll send to the XCR SMS number.)

If you’re not using a smart phone then get the coordinates off your GPS in one of the following formats and text it to the XCR SMS number:

  • ±dd.ddddd, ±dd.ddddd
  • dd.ddddd N/S, dd.ddddd E/W
  • ±dd mm.mmm, ±dd mm.mmm
  • dd mm.mmm N/S, dd mm.mmm E/W
  • ±dd mm ss, ±dd mm ss
  • dd mm ss N/S, dd mm ss E/W
  • you can include degrees, minutes and seconds symbols if you wish but these are not required.

The whole of your message will be included on your map pin and adding #map is not necessary, #cancel can be used to cancel previous locations.

How to test this without annoying 350 other group members 🙂

Join the test group by clicking here, then post your location, #map and #cancel tags there. Please do not clutter the actual retrieve groups with spurious messages.

Thanks, and good luck with your next XC flight and subsequent retrieve!

Important – please read if you want to get this going in your region/country

It’s very easy to set up a retrieve group in another part of the world – simply familiarise yourself with Telegram, create a new group, add @xcr_bot to the group, then Telegram me directly and I’ll set up the backend.

Walkthrough video

I’ve created a video which demos most of the main features of the system – please watch it if any elements remain unclear after reading the instructions:

Edit 7th April – here’s the recording of my Zoom demo session:

Please watch at the beginning of every season 😊

Finally, please join the XCR Facebook Group for more news, info and tips!

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