July 8, 2020

The long flight home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Turning final for 24.

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About to land on runway 24 at Calais.

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Taxying in to parking.

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

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Yours truly removing my life jacket worn for the crossing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2020

Job done!

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

July 6, 2020

On your marks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 5, 2020

Still waiting

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

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

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

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

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

July 3, 2020

Looking ahead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2020

Chateau Clipgate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 30, 2020

The ex-pat Xair story so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 27, 2020

X-pat Xair – the next chapter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 23, 2020

Too much excitement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 22, 2020

Here we go again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 14, 2020

Two new videos

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

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

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

June 13, 2020

Local drone flying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 8, 2020

Elegant, stylish, a classic design?

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 7, 2020

My mind is boggled!

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

Bad flying weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 5, 2020

At last!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2, 2020

Drones – the latest twist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 31, 2020

I’m loving my garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2020

My plan’s coming together

The French government published its latest Covid19 map of France about three hours ago and the good news is that apart from the area around Paris and a couple of the overseas territories, the great majority of the country is now green.

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This does not mean that all restrictions on, for example, travel and social distancing in France have now been lifted but it does mean that they are likely to be far less restrictive as from 1st June. What does this mean for me? It means that the plan I’ve formulated to bring my ex-pat Xair over to France from the UK is likely to come to fruition in the first week or so of next month.

It’s now likely that the restriction on limiting flights to a maximum of 100 kms will indeed be removed as my contact in the DGAC said it might, meaning that I’ll not be needing a special dispensation to fly the Xair down from northern France to the Dordogne. But also, more importantly, it’ll mean that the airfields I need to land at, and especially the ones where I need to purchase fuel, Abbeville and Blois, will be open for business.

So what about the UK side of things? The UK government are continuing to handle the Covid19 crisis in the incompetent, bumbling and chaotic way that has resulted in the country becoming one of the most badly affected in Europe. As far as we all know, the ridiculous plan to impose a 14 day quarantine period on visitors entering the country is still likely to be applied as fom 8th June and despite the ridicule this has attracted, it will almost certainly go ahead as to withdraw it now would be seen as loss of face by the ministers and key officials who are behind it.

But luckily there are exemptions, one of which is ‘aircrew’ as defined in paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Air Navigation Order 2016(h). For the purposes of this nonsense I’m going to assume that as a result of my reason for travelling to the UK, I will fall into this category. I have also made arrangements to overnight in the caravan used as Control on the airfield for the brief period that I’ll be staying over, hopefully no more than a couple of nights because my plan is to arrive on day 1, air test and prepare the aircraft on day 2 and depart on day 3.

This depends on the weather remaining favourable but it looks as though there’s a fair chance of that happening given current trends. I’ll then be leaving my car behind until I can return to pick it up shortly thereafter, even if it means coming back by Eurostar if the airlines aren’t back in business by then, so this means that I think I’ve got all the bases covered. I really can’t wait to be able to put the plan into motion so I can at last get the aircraft over here in its new home in the Dordogne.

And I have to say, I’m rather looking forward to the flight too, now that the conditions are looking so favourable, especially as with the long days at this time of the year, I should be able to do it in a single day rather than the two that I’d have needed in the dog-days of winter at the back-end of last year 😉

May 21, 2020

Expectations exceeded

I was in bed by 11.30pm last night so was up bright and early (for me) at 7.00am this morning and I decided that if I got my skates on, I’d be able to get away from Malbec by 9.00am, with no pressure or last-minute crises. And that indeed did almost happen because I was wheels up by 9.05am. It could even have been earlier because I ended up waiting over 8 minutes for my old 7″ Asus tablet’s GPS to latch onto enough satellites.

It’s always been a problem and seems to be getting worse. On my last flight back to the UK it hung just after take off with all the hassle that involved while trying to climb out, turn onto the correct heading and get it rebooted and started again all at the same time. However, today there was one bright light. I recently bought an Asus 8″ tablet that I spotted on Le Bon Coin during the Covid-19 lockdown for not a lot of money. My idea was to hopefully use it to fly my new Fimi drone when it arrives, that’s if it has the correct wi-fi to connect to it.

