September 30, 2020

Bumpy flight

Up to yesterday I hadn’t flown in either my Savannah (77ASY) or my Xair (24ZN) since July when I took Sophie’s granddaughter up in the Xair. The Savannah had been fuelled-up ready to go for a couple of weeks or so, but I’d not been able to find either the opportunity or the motivation to get airborne so as the weather is now becoming rather autumnal and opportunities might start becoming few and far between, I thought that I’d better make the effort before I lost my flying mojo.

The daily weather forecasts for this week were not too encouraging but although yesterday started out cloudy and dull, it brightened up considerably during the afternoon and as there was also little wind, I decided that it would be a good time to go flying. In fact, although the temperature was only around 19 or 20 degrees Celsius, I was surprised to find as soon as I took off that it was surprisingly bumpy.

As I knew I wouldn’t be taking off until late afternoon, I thought that I’d go for a fairly short flight, from Malbec to Figeac-Livernon in the Lot and then back to Malbec via Sarlat. The planned flight time was 65 minutes but with taxying, approaches and landings, the total came out to 90 minutes. Here’s a pic of the route.

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I mounted a GoPro behind me in the cabin and although I planned to get more, I shot a video of just the leg from Malbec to Figeac-Livernon, including the take off and landing.

There’s a reason why I didn’t get as much video as I wanted to. While I was on base leg at Figeac, I heard another aircraft call up to say that they were coming in for a touch-and-go somewhere behind me and to my alarm, I heard him call final while I was on final myself. Figeac has no taxiway and it’s normal practice to backtrack after landing to exit the runway on the short length of taxiway down to the parking area.

However, knowing that this other aircraft was behind me, I thought that it would be prudent to go for the grass and it’s lucky that I did, because in the time that it took me to turn 180 degrees, he was landing beside me. It’s not a good idea to taxy on the grass on an unknown airfield because there are often hidden objects and/or rabbit holes that you can taxy into and damage your propeller and engine, but I watched closely what I was doing and taxied slowly and with great care.

Even so, it was a bit much for this other pilot to just assume that I’d be kind enough to get out of his way and he should really have extended his circuit or approach to allow me to land and clear the runway. That’s what a British pilot would have done anyway. Here are a couple of shots that I took of 77ASY in its ‘usual’ parking place opposite the flying club clubhouse and airfield offices. Unfortunately, however, the bumpy surface of the grass had caused the GoPro to fall down and as I didn’t notice, that was effectively the end of videoing for the day.

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That’s a Maule, the first one I’ve ever seen, in the second shot above. It looks just like the one in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even had a ‘N’ registration!

After a brief stop, I took off to head for Sarlat. By now as the afternoon wore on, the turbulence was beginning to subside and the flight was fairly uneventful. There was one annoyance though. A student pilot, evidently with an instructor on board, was flying circuits and ‘touch-and-gos’ there in a Robin and the problem was that he was flying absolutely huge circuits which were totally uncalled for and unnecessary.

In fact I saw him climbing out and thought from the height that he climbed to that he was going to fly away from the airfield, but no, after flying a huge cross-wind leg and turning downwind, he called downwind to land well after he’d passed the runway landing threshold. And then he carried on so far that I lost sight of him.

This caused me problems because in the time that it then took him to fly all the way back again, I could have cut in and landed, but you can’t do that sort of thing. So I had to also fly an extended circuit until I could see him on final and turn in to land myself. What the instructor was doing I do not know. That is not the way to train a student pilot to fly circuits, even in an ‘avion’ (Group A aircraft).

Here are some shots that I took at Sarlat.

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The very pretty Piper Cub was on the parking area. It transpired that the owner was looking to sell it. It could be a bargain for someone as its engine is almost out of time and will require a complete overhaul. However, even if its selling price reflects that, which it should, I can say with some certainty that that person will not be me!

After filling in the movements sheet at Sarlat, which the majority of visitors don’t seem to do, I then took off to head back to Malbec. I heard the student pilot start taxying for another session of circuits so made sure that I climbed away and cleared the area as quickly as I could.

The flight back to Malbec was in almost clear air in contrast to when I took off and I landed without incident shortly after 6.00pm. I’d enjoyed my first flight in something like 6 weeks but I was glad to be back again and also pleased that despite the break, all three of the landings I’d done were very respectable if not actually greasers 😉

September 24, 2020

Nighttime visitors

A few evenings ago I turned the lights on in the small area of garden behind my house and this was the sight that met my eyes.

We’d had showers over the previous couple of days that had made the weeds shoot up again even though the grass is still burnt after the summer. Three small deer, called ‘chevreuil’ here, were eagerly eating them, which they can come back and do any time as far as I’m concerned, just so long as they leave the plants in the front of the house alone. It was about this time last year when I looked out in the morning only to find that the tops of half of them had been eaten during the night. Maybe this three had returned to the scene of the crime looking for easy pickings.

Sorry about the quality – I had to grab the video very quickly using my phone camera in poor light.

September 19, 2020

More quadcopter videos

Have been dealing with a few other things in recent weeks so have not been posting much on My Trike. I made another couple of videos using my Fimi quadcopter, see below. The first was another ‘end of summer’ video showing how things are changing here now that the seasons are drawing on.

The second was in ‘response’ to some ‘reviews’ of the Fimi that I’ve seen on Youtube that I think cast it in completely the wrong light. I wanted to show a completely different side of the story and how well it’s been performing for me.

I had an amazing day last Saturday. A next-door neighbour has a small vineyard and Saturday was the day of the annual ‘vendange’ (grape picking). He’s interested in my drones (he introduced me to another neighbour a short distance away, Bernard from Belgium, who also flies quadcopters) and asked if I’d like to take a few shots on the day. In fact I went even better and did a complete video showing the day from beginning to end. I was super-pleased with it but unfortunately I can’t post it here on My Trike as it shows lots of local people and neighbours – about 50 turned up to give a hand of which 30 joined in a superb meal afterwards – and it would not be right to offend their privacy.

After the grape-picking was over – it only took until mid-day – we all sat down for an ‘apero’ followed by the most hearty French meal that I’ve ever enjoyed that started at about 12.30 pm and just went on and on. I left at about 5.30 pm and more than half were still there. I lost count of the courses. We started with soup then had shrimps, whelks, wild boar with haricots verts, cheese – they just kept coming. Every time my glass emptied it was magically full again with last-year’s vintage red wine, as did it also when we got onto the plum brandy at the end of the meal. I felt highly privileged to be invited and being regarded by the locals as ‘one of them’ is a great feeling.

I still haven’t flown since the one flight I did in the Xair after bringing it over from the UK. I keep being distracted by other things and I’d hoped to get a couple of flights in this coming week. The weather is changing, though, and although it’s now becoming cooler, which will be a good thing, it looks as though it could also be wet for the next few days. I’ll just have to wait and see.

September 2, 2020

Another quadcopter video

My new phone was delivered on Monday and I couldn’t wait to try it out with my Fimi and Hubsan Zino drones. It took a day to get it configured with all my apps and settings and I was able to give it its first runs yesterday morning. It worked well with both of them and as I was especially pleased with the footage that I got with the Fimi, I thought that I’d make a video and upload it to my channel on Youtube.

There’s very little lag between the drone and phone video and the new phone’s screen also seems a bit brighter. There’s just one thing with it though. My old phone had a USB 3 connection while the new one has a USB-C. This is OK as far as it goes, but for some weird reason the latter keeps turning itself off in certain situations once it’s been used. I don’t know why, but it does this with both drones and if you disconnect and reconnect them for any reason the phone has to be rebooted for the connection to be restarted.

This must be some kind of unintended glitch or flaw in its design but I guess I’ll have to live with it unless and until I come across some way around it. However, it doesn’t stop it being very annoying, especially as it wasn’t something that happened with my old phone, which was an earlier version of the same model 🙁

August 25, 2020

Animal crackers

A few days ago I had yet another bat in my living room. I heard a noise behind me and found it lying quite calmly on a tread half-way up my stairs. It was quite large – quite a lot bigger than the one that woke me up in the middle of the night a week or so ago by flying in circles in the darkness around my bedroom.

It was about the same size as the bat that came into my house a year or so ago but luckily nothing like as mad. That one had angry red eyes and made a constant clicking sound by snapping its teeth together. I think it might have been rabied and was quite nervous about scooping it up in a thick towel and freeing it outside.

This last one was much more docile, however, and I scooped it up quite easily from my stairs after it briefly tried to hide behind a decorative brass warming pan that’s there and it happily flew off when I dropped it onto the little glass-topped table in the garden.

But today takes the biscuit. I went into the kitchen to dump my lunch things in the sink and… there was a small snake on the worktop! It was trying to climb up and hide itself in a towel that is hanging on the wall and before I could grab it, it dropped down and shot into a gap between the (unfinished) worktop and the wall. I pulled the dishwasher out and all of the cabinet kick-panels but could find no sign of it, so it may still be there.

It was quite thin, brownish-green in colour and about 20 cms long. I think that it was probably a grass snake and have no idea what can possibly have possessed it to come into my house. For the time being I’ve just left the doors wide open, which is how they must have been when it found its way in, in the hope that when it finds that there’s nothing for it inside it’ll just find its own way out. If that doesn’t work and I catch sight of it again, I’ll just have to take up a new career as a snake-charmer in the hope of mesmerising the ruddy thing 😕

I’ve just come back to say that I’ve had another thought about this. Domino, the cat belonging to one of my neighbours, is an avid hunter of the lizards that climb up the stone walls of my house and sunbathe on the paving slabs. She was over just before I found the snake and I’m wondering whether she caught it and left it as a little ‘gift’ the way that cats do?

I didn’t realise that living in the country would be quite so wild…

August 23, 2020

And then there were two

Up until June I owned three ULMs (ultralight aircraft), a Savannah MXP 740, an Xair and a Weedhopper. However, I couldn’t justify keeping all three – I couldn’t fly them all enough for a start – so much as I loved it, in June I sold my lovely old Weedhopper leaving me with just the Savannah and the Xair. We had a very hot July/early August here in south-west France so I was unable to fly either as much as I would have liked and they spent most of the time in the barn where they are kept, gathering dust and bird droppings.

Although the Xair is covered up, the Savannah isn’t so yesterday I pulled both aircraft out of the barn to get to the Savannah so I could clean it today. Just as I began videoing them with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter a large black cloud moved in and centred itself right overhead the airfield and it began to rain. Wouldn’t you just believe it! However, I kept shooting and here is the result.

I made an early start this morning and was able to pull the Savannah out of the barn, give it a good clean and get it back into the barn before it got too hot. Here’s a shot that I took after I’d finished.

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I didn’t get to fly it because I’d enjoyed a bit of a heavy evening last night at a ‘Marché Gormand’ in Plazac and thought that it would be unwise to fly given how much I’d had to drink. However, it looks as though the coming week will bring a few good flying days so I’m going to make sure that the Savannah gets some air under its wings after having stayed on the ground for several weeks, far too long. Watch this space 😉

August 18, 2020

A couple of videos

I’ve been busy these past days doing this and that but without having an awful lot to show for my efforts. However, I have managed to fit in a bit of video editing and here are two of the results. First, a video of the first leg of my flight in July in my ex-pat Xair across the English Channel from Clipgate Farm near Canterbury in south-east England to Calais-Dunkerque in northern France.

And now a short video that I shot this morning using my Fimi X8 SE quadcopter in the area where I live in the Dordogne in south-west France.

I’ve been mainly dealing with admin and paperwork stuff in the last couple of days but now that’s done I can turn my attention to my aircraft and tomorrow I plan to pull my Savannah out of the barn for another good clean. It hasn’t been flown since the last time so it’s about time that I got it back into the air, and that’s the next thing on the agenda. There’s really no reason now the weather is cooling down a bit that I shouldn’t be getting at least half-an-hour to an hour’s flight each week in each aircraft, so that’s what I’ll be looking to do if I can over the next few weeks.

