December 31, 2019

Old year, new year…

So here we are again, the end of another year and the threshold of a new one that will have its own challenges and adventures as it unfolds. Any new year resolutions? I haven’t, not really, except for one maybe, which will be to try to get more flying in next year than I have this.

I haven’t totted up my total hours for 2019 but they won’t amount to very many. It didn’t help losing nearly two of the last three months stuck in the UK while trying to get a weather window to bring 24ZN, my ex-pat X-air, over to France but even in the year up to then, I hadn’t flown anywhere near as many hours as I might have. My enthusiasm hasn’t dropped off but too many other things just kept getting in the way.

I’m going to try to change that next year, starting with another attempt to fly 24ZN out as soon as possible after I return from a short spell of winter sun in Egypt in the first week of February. Maybe things will start looking up a bit weatherwise going into March – here’s hoping they will anyway.

And here’s hoping for the best 2020 that we could wish for, each and every one of us. And on that note I’ll bow out for 2019.

December 21, 2019

Shortest day

Hooray, at last, it’s a longish haul but from today the days start to draw out again. Christmas and New Year are OK as far as it goes but in my opinion they are marred by the short, dull days that characterize this time of year and are a complete turnoff compared to the long, warm days of summer. And made even worse than usual this year, by the appalling wet weather that we’ve experienced during the autumn and the storms that have constantly buffeted us.

But I always say that before you know it, it’ll be getting warmer and the trees will be starting to turn green again and I haven’t been wrong yet. Me, I’ll be looking for the longer, warmer days to arrive so I can start to plan again to get 24ZN across the Channel and down to its new home in the Dordogne. And I can’t wait for that to happen 😉

December 16, 2019

You gotta love the French

It seems that not all has been quiet here in Plazac while I’ve been away. The reason is that the problem of intelligent electricity meters has again reared its head and the natives are restless.

When the subject was first raised a year or so ago, a meeting was called in the Salle des Fêtes and it was made clear that the local population wasn’t in favour of them. Not at all. But EDF is a government monopoly so it carried on with its steamroller tactics as government monopolies everywhere do.

But this is France. It’s not like the UK where the population just grumbles a bit and does what it’s told. Oh no. The people take direct action! I received a letter before I left for the UK the last time saying that I was going to have to have a Linky, as they are called over here, installed, as did everyone else in the commune. But it seems that the mood hasn’t changed since before!

My neighbour was telling me yesterday evening that the people are very angry and are not prepared to take this affront lying down. Oh no. They are not going to just sit back and allow this to happen. They don’t like the idea at all. There have been reports (apparently) of homes where Linkys have been installed bursting into flames because of EDF remotely meddling with the supply voltage and pumping in too much electricity, so who could possibly take that risk?

So steps have to be taken to prevent it. I’m lucky (I’m told) because my ‘compteur’ is inside my house so EDF can’t demand access to enter my kitchen and change it over. But what about the less fortunate souls, like my neighbour, whose meters are outside and therefore accessible to those seeking to furtively install Linkys without their knowledge?

There’s an easy solution. She’s out buying a padlock and chain at this very moment which she, along with many others, is going to put securely around her meter box with a strongly worded note attached thus denying access to it to the Linky installers. I said had she taken into account that the meter box wasn’t hers but actually the property of EDF, so she couldn’t do that and all they’d do is cut it off?

But she (along with all the others I guess) is undeterred. We haven’t yet got to the stage of creating barriers of burning tyres on our lane to keep the Linky installers out but if Plan A doesn’t work, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if that’s not down the line a bit, if not ready and waiting as Plan B. I’m digging out my Gilet Jaune so I’m ready to man the barricades at a moment’s notice. Great isn’t it?

December 12, 2019

Gotta new laptop

My old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop is a dinosaur by modern computing standards. I bought it when Windows Vista ruled supreme so it must be 11 or 12 years old at least. It’s big, heavy and slow and I’ve only hung onto it because nowadays I don’t have that much use for a laptop, except when I’m travelling and don’t therefore have access to my home PC.

Up to now it has more or less met my needs, but this time, partly because I was away from home for so long but mainly because I had to keep constantly reworking my flightplan and route for my flight from the UK to France in 24ZN, its limitations became all too clear.

Its basic problem is that its processor although 64 bit, is very slow by modern standards and its performance very poor as a result even though I’ve upgraded its hard disk to a SSD one. It also doesn’t much like running modern software and as for convenience I’ve set up all my PCs (my main home PC and my backup machine plus my laptop) to run the latest version of Windows 10, it has increasingly irked me that my laptop is the odd one out of the three.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t actually on the lookout for a replacement while I was back in the UK but when I was asked which model I’d recommend for someone wanting an economically priced, general purpose machine, I did a search and came across a super little Lenovo. It was the Lenovo V415-AST, an unpretentious little machine with a 15″ screen and an AMD 64 bit processor, which I ended up buying.

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Its CPU is an AMD A6-9225 running at 2.6 GHz, which is a significant improvement on my old Dell. It has a 15.6″ high definition monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, excellent for a machine of its size, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and a 256 GB SSD hard drive. It only comes with two USB ports but I can live with that, and as well as wireless LAN it also has plugs for a local network connection, HDMI and a card reader. It also comes with Bluetooth and a DVD drive, which is uncommon nowadays but which I still like as I often like to burn DVDs and CDs. And all of this was on sale at Ebuyer for only £199!

There was just one drawback, not for me but for some purchasers, because for that price you didn’t get a proper operating system (eg Windows). Instead it came with FreeDOS preinstalled on a small partition on its hard drive. This meant that for an ‘ordinary’ user to do anything useful with the machine, they’d have to install either their own Windows system or a version of Linux, which for some people could be a significant barrier.

It didn’t trouble me, however, because I was quite happy to install my own activated copy of Windows on it that was currently running on my old Dell and just to prove the point, although I didn’t have my software disk with me, by the end of the day on which it was delivered I had the latest version of Windows 10 running on it and activated just using software obtainable on the internet. And no, I’m not going to say how I did that or where I obtained the software from.

My idea was then to wait until I arrived home, to clear the FreeDOS partition off its hard drive using bootable disk management software and then to do a clean installation of my own legitimate copy of Windows. Although I won’t say how I did the previous Windows install while in the UK, I will say that after I’d downloaded and installed the latest Windows 10 64 bit installable from the Microsoft web site, the licence key that I used to activate it was my old Windows 7 one. This was accepted without question by Microsoft because it has always been possible, and still is, to upgrade old versions of Windows 7 and 8 to the corresponding version of Windows 10.

By the time I’d finished installing all of the software that I wanted to on it, including Firefox, my Memory Map flight planning package, drawing and graphics programmes, VLC video player, Filezilla FTP, word processing and spreadsheet software, Google Earth, CD burning and HD video converter software, I was truly delighted. Except for one thing. I still didn’t have properly ‘portable’ email.

I’ll explain what I mean. I use Thunderbird for email on my home PC and my laptop and Gmail on my phone. All three devices receive email without any problems because when set up properly, that’s how email works. Only my home PC, though, removes messages from the server of each of the various email addresses that I use so although I receive and can see them on my laptop and phone, they are all still waiting for me (in their hundreds on this occasion) to view again on my home PC.

But sending emails is something completely different. For this you need to use a SMTP server and these are much more secure as regards access, otherwise anyone could be using them for spamming or any other kind of useless or malicious emailing. So when you set up email on your home PC, for example, most people use a SMTP server made available to them by their internet service provider who can monitor their activity and ensure that it is proper and above board.

But then there’s the problem of how to deal with laptops and other devices that are portable and frequently aren’t connected to the internet using the owner’s internet service provider. In my own case, this doesn’t matter for my phone while I’m using it in France because it and my home PC both use connections from the same provider, Free. But I found that although it’s set up for roaming, this doesn’t apply while in the UK, where I could receive emails on it but not reply or send emails because clearly the Free SMTP server is only available in France itself. And the same goes for my laptop wherever it’s being used.

Up to now I’ve had to bite a very inconvenient bullet, namely that after I’ve received emails through my usual addresses on either my phone or my laptop, if I’ve then wanted to reply to them I’ve had to do so using a separate address on either Outlook Live (Microsoft) or Gmail (Google) set up on my laptop. And the same went for if I wanted to initiate a new email, but for no longer.

I’ve always been pretty clued up when it comes to PCs, software and systems but as I grow older I recognise that I’m becoming slowly more out of touch. I’ve always been aware that what I needed was access to a fully portable SMTP server so I could send emails fom wherever I was, but up to now I’ve not been able to find one. However, searches seemed to indicate that if you have a Google account (I have two, one for Youtube and one other) you can use it to send emails not just from Gmail but from any other email address that you have, and now much to my great delight, I’ve proven this to be correct.

What you need to do is set up the Gmail SMTP server with the correct user name (your Gmail email address) and password (your Gmail account password which will probably be your Google account password) and the correct security settings. To show what I mean, here’s how I’ve configured the server in Thunderbird on my new Lenovo laptop (my user name blurred out).