But now it matters not. Luckily I loaded my MemoryMap navigation system into it when I first received it and had taken it with me this morning. Its GPS latched on in seconds and I therefore used it to navigate the whole of this morning’s flight. It performed magnificently, much better than my old tablet, so whether it can be used with the drone or not, I’m delighted with the purchase. You can see it on the top of the panel in the cabin pics that I’ve posted below.

Today was Ascension Day which is a bank holiday in France. I therefore expected the skies to be pretty busy as it was the first national holiday following the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown. And indeed the airwaves were almost as busy as for a normal week-end, but with little traffic from our neck of the woods. I heard aircraft making calls from Riberac, Montpezat, Egletons and a couple that went into Condat after I’d left (see route below) but mainly they were from further afield. And, surprisingly, none from Belvès.

Here’s a picture of the route that I flew today.

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My planning calculations gave a total time of just over 1½ hours excluding landings and take offs at an average speed of 145 kmh. My new tablet logged my track without me asking it to and that showed an actual time moving of 2 hours 10 minutes (my logged time 2 hours 11 minutes), a total distance travelled of 256km (planned route 225km), an average speed of 117.5 kmh and a top speed of 155 kmh. This to me is what flying the Savannah is all about – cruising engine revs 4800 rpm at which it uses about 14 litres/hour while clipping along at 145/150 kmh.

I set up one of my cheap little Chinese sportscam web cams on the Savannah’s right wing together with a power pack that was supposed to keep it running for at least a couple of hours if not more. Unfortunately, yet again it let me down. For some reason the power pack didn’t kick in and after the sportscam had switched itself off at around an hour of recording, after the flight it still showed 92% capacity. These damn things really are useless and even though today’s wasn’t a critical flight, I’d still like to have recorded it.

As it was, all I got (yet again, so not of much value) was the flight to Condat together with the landing and take off there. I’ve recorded those loads of times so today’s recording was just a waste. Luckily, I did have the GoPro mounted in the cabin. I realised while I was setting it up that I needed to remove its side door to connect a power pack to it and decided not to bother. I knew therefore that it would only run for about an hour but as it was in the cabin for the first time, it was an experiment more than anything.

In fact it was very successful and the quality of the recordings (Ultra HD 4K) were so good that I found screen shots from them were as good as pictures taken by my phone or Nikon camera. It’s just a pity that there weren’t more of them. The first of them shows the take off at Malbec.

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This shot was taken while flying past Montignac.

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This shot is of short final at Condat.

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This shot came from nearly the last bit of video that I got today and shows the magnificent curving railway viaduct at Souillac.

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After landing at Figeac I found that it was completely closed and everything was locked up. I didn’t even bother to get out of the aircraft let alone take any photographs and just restarted the engine to take off and head for Fumel. It was actually the same story there but as I needed to get out for a pee, I thought that I might as well take the next shot.

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And then on to Sarlat-Domme. It was much the same story again but there were one or two people on the aerodrome. As I arrived a young instructor (instructors are like policemen at my age – they all look young now) and a student were getting into a magnificent Robin Regent and after I’d filled in the movements sheet, I took this final shot just before they taxied out to head off to Brive.

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So how was the flight overall? Stunning, as I said in the title of this post, it exceeded my expectations. After a layoff, you always have a feeling of nervous anticipation before you fly again and that was true for me today. But as soon as I got into the air, I was back in the environment that I love. I also fell in love with my Savannah all over again. By taking off early, the air was relatively calm and it flew so smoothly, straight and well-balanced.

I’d forgotten just how good it can be and it was helped by my having reconnected the loose pitch trim wire since my last UK flight that had given me back my electric pitch trim and made it almost possible to fly hands-off. And d’you know what? Every landing that I did today, all five of them, were greasers. That always is the cherry to put onto the top of the cake after a good flight – which this time had cream on it as well 😉

May 20, 2020

All set for tomorrow

Yes, really. For my first flight since 24th February when I did 1 hour 45 minutes in my Weedhopper. So not that long ago really, and right now many pilots won’t even have had a flight since last year, but it seems longer than 3 months.