Oh, here’s something I nearly forgot to mention. It’s that time again – but much earlier than usual. Due to the period of incredibly hot weather that we had during the second half of July and early August, the plum trees in my garden have already become laden with ripe fruit. And lots of it. While a crowd of us were enjoying apero at my new table last week a sudden squall blew up and although there wasn’t a lot of rain that evening, as a result quite a lot of fruit fell to the ground.

So as it was all good and otherwise undamaged, rather than waste it I gathered a couple of huge bowls as I’ve done in previous years and my French neighbour Chantal gathered a bucketful to share with her friends. But it’s no good just leaving the fruit in bowls, you have to do something with it so I bought some special jam sugar as I usually do, 4 kgs of it, which made 10 kgs of jam mix.

I spent the whole of yesterday jam-making from 8.30am to 4.30pm and here are the results of my labour stacked on the top shelf of my fridge.

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There’s much more than I’ll ever be able to consume all by myself before next year’s crop arrives so I’m bound to be giving some away to friends. I also told Chantal, who came back for some more plums, although there’s not much good fruit left on the ground just for now, that she can come back and take whatever she wants when more ripen as I won’t be making any more jam. If I did, I really would have it coming out of my ears. And if I eat many more I’ll start looking like a plum soon myself 😕

Oh, and yes, I had some this morning for breakfast on two pieces of toasted bread. I thought yesterday after looking at it after it had been in the fridge for a short time that it looked as though it was going to be a bit runny. But it wasn’t. It was almost perfect – it stood up when placed on the toast but was runny enough to drip off if you tipped the toast up. Just the way I like it 😉

August 8, 2020

Phase 1

At long last I’ve got somewhere where I can eat outside and enjoy good times with friends.

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I should have done it ages ago. It’s not ideal because the area has been graded with a slight fall away from the house in preparation for when I eventually go ahead with my planned extension, so two legs of the table have had to be propped up to make it level. But it’ll be fine. I have a brand new barbecue that’s been standing unused in my ‘atelier’ for over two years so at last I can get around to thinking about using it for the first time. It’s much too hot for the time being as with daytime temperatures of over 40 degrees C, much too much heat still rises from the white stones in the evening for it to be comfortable. But the hot snap should end soon and then it will be time.

I’ve also got big plans for the back of the house but I’ll come back to those later when I’ve got more to show. For the time being I’ve just placed a small round table that Victor gave me just after I arrived in France in the most shady corner of the part of my garden behind my house which gets less sun and doesn’t therefore get too hot, especially in the evening. I’m using it with the two spare chairs that came with the new table that I’ve got out front as I don’t think I’ll need eight chairs around that very often. I’ve finished it off for now with a three metre square parasol giving me another area that I’ll be able to use for eating outside at, especially in the evening.

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That’s it for now. As mentioned above, I’ve got some much bigger ideas for the area at the back of my house to make it a lot more usable instead of it being just a patch of sloping grass that’s full of weeds. I’ve already got things moving with them so should have some results to show quite soon with the whole project being finished hopefully over the coming few weeks, bearing in mind that even after Covid, most enterprises in France have now closed down for August so anything that’s ordered, especially that requires fabrication, won’t be delivered until some time after they get back.

July 26, 2020

Back in business

We’ve had some scorching weather over the last few days and although I went across to Malbec to look at 24ZN’s charging problem it was too hot to spend very much time even in the shade in the barn and I didn’t solve it. It was cooler this morning so I went over again and this time got the problem sorted. I suspected that the multi-connector was again the culprit but this time I was wrong. When the battery initially went flat at Dreux on my flight down from the UK I’d found that an in-line spade connector had disconnected itself and after I’d reconnected it, I’d forgotten about it.

But I shouldn’t have. It had become disconnected because it was under strain from having been cable-tied too tightly and when I checked it again this morning it had separated once more. It didn’t take long to clean up both it and its pair that emerge from the stator charging coils and then reconnect and re-cable tie both of them and when I started the engine I was immediately rewarded with a large swing towards + on the aircraft’s ammeter. So job done, and if I’d had some tools with me I could have solved the problem immediately when it arose at Dreux and thus avoided all the hassle and delays at Blois and Le Blanc. A salutary lesson not to be forgotten for long flights in the future.

Here are some shots that I took of 24ZN after I’d done the job. Wim and Sophie’s granddaughter is visiting again this week and she always likes to go for a flight so I think that maybe now its battery charging problem is sorted, I might take her in 24ZN for a change. Mind you, I desperately need to get some air under my Savannah’s wings which has been standing for far too long in the hangar while I’ve been preoccupied with 24ZN and the sale of my much loved old Weedhopper but before I can do that it needs to have yet another thorough clean, which I don’t fancy doing while it’s so hot. Would you believe, we’re expecting 40 degrees Celsius, or even slightly higher, towards the latter part of the coming week.

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Now a change of subject, to my new Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter that I received the day after I returned in 24ZN from the UK and is turning out to be a seriously impressive piece of kit. I’ve posted below a series of images lifted from videos that I’ve shot with it. I must emphasise that although the Fimi is capable of superb 4K videos and still images, these were all lifted as screen-grabs from videos that were shot in 2.7K (1080P) 30 frames/sec format so are nowhere near what the Fimi is actually capable of.

The village of Fanlac is located about 3.3km as the crow flies to the north-east of my house and the following shot was taken as I flew the Fimi towards it. Unbeknown to me, between my house and it there’s a beautiful little walled chateau in a dip that I didn’t know about. Google Earth tells me that the chateau is 2.6km from my house.

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There’s a track that I’ve driven in my Kia and ridden on my bike that runs from north of Le Bos over the hilltops and eventually down to the road between Fanlac and Thonac. I didn’t realise until I eventually recognised the buildings that I was looking at that I was flying the Fimi over that track. The buildings in the next shot are on that track and are 2.3km from my house.

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The next shot is looking back towards where I live.

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This is looking vaguely from above my house towards the east of Rouffignac.

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This is looking from above my house in the direction of Plazac, which isn’t visible because it’s in the valley between the hills.

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To the south-west of my house are located Les Étangs de Fongran, a group of three small ponds in the wooded valley between the hills. The two larger lakes are at a distance of 2.2km from my house.

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This farm, which is 2.3km from my house, is on the track that runs down from Le Bos to the Fanlac-Thonac road. The track runs between the buildings through the farmyard.

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This is the track as it winds its way up towards Le Bos.

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Here’s another shot looking back towards where I live.

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This is a shot taken towards where I live from the direction of Le Bos.

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And to end with, a couple of similar shots taken with my Hubsan Zino. They were taken in 4K 30 frames/sec format and I’ve lightened them a bit, but otherwise not edited them, to make them more similar to the shots taken with the Fimi.

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So where am I now? I have to say, that I love the rich(er?) colours created by the Hubsan but I’m already being persuaded by (a) the Fimi’s greater range (8km compared to the Zino’s 1km) and (b) its longer battery life. The Fimi is rated with a 35 minute battery life which is something like 10 minutes and even more in practise, more than for the Zino. So far I’ve only taken the Fimi to 25 minutes so as to maintain a safety reserve but the extra time already feels considerable.

I can’t legally use all of the Fimi’s range in France (flights must be kept to line-of-sight so the maximum is a kilometre or so) but as I’ve already found, its extra sensitivity is a powerful insurance policy. I’ve only had one disconnection with the Fimi when I was testing it flying at distance behind trees while in comparison, when I shot the video from which I lifted the last two Zino shots above, I experienced a disconnection at only just over 460 metres. That’s quite some difference.

So much as I love my Zino, what should I do? I doubt that I’ll do enough drone flying to justify keeping both quadcopters so maybe I’ll consider selling the Zino on while it’s still in ‘as new’ condition. I haven’t decided yet but it’s certainly something that I’ll have to seriously think about. Another consideration is that the Fimi batteries also charge more quickly than the Zino’s and if I dispose of the latter and buy another Fimi battery from some of the proceeds (I already have two) that will surely give me more video time than I’m ever likely to need.

July 21, 2020

Dream machine?

There have been more twists in the story of my Weedhopper sale than in an Agatha Christie crime novel. I didn’t end up flying it up to Paris last week after all, of which more later, so I hurriedly booked train tickets to London, by SNCF regular train from Brive to Paris Austerlitz, TGV from Paris Gare du Nord to Lille Europe and Eurostar from Lille to St Pancras. The whole journey was not an edifying experience or one that I would wish on anyone, but my findings between the differences between my experiences in France and the UK were shocking.

First of all, what’s going on as a result of government policy. All of the trains that I took in France were pretty full if not packed. As well as family groups and individual passengers like myself there were also several large groups of schoolchildren, presumably travelling back to their homes after camps, school visits or other kinds of school outings.

Passenger numbers were quite high on all of the internal French routes that I took, including the Paris Metro when I crossed the city from Austerlitz to Gare du Nord and the main-line stations themselves were bustling with passengers all wearing masks and behaving responsibly.

In contrast, the leg on Eurostar to London from Lille wasn’t even a quarter full and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to have seen balls of tumbleweed blowing through St Pancras, Victoria and the London Underground when I transited between the two. So it appears that Boris Johnson and his inept government have succeeded in a few short months in achieving what the Luftwaffe failed to do in all of the years from 1939 to 1945, namely to turn London into a desolate ghost town.

Their juvenile version of Project Fear promulgated by one of the most inept teams of ‘scientific advisers’ to have ever walked the earth has ensured that we may never again see the level of tourism that London once enjoyed, and depends on, and who can blame people for not coming if, almost uniquely among the great cities of Europe, they have to sit in their hotel rooms and self-isolate for 14 days of their stay and then, when they can venture out, find nothing open. No restaurants, cafes, theatres, clubs, pubs, bars… the list goes on. Just go to Paris instead where none of this stuff applies.

And then you have the fares. It cost me 167.60€ to travel from Brive to St Pancras, including the Eurostar leg from Lille (98.60€ from Brive to Paris and from Paris to Lille by TGV and 69.00€ from Lille to St Pancras by Eurostar). It then cost me £4.50 to travel a few stops from St Pancras to Victoria compared to 1.90€ for the same number of stops to go from Paris Austerlitz to Gare du Nord and a shocking £20.20 (described as a ‘Super Off-Peak Day Single’) to go from Victoria to Maidstone West.

The latter I find absolutely appalling, totally indefensible and a shocking indictment of all that’s wrong with the UK rail service. I hope that the management board of South-Eastern Trains rot in the fires of Hell.

Having arrived in Maidstone early Saturday evening, I picked up my car from Clipgate on Sunday and booked a P & O Dover-Calais ferry back to France yesterday afternoon, getting home just before 2.00 am this morning. And boy, what a relief it was to get back again. And what a surprise when I heard a delivery truck outside this morning, saw a GLS van driving away and when I checked my postbox, found the new Fimi X8 SE 2020 drone that I’ve been waiting for since 17th April inside it. Here are a couple of shots that I took after I’d unpacked it and charged its batteries.

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Is it a Dream Machine? To be honest after doing just two or three flights today I don’t know. I was really impressed with its precision landing capability when it landed automatically smack in the middle of the landing pad on the first two attempts and just on its edge on the third. However, I’m more interested in its stability, range and video output quality and whereas the first two were really impressive, albeit on a hot day with practically no wind to speak of, I’m not so sure about the latter.

In ‘Auto’ mode, I know that my Hubsan Zino will respond to the ambient light conditions and with few exceptions, produce stunning videos and still images. I didn’t find that today with the Fimi, which I found a bit disappointing. Take a look at the following two shots that were lifted from a video and are of the same scene taken a few moments apart. The only difference is the position of the gimbal – in the first one shot when the gimbal was raised a tad to include the horizon and a bit of sky, the colours are rich and acceptable if not perfect. In the latter they are washed out and lacking in detail (look at the grass in the left foreground).