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It works absolutely perfectly and now I’ll be able to send and receive emails on my laptop wherever I am in the world so long as I’m logged onto a wireless network. I’m very pleased as it’ll make my laptop far more useful to me than it was and as a result I’m sure that I’ll be getting much more use out of my new Lenovo in the future than I ever did out of my old Dell machine 🙂

December 7, 2019

Done and dusted

But only for now. A week of gale-force winds is in the offing so I was desperate to get 24ZN somewhere safe, preferably indoors, before they hit. It has been battered a couple of times in recent days by strong south-westerlies and rain while it’s been standing outside to the point where a tractor was parked behind it as a windbreak over one night. Fortunately it emerged none-the-worse for the experience.

However, now I’ve decided to return to France until the spring, I needed to make arrangements for the longer term and that I was successful in doing today. For now 24ZN has been moved into Clipgate’s new main hangar and there it will stay, at least until the worst of the winds have passed through during the early part of next week and hopefully for a bit longer. Here are some shots that I took of it in its new home.

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But at some time in the near future two extra aircraft have been pre-booked to go into the hangar over the winter and although there’s still room for one, it’s doubtful that there’s sufficient space for another. But there won’t be a problem. When the second one arrives, arrangements have already been made to move 24ZN into one of the smaller hangars. There are two aircraft, a Savannah and a Tri-Pacer (two types that I’ve owned, coincidentally), and a gyro in there at present and as there will be no need to get 24ZN out again until I return in the spring, there will be enough space to put it in behind the two other aircraft with its nose to the back wall.

I won’t be there when it’s moved but after today, I’m confident that it will be taken care of by people with experience of safely moving aircraft around. So that’s it – for now. I’m now happy that 24ZN will be in a safe place under cover and out of the weather until I return in the new year. I’m booked on a ferry from Dover tomorrow morning so I’ll soon be back in the Dordogne where I’ll be able to find out what’s been going on while I’ve been away and will hopefully find that my other two aircraft are safe and sound where I left them in the barn. I’m sad that I’ll be leaving 24ZN behind but after all the ups and downs of the past weeks I have to say that I’m looking forward to getting back.

December 3, 2019

Enough’s enough

That’s it, I can do no more. My flight to France in 24ZN is now definitely postponed until the new year. We had a freezing cold night last night in south-east England and when I arrived at Clipgate this morning my worst fears were realised. Not only were there extensive banks of mist in the whole area but 24ZN itself was covered in a thick layer of hoar frost. Taking off with it in such a condition, even if it could get off the ground, would be potentially fatal.

My guess was that it would have taken at least an hour for the frost to have melted, possibly longer, and then there was the question of what to expect over on the other side of the Channel. When I checked while still at Clipgate the whole of the French Channel coast was IFR and at the time of writing this post (11.30 am UK, 12.30 hrs France), Evreux, which is on my planned route, is still declaring LIFR in freezing fog.

Taking off much later than 8.30 am UK time is not really an option because we are now at the end of the year when the days are at their shortest and with the fuel stops that I’ve had to build in, there wouldn’t be enough daylight hours left to make the kind of progress that is necessary for this kind of flight. I also think that in order to get the kind of en-route conditions that I need for the flight, at this time of year the mornings will tend to be bright and cold like today and will almost inevitably be foggy on either the UK or the French side thereby preventing me from taking off until it’s too late.

So I’ve reluctantly decided to call it a day for this year. It’s difficult to believe that the whole saga began in summer-like weather in September. Unfortunately time was lost getting the aircraft onto the French register (around a month) and it was during that period that the weather changed for the worse. But the final conclusion has to be that planning a longish flight in an ULM across an international boundary at around the shortest day of the year is really pie in the sky.

My life has been on hold for too long waiting for a weather window that hasn’t materialised and is now unlikely to do so and I have things to do back in Plazac. I’m hoping to make arrangements for 24ZN to go into the new hangar at Clipgate in which there appears to be space for another couple of aircraft and if I can do that I’ll be heading off back to France by car with the idea of returning in the spring when the weather starts to improve. If so, I hope that the whole sorry story doesn’t start all over again.

December 2, 2019

Read the NOTAMs!

Today would have been the perfect day for me to take off for France but I hadn’t planned to go as the weather forecasts had indicated that the northerly wind could be a bit too strong. But not a bit of it! On this side of the Channel it was calm for nearly the whole of the day while on the other side the winds were fairly benign throughout the whole length of my planned route.

So a window missed but I couldn’t go anyway as unfortunately I had a family commitment that prevented me from leaving and that’s why I plan to depart tomorrow. So I just hope that tomorrow turns out to be as good as today. There’s a real danger of early morning fog on both sides of the Channel so it’s in the hands of the gods as to how things will work out.

But what I did do today was check the en-route NOTAMs, something that I should really have done a while ago. And lucky for me that I did because I was surprised to find that from late November through into the new year Chartres, where I intended to land to replenish my tanks from my on-board jerricans, is closed to all visiting aircraft. So a lesson learned!

But it’s not a disaster. I’ve had to change my route yet again and instead of landing at Chartres I’ve decided to drop into Dreux. It’s on my route but whereas Chartres has a long hard runway, the runway at Dreux is grass. There’s nothing to say that it’s closed so I’m going to just go in without phoning ahead. I need much less than what’s available so I don’t think that I’ll be taking much of a risk. Its just annoying that I’ve had to rework my route, planning spreadsheet and charts to take the change into account but maybe that’ll encourage me to check out the NOTAMs a bit sooner!

Unfortunately my family commitment today ran overtime a bit and as a consequence, I didn’t have all the time that I needed to complete all of my preparations for an early morning departure tomorrow. But I got 24ZN’s outdoor covers off and stowed away and refilled my second jerrican that was empty after my flight over from Headcorn to Clipgate. Assuming that I can get away early tomorrow morning, stowing them and my modest baggage in the cabin won’t delay me by very much.

It was dark by the time I finished at Clipgate early this evening but here are some shots that I took when I’d finished which I’ve had to lighten quite a bit to make them more clearly visible.

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As the weather forecasting model that I’m using (ECMWF) is only run very 12 hours and after 9.00pm local time this evening will not be run again until after my planned departure time tomorrow, I’ll redo my route planning this evening and get my modest baggage and the contents of my flying bag organised. And that will be it until I wake up tomorrow morning and see what greets me outside my bedroom window. I just hope that it’s not thick fog…

December 1, 2019

Looking good?

Impossible to say for sure but it appears so. And it has been that way, consistently, for several days now, which alone is encouraging. But not only that, there could be up to three possible days to depart during this coming week, which has been unheard of during the whole time that I’ve been waiting to do my flight to France in 24ZN.

As of this evening, the weather could be suitable on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with Wednesday looking the best of the three, although if Tuesday looks OK, I’ll probably grab the opportunity. However, if as has been suggested there could be local fog on Tuesday morning, I’ll naturally postpone my departure until the following day. I just hope that all three days don’t end up with light winds that would allow me to take off but with fog on either this or the other side of the Channel.

By way of making preparations, today I fitted 24ZN’s new battery, topped up its tanks using the fuel remaining in one of my two jerricans, which I’ll refill tomorrow ready for when I do get away, and ran its engine for the first time for ten days. I was very pleased when, with the new battery, its engine cranked very healthily and started almost immediately with hardly any delay. Hopefully therefore, the new battery will sort out any starting problems that there might have been.

There was a bit more rain today but hopefully there won’t be any more until I leave and it’ll be OK to leave 24ZN uncovered tomorrow in the hope of getting away early on Tuesday morning. If I can’t take off due to fog it shouldn’t be a problem leaving it uncovered for another night in the hope of getting away on Wednesday instead. I’m now keeping my fingers crossed.

November 28, 2019

Can’t be too hasty

When I typed my last post I thought that by now I’d at least have a ferry booked to return to France or might even have already left by now. Instead I’m still here in Kent and there are two reasons for this. Firstly, we’ve had some diabolical rain and wind over the last day or so and I couldn’t leave 24ZN parked outside in the open where it has been for anything up to three months without being able to check on it while it was being battered by the weather.

Secondly, the weather forecasts have been indicating the possibility of a lull in the bad weather for a few days next week and after waiting so long for such an opportunity I couldn’t pass it up even though I’ve been caught out so many times in just the same way over recent weeks.

A final clincher was that I’ve been promised that if I do have to leave the aircraft parked outside at Clipgate it can be moved in the next day or so to a more sheltered spot and when that happens, I want to be there to make sure that it is done carefully and safely. Remember, when the time comes I’ll be taking off and embarking on a Channel crossing within a few minutes and I don’t want the aircraft to have incurred any damage beforehand that I don’t know about.

So I drove over there this afternoon and I was very pleased to find that in the absence of wind and rain, 24ZN looked perfectly OK and showed no signs of having been affected at all by the recent weather. Here are some shots that I took which show what I mean.

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There’s also a possibility that if I don’t get away next week (my goodness, after waiting so long I think that I at least deserve to), as 24ZN will be there for around 3 months and won’t be flown in all of that time, there might be enough space for it in a corner of Clipgate’s new hangar. If so, that would suit me very well so now it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on the weather and seeing how things work out.