I was going to do a flight this morning but left it too late and then it became a bit too windy again, so I found other things to occupy myself with. Tomorrow’s flight will be a nice little outing in my Savannah – just under 2 hours and 5 landings (Condat, Figeac, Fumel, Sarlat and back to Malbec) so good stuff after the layoff. All of the landings will be on hard runways except Malbec because I think it’ll be a while before all the grass airfields are back in good shape.

I went across to Malbec earlier this evening and mounted my video cameras so they’re ready for the flight and I won’t have to rush to get them sorted before I take off the way I usually have to. I put my GoPro inside on this occasion and one of my cheap little Chinese sportscams that I’ve tested out on the right wing, so this time I have high hopes of getting some decent video footage. While I was there I took some shots of the two aircraft in their new positions in the barn.

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It looks as though shifting them around was a good thing because although there were a couple of rodent/bird droppings on the rear of the Savannah’s fuselage, there was nothing like as much as before. Only time will tell if the problem has been overcome, though – I have to say that I’m not overly-optimistic as those little birds, which I think are the source of the problem, beautiful as they are, can be a ruddy nuisance 😐

May 19, 2020

Tomorrow, maybe?

After mowing the runway at Malbec on Saturday, I went back the following day and cleaned both the Savannah and the Weedhopper – again. Even though I cleaned them what feels like only a short time ago, they were both filthy, which is the problem with their being in an open-fronted barn. Both were covered in what looked like the ‘sand of the desert’ and to make things worse, the inner section of the Savannah’s left wing was covered in what I’d always thought were mouse droppings.

I used to have the same problem with the Weedhopper when that was in the back corner of the barn. But why would mice want to cavort on the wing – and how would they get up there – and why only on one section of it? The answer, surely, is that they wouldn’t, so I’ve come to the conclusion that the mess is coming down onto the wing from the roof. And what would mice be doing up that high in an asbestos sheeted roof with only a few narrow metal beams to run on?

While I was pondering that question I spotted a little bird flitting around in the roof and then flying out through a hole in the corner of the barn, so I’m maybe thinking that what I’m assuming to be mice droppings are in fact the waste being produced by this little bird and its family – ie bird poo. Luckily, it’s always dry and not difficult to get off as it’s not really sticky, but it’s an eyesore and a ruddy nuisance and it’s annoying having to keep spending time clearing it off.

Afterwards I shifted the aircraft around a bit and put the Weedhopper with its nose into the opposite back corner and the Savannah in tail-first. Aside from making more space in the barn, I’m hoping that there won’t now be a wing of either aircraft directly underneath the roof beam where the birds evidently like to perch and do their business, but I won’t know until I go back again and can check.

Since then it’s been too windy to fly. Today it was even tricky flying my little EG16 drone and I only ascended briefly above the tree line around my front garden. So yesterday I drilled the two ceramic plant-pots that needed holes in their bottoms and also put a drain hole into another vertical decorative concrete plant holder. So after bedding the plants properly into all three, that’s my plant work finished for this year. I’ve left two hanging baskets and three large pots on the south end of my house alone, apart from tidying them up a bit, as they’ve all burst back into life and I’m sure that I’d do more harm than good adding new soil and stuff like that.

There’s been little GA flying in the area since the easing of the lockdown. Our friend Patrick flew over my house yesterday in his autogire and another flew over while I was at Galinat earlier this evening checking on the state of the runway. The unfavourable winds have been the main reason – autogires are little affected by winds that would keep ULMs firmly on the ground.

I went to Galinat as if I am able to fly tomorrow, I would like to have landed there. But I was met by a depressing sight. Unlike Malbec, which is open for business and looking gorgeous after its runway had been mowed, as the photographs that I posted showed, Galinat hasn’t been touched for many a long week. You can hardly make out its runway from the long grass at either side of it and it will now take an agricultural grade mower to cut the grass down to a level where the runway’s usable.

Luckily that may well happen as this is the time when the farmers do the first cut of the hay for their animals and in previous years this has included the airfield at Galinat. I fear that if it doesn’t happen this year, we could well lose Galinat for good. It hasn’t had a proper windsock for at least the last three years and it’s possible that Christian, its owner, may have lost interest as there aren’t that many visitors nowadays and likely to be even fewer this year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be a sad day if that were to happen. I must contact him and find out what his plans are.

