October 16, 2019

Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in fa me…

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

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

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

October 12, 2019

Still waiting

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

null

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

null

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

null

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

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

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

null

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

null

null

null

null

null

null

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

October 9, 2019

A waiting game

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

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

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

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

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

null

null

null

null

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

September 30, 2019

All buttoned up

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

Really excited about it, can’t wait 🙂

September 27, 2019

A good day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 22, 2019

Nearly there

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

null

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

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

null

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

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

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

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

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

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

null

null

September 16, 2019

Wheels are in motion

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

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

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

September 11, 2019

Back from the Basque country

Just after coming to France over 7 years ago when I installed my wood burning stove, I acquired a log splitter that I found on Le Bon Coin, the French free small ads web site. It was a low-level, horizontal type with a ram pressure of 5 tons and it gave me good service up until just before the end of last season when it began to leak oil.

I decided that given the relatively low price that I’d paid for it, it didn’t owe me anything and got rid of it for peanuts ‘for spares’ and was surprised by the interest that it generated when I put it up for sale. I finished off the season splitting the last few big logs that I had with a woodman’s axe, which was good fun (and good exercise) but not how I wanted to proceed for the long term.

I didn’t want to get another similar low-level, horizontal design machine despite there being quite a few bargains on offer. For starters, it gets your back having to keep stooping and bending, but they are also limited in ram pressure with 5 tons being about their limit. And I do get the occasional log of larger diameter that needs more than that, which is probably why my old machine eventually died a death.

I decided that what I wanted was a vertical machine with at least 7-8 tons pressure, and if possible a ‘high quality’ one ie probably not Chinese in origin. Since I returned from the UK I’ve been looking on Le Bon Coin and a couple of days ago I spotted the ideal candidate, the only problem being that it was miles away down near Bayonne in the Basque country close to the Spanish border.

It had been up for sale since the end of August so I took a flyer and made an offer that would make it worthwhile making the journey and was pleasantly surprised when the seller accepted it. And so it was, after dragging out both my trailers and giving them a long-overdue clean up, that yesterday morning I set off in the Kia with my small trailer heading south to Villefranque, a commune in the rolling countryside of the French Basque country with a beautiful view of the Pyrénées, taking incidentally, the same route that I had done with the C-Max when I’d headed off to San Sebastián for the Kia’s replacement engine that was now taking me back again.

The seller turned out to be a newly-retired ex-IT project manager from the aerospace industry living with his charming wife in a lovely mountain chalet-style house typical of the region. And as soon as I saw the machine I knew that I’d made the right choice. It was a very high quality German-manufactured Lumag with a 8 ton ram that had clearly received almost no use at all. Indeed, the seller told me that he’d only used it a couple of times and as they had central heating and enough wood to meet their needs, he had no further use for it.

We quickly did the deal and loaded the machine onto my small trailer. It was much heavier than I expected and took the two of us to get it on board and after doing so, I covered it with an old tarp that I’d taken with me as rain was forecast later and secured it standing vertically with ropes. Then, after a small beer as it had been warm work loading it up, I departed for home.

I took it easy on the journey back and by the time I got home again, it was already getting dark. So the machine stayed on my trailer overnight and this is how it looked this morning before I offloaded it.

null

null

Here it is standing on my trailer as we’d loaded it after I’d removed the tarp and the ropes.

null

null

When we’d loaded it in Villefranque, the seller and I had hauled it together up a pair of short wooden planks onto the trailer. I thought that I’d be able to drop it off without doing any harm just by myself but soon gave that idea up when I moved it and realised just how heavy it was. So I decided that I’d also make a ramp from a couple of boards which worked well until one of them, which had been out too long in the weather, snapped and lowered me and machine down to the ground.

null

null

But no harm was done and I was then able to wheel the machine across the grass to a space that I’d cleared for it in the corner of my wood store where my old splitter used to stand on its end.

null

null

I only had one large log to try it out on, which was the one that I’d been using as a chopping block for my woodman’s axe.

null

The machine just laughed at it and split it effortlessly into 4 segments, which boded very well as now I’ll have no problem splitting any of the logs that I’ll be buying in the future. So taking everything into account, I think that yet again, I’ve made a great Le Bon Coin purchase. Even with the cost of the fuel going there and back to Villefranque, I’ve got an almost new 8 ton 700€ German log splitter for about half-price, so I can’t complain. And as a bonus, the Kia ran faultlessly towing my small trailer for over 700 kms, so that’s also a relief that will give me confidence for its future 😉

September 6, 2019

Flight from the UK – 3 September 2019

During my stay in the UK I’d done what I could to restore the brakes in F-JHHP and although not perfect, I reckoned that I’d got enough braking power back to get me safely back to Malbec including pulling up on Malbec’s short runway. I’d also managed to find and download software onto my phone so I could edit my returning GAR and Schengen forms and as I was already able to submit my pre-prepared return flight plan, I was well set up for my return flight to France.

Europe’s major ULM (microlight) festival took place at Blois on the week-end of 31 August/01 September during which the airfield was closed to visiting traffic so initially I’d considered returning via Romorantin Pruniers on Sunday 1 September. However, as it looked as though the weather was going to remain fairly settled up until Wednesday 4 September, I decided that instead I’d make my return flight on Tuesday 3 September routing once again via Blois.

I also thought that it’d be a good idea to pack my baggage into F-JHHP the evening before departure, especially as I was returning with several large Morrison’s supermarket bags containing biscuits and other difficult-to-buy-in-France British foodstuffs and this turned out to be a good idea as it saved me quite a few minutes the next morning.

null

So after filing my forms before setting off for Headcorn and my flight plan on arrival, I was actually all set to go before my planned departure time with a forecast of a tailwind for much of my flight and broken cloud in northern France turning to CAVOK for the rest of my planned route.

Headcorn EGKH to Le Touquet LFAT

It turned out that the forecast for the first leg of my flight couldn’t have been more wrong and, uncharitably perhaps, one wonders if the weather forecasters ever tear themselves away from their complex computer models and look out of the window. I took off into practically unbroken lowish cloud (maybe 4000 feet) that became even lower as I approached the Channel and soon after I coasted out at Dymchurch it got even lower and began to rain.

I’ve doctored the next several photographs to make them clearer with the result that the visibility in all of them looks considerably brighter and clearer than it actually was. I’m not trying to make the situation more dramatic than it actually was but merely trying to explain the conditions under which I was flying at the time which were not ‘dangerous’ or ‘extreme’ but probably just not suitable for less experienced pilots to be up in.

null

This was the sight that greeted me as I looked to the west towards Le Touquet so I asked London Information with whom I was in radio contact if they had the current Le Touquet weather. They gave me their latest TAF which was out of date and I said that as it was under low cloud and rain at that moment, I might have to divert to Calais, so they asked me to keep them advised of my situation.

null

I crossed the Channel at under 3000 feet under lowering cloud and changed to Lille Approach as I approached the French coast. I asked them for the latest Le Touquet weather and after coasting in at Cap Gris Nez, they suggested that I’d best contact Le Touquet Tower immediately to obtain the current sitrep.

null

I took their advice and Le Touquet advised me that the approach conditions were SVFR (Special Visual Flight Rules) due to broken low cloud and showers and cleared me to enter their zone for a landing. This was my view of Boulogne Harbour, Le Touquet reporting point November, as I approached it at low level. How different from when I was heading north just a week or so before!

null

While tracking south down the coast towards the airfield I could hear, and was advised of, G-registered traffic overtaking me from the rear. I was at about 1400 feet and shortly after a Piper Warrior from Cranfield with a solo young Irish pilot passed directly under me and landed a few minutes before I was cleared for an otherwise uneventful landing, with plenty of braking to allow me to slow down, taxy to the parking and pull up.

null

null

Re-entering France involved very few formalities – all I had to do was show the Customs officer my UK passport. That left me with just my landing fee (15€) to settle, to have a quick pee and get off again. I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather to the south and it was obvious that low cloud and showers were constantly rolling in from the sea so I had to make up my mind whether to take off as there was a risk that if I decided to turn back again, the weather could have closed in behind me. I decided to do so and pretty soon ran into it as the following shots show.

null

null

null

null

There was some Le Touquet traffic doing practise IFR approaches, the conditions were pretty much ideal, and as I flew south I heard another aircraft approaching from the north SVFR for a full stop. He was advised that he was cleared to land except sea mist was by that time beginning to cover the far end of runway 31 which was by then obscured. Not that much of a problem as the runway is pretty long and they’d be turning off for the apron well before they reached it.

null

null

null

I took the final shot above just as I was approaching a bank of low cloud and rain that I could see was moving from right to left from off the sea. I estimated that I’d just catch the edge of it if I continued on course and that even if I entered it, I’d still have reasonable forward visibilty. Actually I was wrong. When I hit it the rain was lashing against my windscreeen and although I could still see the ground I had no visible horizon having lost all of my forward visibility.

I quickly descended to around 800 feet to maintain sight of the surface and would have turned right to try to get out of it but to my surprise the rain abruptly stopped and the cloud began to lift after less than a minute. So I carried on. Thankfully that was the last I saw of the rain, which had lasted on and off for more than 40 minutes after leaving Le Touquet and gradually the cloud began to lift and conditions became much brighter.

After leaving Le Touquet, I’d been handed over to Paris Information who provided me with a fantastic service. It was comforting somehow to know that even though I was flying through poor weather I’d been identified on radar and a helpful soul was at hand if needed. Paris Info then handed me over to Evreux Approach who were inactive on my flight north but were active now. The lady controller was super helpful and kept me well advised of possible conflicting traffic, none of which I actually spotted, before handing me back to Paris Info, who I stayed with as Chateaudun was inactive until I needed to change frequency to Blois.