November 26, 2019

Decision made

Albeit reluctantly. I’ve decided that it won’t be possible to fly 24ZN over to its new home in France this side of the new year. Although there may be a weather window next week, another wave of rain has lashed most of England including the south-east with more to come over the next few days and even if the weather improves enough to make the flight possible, the ground will be far too waterlogged to take off.

I went over to Clipgate this afternoon and was extremely dismayed by what I found. 24ZN is tied down in a position that’s fairly sheltered from the northerly winds that we’d usually expect at this time of the year. However, it’s very exposed to winds from the south-west and that’s what it was being buffeted with, together with sheets of rain.

And because I’d tied it down with its nose into the wind, its covers were billowing up in the wind, the force of which had lifted its nose so it was standing on just its main wheels with its tail skid touching the ground. This hadn’t caused any damage and wouldn’t do so but it was still not a desirable state of affairs.

Tomorrow I shall see if anything can be done to find a more a sheltered location as when I’ve returned to France, I won’t be able to pop into Clipgate as I would normally like to do to make sure that everything’s OK – the aircraft will have to remain in a safe condition until I can get back. However, in the meantime I turned it round and roped its covers down in order to reduce the billowing so they won’t be ripped by the wind. I also found a heavy truck wheel that I tied its nose wheel down with that is not shown in the following pics that I shot.

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I don’t like roping the covers down because several years ago I came across an AX3 to which the same had been done and the buffeting winds had caused the ropes to abrade its wing covers causing quite severe damage. However, unless I can find a more sheltered spot tomorrow, I don’t think that I have a great deal of choice.

November 24, 2019

Time to make a decision?

I’m looking ahead at the longer range weather forecast and I not seeing anything to encourage me. As a consequence I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m probably asking for the impossible – or at least a very rare event – namely two consecutive days of weather suitable for a long, non-stop flight from the south of England, across the Channel and down practically the whole length of France, at a time of year when the days are becoming progressively shorter and the weather increasingly unstable.

If so, there can only be one logical conclusion. It’s possibly time to think about throwing in my hand, at least for this year. I’ve been waiting for a weather opportunity since late September and yes, I’ve missed a couple, but here I am with December looming and I’m effectively no closer now than I was six or eight weeks ago. And in addition, there are things I need to address and deal with back home in Plazac.

So should I be thinking about packing my car up and heading back south? I think it’s something that I need to seriously consider. 24ZN is now outside but is secure and covered and sealed as far as possible against the weather. Nothing more can be done as far as that is concerned but it’s irrelevant anyway as it’ll have to stay where it is if I’m just going to be sitting waiting for an opportunity to fly it out which is unlikely to materialise.

My mind is almost made up. It looks as though I’ll need to make arrangements to head off back to France with the idea of returning to the UK again, probably around February when the weather has improved and there are likely to be more opportunities to do the flight. It’s a tough one, but I’ll post what I eventually decide.

In the meantime I thought I’d upload a very short video of my take off in 24ZN on my way to Headcorn a few days ago after it reopened after the visit by the air ambulance.

The video is very short because the recorder switched off for what I think is a weird reason. At exactly the same time, as far as I can estimate, as the recorder did so, 24ZN’s engine faltered. I thought that I was about to be on the receiving end of an EFATO but to my relief it picked up again. It was only afterwards that I found that the camcorder seems to have switched off at the same moment.

Quite close to the take off location there is a microwave tower of the type that I believe is used as part of our national defence network. These towers sport what look similar to satellite dishes that transmit highly focused microwave beams around the country and I wonder if the faltering in the electronics of both 24ZN’s engine and the video recorder was caused by flying through such a beam. I guess I’ll never know for sure.

November 21, 2019

Happy to be there

It was lucky that I didn’t decide to leave 24ZN at Headcorn overnight and move it to Clipgate today because if I had done, I wouldn’t have been successful. We’ve had a thick, cold mist for the whole day, but it didn’t stop me driving over there as I needed to remove the battery.

I had to get its dimensions so I could order a new one and I also wanted to reshape and replace the waterproof fabric that I’d previously placed over 24ZN’s nose to stop rainwater running down its screen and into the cabin.

After reshaping the latter, rather crudely I have to say, just by trimming it with scissors, I attached some cords to it to secure it in place and here are some shots that I took after I’d completed my tasks.

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I still have a great attachment to Clipgate where I did the training for my microlight licence nearly 10 years ago. It’s a well-organised, well run, pretty little airfield and going back to it revived a few old memories. It’s also a good place for 24ZN to be in the interim as it’s secure, fairly sheltered and well tied-down.

Although it’s a matter of great regret that I’m still stuck in the UK, the upside at least is that after my flight from Headcorn to Clipgate, I now have over an hour in the aircraft without any incident or cause for concern. That’s a source of considerable reassurance in advance of my eventual Channel crossing. The new battery I’ve ordered, a 9AH model rather than the 8AH that’s currently fitted and that also has a massive 165A cold-cranking power, should more than cope with the current winter conditions.

I’ve also ordered a refurb kit for 24ZN’s Mikuni fuel pump. Although Mikunis rarely, if ever, fail catastrophically and the current (low) fuel pressure will almost certainly hold up until I get the aircraft down to its new home, fitting it will be a good thing and will also make me feel even more secure.

November 20, 2019

No-go, again

Unfortunately, but this time for a very good reason. But first I’ll take you through last night’s time-line. Readers have probably realised by now that over the past many weeks I’ve become something of an expert on southern UK and French weather. Or if not an expert, an obsessive at least.

As usual when I’ve been waiting and watching for a suitable weather window for my flight to France in 24ZN, the last thing I did before going to bed last night was… check the following day’s weather. And this was especially important after circumstances forced me to miss yesterday’s super flying conditions (closure of Headcorn due to air ambulance being on the ground there attending a serious road traffic accident) and with having moved the aircraft there in anticipation of an early morning departure today.

I should make it clear that ordinarily today would not have been my first choice as it has been evident for some time that the window it presents would be a fleeting one with high winds moving in in the next day or so throughout the length of France, in the south of England and, of especial importance, in the English Channel. However, by moving 24ZN to Headcorn I was more or less forcing myself to go for the crossing today.

But last night’s weather check revealed that whereas if I’d managed to get away yesterday I’d have faced fairly benign winds in France, that would probably not be the case today. Not so bad as to preclude the flight but with a headwind the whole way that would have made the flight hard work at the very least.

But that wasn’t my only consideration. The short hop from the private field where 24ZN had been parked to Headcorn had not been sufficient to give me much information on its flight characteristics. Sure, it had flown as well as I’d remembered it did when I first flew it several years ago but when planning a long flight the likes of the one I’m intending to do, you need to know pretty much exactly what its cruising speed will be and how much fuel it consumes.

And I really didn’t have a handle on either of those two things. This may not be too critical if you’re going to fly for the most part with a good tailwind but the reverse is true if you’re anticipating a headwind, especially if it will be strong and variable. And that was the picture that was being presented to me last night.

Being an ex-corporate planner, it’s pretty much natural for me to investigate how numbers react to changes in inputs and when I plugged in alternative assumptions for airspeed and fuel consumption, it became very clear that I could well find myself running dangerously low on fuel in more than one sector of my planned flight.

I went to bed early but awoke after a few hours with such thoughts still in my mind. On re-checking the weather data, things had in fact got worse in the few hours since I’d last used them in my flight planning spreadsheet and to cut a long story short, I found myself at 5.00 am this morning completely re-working my route to take the more negative wind assumptions into account.

The fact is that at any moment in time, nobody knows how ‘right’ any forecast will be. Sure, we know what the final outcome will be within certain reasonable limits but even analysis of historical data, a lot of which I’ve been doing just lately, cannot tell us precisely what those limits are. So in a case like mine where ‘failure’ might mean running out of fuel with possibly disastrous consequences, it makes sense to identify the downside and plan accordingly.

I’d covered my refuelling needs by leaving the UK with full, or almost full tanks and carrying two full 20 litre jerricans with me. My idea was to land at Abbeville where I can easily buy fuel and refill my tanks again there, conserving the fuel in my jerricans ahead of an extended leg to my next fuel stop just north of Chateaudun where I would then add the fuel from my jerricans.

But now the revised stronger headwind forecasts plus my ‘flexings’ of cruise speed and fuel consumption showed that if I made the second fuel stop at all, it could be with just a few litres left in my tanks, much less than I’m prepared to tolerate.

And the same thing would be repeated with my next planned refuelling and overnight stop at Le Blanc south-west of Chateauroux – that’s if I could actually make Le Blanc in a day given 24N’s likely cruising speed and the expected headwinds.

So it was clear that I needed to add in some extra intermediate refuelling stops together with alternative overnight possibilities and that I did by factoring in stops at Blois, where I know I can easily buy fuel, and Chartres where I could top up using fuel previously added to my jerries. And both locations could also offer overnight possibilities depending on the distance managed during the day.

There was also another wild card. I’d previously been advised by ATC ‘management’ at Le Touquet that so long as I didn’t intend coming in on a week-end and called before departing Headcorn to provide an ETA, the officer on duty would allow me to enter the zone and land there without the usually mandatory transponder.