May 16, 2020

Ready for take off

Well, it looks as though the few good days that were forecast have indeed arrived, although today was a bit too windy to have flown. But it was a good day to get the ride-on out and mow the grass at Malbec.

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When I’d finished, Malbec ended up looking as good as I can ever remember seeing it but it always does at this time of the year when the trees and the grass are so lush and green. Now we just need to sort out the windsock because the one that’s in place is hanging in tatters.

I don’t yet know what my plans are for tomorrow but I’d hoped to get some flying in in both the Weedhopper and the Savannah. However, from the current forecast, it appears that I might be thwarted as it could still be too windy and I don’t want to take even the slightest risk after such a long lay-off.

In fact, if the forecast is correct, I might have to wait until Thursday to get into the air, when the winds are forecast to be much lighter. However, it’s also forecast that Thursday’s high could be as much as 28 degrees C which could, of course, pose other problems. Like nasty turbulence, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I noticed a weird anomaly when I picked up fuel at the local Carrefour in Rouffignac today. Usually there’s quite a large price differential between 95 and 98 octane fuel but today 95 was priced at 1.19€/litre and 98 at 1.21€. As I needed to buy 98 octane for the Savannah, the ride-on at Malbec was assured a drop of the good stuff today, which Victor whose mower it is, prefers to have put into the tank anyway. So no problem today Victor!

May 16, 2020

Now thinking Xair

General aviation flying has now restarted in England (but not in other parts of the UK) so if things are ‘go’ for me as from 1st June here in France, it looks as though I’ll soon be able to start making plans to return to the UK and pick up 24ZN, my ex-pat Xair.

The only possible fly in the ointment might be this weird ‘shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted’ UK government plan to force visitors coming into the country to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival at pain of a £1000 fine. It’s already beginning to crumble with suggestions that ‘business’ visitors and delivery drivers will have to be excluded as otherwise the country will be paralysed more than it is already, so I’ll have to wait and see what will happen.

I’ve had my route sorted out since the last time I went off towards the end of last year in the hope of bringing the Xair over and I’ve already got my current UK chart in the Asus tablet I use for my navigation. So who knows, things might now begin to happen sooner rather than later. And about time too, I say…

May 15, 2020

Here we go again

Yesterday I was again shown why the French economy is in such a mess and why France will never be successful as a trading nation in the form of yet another example of bloody-minded non-customer service.

The day before the Covid-19 lockdown started in France I purchased a foot-pump at the Feu-Vert branch in Boulazac but found immediately that it didn’t work. I ended up pumping up the tyres of my trailer using the branch’s air line in its workshop but only later was I able to confirm that the pump itself was faulty. It was too late by then to return it for refund as the lockdown had started and I was only able to yesterday now that we are permitted a greater degree of free movement.

The terms and conditions of sale of Feu Vert make it quite clear that if customers wish to exercise their right of refund they must return the goods to the point of sale in unused condition with proof of purchase and preferably in their original packaging after which Feu Vert will take up to 14 days to effect a full refund, so I expected my visit to be brief and a mere formality.

But not so. Initially the clueless youth on the till said that it was their policy to only offer refunds up to 10€ and above that I had to accept a coupon which I could use to purchase another item. This, of course, I declined, at which point he said that I’d need to talk to the manager who was due back any moment. And this after I’d already been waiting for the best part of 15 minutes while other customers behind me in the queue were dealt with.

When the manager arrived he tried to fob me off in the most rude and off-hand manner and said that the store did not offer refunds. I pointed out to him that under EU law the store had to as the item I’d purchased was defective but he still refused to cooperate in the most obnoxious way, especially when I asked him to put this down on paper with his signature. He then even refused to provide me with his name.

So I’ve now got to launch myself into the process of yet again making a claim against a French company whose staff member has decided that it can act outside the law. I will win again as I always do but it is becoming tediously repetitive and I wish that French companies would do some staff training instead of employing morons who think that by behaving so stupidly they are doing their employers a favour.