By the time I arrived at Blois, the promised CAVOK had arrived and remained with me for the rest of my flight. Here are some shots that I took there after I’d taken on fuel. This time I had to get hold of the airfield fireman (le Pompier) as I’d been told I would, who opened up the pump and took my card payment. Easy-peasy, no worries, except initially I couldn’t find him and had to seek the help of a gent cleaning the interior of a Citation business jet, one of two or three in the far hangar.

null

null

null

null

null

null

After leaving Blois, my flight continued in rather bumpy conditions as I was flying at under 3000 feet under patchy, broken cumulus. There was plenty of lift around and I considered, but had decided against, climbing above it but with hindsight I should have. Here are a few shots of the landscape that I was flying over.

null

null

null

My next task was to contact Limoges Approach to obtain clearance to once again transit their Class D airspace. Some Ryanair guys were doing some training exercises and there was quite a bit of local traffic but there was no problem. As I flew by the airfield I watched and heard a Ryanair Boeing 737 obtain take off clearance and depart for East Midlands and just afterwards the controller advised that due to traffic, as I was about to cross the extended centre-line of his approach, I had to either turn right or climb to 4000 feet. I did the latter and after leaving his zone and signing off with him, I started my long cruise descent for a landing at Malbec.

Conditions at Malbec were very bumpy due to the temperature and I started my initial approach a little bit high. To compound it, I was thrown up once too often just before I was about to land so with discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to throw the approach away and go around.

It turned out to be a wise decision, because the second, lower, flatter approach was much less dramatic and I ended up with a greaser of a landing of which I was truly proud, and here’s a shot of F-JHHP parked at the top of Malbec’s runway before I towed it up to the barn, unloaded it and put it away.

null

And so ended my flight up to the UK and back. One is always very pleased to complete any long flight without any major incident and that’s how I felt again at the end of this one. It was very satisfying that I’d coped with the somewhat challenging conditions that I’d faced at the beginning of the flight in northern France and I was more than pleased with how my new avionics kit had simplified the whole process. Now I have the prospect of a two-day flight down in the X-air to look forward to and I know from experience that that will be a completely different kettle of fish.

September 5, 2019

More X-air

Here are some more shots that I took of my friend’s X-air that he wants to get rid of because it will take quite a bit of time, effort and money to get it re-permitted to fly again in the UK and he’s lost interest in it.

null

null

null

null

null

After having thought about it for a day or so I’ve already told him that I’ll buy it off him and I hope that I haven’t bitten off a bit more than I can chew. My idea is to register the aircraft in my name in the UK with my French address and then to cancel the registration by reason of permanent export. Once I have all of the aircraft’s paperwork with serial number etc it should then be a relatively simple matter to register it in France. Then when I have the new French registration I’ll be able to add it to my French insurance, fly Ryanair, say, to the UK, remove the UK G-reg, apply the new French letters and numbers and spend a few days getting it into shape for the flight over.

There are a couple of question marks over this plan, principally to do with having a radio for the flight. As I will be acquiring the aircraft for a relatively small sum, I could splash out and buy a new 8.33 kHz hand-held for the flight which would be legal in both the UK and France. However, I think that that would be only as a final resort.

I still have the 25 kHz radio kit that I used in the UK in MYRO, in France in my French X-air that I’ve now sold and that I’m still using in my French Weedhopper even though strictly speaking it’s not approved for use in France. It’s fully transferrable from one aircraft to another and although I couldn’t now use it legally in the UK, I doubt that anyone would know or care if I used it to contact London Information on 124.6 for the Channel crossing. At a pinch I could even file to do the crossing from the UK non-radio.

25 kHz radios remain legal in France until the end of 2020 so although it’s a Vertex VXA-220 that isn’t approved for France, I reckon I could get away with using it for just the one flight even if queried to contact Lille Approach for the entry into France from the Channel crossing and to land at Calais. The best thing would be to just do it without asking anyone beforehand because it would be over and done with before anyone could raise an objection.

I’d need two days of good weather to fly the X-air down to the Dordogne and to plan for the required fuel stops every 2½ hours or so and the planning will be quite demanding as I know from when I flew MYRO down over two days back in April 2012.

So taken all round it will be something of a challenge to get the X-air out of the UK and into France but it will be worth it, if only to cock a snook at the ridiculously restrictive and expensive UK microlight permitting regime which would more or less otherwise be consigning this pretty little aircraft to the scrap-heap. That I could not possibly allow to become a reality.

My French Weedhopper is up for sale and as a possible bonus, a young pilot who saw it last year when I flew it into a fly-in at Ste-Foy-La-Grande has spotted the advertisement and contacted me expressing an interest in it. How nice it would be if he purchased it off me and as it left the barn at Malbec the UK X-air arrived to take its place. That’s the vision that I’ll have to work towards 😉

September 4, 2019

Flight to the UK – 24 August 2019

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I departed Malbec for the UK in my Savannah, F-JHHP, as planned on Saturday 24 August at around 9.25 am. For a change, the weather forecast was CAVOK for the whole route and I was really looking forward to it after all of my planning. At one stage I’d planned to land to refuel at an airfield to the east of Blois named Romorantin Pruniers but I’d dismissed that idea after calling the aero club at Blois and speaking to a gentleman who I subsequently met when I landed there and who served me with fuel, who assured me that I’d have absolutely no problem paying with my bank debit card even though their automatic fuel dispenser required a ‘Carte BP’.

This was my first long-distance flight through France with it and I was looking forward to taking advantage of my new transponder. Accordingly, I’d planned an almost direct route from Malbec to Le Touquet through several areas of Class D airspace. I’d also anticipated being able to converse in English with all of the ATC controllers, even though I could have managed French if necessary, and that proved to be the case. In fact the service that I received was impeccable, in both directions up and down, with one exception that I’ll mention later. And I was even blessed with a small tailwind for the whole of the flight.

Malbec LF2467 to Blois le Breuil LFOQ

F-JHHP at Malbec ready for take off.

null

null

The take off from Malbec

null

null

After taking off from Malbec, I turned right for an almost northerly heading. While I did so, I noticed that the GPS ‘needle’ on my Asus tablet on which I run my Memory Map navigation software was stuck and wasn’t moving. That might have been a problem if I’d taken off from an airport in an area that I didn’t know but I blessed the fact that I’d recently swung my compass so it now reads the almost exact heading, turned onto the heading I needed and restarted my navigation software. Luckily that did the trick.

Unlike for my previous long flights, I haven’t checked on Google Earth to identify the exact names of the places that I flew over, except for the major ones, but I took plenty of pictures as I flew northwards at 3000 feet the whole way. My first test of my new transponder and the ATC was relatively straightforward, to request a transit of Limoges’s Class D airspace passing abeam the airfield via reporting point WA (Whiskey Alpha). The controller accepted my request without a hiccup and this shot was taken as I flew through with Limoges and the airfield in the distance.

null

The following shots were taken in the Haute Vienne to the north of Limoges as I continued to fly northwards.

null

null

null

At some point the Haute Vienne became the Indre and eventually the Loire et Cher and I think I took these shots as I approached Blois.

null

null

I’d already received instructions from the ATC controller while en route that parachuting was going on there and although there was no ATC controller at the airfield, the jump controller advised me not to join overhead but instead to join left downwind for runway 12. This I did without incident but it was after touching down while I was braking to take the first turn-off that I had my first shock of the flight. I didn’t have any brakes!

I swiftly straightened up again to avoid keeling over onto my right wingtip and decided that if I cut the engine to a slow idle, I’d then be slow enough to be able to turn off at the next junction and if not, there was plenty of grass left to slow me right down. In the event, I was able to turn off and taxi slowly up to the apron, cutting my engine and coasting to a halt just before reaching the refuelling station. I was so relieved that just before leaving for the UK, I’d set up F-JHHP’s tickover and now that I needed it to, it was capable of ticking over smoothly even at the amazingly low engine speed of 1500 rpm.

The next shots were taken in front of Blois’s magnificent control tower after I’d refuelled F-JHHP with the assistance of the gentleman that I referred to earlier before I was ready to take off again for Le Touquet.

null

null

Blois le Breuil LFOQ to Le Touquet LFAT

After refuelling, I’d pushed F-JHHP back onto the apron and was then faced with something of a dilemma. What should I do? Should I continue with no brakes or should I see if I could do anything to fix them or, more likely, get them fixed? I didn’t have any tools with me and as it was a Saturday afternoon, I thought that my chances of getting any assistance from an aircraft mechanic were more or less nil. In that case I’d be stuck there at least until the Monday, so realistically that only left me with the option of continuing without brakes.

But the situation didn’t seem that serious to me. I’d coped pretty well at Blois and Le Touquet has an even longer runway, so I reckoned that I could do just as well there, although I’d need to let the Ground controller know of my problem just to be on the safe side. The runway at Headcorn, although still long, is shorter than those at Blois and Le Touquet, but is grass which would make stopping even easier, so having thought it through, I decided that continue on I would.

I’d parked F-JHHP facing the taxiway to the runway and called on the radio to say that I’d be starting up, taxying and taking off without stopping due to loss of brakes. However, I was taken by surprise on starting up to find that the aircraft immediately began rolling even at only 1500 rpm. This meant that I had to do a full circle on the apron, which was fortunately clear of other aircraft, taxy straight out to the holding point for runway 12, enter the runway and take off. I took great care to watch and listen for any other traffic but fortunately there was none.

null

null

null

null

null

null

After a left turn-out to take up a northerly heading again, it was time to check my chart to prepare myself for my next challenges.

null

null

The first of these was to transit the Class D airspace of the airforce base at Chateaudun which I intended to cross via their reporting point SW (Sierra Whiskey). There was no time to spare between taking off at Blois and entering their airspace so I called up the relevant ATC service, only to receive a recorded announcement. This told me that the runway at the adjacent Orléans Bricy was closed and as far as I could tell, said that Chateaudun was not active. I hadn’t received absolute confirmation of the latter by my understanding but thought that the likelihood of an airforce base of lesser importance like Chateaudun being active on a Saturday afternoon to be pretty remote and as I would be visible on radar and squawking 7000 anyway, I decided to continue.