This would be useful under current circumstances because it would preclude my having to head north to a first landing in Calais before continuing my flight south against the headwind. Luckily I took the precaution of phoning ahead this morning before leaving home and was told that landing at Le Touquet was ‘impossible’ without a transponder. This was inconvenient, of course, but at least I knew armed with my recent route revisions that I could still manage either Blois or Chartres today and was able to ditch all of my planning papers and charts that included a stop at Le Touquet.

And so I eventually turned up at Headcorn this morning slightly later than I’d intended but with the necessary French and UK paperwork and my flight-plan filed. I’d packed the aircraft the night before and only had to install myself, my small overnight bag and the equipment I needed for the flight before starting the engine, taxying and taking off.

The aircraft had been left out uncovered overnight and it was still only around 2-3 degrees Celsius but when I pressed the starter the engine cranked somewhat languorously but didn’t start. I repeated this a few times with similar lack of success and after less than a minute the cranking reduced to a slow turning of the prop.

For me this meant the end of my plans to depart today. At the very least the battery would need recharging but I already knew that it was a several years old Varley Red Top which I’d previously considered replacing as a precaution. How right my instincts had turned out to be, because there was no way that I could take the risk of finding myself in France with a dead battery and the aircraft parked outside in high winds with no tie-downs. I had to order a replacement battery to avoid such an eventuality.

I therefore had to return home to fetch my small tool kit to remove the battery and after having done so, on returning I tried the engine again after the temperature had risen a few degrees and naturally it started. The ATC man at Headcorn asked if I’d now be leaving for France but I’d made my decision, mainly because of the expected deterioration in the wind conditions. I’d already made arrangements to ferry 4ZN from Headcorn to Clipgate Farm where I’d done my microlight training and without removing the battery, that’s what I did this afternoon.

The flight over took twice as long as I’d expected due to the increasing wind strength and I succeeded in pulling off probably the best and most challenging cross wind landing that I’ve ever done in order to get in there. So 24ZN is now parked there outside but sealed under covers and securely tied-down and that’s where it’ll be staying for, I estimate, at least a week in order to ride-out the incoming bad weather and until I get hold of a new battery. I also noticed today that its fuel pressure at 0.2 bars at normal cruising rpm is at the minimum acceptable level so I think I’ll also order a refurbishment kit for its Mikuni fuel pump. I’m fairly certain that I’ll have sufficient time to fit it.

November 19, 2019

Things are moving

At last, but not exactly in the way I’d have liked them to. I couldn’t phone until this morning to see if Headcorn would be opening today and even if it was going to, I would have to schedule a departure for around mid-day if I was going to make the Channel crossing today.

In the event I got the news that it would be opening today and that I would be permitted to fly in non-radio subject to making telephone contact beforehand and providing an ETA. So I immediately sprang into action to get things moving and meet my mid-day deadline.

But it soon became clear that I had much too much to do to get away as I would have had to replace 24ZN’s battery that was out being charged, remove its covers and fold them ready for packing, remove the heavy tie-downs from the animal field and replace them in the barn (itself a gruelling job just for one person), fly the aircraft out to Headcorn, return and pick my car up, drive back to Headcorn and load 24ZN up, file the necessary paperwork and take off. And all within 2-3 hours, well nigh an impossibility.

And finally there was yet another twist. When I did phone Headcorn to inform them of my impending take off they told them that I couldn’t fly in until further notice. The reason was that there had been a serious traffic accident close to the airfield and the air ambulance was on the ground within its perimeter and no movements would be allowed until it had left.

So that ensured that it would be absolutely impossible for me to leave today despite it being a perfect day for it as if I had gone ahead there was no way that I’d be able to make Abbeville before sunset. How did I know that it was perfect? Because at around the middle of the afternoon I eventually took off in 24ZN from the field in which it had been parked for the past week or so and flew it into Headcorn ready for a departure early tomorrow morning.

Here’s a shot that I took of it on the parking there.

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A departure tomorrow morning is not my preferred choice, far from it actually. The winds are forecast to swing from the north to the south-east meaning that I’ll have a headwind component that could be quite strong from time to time. But my main concern is that the wind in the Channel is forecast to pick up markedly from today and what should be a 20 minute crossing could take 30 minutes or even a bit longer. However, that’s for the morning. Now I’m off to bed to get a good night’s sleep.

November 17, 2019

They’re having a laugh

The weather gods, that is. From the weather forecasts over the past few days, I expected there to be an excellent 2-day window, today and tomorrow, for my flight in 24ZN from the UK to France. And there was, today being possibly the finest that I can remember in the whole of the last 6 weeks while I’ve been waiting for such an opportunity.

But yet again I was stuck on the ground. The reason was that I dropped into Headcorn yesterday and they confirmed that the airfield is closed due to the runway being waterlogged. Although the field where 24ZN is currently parked is muddy but still just about firm enough to take off from, I can’t depart for France from there as it would be too risky to try to take off from there fully loaded let alone then head straight off to undertake the Channel crossing.

So that was it for the next couple of days at least because there’s a high probability of high winds arriving tomorrow which would totally preclude starting off on my intended flight. And because of the possibility of the wind getting up, I had to ensure today that 24ZN will remain safe parked as it is in the open, so today I went over to its field and tied its wings down.

Here are some shots that I took afterwards.

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I’ve now got to play it by ear again. There’s a possibility that another new window will open on Tuesday of this coming week but I’m now becoming very fatalistic and although I’ll obviously plan for it, I’ll believe it when I see it and not before 🙁

November 12, 2019

Window closed – yet again

So here I am back in the UK and stuck again. As I mentioned in my last post, I had to return from France last Friday as 24ZN had to be moved out of its barn the following day, so I had to be there. I’d hoped that I’d then be able to move it out from where it currently is and to leave during this week but the battery went flat on me and now the winds are too strong again.

SteveU from the microlight forum suggested that I take a look at the Windy web site which I already knew of but hadn’t realised had been developed as much as it has been. I’ve been playing with it quite a bit in recent days and now know that it’s quite something – a really useful planning tool.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to identify 2 consecutive ‘reasonable’ days that will allow me an uninterrupted flight the whole way down and Windy confirms that there will now be no window this week. Using the ECMWF forecasting model which is the one I’m preferring after comparing recent actuals and forecasts over my planned route, the earliest I can hope for is Sun 17/Mon 18 November, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for now and as 24ZN’s going to be outside from now until the time I do actually depart wherever it is, I’ll be leaving it where it is currently until then as it’s covered and sealed against the weather as well as it can be.

Experience tells us that the current ‘wild’ weather can’t persist for ever but I’m beginning to wonder whether, with the trend having changed after I acquired 24ZN during the period that it took to get the French registration done, I’m being too optimistic about flying the aircraft over this side of the new year. I hope that I’m not.

November 10, 2019

Foiled again

For the whole of last week, the longer term weather forecasts indicated that there should be a weather window during the coming week to do my flight in 24ZN, my ex-pat X-air, from the UK to France. As the owner of the barn in which it has been stored for the last few years told me that he now wants to fit a new shutter to its front that will restrict access into it and therefore 24ZN would have to be moved outside, I decided that this would be a good time to return to the UK and position the aircraft ready to fly it out.

So I departed Plazac on Friday morning under gloomy skies in rain which persisted for much of my drive up, the skies only clearing when I was about 40 kms south of Paris. As I approached Dunkirk and the temperature dropped I hit fog which wasn’t a very good omen, but when I arrived at my sister and brother in law’s home in Kent, the weather was still cold but clear.

But not so the following morning (yesterday) when, after several days of mornings that I was assured had been bright and sunny, we woke to see the area blanketed in thick mist. I hoped that it would burn off later on as the temperature increased but I wasn’t too optimistic that I’d be able to achieve my plans for the day as rain and blustery winds were forecast for later on.

My plan was to fly 24ZN out to Linton, the airfield just south of Maidstone where I used to keep MYRO and where 24ZN had also been based for two or three years, but hardly flown. It was there that I did the work on it to get it permitted when it was the property of a former owner and I was looking forward to the opportunity to fly it back in there as I know for a fact that it has never returned there since I flew it out in May 2011 to its new permanent home at Stoke.

But the signs were already not good that I’d be able to do so because of the mist so before driving up to see 24ZN I first decided to drop into Linton, which I found to be blanketed in fog. I’d also checked the forward weather forecast for the next few days and it was beginning to look as though my weather window for flying it to France was also closing, exactly as it had done the last time I was sitting on my backside in the UK waiting for 3 weeks for an opportunity that never materialised.

I left Linton to drive up to find out what was happening with 24ZN with the hope that the mist might clear later, a hope that wasn’t encouraged by the frequent fog banks that I drove through on the way. However both the fog and my mood had begun to lift a bit by the time I arrived to find the aircraft sitting outside the barn in the field with the goats, having been placed there earlier in the morning.