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But OK, it’s early days and I have to look closer into the video settings to see what can be done to change things manually, but even so if it is possible to improve the situation, it would be a bit of a pain to have to do it every time you want to shoot a video. I also found the yaw control (rotation) to be a bit too sensitive, starting off OK but then suddenly sending the drone into a quick turn. I’ve adjusted that for my Hubsan and I’ll have to find out, maybe tomorrow, whether I can do the same thing with the Fimi.

And last but not least, my old Weedhopper. I’m not going to say too much here on My Trike, but the new buyer, in my opinion foolishly, asked the workshop at Montpezat to take a look at the engine with the idea of doing any maintenance work that might be necessary. Now bearing in mind that its 503 engine was obtained by me only a few short hours after it had been fully reconditioned, including a new crankshaft, after the aircraft it was on had been blown over in a storm and written off, and that it has done only 100 hours or so since then, I was let’s say surprised, to say the least, when the new buyer told me that he’d got an estimate for nearly 2000€ to rebore the cylinders and replace the pistons, which are both ‘shot’ (the photo he sent me shows a perfectly normal engine in the middle of its life) and that this total could increase even more if when they look further the crankshaft is also ‘gone’.

This engine is fitted with both CHT and EGT gauges and has never overheated. It runs smoothly (for a 2-stroke), has plenty of power, makes no smoke, has no unusual noises and starts easily. Now I don’t know what readers make of this story but I know what conclusion I’ve come to. Before Montpezat, where I flew it to totally trouble-free of course, got their hands on it I would have happily flown it immediately from Montpezat to Malbec to Paris. But not now, after they’ve removed the cylinders.

When you do a 447, 503 or 582 decoke you don’t remove the cylinders without good reason, just the heads to remove the carbon build-up on the piston crowns. The reason is that the highs and lows on the piston sides and cylinders ‘wear in’ and align with each other. This is not so once you remove and replace the cylinders as even the slightest change from their original positions, which inevitably happens, means that the highs and lows create new complementary wear patterns, but still leaving the old ones, thus reducing the engine’s life.

I’m very sad about the latest turn of events and mentioned to Victor, who’s a highly qualified and experienced engineer, that if I’d known of my buyer’s plans, I wouldn’t have sold him the aircraft. But it’s too late now, and for all I know my little ‘Dream Machine’ Weedhopper may never accord with such a description ever again 🙁

July 14, 2020

It’s never over until it’s over

There’s been another twist in the tale of 28AAD, my lovely old Weedhopper. When we first got in contact many weeks ago, the now new owner said that he wanted to do the flight himself from the Dordogne up to the airfield in the north of France where he proposes to keep the aircraft. I said that maybe it was a bit unwise for him to consider such a long flight so soon in his ULM flying career, as not only do such flights require considerable planning but they are also very tiring and demanding of even the most experienced pilots. I therefore said that I would be happy to undertake it for him but he said that he really wanted to do it himself and thought that he’d be able to cope with it after a few hours of instruction.

After having flown 28AAD for a while he now realises how good that advice was and considers that he doesn’t have the experience to do it right now after all. This doesn’t come as a surprise to me and I think that it’s to his credit that he has come to this conclusion in advance, before embarking on what might have become a potentially disastrous event. This, of course, now leaves the problem of how to get the Weedhopper up to the north of France, so it looks as though I’ll be getting another long cross-country flight in it after all.

Victor and Madeleine are leaving for a brief holiday and Victor therefore won’t be around to give me a hand after Thursday. The weather at Montpazat looks as though it might be a bit tricky with local winds and strong gusts coming in tomorrow, so I’m proposing that with Victor’s help I’ll get down to pick the Weed up on Thursday evening to fly it back to Malbec. If the weather then remains according to forecast I’ll then fly it out early on Saturday morning as far as Coulommiers to the east of Paris where I’d expect to arrive at around 1.30 pm.

This is all a bit rushed and not the usual way I go about things but it does have a useful outcome because I could then take the train to Paris and the Eurostar to London, from where I could make my way to see my sister and brother in law again and thence to pick up my car at Clipgate. Whether it will all work out like that we’ll have to wait and see, however 😕

July 13, 2020

The long good-bye

I said good-bye yesterday to my much-loved little French AX3 Weedhopper. I put it up for sale towards the end of last year and the young guy who finally took it over had been waiting since then, initially for the weather to improve and latterly for the Covid-19 travel restrictions to ease. In the end he wanted to come down from Belgium where he and his young family live, last week-end but it wasn’t possible because I was then still in the UK getting ready to bring my ex-pat Xair over to France. Fortunately or plans finally all came together yesterday.

Things started with a minor hic-cup because he flew into Périgueux with friends in a light aircraft and wanted me to take the Weedhopper in there for him to see and try out. Unfortunately I’d inadvertently left the radio kit for it in my car back in England and when I phoned to see if they’d give me permission to go into Bassillac non-radio, the bureaucrat in the office made all sorts of exploding noises over the phone, as bureaucrats do when asked to make decisions about such matters, and told me that they have far too much traffic at week-ends for such a thing to occur. In fact my buyer and Victor, who went to pick him up, said that there was no traffic, no ATC service and everywhere was locked up, as I’d found at most of the destinations that I’d stopped at earlier in the week with the Xair.

But in any case, I’d already decided that the best alternative was for me to fly the Weed into Condat, where there’s a very long, hard, up-sloping runway (so helpful for both landings and take offs) and for Victor to bring him there to see and fly the aircraft with me. And that’s what we did. Here are what will almost certainly be the last shots that will ever be taken of the lovely little aircraft at Malbec after I’d pulled it out of the barn and was getting ready to take off for Condat.

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I got to Condat quite a way ahead of the agreed time so I knew that everything would run smoothly, which meant that I then had to wait in the sun. Here’s the aircraft parked in the beautiful sunshine at Condat, probably for the last time.

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I’d arrived at 11.45 am after a 20 minute flight. It was already becoming quite bumpy by then due to the heat of the day increasing and creating bubbles of lift and while I waited I knew that it would be getting gradually more severe. The young prospective buyer arrived quite some time after the time we’d agreed and while I’d been waiting I’d decided that conditions would be far too tricky for someone not accustomed to them and that although he could walk around and inspect the aircraft as much as he wanted to, to his heart’s content, there was no way that we would be taking it for a flight until things had begun to cool down. And that would be at the end of the afternoon, or even early evening, as the temperature was then already climbing into the mid-30s Celsius.

Victor suggested that the best way to use the time would be to get away and see if we could find somewhere for lunch and although time was getting on, we thought that we might as well give it a try as more amd more tourists are flooding into the area by the day and we’d be bound to find somewhere open. This proved to be a much-loved watering-hole on the bank of the river at St Léon sur Vézère where we were served up with a sumptuous Caesar Salad complete with foie gras, walnuts, gisiers and goat’s cheese. Delicious!

But when we’d finished and said our good-byes, it was still too early (and hot) to go flying, so we took our friend on a lttle tour of the area for him to take a few photographs of some notable places and landmarks while we waited. But eventually we got back to Condat and it was time to take to the air. And for the most part, our young friend did a very competent job. That was until we came to the landing.

I’d sat without taking the controls since after the inital climb-out just giving bits of advice, hints and tips as we flew and he did very well considering he had no experience of the Weedhopper or of any other aircraft like it. We ended up on final a bit too high and fast but it didn’t matter because we had tons if runway ahead of us and at my instigation he confidently stuck the nose down and closed the throttle.

Then we came to the flare and it all began to go pear-shaped as we started by flaring too high and then panicked a little bit and began to balloon back up again. This is a sure-fire recipe for a stall so I grabbed the stick, stuck the nose down and we landed, with a little bit of a bump but not much. Afterwards I asked him how he’d thought he’d done and I could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn’t very happy. He said that he thought that he’d failed miserably on the landing but I said that actually what had happened was quite normal for a pilot coming to the Weedhopper for the first time and that he’d done pretty well.

But then we came to the moment of truth. He had arranged to fly the Weedhopper to Montpezat further south in the Lot-et-Garonne where he was to receive some qualified instruction on it and have an engineer give it a once-over and now he wasn’t confident that he had the necessary experience to do so. I admired him for making such a decision and voicing his doubts, because I didn’t think that he had either. He said that he definitely wanted to still go ahead with the purchase so the question now became how to get both him and the Weedhopper safely down to Montpezat and to that there was only one answer. I’d have to fly the Weed there and he’d have to drive my car so I could get back again afterwards.

I hadn’t made any preparations, of course, but he had the flight loaded into his tablet in Sky Demon. I made him modify it to a dead straight line as it looked from the kinks and bends in it that he was going via every small town and village along the route, but once that had been done, I took off at around 18.55 pm with plenty of time to get to Montpezat in the by-now beautiful evening flying conditions while Victor whipped our friend away to pick up my car.

So there I was setting off on yet another cross-country flight less than a week after the last one. However, it only took 1 hour and 10 minutes and was a total pleasure compared to my last flight in the Xair. I landed at a Montpazat that was bathed in the early evening sunlight but which was all locked up and almost, but not quite, entirely empty of human life. Here are the final shots that I took of the gorgeous little aircraft parked in the same place that I’ve parked all of my aircraft at one time or another, except my ex-pat Xair which will probably end up there at some time in the future, in front of the airfield control tower and main buildings.

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It was some time before the Weed’s buyer also arrived during which I met the instructor who would be taking him for instruction the following day and who came wandering out to look at the aircraft and have a chat. Shortly afterwards the deal was done and 28AAD became his. I then left for the best part of two hour’s drive back to Plazac satisfied that the little Weedhopper had gone to a good home. I’ve since heard today that its new owner is very pleased and is enjoying flying it and that the engineer has given it a big thumbs up too.

I have wished him ‘Bons vols’ in return and just hope that the instructor does a good job and gets him totally prepared for his long flight back home without any incident. I think he will make sure that he is as he seems very sensible and responsible 😉

July 8, 2020

The long flight home

And it was too, much longer than I expected as I’ll go on to explain. Ever since I’d missed my last weather window on 23 June I’d been watching the weather constantly, just as I did last autumn when I was last in the UK and hoping to get 24ZN over to France. But just as then, to no avail because the wind just kept blowing and blowing. Then there were signs of a change and at one time it looked as though the whole of the week commencing 6 July would be suitable for the flight with a good chance even of tail winds.

But as the time approached, the window began to shrink until finally only a tiny window of a single day, Tuesday 7 July, remained and in the light of experience that seemed to me to be highly improbable. What were the chances that the weather forecast could be so spot-on that it would correctly identify the days either side of 7 July as being unsuitable and that just that one day would be good for the flight?

As it happened, the forecasters on this occasion were dead right, much to my amazement I have to say. There were Doubting Thomases at Clipgate who said that I wouldn’t get away at all as the weather was going to deteriorate day-by-day for the whole week, but I kept saying that I trusted what the forecasters were saying and that I would have a window and in the end I was proved right to do so.

Having replaced 24ZN’s ignition stator, I’d been unable to do an air check but I managed to get one in in very windy conditions the day before which showed that its ignition problems had been cured, so that evening I got as much ready as I could and packed it in 24ZN’s cabin ready to go. I also filed my flight plan, GAR form and Schengen entry form so I could make an early start the next day and that I managed to achieve for once, getting away at 7.20 am on a beautiful calm morning. Here’s a shot of the take off.

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I hadn’t prepared myself to take any still pictures, luckily so given what was to come later on in the flight, but I’d set up a GoPro on 24ZN’s wing that recorded the whole flight from Clipgate to Calais, from take off to landing. Here are some shots that I’ve lifted from the video showing my climb out as I approached Dover, and when I say ‘climb out’, actually I was slowly climbing from take off the whole way to mid-Channel by which time I was just under the cloud base at between 4500 and 5000 feet.