In the event, I got through without being buzzed by a Mirage and got ready for my next challenge, which was to cross the Class D airspace at Evreux. I didn’t know at the time that I could have had all the help that I needed from Paris Information but as I once again received a recorded announcement, I decided that yet again I’d continue on at 3000 feet squawking 7000 on my transponder. In the event this proved to be the correct judgement but, as mentioned above, I could have been talking to Paris Information who would have given me all the help and details that I needed.

Before arriving at the Evreux airspace, I passed the small airfield (deserted as usual) and city of Dreux.

null

null

null

Shortly after leaving Dreux behind, in the northern section of the Evreux airspace, I passed over the mighty river Seine whending its way to the sea with a power station on its south bank, locks and barges.

null

null

A bit later on, I was in sight of the Channel coast with first Mers les Bains and Le Tréport in the distance and then the Baie de la Somme on the Côte Picardie.

null

null

At low tide, the Baie de la Somme was an impressive sight with its huge expanse of sandy mudflats.

null

Then Berck Plage.

null

And finally a glimpse of the Channel as I followed the coastline to join right base leg for runway 13 at Le Touquet.

null

It was while approaching Le Touquet that the only negative ATC experience occurred. I’d been talking to Lille Approach who had handed me over to Le Touquet Tower who, in a very strong French accent, advised me to report ‘crossing the line’ as I thought. This didn’t make much sense to me, so as I crossed into Le Touquet Class D airspace abeam reporting point S (Sierra) I called in.

The controller angrily replied to ask what was I doing as he hadn’t asked me to do that. He also seemingly had a fit and said that if I couldn’t understand simple instructions I shouldn’t come to his airport. Now, arguing with a pilot is ATC’s cardinal sin and they must not do it as the former is under enough pressure as it is. But I was just annoyed. I began to turn left onto a reverse heading and he again asked me what I was doing. I said that I was leaving his airspace as his accent was unintelligible and would then await proper instructions before re-entering, so it was beginning to become a bit heated.

It was then that a helpful British pilot who had recent experience of Le Touquet and had been listening in broke in to say that the controller meant that I should proceed to the coastline and then track north along it towards the airfield. The controller then confirmed this so the problem was resolved and sanity again reigned. He even became really polite and helpful as I joined base leg for 13 and he called me number 1 to land, for which I thanked him profusely for his help. Ironic really.

I landed OK without brakes and turned off the runway to taxy to the apron. I didn’t contact Ground, in truth I’d forgotten to write the frequency down, because there was a ‘Follow Me’ quad bike gesturing me to follow him to parking. He was somewhat bemused when I stopped short of the parking place that he guided me to but understood when I explained that I’d lost my brakes.

Unfortunately, I was then hit by a series of relatively minor problems at Le Touquet that ended up preventing me from taking any pictures there. I found that although I could file my flightplan for my flight over the Channel to Headcorn, I couldn’t edit the GAR form for my entry into the UK from France and my Schengen form for exiting France that I’d previously prepared. I’d brought my old Dell laptop with me for this purpose only to remember when I fired it up that the software that I wanted to use was no longer on it as just previously I’d updated it to the latest version of Windows 10 with loss of files when it had corrupted itself for some unknown reason.

I managed to get around the problem by using the copies that I’d loaded onto my phone as a precaution and submitted the forms with incorrect times on them having decided that they’d just have to do as I made a dash for F-JHHP after quite some delay in order to don my life jacket for the Channel crossing to come. Before starting up I explained my problem to Ground and asked if necessary for a gap in traffic so I could start up, taxy, line up and take off without stopping, which he kindly agreed to. I found later that due to no fault of my own, the GAR form wasn’t received because the UK Home Office had changed the email address without putting an auto-forward on the old one, but took off in blissful ignorance of the fact.

Le Touquet LFAT to Headcorn EGKH

And so began the final leg of my journey. From Le Touquet it’s possible to climb continuously so by the time you get to Cap Gris Nez, you can get to the height you need for the Channel crossing. In my case as the sky was clear of cloud, this was 5000 feet.

null

Here’s a shot that I took of the harbour at Boulogne, Le Touquet reporting point N (November), as I passed by having been handed over to Lille Approach again from Le Touquet Tower.

null

Then a shot of the English coast after I’d been passed over mid-Channel from Lille Approach to London Information.

null

And finally, safely on the ground at Headcorn. I’d mentioned my braking problem to the controller there and he hadn’t been too perturbed as they regularly host vintage aircraft that have no brakes at all. The grass was indeed excellent as a stopping aid and I succeeded in parking almost dead on the chosen mark by cutting the engine and coasting to a halt.

null

Unfortunately though, I had to take the decision for safety not to fly on to the small private farm strip that I’d originally intended to be my final destination. This was both disappointing and costly as overnight parking at Headcorn, which I’d have avoided, was £5 per day.

I found when I investigated them a couple of days later that the exceedingly hot weather that we’d had in the Dordogne (several days non-stop at over 40 degrees Celsius) had apparently caused vapour to form in both of my brake lines. I purchased a ‘high pressure’ oil can in order to add more fluid and bleed the lines but didn’t achieve total success. I did however, manage to get enough braking power back for the journey back home again and will be able to deal with the problem properly at a later date.

September 1, 2019

Oh dear…

Well, I’m typing this sitting at a table in my sister and brother-in-law’s home near Maidstone in Kent in the south-east of England. I set off for the UK in 77ASY according to plan last Saturday morning taking off from Malbec at around 9.25 am.

null

I had a marvellous flight up that was not without incident that I’ll describe in more detail when I return home early this coming week but before then I couldn’t resist talking about today’s events.

I’d arranged with a friend here in Kent to give him a hand with his X-Air that he’s been unable to start for many weeks and had said that I’d do my best to get it running for him as he now wants to just get rid of it as soon as possible. Here’s a shot that I took of it this morning before I set to work.

null

It didn’t take me long to get the engine running ‘as sweet as a nut’ and when I looked the aircraft over, I was very impressed by its overall condition – probably better than my old X-Air that I sold in March. But my friend still wants to get rid of I because he’s been told that it will be difficult and expensive to re-permit in the UK because of the time it’s been standing out of permit, unused and unflown. And because of that, he expects to get just peanuts for it when he sells it.

But no such constraints would apply in France and I’ve had an idea that would allow me to circumvent and in effect stick two fingers up at the ridiculous restrictive and expensive UK permit regime.

The X-Air is readily and easily registerable in France, a process that would only take a very short time and be quite inexpensive. So what I could do is buy the X-Air very cheaply from my chum who has told me what he would be happy to receive just to wash his hands of it, register it in France, remove the current G-reg, apply its new French reg, add it to my insurance (effectively replacing my old X-Air that was recently removed from cover) and then fly it out of the UK and down to the Dordogne.

I know that I’ve told everyone that I don’t need any more aircraft to work on having now sorted out two AX3s, my old X-Air and my Savannah but I’m finding the idea increasingly irresistible already. I also fancy the idea of another two-day adventure flying it down from the UK to Malbec. Oh dear… I think I might be feeling another project coming on 😉

August 21, 2019

This Saturday – slight change of plan

I’ve now phoned Romorantin and it appears that their fuel system only accepts Total cards, so I’d be relying therefore on the aeroclub there to accept my payment. I’ve also just checked with Blois and the same goes for them and their fuel system which only accepts BP cards. I’d have to phone either club beforehand to let them know my ETA to make sure that someone would be there to do so and I surmise that as Blois is the bigger and the more prestigious of the two, that would probably be the better bet.

I’ve also rechecked my possible route going via Blois and it’s a bit more direct and a few kilometres shorter than via Romorantin so I’m now leaning towards routing via Blois rather than via Romorantin. However, I’ll need to check carefully to ensure that as the leg from Malbec to Blois is slightly longer I’ll be able to make it there safely with the prevailing wind on the day, which will probably be northerly.

Watch this space for future developments! Now I most go to Malbec and adjust 77ASY’s engine idle.

Well, I’m back from adjusting 77ASY’s idle and I was very pleased with the results. I don’t have a carb balancer but I did my best to equalise each carburettor by inserting a thin feeler gauge under each adjustment screw in turn until it was just being gripped and then opening both throttles slightly by turning each screw by an equal amount until I got the idle speed that I wanted.

At the end the engine was ticking over very smoothly but I forgot to take some Loctite with me to put on the adjustment screw threads. It doesn’t matter though as I’ve got to go back and give the aircraft a good clean as it was covered in mouse droppings and splats of bird poo.

I also enjoyed a very welcome bonus. My altimeter was noticeably out when I flew up to La Rochelle, and before that also when I checked in with Bergerac a few weeks ago and was able to compare my indicated altitude with the height shown on my transponder. There will always be a difference as the latter is calibrated at standard atmospheric pressure ie 1013.2Hp but the difference was much too great to be acceptable. The technician at La Rochelle also commented on it.

I was thinking that I’d have to apply a manual correction during my upcoming UK flight but today I learnt something that I’ve not known for all the many years that I’ve been involved and tinkering with aircraft.

null

As the above image shows, to the left of the altimeter’s pressure indicator adjustment knob there’s a small screw that today I thought I’d investigate. When I unscrewed it, it didn’t come right out because it was evidently attached to some kind of spring inside the instrument. This set me thinking and I carefully tried turning the knob with the screw hanging out. No change, the pressure scale moved normally.

I then tried doing the same after gently pulling the knob, and success! The altimeter needle remained stationary but the pressure scale rotated! Previously, the altimeter was showing an elevation of 850 feet, which is about right for Malbec, at a pressure setting of 1018Hp. I checked the QNHs for Brive and Bergerac which were identical at 30.2InHg or 1023Hp and was then able to set my altimeter’s pressure scale to that figure.

So that was job done! Now I’ll be able to fly confident in the knowledge that my indicated altitude will be as it should be. Incidentally, while I was there I checked the Weedhopper’s altimeter and that was giving an elevation of 850 feet at 1028Hp, so it too is out by 5Hp, but in the other direction. I don’t think that there’s an adjustment screw on its altimeter but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it 😉

August 20, 2019

It’s all systems go!