I had several things to do. Firstly I had to walk the temporary runway that we’d mowed in the field the last time that I was there. Despite the amount of rain that had fallen on it in the intervening period, I found it to be marginally soft but just OK to take off from, so at least that hurdle had been overcome.

The next thing that I had to do was start the engine and taxy up and down the field a few times which I did successfully despite the engine not having been run since I was last over and, more importantly, the battery not having been charged for much longer. By this time I was thinking about the flight over to Linton which would only take 10 minutes or so but where I was concerned that I still might be unable to land at as I had no way of checking before taking off.

So I took the precaution of phoning Headcorn which is not far from Linton and would be a safe diversion. They confirmed that they were open and clear of fog and kindly agreed to accept me non-radio (they now have a 8.33 kHz channel while 24ZN’s radio is old-school 25 kHz) if I was unable to get into Linton, so all I then had to do was put a little bit of air into 24ZN’s tyres in order to minimise the drag of the tyres in the softish ground. Having done that I called Headcorn as requested to say that I was heading in their direction and pressed the starter.

The battery was flat. Although the engine had started and run fine earlier, now the battery would hardly turn it over. I tried using jump leads with a battery out of a tractor which had also refused to start earlier and had been on charge for a couple of hours or so, but no luck. It was evident with the afternoon beginning to become a bit more gloomy and rain forecast for later that I’d have no chance of getting away so the priority became to ensure that 24ZN was placed in a sheltered spot, its covers fitted and sealed up as well as possible against the weather so it would be ready to go when conditions again became more favourable.

Here are some shots that I took after that had been done. The white covering over the aircraft’s nose is only a ‘temporary’ one to prevent rain entering the cabin as the original canvas cover section has been lost and will have to be replaced when I eventually get it to the Dordogne.

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But things have now been thrown back into the balance and I’m faced with yet another dilemma. If the weather is going to turn against me this coming week, what is the best thing for me to do with 24ZN? Parking it at Linton can only be a temporary arrangement and problems could arise if the period extends too far into the future, which experience has already shown could well happen.

I do have another alternative, but now 24ZN is safely parked in a sheltered corner of its field, would it be best to leave it there until I know that I can fly it out and immediately depart for France? It looks like I’m back again into a weather-watching cycle and only what happens over the next couple of days will tell. Ironically, as I type this it’s a glorious morning where I am in Kent with a beautiful clear sky and almost calm winds… 😐

November 5, 2019

The complexities of planning

I’ve been waiting for a weather window to fly 24ZN, my ‘English’ X-air, over from England to France since the first week of September during which period the southern parts of the UK and the northern parts of France have been ravaged by high winds, lashing rain and thunderstorms. So all I’ve got to do is wait until there’s a weather forecast for two or three days of suitable weather and just fly it over, right?

Well, yes and no. For starters, what does a ‘suitable’ weather forecast look like? You’d think that that would be an easy question to answer – light winds, fair weather, no rain – but it isn’t and I’ll explain why.

When you have a route set up for a flight on a specific day at a specific time there are weather services from whom you can get hold of a detailed weather forecast for the whole of the route, such as the UK Meteorological Office. However, such forecasts require considerable resources and when you’re just looking ahead for a weather window at some undefined time in the future, you can’t keep requesting such services ‘on the fly’ in the hope that a suitable window will be identified.

So you have to resort to using the ordinary ‘day-to-day’ services that are available to everyone on the internet and trying to spot when a suitable window might pop up, and then when one has, there are other services that pilots such as myself can use that provide ‘short term’ eg next day, data that can be used to plan a route in detail.

One I use is an internet app called Metam which provides a world map showing current weather reports (METARs) and forecasts (TAFs) for all major and participating airports, data that can be used to prepare a forecast by pilots like myself for the whole of a typical route flown by a small aircraft.

After getting 24ZN all ready to go, I waited for three weeks in the UK for a weather window to fly it over before giving up and returning to my home in France. During the time I was waiting I could see for myself on a daily basis how the flight I had planned would be impossible due to the weather outside the door and since my return I’ve been doing the same thing ie watching for a suitable opportunity to arise, but from a distance.

The only information that I have to go on are the published weather forecasts and it has become increasingly clear that not only are they far from accurate but they also rarely agree with each other. Many times in recent days I know from talking with my family in the UK that they are enjoying a fine day with light winds when the forecasts that I’ve been viewing have been for almost the complete opposite, so it begs the question, ‘what can one believe?’

Here’s what I’m talking about. It appears that there could be a suitable weather window for my flight during the first half of next week. I use two forecasting systems, XCweather, a well-know UK system that gives a forecast for a week ahead, and Tameteo, a French system that gives one for the next 14 days. It’s reasonable firstly to ask how these forecasts compare for the same locations at the same times and the results do not inspire confidence.

Let’s look at a take off from Headcorn at 9.00am local time on Monday 11 November. XC says that the wind will be a light breeze of 4 kmh from the north-east while Tameteo says that it will be 4 gusting 25 kmh from the south-east. 25 kmh is just about the cross-wind limit for an X-air and flying for any longish period with such a gusting cross-wind would be tiring to say the least and definitely not to be recommended for a long flight. So would it be wise to take off on a long flight in such a wind?

Here’s another. Calais at around 11.00 am on Tuesday 12 November. XC forecasts a wind of 4 gusting 7 kmh from the north ie perfectly safe and manageable but Tameteo forecasts a wind of 15 gusting 29 kmh from the east which would be beyond a reasonably safe limit and surely it would be unwise to even start the flight from Headcorn knowing what was lying in wait on the other side of the Channel.

So then you have to ask another couple of questions. How good are the forecasts and which of the two is the more reliable? Tricky ones to answer without keeping a fairly long log of ‘forecasts’ v ‘actuals’ for each system. Qualitatively, my own feeling is that both of them err on the pessimistic side as far as wind velocities are concerned because as I mentioned previously, there have been several occasions in recent weeks when unacceptably high winds have been forecast and outside it has been a perfectly good flying day. However, that’s only a feeling and I have no quantitative data to back it up.

But let me give some final examples for today. The local forecasts for today were as follows:

XCweather…. 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 13 gusting 26 kmh
Tameteo…… 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 19 gusting 50 kmh
Actual……. 1500hrs…. wind from the south-west 5 kts (9 kmh)

XCweather…. 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 13 gusting 33 kmh
Tameteo…… 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 18 gusting 46 kmh
TAF for Brive 1700hrs…. temp 12/18 260/15G25kt ie west-south-west 28 gusting 46 kmh
Actual……. 1700hrs…. wind from the south-west 5 kts (9 kmh)

So who the heck can you believe? Tameteo looks to be very pessimistic re wind velocity but on the other hand, seems to reflect the ‘official’ aviation weather forecast more closely than does XCweather. However, the ‘official’ forecast also doesn’t appear to be that reliable and on today’s evidence, although still some way out, the XCweather forecast seems closer to the actual than the ‘official’ one was.

So what to do now? There is a little bit of good news. Even if both XCweather and Tameteo are forecasting higher winds than there actually will be on the days in question, both are for now suggesting that I will be able to do my 2-day flight down to the Dordogne either on 11/12 November or 12/13. The bad news, though, is that experience shows that between now and then everything can change and if I jump in my car to drive back to the UK next Friday say, I could well find myself staring outside after I arrive at yet more high winds and rain 🙁

November 3, 2019

One bright spot at least

A somewhat ironic title given that as I type this on my laptop we’ve been without electricity for around five hours following some fierce winds that we experienced late morning and it’s just starting to get dark. But that’s not what this post is about.

Following the conclusion of my 8 month course of chemo in early 2018 I felt the need for some winter sunshine to boost my spirit and restore my feeling of well-being and booked a short break in an all-inclusive hotel in Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea coast. This did the trick and I came back feeling much better for the experience.

So much so that I decided to do the same thing again last year despite my health needs not being foremost that time around and felt all the better for it. Afterwards, although I’d enjoyed it and planned taking some winter sun the following year, I thought that I wouldn’t return to the same place again but would instead seek out another destination. But after looking at the alternatives the economics of going to Egypt again are the deciding factor and I’ll be off again to the same hotel at the end of this coming January.

And I’m delighted with what I’ve been able to arrange for my upcoming visit. The first time I went I booked through Thomas Cook and got 7 nights in the hotel having arrived after midnight on the first one for a total of just under 627€ including taxes.

Last year Thomas Cook was not offering a similar package (it was on its way to going bust) so I decided to make my own travel and hotel bookings and by doing so I got 9 nights in the same hotel, again arriving at past midnight on the first one, for just over 535€. So I made a saving of nearly 100€ for a stay of two more nights, thus revealing what Thomas Cook’s problem was in trying to stay afloat when people like me have the power of the internet at their fingertips.

But last year I was to find that there were two major problems, both actually as a result of my connecting flight to Hurghada being with Belgian-based TUI. The most major was that it departed from Charleroi which must offer one of the worst customer experiences in the whole of Europe.

The terminal offends the eye by being decorated in shades of black and grey but that was not the main source of my misery, which was two-fold. Firstly, in order to make my connection I had to catch a morning flight from Toulouse which meant that in order to be sure of making it, it was best to travel the day before and stay in a hotel close to the airport, thus incurring an extra cost. But the worst was yet to come.