Changing the subject, it looks as though we can now expect some good flying weather in the next few days. In fact the weather would be perfect at present for flying the Xair over from the UK but that option isn’t open right now as I haven’t made the necessary arrangements. However, it looks as though from tomorrow through until the middle of next week it should be possible to get airborne locally, so I’m looking forward to getting a few hours in in both the Weedhopper and my Savannah. Watch this space.

May 14, 2020

I couldn’t resist it

OK, I know that I haven’t even received my new Fimi drone yet and when I do get it, it’ll do everything I want it to. It’ll create excellent HD 4K video images and photographs, have great range and have plenty of flight time, especially with the extra battery that I’ve already received and am champing at the bit to actually use. But… sometimes an offer comes along that you just can’t refuse, and that’s just happened with the original Hubsan Zino, now called the Zino H117S.

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It was a bit buggy when it was first launched a couple of years ago but since then its app and the firmware of both the quadcopter itself and its controller have been updated several times to the point that it is now an excellent machine that flies well and has all of the ‘special’ features that you need, like orbiting, tracking and waypoint mode flying.

Hubsan have now used the same platform with the updated software to launch the Zino 2 at a considerably higher price together with the Zino Pro that’s also more expensive, but apart from having greater range (the Zino H117S ‘only’ has a range of 1 km), the new versions offer little more for an ‘average’ user like myself. In fact, I considered the Zino Pro before opting for the slightly more expensive Fimi X8 SE 2020 that I’m waiting to receive in the coming days.

So what couldn’t I refuse? Well, the Zino H117S is still on Hubsan’s own web site for over 400€ and most retailers are still offering it, even on line, in the upper 300€’s. However, one or two are a bit more clued-up and have clearly decided that with the new versions now having been launched, it would be better to clear their stocks of the old one rather than be left with them months down the line and I found one offering the H117S for under 300€ complete with a second battery and free delivery. That’s cheaper than used models are being advertised for on Le Bon Coin!

That also puts it at around the same price as the Eachine EX4 that I returned to Banggood in China which only has 1080p video and has proven to be flaky and unreliable whereas in comparison the Hubsan is quite the opposite, having come out of a 2-year development process in the market place as a reliable step-up from being much more than just an entry-level machine.

So I’ll end up with two 4K machines – so what. There are loads of opportunities to get excellent drone footage just in this area alone and having the two will obviously provide me with more opportunities. And as the Hubsan will be less expensive, I’ll maybe prefer to use that in locations and conditions in which I’d prefer not to use the Fimi. Anyway, that’s for the future – and the deed is done 😉

May 13, 2020

Moving forward again?

Maybe. I zipped an email off a couple of days ago to the DGAC in Paris asking whether, if any restrictions still applied to long distance flights in France in June, they would be prepared to provide me with a special dispensation to fly 24ZN, my ex-pat Xair from the UK and through France to the Dordogne.

I’ve just received a most helpful reply saying that they expect all restrictions to GA flights in France to be lifted from 1st June and that therefore the flight should be able to go ahead in any event. They add that I should check that the aerodromes that I want to land at are all open and that no restrictions do in fact apply and that in such an event I should contact them again for a ‘laissez-passer’.

How good is that? It means that on the French side, I can start to make plans again to pick up the Xair and fly it over to France as from the beginning of June. Now all I’ve got to do is make similar arrangements for the UK side of things. What’s the bet that that will be far more difficult wih bundles of red tape to be cut through and problems even finding the right people to talk to, bearing in mind that I’ve got to overcome possible problems even entering the UK from France. I’ll let readers know how I get on and am already rolling up my sleeves.

May 11, 2020

All a bit confusing

Today’s the day when the Covid-19 lockdown is starting to be eased and we start to get some of our freedoms back. But everything’s not as clear as it should be and especially when it comes to private flying.

We can now go outdoors to take as much exercise as we want, defined as ‘walking and jogging’ within I think still a 1 km radius of our home and I’m almost certain that we can travel as much as we want up to a radius of 100 kms. But I’m not sure whether that includes having more than one person in your car, because if not, in theory you’d still be subject to a hefty fine. Exercise I think must still be a solitary activity save for with anyone from your immediate family with whom your ‘self confining’ and ‘social distancing’ must still be observed, so no ‘group’ activities.