It looks as though the long-awaited weather window for my flight up to the UK is at last about to materialise and that I’ll be taking off in my Savannah this coming Saturday morning. There’s no telling how long it’ll last though, at the UK end, and I recall how I had to make a dash for home the last time in 2016 as an unexpected period of nasty weather that was forecast to last for several days was about to roll in from the Atlantic.

This time it looks as though I’ll have at least a week and I’m planning to stay for around 7-10 days depending on how things work out, with friends, family and my dentist! I’m hoping that he’ll be able to fit me in because I need a little repair work that he usually does in a few minutes which the dentist here in Montignac wanted to turn into a major project that would have cost me several hundred euros. So that alone makes the trip well worthwhile. And while I’m there I’ll also be able to drop into Specsavers and get my glasses repaired and updated.

Since having my new radio and especially my new transponder installed, I’ve been able to completely revamp my flightplan. I can now fly more directly than I originally planned cutting across Class D airspace at Limoges, Chateauroux (although technically I should be above their upper limit) and Orléans. And also instead of having to fly up to Calais to file my outward flight plan and clear customs, I’ll be able to drop into Le Touquet which is inside Class D airspace, making a transponder necessary, directly on my route northwards and further south.

Although I would have liked to drop into Calais, as I’ve never landed there, that should save me a useful 15-30 minutes which will be very handy at that end of the flight as by then I’ll be starting to feel a bit tired. It’ll also be nice going into Le Touquet again where I’ve not been since the 1980s when we had our Cherokee 180, G-BGVU, and used to go there quite often for lunch and to collect the fuel tax drawback that more or less used to pay for the flight from Biggin or Rochester.

I’ve also changed my plans for the UK end of the flight. After checking in at Headcorn, I was originally going to land in a field at a private property in Kent owned by a friend of mine. That’s now not going to be possible because the field has been used by sheep and nobody is going to be there either before or when I arrive to ensure that it’s in a safe condition to land on. So instead I’ve decided on what I think will be a better solution anyway, which is to fly into a local farm strip at Laddingford.

This has two good size grass runways and is also closer to the home of my sister and brother-in-law, so it’s a win-win all round really. It has good approaches and is also secure as it’s located on an active farm on which the farmer and his family live, so I feel happy that if the Savannah is parked there for a week or so, it should be pretty safe and out of harm’s way.

Here are some shots showing my planned route. I’ve changed my planned first leg as originally I was probably going to land at Blois to take on fuel. However, it’s not clear from the published details whether the airfield is guaranteed to be open to make this possible. The automatic pump needs a BP card, which I don’t have and don’t intend to acquire and without it you need to pay at the aero club. If nobody’s there I’d be scuppered, so best not to take the chance.

Instead I’ll be going into LFYR, Romorantin Pruniers, which is slightly further east and a bit further south, but closer than Blois to my preferred track actually. There they have an automatic Total card system but which I think, much like that at La Rochelle, also accepts bank debit cards. But in any case, I’ll be giving them a ring beforehand to make absolutely sure.

null

My second leg is direct Romorantin – LFAT Le Touquet, where there’ll be no problem as far as I’m aware buying fuel, although if everything goes as planned, I shouldn’t need to.

null

And finally, my arrival into the UK. I’ve shown it as just a single leg although actually I’ll be landing initially at Headcorn to clear customs (not that there’s ever any ‘customs’ there to clear) and close my flightplan. Then I’ll have just a short final hop of a few minutes into Laddingford.

null

I’ve got a bit to do before leaving, but not too much. Tonight I’m knackered after cutting my ‘grass’ and de-weeding it and several other areas. Tomorrow I really must get across to Malbec and adjust the idle speed of the Savannah which is too slow after I changed its carburettor rubbers and then hopefully it’ll just be domestic things to deal with.

Apart from that 77ASY should be all ready to go, so it’ll just be a matter of redoing my Schengen and GAR paperwork to take account of my new French departure and arrival points and editing my outward and inward flightplans. For one reason or another, I’ve not been getting as much flying in this year as I would have liked, so I have to say that I’m already quite excited by the prospect and really looking forward to the flight.

August 17, 2019

My new computer printer

I spent yesterday evening printing off a huge stack of photographs on my new Canon Pixma TS8150 that I’ve had waiting while making up my mind whether or not to buy a new printer. So many, in fact, that I used up three of the cartridges that Canon supplied with it. Here’s a shot of the printer in question.

null

Everyone knows by now that even though they are really cheap, it’s a massive false economy to buy an inkjet printer with only two cartridges – black and colour. The reason is that you use the colours (basically cyan, magenta and yellow) in very different ratios and when you replace a ‘colour’ cartridge because one of them has run out, there will always be quite large quantities of the other two remaining. And when you throw the ’empty’ cartridge away, because of that it’s also not good for the environment.

My old Canon MP530 had five colour cartridges, cyan, magenta, yellow, black and a large volume black for printing mono documents. As I mentioned in my previous post, in it’s day it produced magnificent colour photo prints that I was exceedingly happy with, but as it got older, it began to fail to do so until finally it was impossible.

Things have moved on since then. Not only can my new Canon print in higher definition (I chose the TS8150 because it offered a print resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi compared to 2400 x 1200 dpi for the next model down for only a modest increase in price – the next model up prints 4800 x 2400 dpi but I didn’t think that I really needed that) but it also comes with a six ink system. The additional one is ‘photo blue’ but please don’t ask me what it does compared to the normal cyan.

What I can say is that the only word to describe the results is stunning. The prints that I did last night are as good as the best A4 colour prints that I’ve ever seen. Evidently the printer ‘processes’ the images before printing so even shots that are dull and/or lacking in contrast come out beautifully. Images are sharp and colours vivid and vibrant and although this may not be to the taste of ‘professional’ photographers who like to control every aspect of their work up to and including printing, for what I do, the results are exactly what I’m looking for.

The new Canon prints shots taken on my little Nikon Coolpix camera and my new phone especially well and as it also connects wirelessly, so you only have a power cable running to it, other computers in the network, such as my laptop and even my phone and tablet, can also print directly to it. It has other features that I’ve not yet bothered to explore and probably don’t need, but so far I’m mightily impressed with it.

Unlike my old Canon that I just chucked away and still had unused cartridges for that I am now unable to use, my old Epson printer is still functioning and will be OK for general use until I’ve used up as many of the cartridges as possible that I still have for it. But until then I’ll be using my new Canon for ‘quality’ work and especially for shots that I’ve taken from the air.

So taken all round, yesterday was a rather satisfying day. Not only did I get my PC back unharmed after a spectacular explosion in its power supply but I also got my new Canon TS8150 printer up and running. But that wasn’t all. Without any form of fanfare or notification, after a full two weeks, my home phone and internet also came back. I’m hoping that that will be the end of all of the problems that I’ve suffered with it, but only time will tell. In the meantime, back to my printing 😉

August 16, 2019

Massive sigh of relief

My new PC power supply arrived today. Fantastic service by Amazon Prime to get it delivered within 24 hours – I’m very impressed. I’ve even watched several ‘free’ Prime videos when I’ve been at a loose end on the odd evening and have no regrets about becoming becoming a Prime member earlier this year.

I carefully installed the power supply in my PC and powered it up briefly with the disk drives disconnected. Nothing was amiss so I finished connecting all of the cables, put it back in place in my ‘computer corner’ and fully powered it up with all of its peripherals connected. To my great relief everything is working perfectly and as an added bonus, my machine is now running almost silently. Clearly it had been getting ready to go wrong for some time as before the old power supply failed it was very noisy.

I also got sick of messing around trying to get my old printers, a Canon MP530 and an Epson SX438W, both of which I brought with me from England, to produce perfect results. In its day, and it was at least 12-15 years old, the Canon was state-of-the-art and produced perfect photo prints. However, I’ve since gone through three print heads and even with new cartridges it was impossible to get a proper colour balance.

Yet another print head plus more cartridges would have been throwing more good money after bad so the other day I stole myself and dropped it off at the déchetterie with a tear in my eye. I shall also probably end up doing the same with my little Epson. I bought it just before I came to France so it’s just over 7 years old. It was a low cost printer at the time and it has done sterling service and is still OK for ‘general’ mono and colour printing.

However, it too cannot produce high quality photo prints, which I like to do as an extension of my aerial photographic exploits. So I splashed some cash and ordered myself another new Canon, a brand that I know and trust.

The model was a Pixma TS8150 and I expected it to be delivered on Monday as yesterday was a holiday here in France. However, to my great surprise, when I returned from a quick shopping trip I found that the delivery man had left it together with the new power supply outside my back door.

So kudos to him as it would have been a pain in the backside having to slope off to the nearest ‘relais’ point to pick them both up. Having got my computer back working again, I’ve now unpacked the Canon and it’s waiting beside me as I type this to be plugged in and tested. I’m rarin’ to go with it and I’ll let you know what the verdict is when I’ve given it a good test run.

August 15, 2019

Instant chastisement!

Wow, I can hardly believe it. France Telecom, or possibly even M. Macron himself, must have contacts in very high places. I went to bed last night feeling quite confident that I was getting on top of the issues and problems that had been plaguing me for so long – like the Kia, my ride-on mower belt, my leaky plumbing fittings, stuff like that – and somewhat self-satisfied that I’d discovered that I could get 4G on my new mobile phone here in my house.

But it wasn’t to last – not even through the next day. I’d just got up this morning and was enjoying watching a video on Youtube about a group in a DC3 crossing the Atlantic to join this year’s 75th D-Day anniversary celebrations when there was a small explosion followed by a smell of burning and my computer went dead. I later established that it was down to my computer power supply blowing up.

In all my years of being involved with computers, and that involves a period looking after hardware and software for clients, I’ve never known a power supply behave in this way. I’ve got another on order that will be arriving from Amazon, who offer a reasonable price but the quickest guaranteed delivery, on Saturday and in the meantime have configured my backup PC for use up until then.