The timing of the flight from Toulouse meant that I had an overnight layover at Charleroi of over 16 hours which turned out to be one of the most excruciatingly awful experiences of my life. I was in the company of several hundred other unfortunate souls doing the same thing, but not by choice I’m sure because not only was there only enough seating for not much more than half of the people, but what there was was cramped and extremely uncomfortable.

And I say that as one of the lucky ones who did get a seat and did not end up either lying on the floor or on their cases or on anything else they could find, like old baggage pallets. The year before I’d had a night-time layover at Istanbul but it was shorter and at least the seating on offer was somewhat more comfortable. I for one will in future try to avoid Charleroi like the plague, especially if I have to stay over there for any length of time and especially if at night.

TUI also have a ridiculous baggage policy, rather like Ryanair. With the latter, though, although you can nominally only take a small bag on board, you can take a ‘proper’ case for an extra 12€, which is disingenuous but is, at least, transparent. With TUI, however, you are saddled with only being allowed a smallish overnight size case and if you want to take something larger you incur a fairly large financial penalty.

As a result I ended up taking just a small case with me, much of which was filled with the books that I took with me to read in the sun and it didn’t help when I saw the locals boarding at Charleroi with much larger cases, apparently ignoring TUI’s rules and getting away with it.

So what of this year? I’m delighted to say that I’ve managed to do even better than last year in almost every way! Firstly, I’ve succeeded in booking flights plus a stay of 11 nights for just over 569€, so two more nights for just over 30€ more. But that’s just the start. And this time all of the flights that I’m taking to get to Hurghada are with Easyjet and that alone offers a whole bunch of benefits.

Firstly, they allow a Cabinmax size case on-board, the largest permitted by any airline, at no extra charge so this year I’ll be able to take all the books that I want plus a decent amount of clothing. Secondly, I’ll be setting off from Bordeaux in the evening, so no need to leave the day before and incur an overnight stay in a hotel.

Also, the connection to Hurghada will be made at Geneva, which I hope will be more accommodating than Charleroi. There will be another overnight layover, but this time half of the duration of the one at Charleroi last year, thank goodness, and I’ll also be arriving in Hurghada at a civilised time and not in the middle of the night.

So is that all? No! The return flights via Easyjet will also be through Geneva but with only the briefest of waits for the connection to Bordeaux where once again I’ll be arriving at the reasonable hour of 9.00 pm giving me time for a comfortable drive back home.

Taken all round, I’m incredibly pleased with this year’s plans even if I will be going back to the same hotel for the third time. And there’s one last thing. Last year I flew out from Toulouse and back in again by Ryanair. Receiving the boarding pass for the outbound flight was OK because I was able to download it at home before I left. However, due to Ryanair’s petty, in my view, policy of only providing the boarding pass for the inbound flight just before you need it, while you are still abroad, I did not receive mine which was sent while I was actually at Stansted but with a flat phone battery.

Consequently I had to go to the Ryanair customer service desk (an oxymoron if ever there was one) where I had to pay an extra £20 for the privilege of having one printed out in order to board. Easyjet, on the other hand, sends you all of the boarding passes you need for your flights with them before you go. Guess who I’ll be flying with again next time if I get the chance 😉

BTW, at the time of posting it’s been completely dark for quite a while – no electricity for over 10 hours… 😐

Update, 4 November. The electricity came back on again at just before 2.00 pm today, so we had a power-out of just over 26 hours, one of the longest for some time. It came back on again while I was trying to get my old generator to work that I brought with me from the UK and haven’t used for something like four, or even more, years. It looks as though no fuel is getting through so its carburettor needs to be stripped and cleaned.

I’m wondering if I have the enthusiasm for it. I bought it second-hand so it doesn’t owe me much and I think I’ll probably put it onto Leboncoin ‘for parts’ and buy a new one. The question is, is it worth it? A few of my neighbours had theirs running but although power-outs happen quite frequently, long ones are quite rare. I’ll have to think about it before shelling out…

November 1, 2019

Possible rethink

First, an update on 24ZN, the X-air ULM that I recently acquired and have re-registered to bring over from the UK, where it has been for nearly twenty years, to a new life in France. The previous owner was informed that it would be very costly to have its UK permit to fly renewed due to the onerous airworthiness regulations that apply there, but the rules are completely different in France where there are no such barriers to getting an admittedly elderly, but otherwise airworthy, aircraft back flying again.

But after giving it a thorough clean-up and check-over, changing a few parts that were either visibly worn or just suspect and making it totally airworthy to tackle a Channel crossing within an hour or so of taking off after not being flown for around five years, it’s still in its hangar in the South of England. The reason is the appalling weather that has continuously affected southern England and northern France and which continues even as I’m typing this on account of the most active Jetstream for many a long month creating a constant stream of high winds and rain sweeping in from the Atlantic. And this has been almost without respite for over a month.

There have been a few small weather windows but these have been short and far-between. My original plan was to make the flight south over three days, but as time passes I’m beginning to think that I’ll be lucky to get a window as long as that. When I flew MYRO south back in 2012 I did it in just two days, and that was starting from Stoke which is twice as far from the Channel coast as Headcorn is, from where I hope to be taking off this time around.

My reasons for going for the extra day were two-fold. Firstly, in MYRO I was able to head south from the French coast and land at Abbeville in order to close my flightplan and clear French customs. That isn’t possible any more because Abbeville has had its customs facility withdrawn and now I have to head north into Calais and then head south again adding an estimated 30 – 60 minutes to the total flight time. Secondly, I was originally able to end the first day at Wanafly to the north of Limoges, the flying school that was then run by Dave and Amanda Lord. However, they’ve now returned to the UK and their airfield is no longer available as an overnight stop.

My plan was therefore to make the first day little more than a short hop to overnight in the on-airfield hotel at Abbeville. The second day was then to finish up at Bellac, still to the north of Limoges but some way further south than the old Wanafly airfield at Azat-le-Ris and the third day was then going to be another short hop from Bellac to Malbec. And this may still remain the plan, although I’m now beginning to have second thoughts.

If, as I suspect, I’m being over-optimistic about getting three consecutive ‘fine’ days in which to do the flight, maybe I ought to think about scaling it back again to two? After all, the X-Air with its 582 engine is something like 5 kmh faster than MYRO was with its little 503, so even with the inconvenience of having to drop into Calais first rather than Abbeville, surely it should be possible to do the flight in the shorter time-frame, especially as I’ll be starting out from closer to the Channel than previously?

Actually, I think that it is but it would mean making some further adjustments. My new calculations show that on day one I should fly, as before, for a refuelling stop at Le Gault St Denis to the north of Chateaudun. Last time with MYRO I asked the school owner there to get fuel in for me but now I know that I’ll be able to take on fuel at Abbeville keeping my jerricans full with which to top the X-Air’s tanks up at Le Gault.

But my plans would then change. Instead of flying onwards down to Bellac, I’d end day one at Le Blanc, a town some way further north. I know from having flown past it just a few weeks ago in my Savannah that there’s a nice little airfield there with a lovely long hard runway on 04/22, just the heading that I’ll need for the north-easterly winds that I think will prevail. There’s also fuel there, although I can’t bank on anyone being available to supply me with it at this time of the year.

And not only that, the airfield is not far from the town itself, just a couple of kilometres, and I’ve already located a suitable small private hotel that would not be too far by taxi with a Super-U service station only 200 metres away should I not be able to obtain fuel at the airfield. I’d only need to fill one of my jerries to have enough fuel for the final short leg the next day from Le Blanc to Malbec.

So that’s the direction in which my thoughts are heading for the present and it’s now just a matter of watching the weather for the next window of opportunity. Poor weather with very high winds is forecast in the south of England and northern France over the next week or so but then it is likely that the winds will moderate for a sufficient period to allow me to complete the flight. I shouldn’t mention it for fear of alerting the weather gods, but that could be around the 11/12th of November… there, now I’ve gone and done it 😐

October 28, 2019

Here’s the plan

It’s the best that I can come up with under the circumstances, but I think it’s pretty good. The weather problem that has prevented me flying my X-air, 24ZN, out of the UK and into France has been caused by the Jetstream. Here in Western Europe we’re still suffering from the tail-end of some pretty wild weather over on the other side of the Atlantic that has caused the Jetstream to lash around like the tail of a cornered snake bringing wild northerly, and occasionally southerly, winds to the UK and France.

Just for now, and not unsurprisingly perhaps, after deciding to return home at the end of last week, the winds have died down and it might well have been possible to do the flight during the first half of this week as I originally intended. But it would have been risky because yet again, some very high northerly winds are forecast over my intended route from the second half of the week, over the week-end and into the next and forecasting the exact time of their arrival has to be approximate. And we’re talking of gusts of 80 kmh or more, so nothing to be too complacent about.

But although the Jetstream has been occupying more or less its present position, with an enormous loop in its tail from the UK down over the length of France, for some time, experience tells us that it will not remain like that and change will occur at some time in the future. And probably sooner rather than later given the duration of the current weather pattern. In fact, the current forecast remains fairly pessimistic through until the middle of November, its furthermost limit, but due to the vagaries of temperature and pressure, forecasts inevitably change and there will more than likely be several days of lull during that period.