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Here’s a nice shot of the port of Dover and its harbour.

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The next shot was taken just as I was coasting out at Dover and with the visibility being so good, the French coast is clearly visible. The usual crossing point that most pilots aim for to coast in at is Cap Gris Nez which is the coastline that juts out on the right of centre. That is the shortest route but I was aiming for a point a bit further to the east, closer to Calais. It would mean being over the water for a few minutes longer but I decided that having reached that far, the chance of anything going wrong was very small and the risk therefore only slight.

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Here’s a shot taken somewhere around mid-Channel. If you click on the image and enlarge it you will see in the bottom left hand corner what I think is a UK Border Force boat standing off from and observing a small vessel with a tiny wake, presumably a rubber dinghy containing illegal migrants.

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The next shot was taken some way further on by which time I had reduced engine revs and was beginning to slowly descend. I’d tried several time to raise London Information without success and I had the same result with Lille Approach so I’d been out of radio contact for the whole of the crossing. I think though, that if I’d had an emergency, I’d have got through on 121.5, but by now I was so content that the engine was running faultlessly that I wasn’t really very concerned.

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Here are a couple of shots taken as I tracked the French coastline flying towards Calais.

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Here’s a shot of the port of Calais and its harbour and in the distance you can just make out the port of Dunkerque.

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Approaching Calais with the airfield on the starboard beam. I’d tried to raise them several times on their published frequency but without success so just continued broadcasting my position as I joined the circuit downwind for runway 24.

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Turning final for 24.

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About to land on runway 24 at Calais.

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Taxying in to parking.

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Parked in front of the terminal buildings which are so quaint and so very French ‘ancien régime’.

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Yours truly removing my life jacket worn for the crossing.

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I went to enter the terminal building only to find that it was locked, nobody was there and that they clearly didn’t expect to be doing much business because on the door was a notice saying to call the number shown to close your flight plan. I rang it a couple of times, it turned out to be in Mérignac, Bordeaux, but there was no reply. This left me with a problem because flight plans have to be closed. I solved it by calling NATS, D & D actually, in the UK who said that they would pass on the information and do it for me.

I then bumped into a couple of people on what was almost a ghost airport. One turned out to be the person I’d spoken to a few weeks before when I enquired about going into Calais and we chewed the fat for a few minutes. Then it was time for me to take off and head off to Abbeville where I had to pick up fuel in order to top up my tanks and the two 20 litre jerricans that I was carrying next to me on the passenger seat in the cabin.

I expected from the weather forecast that there would be a bit of wind on this leg but I was surprised by just how turbulent it was and how much I was buffeted by it. Little did I know that not only would this be the story for most of the flight but that it would also get worse as I proceeded further south. Here’s a shot that I took of 24ZN at Abbeville.

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I was rather annoyed by the service that I received on this occasion at Abbeville. After transferring fuel from my jerricans to top up my tanks, I needed to buy fuel to refill them and get on as soon as I could. But the airfield office was closed and locked and I couldn’t locate anyone to operate the pump. I eventually found the person responsible chatting with a mate and drinking coffee in a hangar some distance away but it took two attempts to instil some kind of urgency in him. By the time I was able to leave I’d lost well over an hour when I’d planned to be there for only 20 or 30 minutes at most.

The next stop was at Dreux where I’d planned to land in order to top up my tanks from the fuel in my jerricans that I’d purchased earlier at Abbeville. Here’s a shot that I took afterwards.

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The process had gone very smoothly and I was all set to get away in double-quick time. Until I came to start 24ZN’s engine, that is, and the battery was too flat to turn the engine over. The airfield at Dreux was deserted and I thought it unlikely that I’d be able to get any help, but I decided to look anyway. And my luck was in, because the ULM hangar door was open and I found someone who had a set of jump leads. He drove his car up to 24ZN and we got the engine started with me in the cabin. He gave me a thumbs-up and I was off and away for my next stop at Blois.

The flight from Abbeville to Dreux and the approach at Dreux were exceedingly bumpy, so much so that I was working stick and rudder the whole time to keep the aircraft on course and in trim. This was the story for practically the whole flight, all very tiring and taxing of concentration. I couldn’t even look at my charts as I was being thrown about so much, not that I needed to as I know from experience that I can rely totally on my Asus tablet and my course pre-loaded in it in MemoryMap. And the constant turbulence didn’t improve at all as I flew on towards Blois.

I had to land at Blois in order to take on fuel for the final legs of the flight so I knew that afterwards I’d have the same problem restarting the engine. The fireman at Blois works the fuel pumps and he was very helpful finding a clean funnel to use to fill my jerricans as I found that the fuel nozzle was exactly the same diameter as the necks of the jerricans. Afterwards I asked whether he could help with jump leads but he suggested that I should ask at the hangar at the other end of the parking area.

When I entered there was a small team working on an immaculate Twin Otter but when I asked if they could help me they jumped into action immediately. And they also wanted to speak English, which was nice. In the event two guys and their manager came with a jump pack that they hooked up to 24ZN’s battery and with me in the cabin, we soon got the engine started. Then as I taxied out to take off, all three of them and the fireman waved me off, probably thinking that this ageing Englishman must be totally mad to be flying in such an aircraft in such weather on such a long flight. But in any case, I was up and away again with Le Blanc my next stop.

I’d incurred yet more delay at Blois due to my battery problem and by now I was running well behind my planned schedule. The lady controller at Blois was very helpful, providing me with winds on both landing and take off in good English of her own volition. There was gliding on the field but when I asked for a left turn-out (the circuit for the runway in use was right hand) she was very accommodating when I said that I’d keep well clear of the field, and so my bumpy flight leg to Le Blanc was underway and I was resigned to being thrown around for the next 1 1/4 hours until I got there.

Le Blanc came into sight and I tried calling them up on its published frequency with no result. Its frequency is shared with another airfield whose name now escapes me somewhere up closer to Paris and although there was plenty of radio traffic from there, there was nothing from Le Blanc. That was until I called overhead the field and announced my intention to join downwind for a landing, when a voice came up warning me that there was parachuting on the field.

I replied that I’d keep a good lookout then landed and taxied to the apron, past the fuel pumps to where two guys were talking outside the main hangar. I told them of my battery problem and one of them, an elderly gentleman, said he’d sort out help and some jump leads. It turned out that he was the only help and conversation revealed that he was over 90 years old.

After I’d finished the fuel transfer from the jerries to the tanks, he drove his car out of the hangar to hook the jump leads he’d obtained to 24ZN’s battery. Unfortunately they were rather short and we ended up with the front of his car under 24ZN’s prop and the jump leads attached to the starter solenoid (+ve) and an engine earth (-ve). I insisted on being involved outside the aircraft so we had to find some chocks and after we’d got the engine running I removed the jump leads so he didn’t need to get near the moving propeller. Then he moved his car and after I’d got into 24ZN he pulled the chocks away and I was off, destination Malbec.

By now I was hours behind my planned schedule and as I needed to fly around Limoges controlled airspace in two legs each of an hour, I was beginning to worry that I might not arrive at Malbec while it was still light. But I needn’t have worried. Firstly, as it was by now early evening and the air was cooling, there was little or no turbulence to contend with, making the flight so much smoother than it had been up to the time I’d landed at Le Blanc. Also there must have been a change in the wind, because I found as I flew on that I was making up time on both of the planned flight legs.

As a result I arrived at Malbec shortly before 9.00 pm local time while there was still plenty of daylight. With the airfield in sight, I couldn’t wait to get down and sneeked through the narrow corridor between it and Fleurac, pulled a tight turn onto a short final and dropped down for a perfect short field landing. I tried to move 24ZN off the field but was unable to do so due to the slope so decided to leave it in the mowed area at the top of the runway. It was just a pleasure to get out at last knowing that I wouldn’t have to climb back into the cabin because after so long on a barely cushioned Xair seat my backside was aching.

My good friend Victor had previously kindly offered to give me a lift home and he was soon there after I gave him a call. We shifted a couple of the concrete tie-downs that I made a few weeks ago to secure 24ZN overnight but there wasn’t enough time to sort out its outdoor covers. That didn’t matter though, because we knew that the night was going to be calm and clear. And what a relief it was to load my stuff into the back of Victor’s car and finally head off home after a flight that had taken 11 1/2 hours, but only after I’d enjoyed a beer and a meal that Madeleine kindly served up for me.

Finally, here are some shots of 24ZN in its new home, taken today actually.

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I think that it looks pretty good after the flight it’s just made, and all I did was clean its screen with a few squirts of Plexus polycarbonate cleaner. Its battery is now being charged and I’ll obviously need to look into the reason why it wasn’t being charged during the flight. I’m 99% certain that it’s yet another problem with that ruddy multi-connector – in this case one of the yellow power leads emerging from the stator isn’t making a connection. I was unable to check that at Clipgate and unfortunately it went the wrong way for me. If my guess is correct, it won’t take long to put it right.

In my next post I’ll talk about how things worked out time and fuel-wise against my plans and projections. Just one last thing though. I’ve decided that this is definitely the last long flight that I’ll do in a slow ULM. Am I getting to old for it? Maybe…

July 7, 2020

Job done!

my Ex-pat Xair is now safely tied-down in her new home at Malbec. Today’s flight from Clipgate Farm to the Dordogne was one of, if not the most horrendous long-distance flight that I’ve ever done. But I’ll tell more tomorrow. Now I just want to take a shower and fall into bed where I’ll probably sleep for a week.

July 6, 2020

On your marks!

I’ve just downed my last microwave dinner (Chinese style sweet and sour chicken and egg fried rice) which was OK actually. The best of all the Asda supermarkets microwave dinners – I know, as I’ve tried them all. The evening outside is lovely. The howling wind that we’ve had to live with, non-stop day after day for nearly two weeks has dropped to practically nothing and I’ve had to open the caravan windows and doors as I type this as it’s so hot inside.

I wish the wind had dropped earlier this afternoon when I took 24ZN for its final air test. I’d been unable to do so before, after doing the work on its ignition stator, and although I’d done a ground run, which indicated that all was back to normal, I dearly wanted to check things out in the air. After all, with a Channel crossing planned only a few minutes after I take off from Clipgate, you can’t be too careful.

The forecast said that the wind wouldn’t drop until the early hours so when it dropped sufficiently this afternoon for me to take off, I took the opportunity. Ideally I’d have preferred not to have flown because it was still pretty breezy and bumpy at altitude and although I did 25 minutes and got back down safely in the teeth of a rather nasty gusting 80 degree crosswind that was rolling over the trees, I found that the work I’d done had been successful.

There was one thing though. Previously London Information had checked 24ZN’s old 25 kHz radio as ‘readabilty 5’ after I’d fiddled with the volume and squelch and the signal I heard in my headphones was pretty good. Now, although I could hear stations adequately, but not well, I was being dogged by a loud buzzing that rose and fell with the Xair’s engine.

This is invariably a sign of a simple ignition problem eg a bad HT lead, and indeed I’d checked them previously and found that one pulled easily out of its Ducati ignition unit and had an inner that looked burnt. This is a sign of arcing and although I’d intended to replace all the plug leads when I got to France, I thought that it would be better to do that particular one now.

So when I popped out to get a drop more fuel, of which more in a moment, to top up my jerrican after topping up the tanks when I’d landed, I also picked up some HT lead from a motorbike store which is just down the road on the way to Dover. And I’m delighted to say that it has 99% cured the problem, which is a relief as I’ll have to used the radio when I’m approaching the airfields in France where I’ll be landing.

And finally, the fuel angle. I was a bit worried while 24ZN was suffering from its stator problem because of the rate at which it was using fuel. 7 or 8 litres in the 20 minutes that it took to get back to Clipgate after running out the other day, or something like 20-24 litres/hour, would not only have thrown my fuel calculations for the flight into disarray, it would have meant a complete re-think as they were based on the much more usual 582 Xair figure of 15 litres/hour.