Fortunately, although it’s spec is now pretty old, it always comes to my rescue when I need it so I’m glad that I’ve never disposed of it. What I am worried about, though, is what my main PC’s power supply self-destructing so violently might have done to my hard disk or even its motherboard. I won’t know until the new power supply arrives so there’s no point speculating, but I’ll be devastated if I’ve lost emails, photographs and videos yet again, the way I did last time when my hard drive failed.

And even more annoying is that when the power supply exploded, it took out the fuse in the main fuse box and after I’d replaced it, the power socket was up and running again straight away. However, when I tested the unit after I’d removed it from the computer it blew the system again. This time, however, all the fuses are intact so it looks as though somehow it’s managed to take out the socket itself and that might be much more difficult to sort out.

And not only that, but in my hour of need while I was desperately trying to find and purchase a new power supply on the internet, my new-found 4G data connection disappeared – in fact my phone’s data connection kept appearing and disappearing as though it had a mind of its own. That’s why I think the French infrastructure gods might be punishing me for calling their system down her ‘flaky’. I’ve learnt my lesson now and I’ll hesitate before doing it again, that’s for sure 🙁

August 14, 2019

My dilemma

I got my Kia Sportage back on Monday and yesterday gave it a thorough clean inside and out. It came up pretty well, a couple of issues to be dealt with but nothing that I can’t do. It also drives well – better than before actually and using less fuel too – more than the C-Max but less than it was before it broke down.

My dilemma is that much as I’d like to keep both vehicles because they both have strong features that the other lacks, I don’t think that I can really justify having two cars even though some of my friends have said that I should. I don’t really have the space for two and, like my two aircraft, both will need ‘looking after’. Although I often end up with a vehicle that’s grubby and mud splattered, I don’t actually like having a dirty car and having two means that I’d have to be regularly cleaning both.

It’s nice to think that if either goes wrong I’d have another to fall back on, but both are money tied-up and both are depreciating in value whether they’re being used or not. I don’t have to make an instant decision but it’s something that I’m going to be thinking hard about over the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’ve been driving the Sportage locally and while I was out and about today I took a few shots of it.

null

null

null

It’s a difficult one – I like driving both cars and having spent so much (an arm and a leg…) getting the Sportage back on the road again and in such good mechanical condition, in a way it would be a shame to let it go for a new owner to get the benefit… of my mechanic’s hard work and my money!

Changing the subject, my home phone and internet have still not been restored having gone down last Friday week. I was told on Monday that my service provider, Free’s, ‘partner’ had made an ‘intervention’ on Monday evening and that I could imminently expect them to contact me and resolve the problem. The ‘partner’ is obviously Orange, or France Telecom the state owned monopoly, so I’m not holding my breath waiting for the issue to be resolved quickly and efficiently – quite the opposite actually.

I suspect that as most of France goes on holiday in August and many organisations shut down for the whole, or at least most, of the month, Free are just stringing me along until an engineer comes back from holiday and deals with my problem. So why am I not foaming at the mouth, you might ask? It’s because there’s a silver lining.

I was in the Intermarché car park yesterday and I unlocked my phone to check on an incoming email. There’s 4G in Montignac and I was amazed at how fast it ran in data mode – my web browser was jet-propelled, email ran like the clappers, my on line newspapers were a joy to read and even Youtube ran in high def without buffering.

These are all things that I don’t experience at home – usually. While my home internet has been down I’ve been running my computer’s internet connection through a WiFi hotspot on my mobile phone (it’s called tethering). Usually I’m lucky to get a 3G data service as the mobile phone signal is very poor where I live.

But today after setting up my WiFi hotspot with my phone facing towards Montignac, as usual, I was amazed to see that it was registering a 4G signal. This translated into an ultra-fast internet connection, much faster than my usual home service, making browsing and everything else a complete pleasure rather than an infuriating chore. Internet, email, my newspapers, even uploading the photographs for this post, all jet-propelled.

Unbelievable, amazing, fantastic… what can I say. With a service like this I wouldn’t need a home phone or internet connected by fixed line. But will it last? Ah, that’s the question. With most (all?) of the infrastructure so flaky down here, it’s ofter here today, gone tomorrow. So I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed and wait and see 😉

August 12, 2019

In limbo

We’re passing through a period of much cooler weather than we’ve been experiencing for the past few weeks – 20s rather than 30s degrees Celsius – with a occasional light rain to water the plants and get the grass and weeds growing like mad again. But still fairly settled and with some good flying days thrown in that I’ve not capitalised on for one reason or another.

But not so in the UK, where a series of deep low pressure fronts have kept thundering in from the Atlantic bringing with them lashing rain and storm force winds. So no possibilty of my flying there as even if I could find a brief weather window, there would be no point in then having the Savannah tied down outside for days in such conditions with the possibilty even of it potentially suffering damage. Plus I’d not know when I’d be able to get out again and escape back to France.

So I’ve been back to busying myself with other matters and continuing to get things ship-shape at home. Like the Kia. I’m expecting to get it back this afternoon at long last. While it’s been laid up someone has managed to damage the driver-side (left-hand) seat belt, probably by slamming it in the door catch. It’s really annoying because when it broke down (over a year ago) it was only a week out of its CT (French bi-annual MOT) and it would never have got through it with a cut in the side of its seat belt, so it must have been done since then.

It’s cost me a further £50 odd to find a replacement on UK Ebay and get it shipped over, so after my mechanic has checked all the work that he’s done, as I asked him to (all nuts, bolts, clips, brackets, fastenings etc tight and in place, stuff like that), we’re going to fit it later this afternoon. And then I should be able to bring the Kia home again and start dealing with several other little issues that I’ve been getting myself ready for.

I also got back to sorting out my ‘atelier’ some more. I acquired four storage racks a few weeks ago but only initially assembled two of them which I then filled up with stuff that up to then had been all over the floor. The other two I hadn’t finished assembling, until this week end, so yesterday I was able to put those in place and get even more stuff off the floor and onto their shelves.

null

null

null

null

I originally found assembling the racks very fiddly and tedious as they’re made from thin metal that bends very easily making slotting the various components together quite difficult. The problem is keeping tabs aligned so they slot in properly without popping out and not locking as they should. I’ve now find that by slightly bending them ‘inwards’ and treating them very gently the job became much easier and I’ve even found that I can do it much quicker than I could originally.

In fact, I’m so pleased that I’ve ordered four more to go along the back wall. I won’t have much to put on them right away but they’ll allow me to get stuff that are hidden in boxes on the other shelves out in plain view where I’ll be able to find things more easily.

The next things I’ll do is add some more lighting and clear out all the old mouse poo. Whether that’ll deter the little rotters from coming back again I don’t know, but if not I’ll have to think about taking the battle to them and if I have to do that, none of us will like it very much 😐

August 4, 2019

Today’s flight

Low and slow around the area in my Weedhopper, 28AAD. Not my cuppa tea so much since I acquired 77ASY, my Savannah, which is so much more capable. Low and slow is OK if all you want to do is while away an hour or so flying over the same old ground but nowadays I prefer to be able to hop into the Savannah and go somewhere, preferably somewhere new if I can.

I lost two years due to illness and I won’t be able to keep doing longer flights for ever as they are more physically demanding even in an aircraft like the Savannah, so I need to do them while I still can. But that doesn’t mean that I’ll stop doing little local flights, even when I’ve sold the Weedhopper, which I’ve advertised for sale, but no takers for the moment at least.

I planned to do a flight of just over an hour or so of the kind that I used to do when I first arrived here to become familiar with the area. The first leg was to be out to the west taking me to Vergt, from where I’d head south to a tiny little commune, just a few houses and a church on a small hill, called Clermont-de-Beauregard.

From there I’d continue southwards to Lalinde, a town that’s popular with Brits on the river Dordogne. Then I’d head eastwards to Le-Buisson-de-Cadouin and St-Cyprien before turning north to Les-Eyzies (Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in full) and continuing on for a landing back at Malbec. Here’s a picture of the route based on an old chart from 2015 which shows the place names.

null

I took quite a few photographs along the way but unfortunately they were all taken through 28AAD’s plastic screen and doors so leave a lot to be desired for quality, even after doing everything possible to improve them by editing. My best aircraft for photography was 56NE, my old X-Air now sold, because it had no doors on. I was thinking about removing 28AAD’s doors today but decided against it and now I wish I had done.

Here’s the first shot climbing out past Fleurac with the chateau passing below.

null

Now a couple of general shots heading westwards towards Vergt.

null

null

Approaching Vergt, which is famous for its strawberries.

null

Three shots of Vergt itself as I passed overhead and began my turn towards the south.

null

null

null

A couple of shots of the tiny commune of Clermont. Not very good I’m afraid but the best that I could do with them.

null

null

A shot approaching Lalinde.

null

Three shots of Lalinde which is somewhat strangely located as a strip on just the one side, the northern bank, of the river Dordogne, I think because the southern side slopes up quite steeply from the river.

null

null

null

Three shots of Le-Buisson, which is a small town of little renown except it has a railway station in the centre from which you can connect to cities in the north and south of France. I left from here by train when I went to pick up my Kia Sportage when I bought it back in 2013. Or was it 2014, I can’t remember?

null

null

null

Now some shots of St-Cyprien. It has a big old building on its hilltop that I think used at one time to be an abbey. Now it’s been converted into appartments.

null

null

null

And the final aerial shot, passing overhead Les-Eyzies.

null

And to finish off, three shots that I took with my new phone after landing back at Malbec.

null

null

null

The flight lasted 1 hour 10 minutes from brakes off to brakes on, so just about what I’d planned for. It was good fun and it was certainly good to be back in the air again. I took off at 10.10am to miss the forecast increase in temperature and hence turbulence and was back at 11.20 am, so that worked out well.

I’m hoping that with a bit of luck I might get another couple of flights at least in this coming week, but this time in the Savannah, getting myself prepared for flying up to the UK, but I’ll just have to see how things turn out.

August 3, 2019

Flying tomorrow!

Tricky post to write, this one. Our infrastructure is crumbling even more than usual down here. My home phone and internet went down late yesterday morning and although I reported it today, it’s still down. And of course, no technicians work after mid-day on Saturday so it’ll be down until at least Monday, so I’m connected to the internet through my new mobile phone that I’ve just received from China.