Most shops will be reopening but still no cafés, restaurants and bars till at least the end of the month, so maybe we’ll start to see a few more deliveries to our local ‘relais’ points, local shops and stores that take in and receive parcels on behalf of carriers other than La Poste. Hopefully I’ll soon begin to see a few items from the now growing backlog of items that I’m waiting impatiently to receive.

The latest newsletter from the joint federation of private flying organisations says that private flying can now start ‘within the constraints of the laws relating to public health’. It implies several things but doesn’t seem to confirm that they do now actually apply. For example, flying schools can now open for training and although social distancing is still supposed to apply, as driving schools can now recommence activities, there’s no reason why dual instruction shouldn’t be allowed. But is it?

It also implies that after taking off, there should be no distinction between flying between ‘green’ and ‘red’ départements, but again doesn’t seem to confirm that that is now so. And do we still need the letter of ‘dérogation’ from the DGAC to travel to our airfield to run the engines of our aircraft for 20 minutes once a month? I suppose someone knows, but I certainly don’t and it all seems a bit of a balls-up to me.

We’ve had more than 24 hours of rain since I did the plant pots outside the front of my house with my neighbour, Chantal, but although it’s still not ‘proper’ weather for the time of year, it’s a bit brighter this morning. So I fired up my little Eachine EG16 drone and took a few pictures.

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I’ll be glad when my new Fimi arrives. The above shots are OK as far as they go but have far too much ‘fish-eye’ distortion to be of very much real value. The new drone won’t suffer from such problems. I’m really annoyed because I’m still after more than a month waiting for a refund fom Banggood for the rubbish EX4 quadcopter that I returned to China. It seems that the Chinese customs are holding back the shipment because of ‘a missing invoice’. But there is no ‘missing invoice’ as the item isn’t being sold to Banggood, it’s being returned.

And Paypal Customer Protection is proving to be useless at the moment, just sitting on their backsides and providing no support. I think that it’s time to start poking the hornets’ nest with a sharp stick.

May 9, 2020

The last lockdown week-end

While the bungling government of Boris Johnson lurches totally out of control and ideas, from one crisis to another in the UK, here in France we are looking forward to an easing of the Covid-19 lockdown conditions as from Monday. I had high hopes for Boris Johnson when his government was elected at the end of last year but it appears that he and his team are as crass, ineffective and bereft of knowledge of the real world as all those British politicians who have gone before them.

Imagine a senior manager in the private sector being set the task of sourcing a quantity of personal protective equipment for his company – a simple item like a protective gown for which there are established standards for manufacture, performance and quality – and when they arrive they are ALL, 400,000 of them, not fit for purpose. That manager would have been summarily dismissed on the spot, but apparently the same standards don’t apply if you are a UK government minister.

You get to keep your job, your fat salary, all your perks and your juicy pension and you also get to go onto TV where you can lecture the populace on how to run their lives. And this is after another (the same?) minister purchased and paid for millions of Chinese Covid-19 testing kits, all of which were found not to work. You couldn’t make it up. It makes hiring a ferry company without any ships to ‘help with Brexit’ (doing what for God’s sake?) look like the act of a mastermind.

The latest hare-brained UK government schemes are to subject all ‘elderly’ people (and ‘elderly’ means over 60 – I ask you) to permanent house arrest for at least a year after they ‘restart the economy’ (God help us…) and, after having previously let hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 infected travellers into the UK while the pandemic was building, to subject everyone entering the UK to a mandatory 14 days of quarantine ie self-confinement, now that just about every country in the world except the UK has got the pandemic under control and they’d be subjecting themselves to more risk coming to the UK than they’d be exposing the population of the UK to. Such a move would, of course finally kill off all of the UK airlines (lucky for all the other foreign ones, eh) and ensure the total demise of the UK travel and hospitality industries. They just don’t have a clue.