I’m glad to say that after my 25 minute afternoon check flight, despite being somewhat battered by the wind with revs and altitude rising and falling all the time, it only needed 7 litres to top the jerrican back up again, which compares perfectly to the 15 litres/hour figure that I’ve assumed.

So now I’ve got to load the two jerricans and as much else as I can this evening into the Xair, mount a couple of video recorders as I want to record the flight out of Clipgate to Calais, check that my phone and the GPS I’ll be using for navigation are charged up and see about turning in early for a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow at around 7.00am it’ll be get set and go in quick succession and the Xair’s flight to its new home will have begun. Can’t wait 😉

July 5, 2020

Still waiting

This is exceptional weather. Not for November maybe, but certainly for July, in what should be mid-summer. The exceptionally strong south-westerly wind has been blowing relentlessly for many days now, for what seems like forever actually, although it can only be something like a week or so. It just seems like forever when your life is centred on a caravan, albeit on an airfield, and your horizons are limited to a few hundred yards because it’s not only windy outside but also pouring with rain, as it has been for much of the last couple of days.

Fortunately though, I’ve been treated to some pretty good company here at Clipgate, thanks to Brian and Paddy who have been working on their Jodel, Ron who has been providing them with moral support, Mike who has been working on his Thruster that he acquired in circumstances similar to my Xair and which is turning out to be a gem, Gary who has been fettling his Jodel and Mike who is busily and assiduously restoring what will ultimately be a magnificent and unique Ford Cortina Mk II.

Interestingly, Mike and I were told that Paddy has had a three-quarter extension since last Christmas and it was lucky he did do, because it saved his knuckles… Mike and I looked at each other and burst out laughing, but it turned out that Paddy was referring to an item from a socket set that he’d borrowed and hadn’t had a chance to return to the lender 🙂

My role has been mainly to keep the mugs of tea coming but in doing so, my efforts have been well-rewarded in terms of the camaraderie and banter that have come my way as a result. Great stuff, the best of what light aviation has to offer and what being a member of the light aviation community in the UK is all about.

Having said that the weather over the past few days has been, quite frankly, appalling it still looks as though my window allowing me to depart this coming Tuesday is still a good probability. As of this morning, the forecast winds are not quite as favourable as they were previously with some headwind elements in the northerly sector from Canterbury as far is Dreux in northern France, but nothing to trouble or upset my planning calculations. So I’m still hoping to get away at around something like 7.00 am local time and although I’m not quite desperate as yet, I would like to think that I will be back home in France some time in the near future.

July 3, 2020

Looking ahead?

Looking out of the caravan window I see a sunny blue sky interspersed with stratus cloud which would make for a great flying day, except for one thing. The ruddy wind is still buffeting and gusting making it highly inadvisable to take off in a microlight, or ULM, like 24ZN, let alone consider undertaking a flight such as the Channel crossing.

The reason is pretty clear – it’s our old enemy, the Jetstream, which is playing its usual destructive games through being far farther south than it ought to be at this time of the year, almost covering the whole of the UK, as the following image of its status this morning shows.

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And the forecast is for the winds to strengthen yet again over the coming week-end making flights in light aircraft, in the south of the UK at least, virtually impossible and we can see why from the forecast for how the Jetstream will be lying across the country on Sunday, as shown below.

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However, things are forecast to improve dramatically by Tuesday when I hope to be setting off on my flight to France in 24ZN with favourable winds the whole way down to the Dordogne. Here’s what the Jetstream is forecast to be looking like then.

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You can see from the arrows on the isobars how the wind is expected to swing around creating the tailwind components that are forecast for that day and I hope that this will be so in reality. Here’s the picture as given by another independent forecast on windy.com, the web site to which I turn for my longer en-route forecasts.

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To my untrained eye, the changes in the Jetstream that are forecast over the next few days look to be only slight and quite subtle and it’s a surprise to me that they could result in such a large change in the surface wind. However, I’m placing my trust in the meteorologists who have been running and refining their computer models over a great deal of time and are by now pretty confident in the forecasts that they produce. In any case, I have no option other than to go along with them, but it still doesn’t stop me from crossing my fingers in the meantime 😉

July 1, 2020

Chateau Clipgate

I arrived here at Clipgate Farm on the evening of Sunday 21 June having travelled for 13½ hours and I was glad just to have anywhere to lay my head that night. It had been agreed that I’d doss down for a couple of nights in the airfield Control caravan after which I’d be happily flying off to France, but it hasn’t worked out that way of course.

I’m still here after 10 days or so and it looks as though I’ll be remaining here for a few days more but although I’m still in the caravan, I’m not complaining too much. When I arrived, going into the caravan was a bit like going on the Ghost Train at the fairground where you travel through a darkened tunnel and what feels like cobwebs keep brushing your face. The thing was in the caravan, these were real!

If I’m honest, although it was suffering from having been unused during the Covid lockdown, I don’t think that it had been cleaned, like most airfield caravans and huts, for quite a while (years?) prior. I didn’t fancy the prospect of having to put my shoes on to go for a pee during the night so shortly after I arrived, when I knew I was going to be staying for longer than expected, I decided that having nothing better to do, I’d give the whole caravan a clean right through.

And I’m glad I did, because since then I’ve been more than comfortable as it has a fridge and a microwave, both of which needed a good old clean-up before they could be used mind, plus I can get 4G internet on my phone, albeit a bit sporadically occasionally as we’re in the countryside, so I can get a good internet connection most of the time on both it and my laptop.

Here are some shots that I took of my abode this morning and as you can see from them, I’m not suffering too much by being here.

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We’ve had a lovely day today – blue skies with scudding cloud but too windy to think about flying. I couldn’t initially anyway as after completing the installation of 24ZN’s new stator I still had some connections to make, including its dreaded multi-connector. So the first job this morning was to nip into Halfords at Canterbury to pick up yet more tools and bits and pieces, all of which I have back home in France, but which were essential to get the job completed. Then I was able to complete the stator installation.

All went smoothly. I had to remake the magneto earth connections twice in the multi-connector before I could get the engine to shut off after ground running it but in doing so I effected a very good repair of the multi-connector itself which I was very happy with. The ground run showed that I now have mag drops that are spot on and full take off revs so taken all round, I’ve now got the engine to be as good as it can possibly be for the Channel crossing and the flight down through France.

In fact, having now overhauled both the fuel and ignition systems, which I was going to do after I’d arrived home in France anyway, the Xair’s engine is better than it has ever been even since before its previous owner sold it all those years ago to the friend from whom I acquired it.

Here are some shots that I took today after I’d finished, cleared up and given 24ZN a bit of a polish. I’m pleased with how it’s come up and think that it looks very tidy now that everything is neat and cable-tied.

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So 24ZN is as ready as it’ll ever be, and much more so than previously, for my flight over to France. The question is when will that be? A day or so ago, it looked as though Friday might be an option but I didn’t like it much as much of the flight would have been into a headwind. Now it looks as though it won’t be on anyway due to unacceptably high winds in the far north of France, so I’m looking a bit further into the future.

At the moment, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week look as though they could be ‘golden days’ with light to moderate tail winds the whole way which would save me over an hour’s flying time compared to Friday. So now it’s just a matter of waiting and seeing how things turn out. I’ve been here before – several times – and this time I hope that the weather gods do play ball and I am able to get away at last with a fair wind on my tail 😉

June 30, 2020

The ex-pat Xair story so far

At the time of writing I’ve missed my planned window for flying the Xair over to France from England so I’m just having to make the best of things as it now looks unlikely that I’ll get another opportunity before the end of this week or the middle (Tuesday/Wednesday) of next. However, I’m making good use of the time available by doing work on the aircraft that I’d originally intended to do when I got to France as I’ll show later and I’m pleased about that because I’d rather fly with an engine that’s as near perfect as it can be rather than with a question mark hanging over it.

But first some shots that I’ve taken since I’ve been here at Clipgate Farm airfield near Canterbury. The first two show the Xair after I’d uncovered it and was getting ready to load its outdoor covers in the wings.

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The complete set of covers rolled up and stowed secured by elastic bungees in the gap between the wings.

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The central cover refitted with the outdoor covers stowed beneath it.

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Although not necessary in France, I thought that I’d avoid any confusion while the old UK ‘G’ registration is still partially visible by mounting the Xair’s French reg on its vertical tail surfaces. It’s only a cheap-and-cheerful job done with sticky black tape but it’ll do the job and I think that it’ll be a good thing to have obscured the old reg while I’m in transit.

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Now up to the current day. Regular readers may know from past posts involving my old Xair that elderly Rotax 582 engines seem to have a reputation for going through stator coils. These are responsible for creating the sparks via the magnetos that make the engine fire and when a stator starts to go it has two immediate effects.

Firstly, there’s a differential mag drop when you do your pre-flight engine checks. You usually look for a mag drop that’s about the same on both mags of about 2 – 500 rpm. However, when a stator is on its way out, you see maybe 100 rpm on one side and around 1000 rpm on the other. You also get anomalous rpm readings with the rev counter typically reading a lower figure than is actually being delivered.

Therefore at take off you think that the engine is under-delivering and abort and when flying you find yourself flying faster than normal at lower than expected revs. The downside of this is that you can then be using considerably more fuel than usual and I think that this was a contributory factor to my running out the other day.

Although a stator in this state is unlikely to cause an engine to fail it’s clearly an undesirable state of affairs, especially when on a long flight as I will be with fuel planning critical. I therefore decided that rather than wait until I got to France, I’d deal with the problem now and replace the Xair’s stator.

I ordered a new one yesterday and it arrived today, so having been kindly loaned a flywheel puller by the now-retired local BMAA inspector and bitten the bullet and bought yet more new tools, I got cracking on the job this morning.

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I’m not sure that I’ll be finished today as the new stator didn’t arrive until lunch time and I’ve also had various unavoidable delays involving shifting the Xair out of the hangar temporarily into the pouring rain and back in again. However, I should be finished tomorrow and I’ll then be much more confident in both the aircraft and its engine, especially when making the Channel crossing.

June 27, 2020

X-pat Xair – the next chapter

After refurbing 24ZN’s Mikuni fuel pump and fitting two new in-line fuel filters obtained at a local motor factors I did some high speed high power taxies followed by another test flight. There was a big improvement when at low revs but for safety reasons, I switched the electric pump on for take off and climb out. So far so good.

I then switched the pump off in the cruise (5600 rpm ~60 mph) and the engine continued running sweetly but with fuel pressure on the minimum, 0.2 bar. I made it as far as Faversham (15/20 minutes) and the engine briefly pulled it’s trick again so it was time to switch the pump back on again, head back to Clipgate and look even more deeply into the problem.

I got back without incident with the engine running fine with EGTs both good and the fuel pressure at a healthy 0.4 bar with the electric pump on continuously. However, I’m not satisfied with that as I don’t want to fly the length of France, let alone the Channel, relying on an old, unproven electric pump.

So I was thinking about replacing all of the fuel lines when something hit me. Whoever tinkered with the Xair last (at least 11 or 12 years ago) had replaced all of the fuel hose from the hand primer up to the Mikuni with 6mm hose. Now I reckon that 6mm is probably of large enough diameter to run from the pump to each carb but NOT as the main supply to the pump as it will not supply enough fuel for the engine at high revs for an extended period. So I decided that I’d replace all of the small bore hose that I just mentioned with new 7.6mm.

And know what? After doing so the problem has been solved. The fuel pressure is the like of which I’ve never seen before in the whole of the 11 years that I’ve known this aircraft. I also found more split/perished ends on the old tubing that I stripped out and the bonus is that after switching off, the pressure now only falls very slowly leaving a small residual, as it should. And the pressure now holds up at take off revs without the need of the electric pump, falling only slightly as the throttle is opened wider.