Trouble is the mobile network is even slower than the fixed internet… Also my water went off yesterday evening but luckily there was enough of a trickle getting through to have a wash and brush my teeth before going to bed. It stayed off all night and came back on again at about 9.30 am this morning so thank goodness for that.

Anyway, I mentioned to Wim a couple of days ago that I need to fly. I haven’t flown since my trip up to La Rochelle which was something like 6 weeks ago, so getting airborne again is well overdue, especially as I want to get away to the UK in the next week or so.

I planned to get the Weedhopper back out again and after Wim flew over my house this morning I went over to Malbec to get it ready to fly tomorrow. This involved changing the two aircraft around in the barn but not before I’d refuelled the Weedhopper, pumped its tyres up and cleaned its screen ready for an earlyish take off tomorrow before the air warms up and becomes turbulent.

Here are some shots that I took after I’d finished with the Weedhopper all ready to be pulled straight out and go in the morning.

null

null

null

null

null

I took the pics on my new phone and I have to say that I’m really impressed by their quality. It’s one of these new-fangled ones with two (or three?) cameras built in and I rate the quality better than my Nikon Coolpix actually. Only thing is, though, that I can hang the Nikon around my neck and use it one-handed while flying and that wouldn’t be possible with the phone. Not without the risk of dropping it overboard, anyway 😐

July 31, 2019

Great news!

My Kia Sportage broke down in June 2018 and was recovered here to the Dordogne almost exactly a year ago. Since then I have obtained a replacement lower mileage engine for it from San Sebastian in Spain which a local mechanic has fitted together with a host of new parts including three sets of remanufactured fuel injectors after the first two sets from a German supplier (they ‘replaced’ the first faulty set) were found to be total rubbish with false paperwork.

null

It has been a tortuous (and expensive) process which came to a head a few weeks ago when the third good set of fuel injectors, which I sourced from Korea, were fitted and the engine was found to be still suffering from a smoking problem which my mechanic couldn’t fathom.

The original engine was destroyed when its Bosch high pressure fuel pump failed and flooded the engine with diesel fuel that entered the lubrication system, which was why the engine’s bearings ran, together with the fuel inlet and engine exhaust systems. I’m from the twin SU carburettor era so am far from knowledgeable on fuel injected engines but I suggested from what I’ve gleaned over the years that maybe the problem was to do with the engine’s diesel particulate filter (DPF).

This extracts most of the harmful particulates from the exhaust gases before the latter pass through the catalytic converter and are released into the atmosphere. Fuel is then fed into the DPF and when the exhaust gets hot enough, this ignites and burns at a high enough temperature to destroy the captured particulates.

What was happening was when the engine was started from cold and even run for a few minutes, the exhaust would be smoke free. However, if the car was then taken onto the road, after a few minutes driving it would start to emit increasing clouds of smoke which would then gradually disappear if the car was brought back to the workshop and allowed to stand idling for a few minutes.

My reasoning was that this could be explained as follows. I suggested that following the original incident, the DPF, which has a ceramic inner, still contained a certain volume of unburnt fuel residue. When the engine and exhaust were cool, the temperature was not high enough to start burning this off, but became high enough as the car was being driven, which is why the clouds of smoke began to be emitted. On returning to the workshop and allowing the engine to idle, the temperature then fell back to a level too low to burn the fuel off so the smoke clouds then gradually disappeared.

I’d been wanting to test this out for a week or so but was unable to do so because of other matters that I needed to attend to, up until today when I was able to initially take the car for a more extended drive on local country roads and subsequently on a longer high speed drive on the péage to Brive. It soon became evident while driving locally that the main smoking problem had disappeared after a few minutes of driving. However, it was still present when the engine was ‘gunned’, for hard acceleration for example, and when kicking down the auto gearbox, and also especially when climbing hills.

That’s when I decided to do the extended high speed drive to Brive, as I’d read that that’s how to ‘reset’ DPF filters. And I’m delighted to say that it worked. Initially the problem persisted but only for a very short while. After I’d managed to get the car up to 130/140 kmh for a few kilometres it had disappeared completely, so as far as I’m concerned, my Kia is back in action and not before time.

My mechanic will be giving everything a final once over during the next few days, and he’ll be delighted to see the back of the car after all this time. Once I get it back, probably early next week, I’ll have several things to deal with (the driver’s seatbelt has been nicked somehow so will have to be changed plus the engine bay will have to be thoroughly cleaned down just for starters) and then I’ll have to start thinking about car choices as I won’t really be able to justify keeping both the Kia and the C-Max. Pity really as both have their strong points, but such is life I suppose.

July 26, 2019

Floral finale

The additional moss that I ordered from the UK to finish off my new hanging baskets arrived a few days ago but as we were still in the middle of a run of 40 degrees Celsius hot days, I put it to one side until the temperature moderated a bit.

The days have been so hot that it’s been almost impossible to do anything and even though it’s been around 10 degrees cooler today with some thunderstorms and rain, the inside of my house is still like an oven. This is the problem at this time of year of having 50 cm thick stone walls.

I still didn’t manage to get much done again, but this time because of the rain, and it wasn’t until early evening that I decided that I might as well finish putting together the final three floral baskets and hanging them up. Chantal, my neighbour, planted all the flowers up to now but as she’s away for a few days, it was up to me to complete the job. I hope that she’ll approve when she gets back 😉

It didn’t take long to finish the three baskets off and although I took a few shots of them afterwards, it was a bit too late and the evening was a bit dull. But anyway, here are a couple showing the two I’ve hung on the south-facing bedroom end and the one on the north-east corner.

null

null

The two on the bedroom end will get more sun so the plants we selected for them are more sun-resistant eg geraniums than those on the north-east corner, which include the last of the three fuschias we bought. I’ve just been over to feed Chantal’s cat and let her in for the night (she stayed out last night as it was still very warm) and as I returned light rain began to fall.

It’s been a problem keeping all my plants alive and watered during the punishing heat of the past days and I hope I won’t now face the problem of them all being washed away…

July 23, 2019

Just my luck

I’m trying to sort out all of the outstanding items on my ‘to-do’ list so I can get away to the UK in my Savannah and know that I don’t have any unwelcome surprises waiting for me when I return home again. At the top of the list was moving my washing machine from the kitchen into the bathroom. This became more urgent after I installed a new dishwasher in the place where the washing machine had been leaving the latter standing afterwards in the middle of the room and my having to walk around it the whole time.

Basically, the plumbing involved was quite simple. I installed a ‘stéatite’ hot water tank in the bathroom when I came to France. It has worked very well over the past seven years and I would only replace it if, for example, I installed a new central heating system in my house. The system has a cold water inlet and a hot water outlet and as I wanted to place the washing machine under the hot water tank, all I needed to do was break into the cold water supply and fit a washing machine valve and then break into the bathroom waste system to allow the washing machine to pump out its used water.

The latter, though fiddly, wasn’t as difficult as it might be because of a special unit that’s attached to the underside of the hot water tank, as shown in the following two pictures.

null

null

It’s called a ‘Groupe de Sécurité’ and it has several functions. The first, and probably the most important, is that it acts as a pressure relief valve should the thermostat malfunction and the water in the tank start to boil. The second is to act as a drain-off valve should it be necessary to evacuate the whole system and the third is to act as an expansion relief valve because when the water in the tank is heated, it expands.

If all of the hot taps are closed, the extra volume needs somewhere to go, and the answer is out through this valve. What you then need is a method of disposing of the excess water and this is done by incorporating a ‘syphon-type’ arrangement in the system that’s connected into the bathroom’s waste outlet. So, although a bit fiddly as I said above, tapping into this gives a way of connecting the washing machine outlet to the waste system.

Now I’ve said many times on My Trike that French plumbing supplies are appallingly bad and I stick to that assertion. Every plumbing job that I’ve done in France, and without being immodest as I’ve got quite a lot of experience that goes back to when I was at school and university and I’m pretty good, has taken at least twice as long as it need have and required at least twice the effort compared to a similar job in the UK. The reason is that French plumbing fittings leak.

I’ve got several brass stop cocks that I’ve fitted over time to my toilet inlet all of which have given up turning off after a couple of years. I’ve had many cone-type fittings that have leaked after being properly installed and threaded ones that would not, just not, give a seal. As I’ll go on to mention, this happened yet again with this job.

And due to the lousy standard design, all of the toilets that I’ve come across in France, including the brand new ones that I saw in Périgueux hospital, leak. Not over the floor, but because the flushing system uses a bell-type arrangement that is lifted to allow water into the flush pipe, and because that system soon becomes affected by hard water deposits, water starts to flow by into the toilet bowl eventually leaving unsightly, thick yellow lines of lime scale all around it. And yes, I’ve got that problem too.

But the first thing I found when I went to weigh this job up was that my old ‘Groupe de Sécurité’ that I installed seven years ago had developed a fault. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it was leaking. It wasn’t stopping the ‘excess’ water which was flowing constantly into the waste system. The leak was only a trickle but it was noticeable and as all water here is metered, it plus the leaking toilet (which I have to turn off every time at the stop cock until I can deal with it) soon add up to a sizeable unnecessary extra on your water bill.

So as well as making the mods for the washing machine I first had to replace the old ‘Groupe de Sécurité’. I bought a new one yesterday from Brico Depot so that was the first job this morning. I wondered if I’d be able to do the swap without draining the hot water system and decided that so long as I shut off all of the valves associated with it, I’d probably be able to make the switch without losing much water. I allowed the water to cool overnight just in case I got sprayed in the process, but as I’d anticipated, the switch to the new ‘Groupe de Sécurité’ pretty much went without a hitch.

Good show, you’re probably thinking, that’s another chore off the list. Ah, no. This is France don’t forget. What did I say about the quality of French plumbing supplies? Yup, you’ve guessed it, the new unit leaks more than the old one that I took off so it’ll have to come off again and be taken back for either replacement or refund. You can imagine that after my recent experiences with my mower belt saga, I’m furious about this.