Moving onto other things before I become so exasperated that I explode. The prospective purchaser of my Weedhopper, who is Belgian incidentally, is as impatient as I am to get the transaction underway. He hasn’t even managed to get down to see it yet because of the Covid-19 crisis and was bemoaning the fact that with the travel restrictions that are currently in place, he doubts that it’ll be possible much before mid-June. So I decided to shoot a little video to send to him when I went over to Malbec this week to start and run its engine.

I’m glad to say that he contacted me after he’d seen it and said how much he’d enjoyed it, so I’m glad that I made the effort.

Changing the subject again, plant time has come around again. Last year I filled up all of the plant pots that I brought with me from the UK and which had been standing empty since I arrived in 2012 and was glad that I did because the plants that I put in provided a delight of colour right through the summer and autumn. I say ‘I’ but it was Chantal, my sweetheart of a French neighbour, who twisted my arm to do it and she got busy working on me again a week or so ago.

However, the weather wasn’t right at the time and we ended up going to the local nursery the day before yesterday to buy the stocks that I needed. The place was heaving with cars and people who were supposed to be ‘social distancing’ but as Montignac is a relatively small place and almost everyone there knew someone else, there was really no chance of that. But nobody is really worried – the Dordogne is a ‘green’ département and the Covid risk is therefore very small, and anyway, those who wanted to wore masks and some even gloves.

The prices seemed quite a bit higher than last year, probably because the nursery owner anticipated that sales would be down this year. However, I think he could well make a killing given the crowds who were there snapping up trollies-full of plants just as I was.

We put most of the plants in yesterday and I was pleasantly surprised by just how many of last-year’s plants had survived over the winter and were sprouting and growing again. You expect plants like geraniums to because they’re pretty hardy anyway, but many of the ‘annuals’ were showing new growth, small buds and even little flowers.

Today I finished off three of the five hanging baskets that I have, two of which showed no sign of life whatsoever. The other three all have some good growth going on though, with flowers already out, and having re-done one of them today, I’ll come back to the last two some other time, but before it’s not too late.

I also cut the grass today and picked out quite a few large stones that had risen to the surface over recent months, so it ended up being quite a long day. I went out this evening after I’d had my evening meal and shot a few pictures with my little EG16 drone. Here’s one but I’ll wait to post some more when it’s a bit more bright, sunny and inviting.

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I’ll be taking it a bit more easy tomorrow. The main job will be to drill some holes in the bottoms of a couple of plant pots. The pots are glazed and are really meant for indoors but they’re a bit too garish for my taste. As they’re glazed, it’ll be a bit tricky but really should be little different to drilling a bathroom tile, say, so I have high hopes. I’ve also got to drill another little decorative free-standing concrete plant container to prevent the rainwater staying inside it and drowning the plants it holds.

Then with a bit of luck, if everything goes well and to plan, I might even be able to get across to Malbec later on to start and run the Savannah’s engine. I really need to do this because it’s only been run once (I think) since I returned from the UK in it back in September, and it needs to have its oil circulating again.

May 1, 2020

Still keeping busy

Well, here we are nearly six weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown in France, and although I’d obviously rather be doing other more important things, I’m still managing to find lots to do. Mainly I’ve been occupying myself with my little Eachine EG16 quadcopter while waiting for my new Fimi X8 SE 2020 to arrive and learning how to make videos using it. And it’s quite a lot more challenging than I originally thought.

OK, anyone can just start the drone’s video camera running and then make a simple video afterwards as a sort of record of the flight using video editing software. But that’s not what I want to be able to do. I want to be able to make multi-frame videos the way that a lot of drone reviewers do on Youtube showing not only what the drone sees but also what you the operator see while you’re flying it.

I already put up a simple video here on Micro-Trike on April 1st showing my first impressions of flying the EG16 just after I’d received it and now here’s another slightly more complex one that I shot shortly afterwards which features just one frame-in-frame and begins to show what I’m talking about.

And the reason that things have been a bit quiet around here is that since then I’ve dived in even deeper and gone the whole hog, with up to two frames-in-frame using simultaneous videos from the drone itself (drone cam), from my smartphone of the app that’s used to control the drone (phone app) and from a head-mounted miniature sports cam (head cam). It’s been very tricky and a lot to learn as I’ll go onto explain, but first here’s the most recent and most successful of my efforts.