The shocking thing is that this aircraft has been officially inspected several times over the years by different BMAA inspectors for annual Permits to Fly. These inspections are mandatory and are at the expense of aircraft owners and are required for ‘safety’ purposes. None of the inspectors concerned had picked up on this obvious fault which had the potential of bringing down the aircraft as my own experiences had shown.

High speed taxi runs having indicated that I had a normal working fuel system, I just needed to confirm this with an air test. However when I taxied back to the hangar and switched off, the engine kept running so at least one magneto wasn’t earthing. I was 99% certain that the problem was in the dreaded Xair multiconnector which I must have disturbed when I changed the vacuum pipe. It can be a problem in older aircraft and I cut my French Xair’s one off and replaced it with a bunch of single connectors.

It didn’t take too long to sort out the magneto earthing problem – it was in the multi-connector as I’d suspected. It took a couple of goes because in the process when I pushed the two connectors that had moved downwards in the bottom half back in again and remade the main connector, that pushed the two top parts out, which was hard to see, leaving the connections still not made. That multi-connector is a lousy arrangement and if I’d had my tools here I’d have taken it out.

But anyway, all was eventually sorted and I waited until the evening to do an air test as it had been so hot during the day. And I couldn’t believe it. I had a mag drop on one side and I’d gone from having an engine that was all-clear and running perfectly to one with the symptoms of a stator problem – yes, the well-known old Rotax 582 problem. Been there, done that with my old French Xair.

There was a slim possibility that it was due to eg fouled plugs from starting/stopping the engine while I was sorting the mag earth problem. If it turned out to actually be a stator problem I’d be placed in a difficult position, depending on its severity, as revealed during an air test, as I don’t have the tools here including eg a flywheel puller to do the job. And I don’t have a multimeter with me either to check the resistance of the relevant ignition coils. With the weather beginning to slowly collapse looking as though an early departure would be impossible anyway, all that I could do was go for an air test the following day.

Now I am ashamed to say that I have a confession to make. During the air test, at around mid-day yesterday, for the first time in over 50 years since I first began flying I ran out of fuel. I’d thought about adding some before I went off but decided not to as that would give me more time to burn off the old stuff in the tank and when I’d topped up on my return, I’d have had nearly all fresh fuel on board when I did eventually make the flight.

I’d filled up after my last check flight and had done only less than 1/2 hour more when I’d aborted the next one at Faversham but I hadn’t taken into account that I’d done numerous full power test runs since then, plus I’d lost a bit when I’d replaced the fuel hoses – probably more than I thought actually.

I was in such a hurry to get into the air yesterday that I didn’t visually check the fuel contents as I should have done. The result was that I was blithely flying back to Clipgate at 1800 feet about 4 miles north-east of Headcorn when it all went quiet up front. I realised what had happened when the electric pump wouldn’t give me any pressure so immediately declared an emergency (mayday) with London Information with whom I’d previously been in contact (readability 5 on an old 25kHz A20) and stated my intention to ‘land out’ as glider pilots say.

I had a huge choice of fields and well before I landed I told the controller that I’d found a huge field with sheep and goats (so short grass, no crop like all those surrounding it) and that I would be able to carry out a normal glide approach landing, which I did. I couldn’t contact London on the ground so it was a while before I could make a phone call to NATS and in the meantime they apparently had time to launch the D & D helicopter and I was told when I contacted them again later that they’d located me from the position info that I’d given, seen that I was safe and returned to base.

But anyway, no harm done and after adding fuel I got out of the field and back to Clipgate in under 20 minutes. The Xair is not perfect and does appear to have the beginnings of a stator problem. From my experience with my old French Xair I’m certain that it is, however, good for the flight south (whenever the weather allows) and I’m just left red faced.

I always plan to have at least 30-60 minutes of fuel left in the tanks at destination. This is the first time ever that I’ve overlooked my own rule and could have paid the price for doing so – possibly a broken aircraft. I think that I’m paying the price of trying to get an aircraft that hasn’t been flown for several years back into the air with minimum work (because I aim to do a proper job down south). But this was out-and-out my own fault, in some ways brought about by my anxiety before taking off on a ‘make or break’ check flight. No excuses, however. You must never allow yourself to be distracted from the fundamentals. I’ve always believed that and this has brought it home to me in an unforgettable way.

When I called my mayday (in my book, total loss of engine is a mayday, not a pan), the services responded impeccably and nobody should ever be concerned about declaring if facing any kind of emergency. If in doubt, declare. London Info stopped all other traffic while dealing with me and would have continued for longer I’m sure if I hadn’t told them that I’d found a great field and was no longer concerned as I knew I could get in with a glide approach. I even called final just before I landed but couldn’t get them again when on the ground unfortunately.

All’s well that ends well but it’s embarrassing to say the least 😕

June 23, 2020

Too much excitement

I started on the Xair on Monday as planned and all went swimmingly until I came to start the engine and fuel came squirting out of the inlet joint on the rear carb from under the jubilee clip holding the fuel hose. I surmised that the tube end had perished as I’d replaced some of the tubing for that same reason last autumn thinking that I’d be replacing all of it due to age when I eventually got the aircraft to France. Sure enough, this was a small piece that I’d left that had decided to let go over the winter and luckily there was a good length in the scrap bin in the hangar that fitted the bill nicely to replace the piece that had perished.

Eventually I got to start the engine and with the primer pump off, all was well. With it on fuel was still finding its way out so evidently there was still some kind of fuel delivery problem but as there were no leakages while the engine was running under the pressure of its Mikuni fuel pump, I decided that I’d do a longer engine run and some taxi tests with a couple at take off revs along Clipgate’s runway.

I forgot to mention that over the winter someone had walked into the Xair’s pitot and snapped it off. I managed to find an old piece of brake pipe to replace it with but unfortunately when I fitted it there was no one handy to help me check afterwards that the pitot was actually working.

I thought that I’d do it while I was doing my taxi checks. This didn’t happen of course, because there was a tricky little crosswind and I was concentrating more on controlling the aircraft than checking its airspeed, especially when I was doing my couple of hops. Other than that the engine checks including the full power runs went perfectly smoothly. See how each little thing is adding up in the classical way…

Then it was time for lunch after which I thought that I’d do a flight of 1 1/2 hours to clear some of the old fuel that I’d left in the tanks since December so I could put some fresh in and also make sure that the engine was up to the mark for the Channel crossing. I noticed immediately during the take off run that there was no airspeed indicator but as I know the Xair well enough I decided to continue the flight using engine revs and experience and deal with it when I returned. And then, of course, it happened.

I can’t have got to any more than 50 feet (15 metres) or so before the engine began to fade. I immediately pushed the nose down to achieve best climb speed but there was only one problem with that. I had no airspeed indicator. Then the engine speeded up again only to fade again after a few seconds and the cycle then began to repeat itself, so a classical fuel starvation problem. Or was it? What if the engine was getting too much fuel – if that was the case turning the primer pump on could well have killed it completely so as I could hold altitude but not climb, I thought it best to leave things as they were.

I did have options. To the right there were some pretty decent fields where I could put the Xair down but they were in a valley and that would have meant a big derigging job and trailering it back to the airfield, which I didn’t fancy. While I was thinking about it though, although the aircraft wouldn’t climb, it had settled into stable flight albeit at low altitude and low airspeed and I wouldn’t recommend any low hours pilot to do what I decided to do as I know the Xair and its handling characteristics very well. I knew that I’d never be able to complete a full 360 degree circuit and return to land into wind on the take off runway. However, I thought that so long as the engine remained in its present state, I’d be OK for a 180 and a landing downwind.

The upside of this plan was obvious. The downside was that I’d be flying at low level over cropped fields (cabbages I think) and if I was unfortunate enough to go down I thought that I’d walk away but the Xair would get a bit messed up. The other downside was that I’d be landing with a 20kmh tail wind but to heck with it, I decided to go for it.

The strength of the tail wind really only became apparent the closer I got to the runway and I ended up touching down a bit hard about half way down. The Xair bounced a little but the second time I held it down and braked like crazy as the trees at the other end rushed towards me -but no problem that’s what long grass is for at this time of year at the side of the runway. So I ploughed into it and decided that in the last resort I’d broadside the aircraft to kill the speed before arriving at the trees.

But there was no need. One of the chaps at Clipgate was coming dashing down the runway in his car to find out what sort of sticky end I’d come to only to find me taxying calmly back up towards him with no harm done. The funny thing is that I wasn’t perturbed at any time during the whole course of events. Even though I didn’t have an airspeed indicator I’d pushed the nose down instinctively as I’d been trained to. I’d checked out my options and made what I thought was the best choice for me under the circumstances.

But lastly I’d followed the old Bob Hoover maxim – always fly the aircraft the whole way through the crash. He was right and on Monday it worked for me.

Now onto today. It was obvious that I wouldn’t get away as I needed to solve the Xair’s fuel problem and not having brought any tools with me, I went out yesterday to buy a few. This morning I stripped the carbs and finding them as clean as a whistle, I decided to go over the whole fuel system. I found a jubilee clip swinging in the breeze at the exit joint of the electric pump so surmising that that was the source of a pressure loss I tightened it and did another couple of fast short taxies at take off power. Everything looked good, although the fuel pressure was on the low side as it has always been.

The next test was to tie the tail to a heavy object and give the engine a minute at take off and climb out revs. I would have liked to have raised the nose to make it more realistic but couldn’t lay my hands on anything that I could safely put under the nose wheel, but anyway, the test was far from satisfactory. The fuel pressure at full chat was lower than at idle so the Mikuni fuel pump has to be highly suspect. The test indicated that you need the pump on at climb out much like a Group A and that’s not right

I was brave (or reckless) enough to try an air test using the pump as above and the engine was as sweet as a nut. However, I descended over the property of the Xair’s previous owner and had another butt clenching moment climbing away so decided to cut the flight short and head back to Clipgate with the pump on the whole way.

When I was here in the autumn getting 24ZN ready to go I bought a Mikuni refurb kit and thought that I had it with me now, but I don’t. So I’ve got one on order with 24hr delivery and will refurb the pump tomorrow. Hopefully that will then solve the problem and I should have done it when I originally intended to. Will I get away the day after? I’ll have to wait and see. I did 1 hr 20 mins today but there’s no way that it could go down through France the way it is. It’s got to be right and if I get off with just replacing a bit of fuel hose, the pump and the plugs, I’ll have got off pretty lightly I think.

June 22, 2020

Here we go again

If you’re a pilot, what better sight to greet you when you open the curtains of your bedroom first thing in the morning.

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A pretty little airfield and, what’s better, wall-to-wall clear blue sky.

After travelling for nearly 14 hours yesterday I arrived at the airfield in the UK where my ex-pat Xair has been hangared since the first week of December last year. I got my head down in the ‘C’ (for control) caravan for the airfield last night and will be doing so again tonight before hopefully being able to depart first thing for Calais and the Dordogne tomorrow morning.

I had to deal with the tedious formality of the 14 day quarantine period that visitors to the UK are currently having imposed on them. Luckily, one of the exempt categories of traveller is ‘aircrew’ and this was accepted by the UK Border Force without any problem.

The only minor hiccup was that I was told by the Border Force at Calais that you have to submit an entry form before arrival in the UK but that if I did it on my mobile phone I could just show the screen on the UK side. This I did and as ‘aircrew’ I was allowed to depart the port through a side barrier without further ado, which was greatly appreciated. I was also told that I was the first at Dover to give that as my reason for visiting the UK.

Here’s another shot that I took of the airfield first thing when I opened the caravan door this morning.

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My plan today is to do an extended check-flight of 24ZN of about 1 1/2 hours so I’m confident that all is well with her. Then I’ll fuel her up and pack everything on board that I’ll be taking back with me and put her back in the hangar overnight so all I have to do is start her up and get away bright and early in the morning.