So here’s what I intend to do. When I think that there will be a possibilty of doing the flight, I’ll return to the UK, but this time in my C-Max. This means that I’ll be able to make the journey at more or less a moment’s notice with the bonus that when I arrive, I’ll enjoy the convenience of having my own car without any of the hassle of a hire vehicle. I’ll then fly 24ZN out at the first opportunity leaving my car at my sister and brother in law’s house but this won’t be a problem because when I get home I’ll have my Kia waiting for me to use in the interim. Then I’ll wait for an economically priced flight back to the UK from Bergerac arriving to join my family, who cannot come down this year to my house in France, for Christmas, returning to France in the C-Max after New Year.

So that’s it then… what could possibly go wrong 😕

 

October 24, 2019

Decision made

I’ve finally had to admit defeat. There’s no sign that there will be a change in the weather pattern any time soon so it seems pointless to just keep hanging around here in Kent forlornly hoping that something will turn up out of the blue.

So as a result, because there’s currently a shortage going forward of reasonably priced Ryanair seats from Stansted to Bergerac, I decided last night to bite the bullet and booked a flight for tomorrow morning.

I have a plan for how I’ll proceed when a suitable opportunity arises which I’ll describe at a later date but for now this is it until I get back to my home in France. It’s disappointing but there’s nothing you can do when things are outside of your own control.

October 22, 2019

Still in limbo

I’ve been in the UK since 4 October, had 24ZN ready to go since the middle of the following week and here I am writing this on 22 October still waiting for a weather window to fly it across into France. The problem has been one of the most active jetstreams for possibly many years which has kept rain and high winds streaming across the UK for a period of several   weeks without hardly budging for the whole of that time.

And not only has the UK been affected because the northernmost parts of France have also been on the receiving end of the same kind of treatment, but not necessarily at the same time. This has meant that on the few rare occasions in recent weeks when I might have been able to make it out of the UK I’d then have been unable to continue any further.

And there’s another consideration. If I‘m held up while the weather is so unpredictable, there’s a risk of 24ZN being damaged, even blown over, if it’s left outside without tie-downs in the strong winds that we’re experiencing and I don’t expect to find tie-downs on the airfields where I could be landing.

So I have to either give up, return home and call it a day until the weather trend improves or continue waiting patiently until there’s a short string of days with suitable weather both in the south of the UK and down through France to allow me to get out and back home safely to the Dordogne.

Totally unexpectedly, as cloud  and fairly strong winds had been forecast for today where I’m staying not very far from Headcorn, we were surprised when after early fog the day has turned out to be calm with bright sunshine. “What’s wrong with today then?” , my brother in law asked. The answer was a band of fog in northern France that would have stopped me proceeding further and with the risk of high winds returning, I couldn’t take the risk and thought it better once again to leave 24ZN safe in its barn.

We have winds of over 60 mph forecast for the end of this week and into the week-end but for now there appears to be a window for me to get away on Sunday. But with the weather the way it is, that’s an eternity away and I can’t bank on it so there’s still a good chance that I’ll end up throwing in my hand, going home and waiting until things improve. The trouble is, who knows when that might be 😐

October 16, 2019

Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in f‘r me…

In the immortal words of Kenneth Williams. I phoned Headcorn this morning and mentioned that I hoped to be flying in next Tuesday before departing the next morning for France.

“You’ll be lucky”, was the reply, “After all this rain we’ve been closed since the 10th with a waterlogged runway. We need several good dry days and doubt you’ll be able to get in before the last week of October”.

So the waiting and the agony go on and look as though they will continue for a while yet 🙁

October 12, 2019

Still waiting

On the day I arrived to start getting 24ZN ready for her flight to her new home in France, this crowd of little chaps were gathered in the field opposite the barn in which she’s stored watching me approach.

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They were a small herd of fourteen cheeky little goats and it appeared that the corner of the field facing the barn is their favourite spot.

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They were always keen to see what I was up to while I was working and stared at me through the gaps in the fence rails all chewing happily away. But as soon as I walked towards them they turned their backs and casually walked off looking back over their shoulders.

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But they had a laugh at my expense. On the second day there was no sign of them – until I turned the corner and found fourteen little horned heads bobbing around in the barn behind the aircraft. They’d managed to force a small opening in the gate to take shelter from the light drizzle that had been falling and weren’t keen on heading back out again.

I eventually managed to shoo them back into their field through the adjacent larger gate but even as I was doing so the cheeky little devils were having another go at the other one and even after I’d propped it shut with a piece of fence post three of them together had their shoulders against it trying to get it to open again.

But the best laugh for them was that the whole time that they’d been in the barn, athough they hadn’t done any damage, they’d been pooing. And then stomping in it. It took me over an hour to clean it up before I could start working on 24ZN.

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Although they had obviously been climbing over a lot of things in the barn, as goats do, luckily this didn’t include the aircraft and their little horns hadn’t damaged the fabric either. So no harm was done and I was able to continue getting 24ZN ready to go over the next couple of days. Here are some more shots taken after I’d finished.

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And as the rain lightly falls while I’m typing this (on my phone), in the barn she remains and the waiting game continues. On the present showing there seems little possibility of my getting away during this coming week due to continuing poor weather. Whether I’ll be able to the week after I’ll just have to wait and see 😐

October 9, 2019

A waiting game

All has gone to plan. I arrived in the UK at Stansted airport via Ryanair as scheduled last Friday and after a false start located the company from which I’d pre-ordered a hire car at an off-airport hotel. An hour or so later I was at my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Kent.

The next morning I drove to my pal’s place where my X-air is being stored to get cracking on preparing it for its flight over to its new home in France. And there I stayed for the next few days until I’d completed all of the work that was necessary to get it airworthy and completely ready to go.

I filled its tanks to the brim yesterday and today I was back there again replacing its radiator overflow bottle and helping to cut a strip to take off from when the weather eventually decides to play ball.

I’m delighted with how well everything’s gone – I couldn’t have asked for much better actually. The only surprise I had was finding that the new carburettor rubbers that I took with me wouldn’t fit because the inlets are of a non-standard pattern, probably because an anti-icing system is fitted.

24ZN is now all ready to go and looks a treat as the following pictures show.

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And now it’s just a matter of playing a waiting game with the weather. I almost couldn’t have chosen a worse time to have planned a flight from the UK to France as not only are we apparently locked in an extended period of high winds but they are also from the south or with a strong southerly component. But all things must end and, fingers crossed, I should be away some time next week. Here’s hoping anyway 😉

September 30, 2019

All buttoned up

Done and dusted, all systems go. My X-Air is a bona-fide French citizen at last with a new registration to be applied to her wing. 24ZN is her new identity. So I will be off to England on Friday morning to get her ship-shape for her flight over the Channel to her new home in France.

Really excited about it, can’t wait 🙂

September 27, 2019

A good day

I was over-optimistic when I entitled my last post ‘Nearly there’ as I’d totally failed to take into account the labyrinthine nature of French bureaucracy. But maybe I’m being unfair, because at the end of it all, when you’ve surmounted all the hurdles and succeeded in getting an otherwise anonymous aircraft onto the French ULM register, you’re ultimately left very much to your own devices and allowed to get on with things with little interference from the ‘authorities’. That certainly can’t be said of several other countries in Europe and absolutely not of the UK.

The stumbling block was the document that I’d mentioned in my previous post, namely the ‘fiche d’identification’. I must say at the outset that I was wrong in my interpretation of the French rules. A ‘fiche d’identification’ dated and signed by the aircraft’s manufacturer (ie not the person who actually built it in the case of a kit-built aircraft, but its constructor) that proves that the aircraft in question meets the requirements for it to be described as an ULM and also conforms to the original specifications filed by the manufacturer must be filed with every French registration application.

Usually a ‘fiche d’identification’ is provided by the constructor when the aircraft is originally sold and submitted to the DGAC when it is first registered. When it is re-sold, therefore, subsequent owners never have to bother about it. It may well be that when my X-Air was exported to the UK, a ‘fiche d’identification’ accompanied the kit, but I don’t know. When my pal acquired it around 10 years ago, I made up a document file for it as all of its paperwork was just chucked in a box, but its all still in the UK and for now I’ve been unable to go through it again. I’ve been told that I’ve written ‘certificate of conformity’ in the contents, and that may refer to the ‘fiche d’identification’, but at present I just don’t know for sure. However, I suspect that it was actually just lost or mislaid as there was no need for it in the UK.

But all is not lost in such a situation as Rand Kar, the French worldwide X-Air distributor, is still around in the Loire Atlantique and is willing to supply a copy – at a price, namely 200€. This may seem a somewhat princely sum for a simple colour copy of a filed document, but given that it plus a one-off registration fee of 20€ is all that it will cost to get my X-Air onto the French register, it’s not worth baulking at compared to the high annual cost of permitting the aircraft in the UK.