I’m getting so fed up with always having to do a job two or three times before it’s right solely because of the lousy quality of the products that you buy over here. I can never remember having this problem in the UK – quite the reverse actually.

I eventually got the job done, but not before having to throw away the first washing machine valve that I bought because (a) it leaked and (b) I couldn’t get a seal on the thread that screwed it into the ‘T’ that I’d painstakingly inserted into the cold feed, and bought another better one that, thanks goodness, I managed to find locally. Here’s a shot of the washing machine in its new position.

null

It’s only ‘temporary’ as the bathroom will be completely revamped with a walk-in shower etc as part of my redevelopment plans, but it’ll do for now. Tomorrow it’ll all become totally disorganised again when I take out the faulty new ‘Groupe de Sécurité’ but at least the washing machine is now where I wanted it to be even if I have to keep turning off the cold feed to the hot water system to stop the ruddy constant trickle of clean, fresh water down into the waste pipe 😐

July 17, 2019

Operation Flowerpower – phase 2

Like all well-planned campaigns, Operation Flowerpower has now moved from ground to aerial operations. We’ve had to call up some reinforcements to replace the handful of troops who have been lost along the way (three plants have succumbed during phase 1) but nevertheless have been able to move on swiftly to the planned next phase. Which is hanging baskets.

I had to source some from the UK because I wanted metal ones that seem to be impossible to obtain here in France. I also sourced some live Welsh moss to line them with as the only ‘moss’ you can get over here is that nasty plastic artificial stuff, proving the old saw once again that when it comes to gardening, the Brits leave the French streets behind.

I put the hanging baskets up yesterday, once again in scorching hot sunshine, so this morning Chantal, my next door neighbour, and I were up and out with the lark to yet again head for the local nursery. We had to go early because she has a busy day today and as before, she wants to be the one to place the plants into position 🙂

Unfortunately, because we’re late in the season, our choice of plants was rather limited. Usually in the UK, we used to make our hanging baskets right at the beginning of the spring and now in mid-July, plants like Fuschias are all a bit ‘leggy’. But never mind, better late than never.

I ordered six hanging baskets but decided to put up only five (two on the front of the house, two on the south side where the bedrooms are and one on the corner of the north end) and the first thing we found is that I ordered much too little moss. I’ve already ordered some more, which will take about a week to arrive, so today we only managed to finish off two hanging baskets and for now I’ve had to put the plants that are waiting in reserve somewhere safe so they’ll be ready to go in as soon as the moss arrives.

In the meantime here are a few shots showing the result with the two new hanging baskets on the front of my house.

null

null

null

I love them. They’re every bit is nice as I hoped they would be and now I’ll have to work hard to keep them in tip-top shape while it’s so hot. The problems will, of course, mainly arise when I eventually manage to get away to the UK, but Chantal has already said that she’ll look after them for me while I’m gone. And I’m sure she will because she’s already put so much effort into getting the whole display looking so gorgeous, bless her.

July 15, 2019

Got cracking with racking

I’ve missed my final preferred window to fly to the UK but if I’m ever going to be able to, I’ve still got to get a few things organised before I can go. After being delayed for several weeks waiting for a new cutting belt that actually fitted my mower and having got my plant pots sorted out, I’ve at last got my garden back into some kind of shape. Better than it’s ever been actually, although that’s not saying a lot!

I’ve now got to plumb in my washing machine that used to be where my new dishwasher now is, but is still standing in the middle of my kitchen. It has to be moved into my bathroom and until that’s done I can’t do any ‘big’ washes. That isn’t too much of a drawback while it’s so hot and not many clothes are needed but it will become increasingly so once the weather begins to cool.

The other outstanding job is to sort out my ‘atelier’. When I first came here just over seven years ago I brought with me several boxes of tools and other things from my garage back in England which I just dumped on the floor of my ‘atelier’ or ‘cave’. And that’s where most of them have stayed. Over time more stuff has been added until I reached the point a short while ago where I could hardly get in there, let alone move around without climbing and tripping over things.

So I had to do something. The problem was that I’ve never had any storage in there so putting in some racking would go a long way towards helping to solve the problem. And that’s why I placed an order for some on the internet a couple of weeks or so ago. The system that I went for was manufactured by Deuba in Germany and although ‘on sale’, seemed to be remarkably cheap for what it was.

My father wasn’t the wisest man in the world but during his lifetime, he passed a lot of useful advice on to me. One of these was that ‘things are cheap for a reason’ and on this occasion he couldn’t have been proven more right.

Two boxes containing the racking kits that I’d ordered arrived at the end of last week and I’d been waiting for an opportunity to start putting them together, which came yesterday. Here are some shots of what they contained.

null

null

The parts of the racks are made out of very flimsy metal that slot together. The second shot above shows how the horizontal rails have two tabs on each end that slot into two corresponding loops on the vertical pieces.

In theory this should be a very straightforward process and it would be if the metal parts were up to the job. However, they’ve been manufactured from metal of the absolute minimum thickness for the finished racks to take the advertised weight (45kg per hardboard shelf) without collapsing and that means that the tabs are very flimsy and can be easily bent just by finger pressure.

So you can imagine that the stresses involved in lining up some quite long pieces of metal, holding them at right-angles to each other and then inserting the tabs end up causing the tabs to bend really easily, with the result that although you can get the tabs to enter the loops, it’s the Devil’s own job to get them to pass right through them cleanly.

Almost every time the tabs enter the loops on the ‘inside’ of the vertical pieces, as shown in the second shot above, but when you apply pressure to them, they bend so the leading edges of the tabs end up on the ‘outside’. You don’t want that, of course, because it would mean that the tabs aren’t properly locked in place.

Yesterday was another very hot day and as there wasn’t enough space to work inside my atelier anyway, I ended up doing the assembly of the first rack in my living room. It took an absolute age of sweat and tears plus a little blood but to be fair, the end result wasn’t that bad, especially for the money.

As the following picture shows, just having the one rack in place has already yielded the results that I’m looking for, namely that the floor is becoming clear so I can move around and stuff is going onto the shelves in some kind of order.

null

I ordered two twin-packs so I’ll end up with four shelving racks like the one shown above. I think that that’ll solve my problem, especially if I load up my car with items that are rubbish, broken or just that I don’t need anymore (like some old MYRO stuff) and take them to the ‘déchetterie’. All I have to do is steel myself to put the final three together, so I’d better get a move on, have a quick bite to eat and get cracking again.

July 13, 2019

A pretty good week

Taken all round, a very satisfactory one. One of the main things was that I at last got my mower working again after a break of several weeks. Things can get pretty much out of hand down here at this time of year, which is what had happened after my mower cutter belt snapped and I had problems getting a replacement of the right length. The grass and weeds were knee-high by the time I managed to get hold of one yesterday and apart from making the place look a mess, the state of the garden also detracted mightily from the plants that my neighbour, Chantal, had helped me to fill the plant pots with that I’d brought with me from England.

Thankfully and to my great relief, that situation was resolved yesterday. It was hot, sweaty work running the mower all round cutting the grass and the weeds back to ground level. I had to go over some of the really tough weeds several times before they gave in but eventually got the job done by the early evening after several hours work. It was too late to take any shots of the results by then but here are some that I took this morning as the sun was climbing higher.

null

null

null

null

It was a huge relief getting the place back into some kind of shape and it was also great to see the full effect of the newly-filled plant pots at last.

But I also had other reasons to be pleased. After updating my Savannah’s avionics, I put the items that I no longer required up for sale on Le Bon Coin. France doesn’t officially change over to 8.33 kHz radios until January 1st 2021 so there’s still some time left during which the old radios and the gear associated with them will retain some value. ‘Old’ radios can’t be used in new installations but they are, of course, still of interest to anyone whose radio has gone on the blink, for example. After that date they will be worthless in Western Europe so I wanted to rid myself of the old kit ASAP.

I put my old monojack headsets up for sale together with my old Icom A3E radio and the Alphatec intercom that interfaced with it and here are the pictures of them that I posted on the internet.

null

null

null

null

null

null

The headsets and intercom were snapped up by a single buyer within minutes of my posting the ads and I sent those off to the buyer, who said he was delighted with them when he received them, several days ago.

That left just my old Icom radio and I was pleased when an interested potential buyer came back yesterday evening and confirmed that he’d like to buy it. He paid by Paypal and I got that off to him today, so that was all my old kit cleared.

I spoke to my good friend in England this morning, on whose field I want to land when I next fly to the UK in my Savannah. This week end was the final window for me to be there before he leaves to spend the rest of the summer in his house in Cyprus and I had to confirm that I won’t be able to make it until after he and his wife have left. That was sad as I haven’t seen them since my illness and I really wanted to meet up before they left as they were both so supportive at that time.

But never mind, there are some things that are beyond our control and hopefully we’ll be able to get together when they return in early September. I still plan to fly to the UK though, but it’ll probably be in August as it was the last time I did so, in 2016. I might also be able to land on his field as his brother should still be around, but that’ll depend on the state of the grass and whether it’s been cut for hay. I guess, as usual, we’ll have to wait and see 😉

July 12, 2019

More French bizarreness

I didn’t have a ride-on mower in the UK. I didn’t need one – all of the lawns on our estate except for private back garden ones were managed and I only needed a Flymo to keep my back lawn in trim – so I don’t know if what I’m about to talk about also applies in the UK. Somehow I doubt it.

The cutting belt on my Jonsered mower, which is made by Husqvarna, snapped several weeks ago and it’s been the Devil’s only job to get hold of a replacement. The belts for sale on the internet with the part reference shown in my mower’s user manual are all, without exception, of totally the wrong length so I don’t know what’s going on there. The trouble is that that leaves you in the tricky position of having to order the belt just by length alone which then opens up all sorts of cans of worms, as I’ve found.

The problem wasn’t helped by my making a mistake when I measured the length of the old one. I did a quick measuring job and wrote the external length down as 2255mm. The trouble was that when I placed my initial internet orders I misread this as 2235mm.