The weather forecast looks good and with a bit of luck I’ll do the flight in a day. In quite a bit less time that it took me to do the same journey in reverse by car yesterday, actually.

June 14, 2020

Two new videos

It wasn’t much of a day yesterday – too windy to do very much outside – so I decided to stay home and see what I could make out of the video footage that I shot with my Hubsan Zino the day before. It had started off really dull and cloudy but it brightened up a bit as the morning progressed and I saw the opportunity to get the Zino into the air and take some interesting footage of the low cloud. It was a challenge making anything out of it but considering the weather conditions, it turned out better than I thought it would do and here are the results.

Later that day the sun broke through the cloud, although it still remained quite windy. In my last post I mentioned that I took the opportunity nevertheless to take the Zino to three locations not far away from my home, all in the Vézère valley, and record some more video. These were la Côte de Jord, la Roque St Christophe and le Chateau de Belcaire. In my last post I said that I probably wouldn’t bother making anything out of the footage that I saved but after looking at it, I changed my mind. I had to scratch around a bit to stitch the best bits together but the results are shown below.

It’s not Oscar material by any means and considering that the shooting was only supposed to be experimental, I’m quite pleased with the outcome. I’m also glad to have a video record of the first time that I got an opportunity to fly the Zino further afield than just around the area where I live and I hope that this will be the first such video of many more to come in the future. I’ve already been thinking about possible locations 😉

June 13, 2020

Local drone flying

I had my first opportunity yesterday to take my drone flying further afield than just the area around where I live. Initially I wasn’t very optimistic because the morning started off very dull with extremely low cloud, so low in fact that I took the opportunity to shoot a short video with the Zino that I’ll try to upload to Youtube and post on here later. However, things brightened up massively after that and although it was still a bit windy, not too much for the Zino to be able to cope with though, I decided that I’d take it to three local locations, Côte de Jord, Roque St Christophe and Chateau Belcaire and do some experimental flights.

My thinking was two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to shoot some video at the three locations to get some idea about the shots I should aim for when I return to each one at a later date. Secondly, I wanted to see whether drone flying in public places is likely to attract the ‘wrong’ kind of attention from passers-by and the general public that might create difficulties in the future. And I was pleased with the results on both counts, especially the latter. There were few people around in any of the locations that I chose to fly from but by being discreet I don’t think anyone really noticed, except, that is, for a young couple at Côte de Jord who watched the Zino flying with great interest.

I don’t know yet, but I probably won’t use the footage that I shot for a video as it was a bit ‘random’, but I have lifted a few screen shots from it which are below. First, the Côte de Jord, which is situated high on a ridge overlooking the Vézère valley just to the west of St Léon sur Vézère and is greatly favoured by paragliders when the wind blows from a southerly direction, resulting in ridge lift.

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Basically it just consists of a gap at the side of the road off which the paragliders jump after which they can soar for as long as they want to, while the wind lasts. Although some end up down in the valley, the experienced ones arrive back up-top right where they started from. I flew the Zino out through the gap and over the valley for a distance of a couple of hundred metres or so but didn’t want to go much further because of the wind. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the footage I got and can see the potential for going further when the wind isn’t blowing so strongly.

Then the Roque St Christophe. This is an historic site consisting of cave dwellings in and on the cliff face that has been preserved and is open to the public. Unfortunately, due to the time of day the face of the cliff was in shadow so the resultant video footage was a bit disappointing, as the following pictures show.

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Video shooting wasn’t helped by the fact that with the direction of the sun, I could make out practically nothing on the Zino app on my phone. I think that there’s great video potential there, though and the answer will be to return earlier in the morning, possibly very early, when the rising sun is on the face of the cliff. This would also have the advantage of there not being anyone around making it possible to fly much closer to the cliff face than would otherwise be possible.

And finally, the Chateau de Belcaire. This is a beautiful little chateau perched on a small rocky promontory on a bend overlooking the river Vézère just to the west of Thonac. When you take off from Galinat you fly directly towards it and I’ve taken several pictures of it from the air. However, they’re nothing like what you can get from a drone like my Zino. I crossed over the river at Thonac and flew the Zino from the opposite bank which proved to be a perfect location.

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The pictures above don’t actually do the images on the video justice due to the loss of definition and colour correctness, but they do give a good impression of the chateau and its stunning location overlooking the river.

All-in-all I was very pleased with my afternoon’s results and I’ll definitely be returning to each location in the near future when the conditions are as near perfect as possible now that I have a better idea of the Zino’s potential. Hopefully I’ll then be able to shoot some video worth posting 😉

June 8, 2020

Elegant, stylish, a classic design?

To all three, I don’t think so. But an aid to overcoming sun-blindness? Possibly. While I was flying the Zino yesterday I found that when the sun came out I could hardly see anything on my mobile phone. It’s something that other drone pilots complain about on YouTube but it hardly troubled me while I was flying my little Eachine E16. The reason was that although its ‘declared’ range was 200 metres, anything much above 80 or 90, and sometimes before even, its video signal just fell over and you were flying it ‘blind’ as far as the phone app was concerned, or in reality ‘by eye’.

This doesn’t apply for the Zino. Its range is 1000 metres and I’ve found as I’ve gradually increased the range of flights that I do with it, now to just over 300 metres, that at that distance you can hardly see it, let alone fly it by eye. So being able to see the phone app is essential as otherwise you’d have no idea where you were or what the drone was doing and could easily end up crashing into something. But flying it at that distance is no problem as I’ve found that the FPV (video) signal is rock solid, making it relatively easy to do so – so long as you can see the phone app.

The way I’ve tried to overcome the problem is by making a ‘shroud’ for my mobile phone out of an old cardboard cornflakes box. The endeavour wasn’t helped by having to rescue the box from my recycling having already folded it up to reduce its volume, but the result isn’t too bad as you can see from the following pictures. The first two were my initial ‘prototype’.

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When I took it outside, I found that it shielded my phone from the sunlight by quite a bit, but not enough to be of any real use. So I then came up with the idea of adding a shielding piece across its top to provide more shade.

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It actually works pretty well. I used it when I did my first 300+ metre range flight and could see the screen the whole time, not always perfectly but certainly well enough to have complete control of the drone. I even did my first ‘special mode’ flight with it in place – an orbit around a post that carries a power line in the field opposite my house – that involved putting my fingers inside it and tapping the screen to set it up, activate it and stop it, so I was very pleased about that.

What it now needs is to be painted matt black inside and out, so I’ll have to look in my workshop to see if I have anything suitable and if not, I’ll have to get a spray can from Bricojem in Rouffignac. The other thing I’m pleased about is that although the Fimi controller when it arrives grips the phone differently, it’ll also work with that. So maybe not a classic design – let’s just say more ‘utilitarian’, perhaps 😉

June 7, 2020

My mind is boggled!

After my new Hubsan Zino was delivered on Friday, I naturally wanted to get it into the air as soon as possible. Trouble was, Friday and yesterday too were not the best of days to be flying a drone, as the following shot of the weather that we had on Friday shows.

Bad flying weather

With wind like that it wasn’t really the time to be flying a new drone at all, let alone for the first time, especially as showers also kept rolling in to make things even more complicated and a bit fraught. However, although I hardly dared allow it to get above treetop height, I still managed to get enough brief flights in to see that it was capable of realising all the hopes and expectations that I had of it. Here’s a very (very!) brief video that I made from flights that I did on Friday. It’s not much, just a taster, and many more longer, proper flights will come in the future.

I had the time while the wind was too strong to fly, while the batteries were charging, to load all of the latest firmwares, so when I was able to get it into the air it was totally up-to-date and ready to go. And I was not disappointed! The UHD 4K 30 fps videos I’m getting on my PC are as good as any and better than most I’ve seen on Youtube. The gimbal is rock-solid giving ultra steady videos in even the fairly high winds that I was flying it in and the video quality is simply stunning.

Yes, the drone does ‘move around a bit’ when you first take off and at very low altitudes and we all know why – it has no downward facing sensors. But hey! It’s not for flying around at high speed and performing lunatic antics close to the ground. If you want to do that you choose another model. But if you are looking for what I am, a stable video platform that will do your work justice, you need look no further. That’s what this drone was made for and that’s the role in which it excels.

If I hadn’t ordered and had delivered a number of accessories for my long-awaited Fimi X8 SE 2020 , I’d probably now cancel the order. But I won’t and look forward eventually (soon I hope) to being able to compare the two models. The Fimi will have to do very well to beat the Zino in the role that I want to use it for.

I mentioned in a previous post that I tried to video the whole of the first flight that I did in my Savannah following the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown but only managed to record the first leg from Malbec to Condat-sur-Vézère. Although I’ve done many recordings in the past of the same flight, this one was the first I’ve done on a GoPro mounted inside the cabin. I’ve given a link to it below and if you click on it you can join me for the flight in the cabin with no social distancing and no face masks necessary.

To give an idea of the internet problems we face down here, it took over two days (yes, over 48 hours non-stop!) to upload the video onto YouTube. I’d like to be able to publish so much more material on my YouTube channel but at that sort of upload speed sadly it just isn’t possible. One of the prices we pay for living a life in paradise, I suppose…

June 5, 2020

At last!

I’ve been very patient for a very long time (since the first week of April) and this morning my patience was finally rewarded. There was a knock on my door and outside was our Postie with a small pile of parcels standing on the top of my dustbin, two small packages and one large one. He kept his distance while I squiggled a signature for them (using my pen, he insisted), took them indoors and placed them on my kitchen floor.

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One of the small packages contained the spare propeller hubs for my little EG16 drone that I ordered right back on 4th April and the other an external hard disk enclosure ordered on the 20th of the same month. I’ve rarely seen a post van on our road for the past couple of weeks and I think that the Post might have been keeping packages back if they didn’t have many deliveries until it was ‘economic’ to send a van into our area. But no matter, the contents of neither of the small packages were that urgent.

However, I’ve been champing at the bit to receive the large one because I knew exactly what it contained. Here at last, after all my trials and tribulations of ordering new ones, receiving a dud that I had to return for refund to China, still waiting for another that I ordered on 17th April and ordering yet another that was never delivered and for which I also received a refund, was my first ‘pro grade’ ultra HD 4K drone, the Hubsan Zino that I found on Le Bon Coin at the beginning of this week.

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And when I opened the parcel I was not to be disappointed. Inside was the complete, Zino ‘Portable’ kit that I’d been promised by Carlos, the seller up in the 91 département just south of Paris, and just as he’d said, you couldn’t tell that any of the items in the kit had even been used as they all looked brand new.

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And when I eventually came to take a look at the drone itself, I was pleased to see that the camera lens isn’t totally round but has straight edges on its top and bottom.

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This means that it’s a recent model, which is nice. I’ve already connected the Zino to its controller and my phone and everything worked smoothly. I’ve also taken it outside, run through all of its calibrations and done a brief take off and landing, which went perfectly. However, wouldn’t you know that we’ve got fairly high winds today and flurries of rain, so up to the time of writing, a longer test flight hasn’t been possible.

But maybe that’s a good thing, because it’ll give me time to fully charge the controller and drone batteries and install all of the latest firmware, for the controller, drone flight control software, gimbal and video controller. That way I know that everything should be perfect when I’m eventually able to do a longer flight. Better get cracking then…

June 2, 2020

Drones – the latest twist

I’m spending more time talking and writing about my drones now than I am flying them. The main reason for that is because my mainstay up to this point, the little Eachine EG16 that I bought to learn to fly with back at the beginning of April has let me down.

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It happened about a week ago. Having flown it a couple of times during the day in question, I decided to do one more flight over the field across the road in front of my house. Luckily I’d crossed over the trees between the front of my garden and the road and the drone was heading down the field at a height of not much more than 10 metres or so when suddenly it just flopped uncontrollably down to the ground.