But there’s a catch – Rand Kar will only provide the said copy if they are provided with the original French serial number of the kit – and the DGAC will not accept any other number either, including the (different) serial number allocated to it by the BMAA for its UK registration. So if it’s not among the paperwork, then there is a problem, and in any case, if I’m to make my Ryanair flight to Stansted next Friday to get the X-Air ready to fly over, I needed to get it sorted by the end of this week, ie today, or by Monday or Tuesday of next week at the latest.

The key to the problem was getting hold of the aircraft’s French serial number and Rand Kar seemed the best place to start. They said that they do have all of the serial numbers but in the period in question (1998/99) 49 were shipped to the UK and they have no knowledge of either the UK registrations or the names of the customers. However, they said that the Wessex Light Aeroplane Co Ltd, in the person of Gordon Salter, the UK importer, would probably still have a record. So I phoned him, he said that yes he does have the information on file even for all those years ago, but that he’s on holiday in Menorca until Monday week! He said that he’d let me have the info after he gets back but that’s too late for me of course.

So after sending Gordon a SMS with the X-Air’s registration and original purchaser details, I needed to think about how else I might be able to tackle the problem. I wondered if the BMAA might have kept a record on the build paperwork, so I gave them a ring. Roger Patrick, ex P&M and the new Technical Officer, said that he’d have a look for me and a minute or so later came up with the only reference that he could find in the form of a kit number. This seemed very promising to me and soon after sending it to Rand Kar, I received the welcome confirmation that this referred to a red and grey X-Air sold into the UK in the period in question ie my aircraft.

So the problem was solved and shortly after paying their fee by debit card, I received my aircraft’s correct French ‘numéro de série’ (serial number) and a copy of its ‘fiche d’identification’ that enabled me to complete all of the paperwork necessary to get it onto the French register. In view of the ever-shortening lead-time, I’ve asked for the new registration to be emailed through to me as soon as it’s available, and hopefully that will happen on Monday. After that I’ll have enough time to put my plan into action to fly over to the UK and fly the X-Air across to France when the weather is suitable. I’ve already got my route and flightplan worked out, but more of that later. For now I’m just relieved that the registration logjam has at last been broken 😉

September 22, 2019

Nearly there

Since returning from the UK, I’ve been focusing my efforts on my primary project – namely rescuing my latest aircraft acquisition for a new life in France. The transfer of ownership went through last weekend (Saturday 14 September) and deregistering it in the UK was easy. It only took one day and I didn’t even need to put it in my name. Registering it in France has been slightly more difficult, however, but now I’m there and just waiting for the ‘Carte Jaune’ to arrive in the post.

I’ve had to learn all about the French system for registering ULMs in a very short time. The first thing is that only ULMs with a French ‘Code d’Identification’ and/or ‘Fiche Technique’ can be registered in France. This means that only those with a ‘technical dossier’ created by the constructor that proves that the aircraft in question meets the ULM/microlight definition and meets acceptable standards of construction and airworthiness can be added to the French register. When this is done, the aircraft model in question is allocated an ‘identity code’ which can then be quoted by all ‘ULMs de série’ ie all similar models ‘in the series’ for them to be automatically deemed as acceptable. Alternatively, if the ‘identity code’ isn’t known, the reference to the relevant ‘technical dossier’ can also be quoted.

This doesn’t mean that an individual who designs and builds their own ULM can’t get it registered. They can, by applying for a ‘provisional’ registration that starts with the letter ‘W’ which I think only lasts for one year and can then be converted to a permanent one once the owner demonstrates by testing and calculation that the aircraft conforms. However, this doesn’t apply to my aircraft and I’m not absolutely certain of this as I haven’t gone into it in more detail.

I started by applying for a ‘provisional’ registration for my aircraft that I want to bring into France from the UK but was told ‘by return’ that this wasn’t appropriate. It’s an ‘ULM de série’ but made slightly more complicated as it was kit built in the UK. My initial problem was not understanding what on earth I had to do about acquiring an ‘identity code’ as the lady at the DGAC made it abundantly clear that without such a code I would not be able to get the aircraft onto the French register at all, which alarmed me somewhat.

She told me that I needed to contact ‘the constructor’ who would need to provide an attestation that it ‘conformed’ and also met French regulatory construction and airworthiness requirements. This I saw as being a major problem as the UK ‘constructor’, a private individual, assembled the kit around 20 years ago and for all I know, isn’t even around now. So getting this ‘attestation’ seemed to me to be problematic at best.

I suggested that the BMAA HADS (Homebuilt Aircraft Data Sheet) which had been officially signed off by a BMAA inspector not only confirmed that the aircraft met the ULM/microlight definition but also confirmed that it had been built to the required standard but this was firmly rejected by the lady at the DGAC. However, as I’ve found quite frequently with bureaucrats in France, although they will freely let you know when something is unacceptable, they won’t then go the next step and tell you what you need to do to get round the problem, so it was time to take a close look myself at the relevant regulations, namely Articles 3 and 5 that the lady had indicated as being key to my registration request.

First, Article 3 which I’ve posted a copy of below.

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This mentions the ‘fiche d’identification’ (technical dossier), its requirements and contents and also the need for an ULM to have user and maintenance manuals for it to be registered. But the single most important statement that struck me was that highlighted in yellow, namely that the ‘fiche technique’ or reference thereof of an aircraft applies for all aircraft sharing the same ‘key characteristics’. As my aircraft is an X-Air built from a French kit, this means that the ‘fiche technique’ that applies for all French-built 582 X-Airs also applies to my aircraft, thus overcoming the first major hurdle.

Now on to Article 5, which I’ve also posted below.

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The lady at the DGAC implied that the ‘constructor’ of my aircraft needed to provide an ‘attestation’ of suitability of the aircraft but it seems to me that either I’ve misunderstood her or she’s slightly confused by the meaning of the regulations. Firstly, it’s clear that the ‘constructor’ does not mean the individual or organisation who built the aircraft – it refers to the ‘constructor’ ie the designer/manufacturer of the aircraft or the kit from which it was built.

Secondly, once a ‘fiche technique’ has been issued and archived by the ‘constructor’ it’s implicitly assumed that the aircraft itself conforms. There’s then the need before registration is granted for there to be a declaration that the aircraft conforms to the required standards of construction and is airworthy, but it is clear from Article 5 and the registration form itself that neither the ‘constructor’ nor the actual kit builder have to do that – it is solely the responsibility of the applicant to ‘declare’, as always, that those requirements are met. This is the beauty of the French system – the pilot alone is responsible for the operation and airworthiness of his aircraft.

A bit more digging gave me the aircraft’s French description as an Xair 602T and Randkar, the ‘constructor’ to whom I showed pictures of the aircraft, gave me the Code d’Identité for an Xair 602T SP (sans parachute) which I put onto my latest submission of the paperwork. This joined a weight form (using the BMAA figure), a form confirming de-reg in the UK and a promise to pay 20€ when it was all done that I submitted earlier, so all’s well that ends well, as we say in the UK.

Re getting it over here, I’ve booked Bergerac-Stansted on 4 October for 21.99€ (the cost for my additional case at 12€ was more than my fare of 9.99€) and I’ll be taking with me things like new carb rubbers and new fuel pump mount rubbers as I found that one of the latter was perished when I looked over the aircraft last time. I’m pretty sure that there are no other major problems as although the fuel line ends were stretched and perished, this was because lines of too small a diameter had been stretched onto larger dia fittings. After cutting the ends off, they’ll be OK for now but if I find otherwise, I’ll replace them when I’m in the UK after doing my thorough inspection.

I’ll have to stay over in the UK for as long as it takes for suitable weather and then I intend to fly it over, this time taking 3 days rather than 2 as I did with MYRO. The first problem is that with Abbeville closed, I’ll have to go north to Calais before heading south so on day one I’ll do that and overnight at Abbeville, hopefully at the slightly grotty hotel on the airfield which I’ll book when I know my dates. And now Wanafly has gone, I can’t overnight there either so I’m hoping to stop over at Bellac where Roger, who is bringing his Shadow over from Ireland will be based. Then day three will be a short hop from there into Malbec.

Naturally I’m hoping that the fine weather that we’re enjoying at present will hold through into the first half of October – but luckily the X-Air has got doors and a nicely sealed cabin, so even if it’s a bit chilly, it shouldn’t be a bad flight down. So yet another adventure and I’m looking forward to it immensely 🙂

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September 16, 2019

Wheels are in motion

I’m remaining vague on purpose and will have to continue being so for some time to come as I want to stay under-the-radar and not attract unnecessary attention. But things are already on the move towards turning my little plan into reality.

Early yesterday evening I received the information by email that I’d requested from the UK plus copies of various items of paperwork and by bedtime the necessary forms had been sent off to the UK CAA by the same means. And by the middle of this afternoon the aircraft in question had been deregistered in the UK and the necessary paperwork submitted here in France for it to be added to the French aircraft register.

I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed by how quickly and smoothly the process went and I’m very encouraged that if things continue in this way, everything will be achieved even more rapidly than I originally thought. All will be revealed in the fullness of time and in the meantime I’ll continue quietly working away behind the scenes 😉