This meant that when the first order arrived the belts were bound to be too short. However, it was even worse than that because when I measured them they were a further 20mm or so shorter than what I’d ordered. This came to light after I’d fitted one which I thought was very tight to get on and which burnt out and snapped in a cloud of smoke within minutes.

Unfortunately, what I hadn’t realised was that when I’d been forcing the belt over the pulleys, it had also bent a tag of metal that keeps the belt aligned with the tensioning pulley when it’s slack and this, of course, damaged the next belt that I fitted and would have done the same with all subsequent belts until I removed the cutting deck, found the problem and corrected it.

By now I was getting wiser. I remeasured the old belt and found that actually it was 2260mm long and so I began to proceed on the path of redemption, or so I thought. Not a bit of it, as I’ll explain. A more careful internet search revealed that what I was looking for was a 4L890, as the following picture shows.

null

What could be easier, you ask, than to find a supplier selling such a belt, place an order, wait for it to arrive, fit it and get mowing. I thought the same but it was then that my problems really began to start.

All of the 4L890 belts that I’ve ordered from several suppliers have been too short in the order of 3cm or so and I’ve ended up having to pay for them to go back for refund. Why this should be so I do not know, but the difference between the length shown on their web sites and the actual lengths has been pretty consistent from all of them.

There was one exception that arrived last Friday and my hopes rose, only to be dashed again after it too self-destructed after a few minutes’ use, probably because after waiting so long to receive it, as deliveries here take at least 2-4 days from date of order, my grass/weeds were so long and the quality of the belt was so poor, that it just wasn’t up to the job.

I complained vociferously to one supplier from whom I’d ordered two belts that were supposed to be of the right length but in fact were too short and they sent me a replacement of the right length off their own bat. Unfortunately, when I received it I hadn’t discovered the bent metal tag so it also only lasted a few minutes before being destroyed.

But aha, I thought, at least I’ve now got a supplier who knows what length belt I need. But I was being too hasty. I ordered two more from them, which arrived today, and surprise surprise, they were also too short.

I sent them an email earlier as nobody ever, or hardly ever, answers phone numbers given on internet sites here, telling them how they’d cocked up yet again, that I wasn’t prepared to return the belts at my expense but that I wanted the problem resolved. They replied saying that they will do so and I now wait yet again to see what action they will take.

But in the meantime I had to do something as my garden was getting into a worse and worse state. I went down to my local garden products man in Thonac last week in the hope of getting a belt locally that I could check before I paid for it, knowing that I’d end up paying through the nose but being prepared to pay anything by that time. However, he was closed as his wife had just had a baby so that’s when I placed my last internet order that arrived today. But I knew he’d be open today so went back and explained my problem to him.

He blithely said that sure, he had a 4L890 in stock and voilà, here it is. I said whoa, slow down, let me measure it, and he gave me his steel rule. And guess what… the label said that it was 2260mm long, but in fact to his surprise (but not mine) it was only 2240mm, so also too short!

He scratched his head and said that all he could do was offer me a 4L900 which would be too long, but I said OK, let’s have a look at it. Here’s the label on the packaging showing quite clearly that it should be 2286mm long, so too long by 26mm making it totally unsuitable for my machine.

null

But when I measured it, again guess what… it was actually 2260mm long, just the length that I was looking for, so I bought it. It cost three times what I’d been paying for belts on the internet but if I’d got it originally, I’d not be anything like out of pocket to the extent that I am having paid to send so many back. He was sceptical that it would work on my machine and kindly offered to take it back so long as after fitting it I didn’t start the machine up.

But he needn’t have worried. It went straight on and this afternoon I’ve got my whole garden back into shape using it totally without incident, so that was a relief. But how bizarre that all of these so-called specialist internet suppliers (and even my local man) apparently have no idea that what they are selling in no way conforms to the descriptions that they are providing to their customers.

My concern now is that I’m going to end up with a whole lot of belts all of the correct dimensions that I’ll end up storing for years in my garden shed as from my experience to date with my machine, the one I’ve now fitted will last for years so long as I don’t abuse it. Probably longer, in fact, than I’ll be around to do so 😉

July 12, 2019

More lighting stuff

My next door neighbour has, or rather had, a motion detecting security light over her patio outside her door. It had stopped working so she asked me if I’d take a look at it.

Well, it seems whoever had fitted it had left the wires coming out of the wall exposed and going downwards as they entered the side of the light. The result was that on some rainy night, water had run down the wires into the light itself so when the passive detected movement on the patio and the light came on, it self destructed.

I gave her the bad news the other day and she said (very optimistically) that if she popped down to les Briconautes and bought another one for 10€ or so, would I put it up for her? I said that of course I would but that she shouldn’t be too hasty.

Her old light was one of those awful square ones on a thin metal bracket with a motion detector below the light itself the bulb of which was one of those thin tubular very high wattage ones. So not only did it look as though it should be outside some factory somewhere, but it was also very much old technology.

I said that things have moved on a bit and she now had two alternatives. She could either go for a solar powered light that would have the advantage of coming on every night at low intensity but then switching to high intensity if it detected movement, or she could stay with a mains operated one which would be LED and consume much less power than her old one.

I also said that although I hadn’t tried them myself, I’d heard of LED bulbs that contain movement detectors and that maybe we should look at those together before making too quick a decision.

OK, so that’s what I did a few days ago. I found that there are indeed such bulbs so you can in theory turn any light into a security light at not a very great cost. But what caught my eye was one I found on Amazon that is even more sophisticated in a way that particularly appealed to me.

The bulb is sold under the name ‘Sengled’ and it’s special characteristic is that not only does it detect movement and switch itself on if left in passive mode, but it can also be used as a normal bulb if you switch it on twice.

I loved this idea because my lights have always had ‘ordinary’ bulbs in them so unless I switch them on before I go out, if I arrive home late I have to find my way to my door in the dark and then fumble to unlock it.

Having movement detecting bulbs would be a godsend! So I told Chantal, my neighbour to hold on while I bought three bulbs to replace the ‘ordinary’ ones in the outside lights on the front of my house and then saw how they performed. Here are a couple of shots of the bulbs that I’m talking about.

null

null

Well, I’m sad to say that my initial findings were disappointing. My outside lights, front and rear, are of a lantern design with thick glass. The glass evidently prevented the motion detectors built into the bulbs from functioning so I had no ‘security light’ feature, just the ‘normal bulb’ operating mode.

I found this out after we’d returned from our restaurant night-out yesterday but before calling it a night I had to look into things a little bit more. This I did by removing the glass from the forward and side-facing sections of one of the lights at which time the bulb functioned perfectly.

The last thing I did was to grab some left-over ULM windscreen plastic that I have in my atelier and quickly make up some replacement plastic panels for the glass that I’d removed and guess what. Even placing a 1mm thick transparent plastic barrier around the bulb that I’d chosen to experiment with prevented it from detecting any movement.

I continued with my experiments today. I was able to because I found that unlike ‘real’ security lights, these bulbs detect movement and keep functioning during daylight. I suppose that it is a bit too much to expect them to work in a fully sophisticated way for what they cost (approx 7€ each inc delivery) and it’s no big deal really as even if they do switch on during the day, being LED they burn very little electricity during the 90seconds that they remain on. And you don’t keep marching up and down making them do so anyway, do you.

My idea was that if you take into account the ‘detection angle’ of the detector built into the head of the bulb, you needn’t remove the whole plastic sections in the forward and side-facing elements of the light if you could drill a suitable size hole of the right diameter in exactly the right place in each face. And sure enough, it worked. Here are some shots of the finished articles.

First, a couple of shots with all three lights switched on. The lights aren’t quite as bright in reality as the photographs appear to show them to be, but the level of illumination is ample for my purposes.

null

null

Now a couple of shots of one of the lights showing the holes that I drilled in the forward and side-facing plastic panels that I replaced the glass with. I left the glass in the two rear ones, by the way.

null

null

I’m very pleased with the results that more than meet my expectations. The motion detection feature works just as I wanted it to and it’ll be a boon in the future when I get out of my car and make my way to my door with the lights switching on in turn as I do.

The only downside is the holes in the panels. The lights are under the eaves of my house so water ingress shouldn’t be a problem and even if any does get in, there are drain holes in the bottoms of the lights to let it out.

Insects may be more of a problem because we have a heck of a lot of them down here and they all love (a) light and (b) holes. But when I took the lights apart the bottoms were full of dead insects anyway, so I doubt that they’ll pose too much of a problem. But I’ll just have to wait and see 😉

July 5, 2019

Another job off the list

Shortly after I got here, in October 2012 actually, I installed some outside lights on the front of my house. As well as making it easier to find my way to the door when I arrive home in darkness, they also considerably enhanced its appearance.

null

As there was a light bulb in a bare fitting hanging down outside the door on the back of my house, I thought that it would be a good idea to put lights up there as well and bought two more of the same design with that in mind. Well, I have to confess to my deep shame that they have never been put up and the pair of them have remained on the floor of my ‘atelier’ ever since – nearly seven years.

As I recently ordered some racking to go in there, I thought that I’d better make some sort of effort to get what I could off the floor and these two lights were therefore leading candidates. So today I took on the job of putting them up.

Quite honestly, I couldn’t really have chosen a worse day. The temperature here reached around 36 degrees Celsius this afternoon and although I started before it began to get really hot (OK, as usual I started late…) I was still working outside in the peak sun between 4.00 and 5.00 pm.

It was scorching and I was dripping, and although the job itself was slow, as most are in an old house like mine with walls not being flat etc, it became even slower because of my need to keep stopping and taking on water. But I got the job done in the end and here are a few shots after I’d finished.

null

null

null

I’d forgotten that these lights have screw-in bulb fittings and I only had one spare such bulb. I’ll buy some more tomorrow and with both bulbs in, I’ll take some more shots in the evening as dusk approaches.

I like them a lot and I’m glad that I at last got around to doing the job after all this time. I’ve got some more house-appearance enhancements up my sleeve that I’ll be getting onto very shortly, but for now I’ll keep those under wraps 😉