Fortunately the field had only just been mowed so there was a good, soft cushion of grass stubble for it to land on and there was no harm done and as it had never done such a thing before, I was eager to find out why as I walked across to retrieve it. When I restarted its motors it was obvious what had happened – one of them had failed. I thought that maybe an internal plug had come loose or a soldered joint had failed but when I took the drone apart there seemed to be nothing amiss.

So it looks as though I’ve had another bit of bad luck and one of the motors may always have been faulty from day one. Anyway, there’s no point in making a fuss about it with the supplier because if I made a warranty claim, they’d just say to return it to China, which would be totally uneconomic. I’ve just gone ahead and ordered a replacement which has only cost just over 6€ including delivery, but once again I’m back into the wait-30-days-for-delivery mode.

I’d only had the EG16 for less than a week when I decided that I’d like to get more involved in drones and ordered another Eachine model, an EX4, with a better 3-axis stabilised camera, longer battery life and greater range.

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I eagerly awaited delivery but when it arrived I was to be disappointed. I managed to get it into the air on only two or three occasions during which it was terribly unstable and almost uncontrollable and finally it ended up losing its wi-fi connection completely. So I ended up making a claim for a refund against the Chinese supplier and as they said that it would take at least 60 days for it to be processed, I called on the assistance of Paypal to get the matter resolved sooner.

Paypal was about as much use as a chocolate teapot and things got even worse when, after I’d returned the drone to China, having despatched it on 17th April, it became stuck in Chinese customs on 30th April and still is as far as I can see from on-line tracking. The supplier has made no effort to get it freed despite my telling them how to, on the advice of the postal service here in France, and I was therefore becoming more and more angry.

But yesterday there was good news at last. The supplier informed me that they are processing my refund anyway (after I’d pointed out to them that according to statements on their web site, they were obliged to) and my Paypal account confirms this. No thanks to Paypal, though, who after constantly kicking the can down the road and extending the dispute judgement date time after time, later sent me a message saying that they had ‘decided in my favour’.

Let this be a warning to everybody. Paypal customer protection isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be and only does ‘what it says on the tin’ if they decide that it will.

After I’d sent the defective EX4 drone off to China, I decided that as you only get what you pay for, I’d go for something a bit more expensive and hopefully more reliable that would give me the sort of performance and video quality that I’m looking for. After scouring the internet and Youtube, I decided to go for the brand new Fimi X8 SE 2020.

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I ordered it and paid the money to the same supplier who had sold me the defective EX4 and as my dispute with them worsened, naturally I became more and more worried that I might not have done the right thing. The situation became even more acute because the Fimi was on ‘preorder’ as it’s an upgraded model and it seems that not only has manufacture been delayed by the Covid-19 crisis in China, but orders for it have exploded causing a considerable delay.

As at the time of writing, I still haven’t received mine but after the news of my EX4 refund came through, I’m now feeling much more comfortable about that. I did have the option of cancelling the order but I don’t want to do that as the model’s price has already increased due to demand since I ordered it.

When it became clear that I would have to wait several weeks for my new Fimi, I decided that I’d bite the bullet and order yet another drone with an ultra-HD 4K camera. A close contender when I’d decided on the Fimi was the Hubsan Zino H117S which is now a 2-year old design, so quite elderly in drone terms, but is still highly regarded.

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It has proven to be reliable and robust and having been in the market for that amount of time, its firmware has undergone continuous development and improvement to the point that it stands out as having exceptional performance for a drone at its price point. So I went ahead and ordered one on line at what was a very competitive price from a supplier promising delivery in 6-8 working days.

But it didn’t happen. I made allowances for delays resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown but once it got to 2 weeks or so, I was beginning to panic and could see another Paypal refund dispute looming on the horizon. But it turns out that I needn’t have worried. Clearly the supplier had misjudged their pricing and there was no way that they could sell the Hubsan at the price on their web site and make anything out of it. So as well as getting my EX4 refund through yesterday, I also got one for the Hubsan, leaving me right back at square one.

But not quite – there’s a final twist at the end of the story. I was idly scanning the small ads on Le Bon Coin again yesterday evening, which was a bank holiday here in France, and lo and behold I came across two attractively priced Hubsan Zinos, one of which was advertised as ‘in new condition’ with less than 30 minutes flying time. Certainly the photographs backed that up so I acted quickly and got in touch with the seller, up in the 91 département just south of Paris.

I was very cautious as the bogus seller who scammed me on a GoPro a few weeks ago also claimed to be from that area, but I’m sure the Hubsan seller is completely genuine as the details he provided checked out – he is in the on-line telephone directory at the address and with the number he gave. He also had a Paypal account and after we’d spoken on the phone, I went ahead and bought his Zino off him.

Amusingly, he dashed out yesterday with the parcel to catch the post having forgotten that it was a bank holiday, and has sent it off this morning. So I now have a copy of the tracking number and am again waiting for my ‘new’ drone to arrive. But the way the saga has played out so far and given the number of parcels I’ve got backlogged in the French postal system and am waiting delivery of, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if after all this, the new Fimi arrives before the Zino…

May 31, 2020

I’m loving my garden

It’s just marvellous here at the moment, there’s no other word for it. The weather is fantastic – clear blue skies, quite hot for this time of the year but not unbearably so, with little wind. And so quiet. Normally by now the place would be crawling with tourists and as much as I sympathise with those businesses that depend on tourism, and there are many here, I love the calm, quiet and cleanness, of the air and the environment, that are the unforeseen benefits of the Covid-19 lockdown. Or more aptly, lock-out as far as visitors are concerned.

I almost bust a gut yesterday cutting what I laughingly call my grass in the scorching hot sun but it was worth it, because this is the view that I had from my front window a bit earlier this afternoon.

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It won’t stay like it for long, of course. Even if the grass stops growing if it stays hot, the weeds still manage to keep pushing through. And as we have possible thunderstorms forecast for this coming week, I’m expecting that in less than a fortnight, my garden will probably be back again to be an overgrown wasteland. So I thought that today would be a good day to go outside and take a few photographs.

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When I came to France eight years ago, I brought quite a large number of plant pots and containers with me that then stood empty up until last year at which time my lovely French neighbour, Chantal, decided that it was time for me to do something about it and dragged me down to the local nursery. I left with an empty wallet and a car full of plants and over a day-and-a-half she and I had filled all of my empty pots up, and more besides, because before we’d finished I’d had to go and buy a few more from the France Rurale store in Montignac. Plus I also put up some hanging baskets as I used to do in times past around the old family home in the UK.

Unfortunately, though we had left things a bit too late last year and too much of the season was already behind us. So the plants that I’d bought never managed to attain their full potential and also, I’d had to make do with others that weren’t really right in the roles for which they’d been bought – for example, fuschias that grew much too tall for the hanging baskets in which they’d been planted.

So Chantal, who is much more attuned to these things than I am, collared me much earlier this year to make sure things were done properly. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves in the local nursery again, which wasn’t officially supposed to be open but had done so anyway, with our masks on in company with a horde of other shoppers who evidently also couldn’t wait to start beautifying their gardens.

I ended up spending more than last year despite the fact that a surprisingly large number of plants had survived over the relatively mild winter and were just waiting to burst back into life, as many now indeed have. Once again with the two of us working over the next day, we got everything planted and it was pretty obvious even then that this year our floral display would be much more magnificent than previously. And so it is proving as the following pictures taken today show.

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This next display still has a bit of a way to go. The smaller plants in it were saved from last year and the larger one collapsed after I’d removed the plastic support that it came with. Since then I’ve raised it again and supported it with soft twine and a dead twig and already it’s covered in large buds so should soon be in much fuller flower.

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All of the flowers in the next container were saved from last year but were not together. Obviously they are now thriving in their new environment.

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Neither of the hanging baskets on the front of the house survived the winter but it was no great loss because the plants that they’d contained were not suitable. This year I made sure to buy smaller fuschias and some other smaller plants that I hope will tumble downwards as the season progresses. One of the problems was that the English moss that I’d used to line the baskets couldn’t hold enough water for the type of plants that I’d used, so this year I removed the old soil and placed a plastic membrane inside the moss before adding the soil and the plants.

So far it seems to be working and both of the hanging baskets on the front of the house are progressing very well. Here’s a shot of the first one.

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The two small plants at each end of the tub in the next shot were both survivors from last year and are now throwing out flowers again. The two plants in the middle were new this year and I think that the tub will end up being very colourful and a great success in a week or two’s time.

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I think that the plant in the next shot was new this year, in fact I’m almost certain it was. But wow, what a show it makes – and there’s more to come!

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I bought the little fuschia in the next shot in the second half of the season last year from France Rurale. Unbelievably, not only did it survive the winter but it seems to have thrived and is already covered in flowers.

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The plants in the large container in the centre of the next display were all new this year but all of the geraniums were bought last year and survived the winter. The plain-jane plant with green leaves in the closest pot was also from last year and I can’t wait to see what it turns back into. Chantal assures me that it will be covered in blooms, but somehow I have my doubts…

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This little triplet display still has a long way to go but already today the plants in the small pots burst into bloom after I’d taken the picture. They were both survivors from last year and I originally thought that they’d had it, but it shows just how wrong you can be. The plant in the vertical holder is new this year and also I’ve drilled the bowl of the container to make a drain hole as last year it flooded whenever it rained and dried out too quickly when it got hot. This year I’ve only put just the one small plant in it and am keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll do OK.

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This is a new fuschia that I bought this year especially to go on my window sill and I love it. The pot it’s in is one I brought with me from the UK and was knocked off the sill by a cat and broken. However, I didn’t want to chuck it away so repaired it with Araldite and if you don’t look too closely, you’d never know.

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The next two are both new additions this year and look as though they’ll be great successes, both of them.

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All of the plants in this next container are survivors from last year. I have to say that I thought that it looked a bit of a mess after the winter and would have to be re-done this year. However, on closer examination there were signs of life so we tidied it up a bit and left it and from the look of it, that was the right thing to do.

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This tub matches the other one and similar comments apply. Initially, the two small plants at the ends which are survivors from last year were placed too far into the tub and weren’t doing well. Having moved them outwards just a couple of days ago, they are already doing much better.

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This is the other one of the two new hanging baskets on the front of the house.

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The next plant stands near the back door and was bought new this year. It looks as though it’s going to be lovely.

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The next three plants were all bought new this year. Two of them are in glazed pots that were really intended for indoor use but are a bit too bright for my taste. They weren’t a success last year as they didn’t have drain holes in them so when it rained they retained the water and when it was dry, you were reluctant to make them too wet. As a result the plants in them did very poorly.

I’ve now drilled holes in the bottoms of the two jazzy green glazed pots and can therefore treat them as ‘normal’ so hopefully the plants we put in them will do a lot better this year, as they seem to be doing.

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The next pair of pots were my favourites last year because their colours go together so well and also the plants that they contained were so lovely. I’m hoping that after retaining some of them and adding some new ones that I’ll be able to enjoy repeat success this year.

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The same goes for the next pair of pots whose colours again complement each other so well. Last year they did OK but ended up looking a little bit messy and untidy. As a result, I have tried to make a better plant selection that will combine well as the season progresses and already I think that the effort is well worth it.

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Finally, we come to the last two hanging baskets that are mounted on the south-facing wall of the house. I had intended to re-do them in the same way as I did the ones on the front of the house but left it too late. By the time I’d got around to it, they were bursting back into flower, so apart from removing the odd dead bits, I’ve left them alone and am amazed at how well they’re now doing.

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So that’s the hard work done for this year. I loved having plants around the house last year and am even more delighted with how things are already looking this year. Sure, they need to be tended and looked after but the work involved is satisfying and more than paid-back by the wonderful display they present as the year progresses. I wish that the constant grass cutting was equally as satisfying and rewarding…