But if you’re using proper video editing software, why is it so tricky you may ask? Well, take it from me, the first hurdle is just shooting the video that you need. Naturally, it all has to be shot simultaneously and in sync and that isn’t easy given that we’re not talking about high end, expensive pro-quality kit here. Although I have a GoPro at my disposal, I’ve been using one of my cheap Chinese sportscams as a head cam. The reason is that if I have an accident, I won’t mind too much if the little Chinese jobbie gets damaged but I’d be distraught if anything happened to my GoPro.

For ease and convenience, I’ve mounted the sportscam on the peak of a baseball cap and the arrangement works well. The first problem was getting it lined up and I still haven’t quite got it right, but that won’t be difficult to do. What has been more difficult to overcome is the natural tendency while flying a drone to keep looking down at the controls then up at the drone and back again. If you keep doing that the picture in the viewfinder changes so rapidly that it becomes unusable and it takes quite an effort to get things under control.

The next challenge is to get everything started and running all at the same time. Luckily, I’ve found that once running, the frame rates of the drone video camera and the sportscam remain perfectly in sync, which makes things much easier than I’d expected at the editing stage. However, that certainly isn’t true for my Android phone’s screen recording software which not only runs at a different speed every time despite being set up to run at a specific frame rate, but also runs at wildly variable speeds while recording is in progress.

I’m sure that the main reason for this is the phone itself. It’s probably lacking in both processing power and memory and although perfectly adequate for normal every-day use, I’m pretty sure that it lacks the horsepower for the kind of tasks that I’m throwing at it. I have noticed that many (most?) of the drone reviewers on Youtube who are doing similar things to what I am own iPhone 11 Pro Maxes which cost ten times what I paid for my phone so that tends to support what I’m suggesting.

However, there’s no way that I can, or would, go out and splurge that much on a phone. I’m thinking that maybe a 5 GHx wifi tablet may be the answer – I’ll think about it a bit more when I’ve got my new Fimi and can see what will fit into its controller dock.

When you shoot multiple simultaneous video footage it’s obvious that it all has to be in sync to be usable. It needn’t be frame perfect but it has to be acceptable to the eye of the viewer. As I mentioned previously, syncing the drone and my head cam footage is not a problem, it’s just the phone footage that is tricky to sync with the other two sources. I’ve spent many hours over the past week or so developing my own techniques that more or less overcome the problem. They involve manually syncing the phone video at multiple points within the footage itself and as they are quite complex and very labour intensive I’ll say no more on the subject.

Once the syncing problem has been overcome, all that’s left is to compose and edit the video itself. This is not something that everybody can do or is good at but it’s something that interests me and that I enjoy doing. You need a video editing suite on your PC to do it though, and although there are many to choose from, some of which are free, I have used Corel Videostudio Ultimate for several years and will probably continue doing so despite it occasionally presenting me with problems as they all do in their own ways.

So that’s it for now on my drone videos. Changing the subject somewhat, I had an amazing and unexpected experience a week or so ago involving an incredibly beautiful creature. Late one evening I heard a flapping sound at my kitchen door and when I looked to see what was causing it, through the glass I saw an enormous moth that was similar in size to a small bird.

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It turns out that the moth was a ‘Grand Paon de nuit’ in French, or in English a Great Peacock moth. It is the largest moth found in Europe and mine had all of a six inch wingspan as the photographs show after I’d switched on an outside light and it had settled on the wall next to it. It seems that they are around from late March through to June, so this was quite an early example. They are rather sad in a way. They have no proboscis and are unable to take on any form of nourishment in either solid or liquid form so only live for about a week before dying.

The only upside for them is that during their short lifespan, their sole aim is to mate in order to ensure continuity of the species. To this end, the male sports sensors that can detect a receptive female up to a kilometre away. It’s a pity that I couldn’t communicate to my example that he shouldn’t be wasting his time flapping at my backdoor but should be doing his bit in the short time available to him to seek out a suitable lady friend in order to do the business.

As well as the photographs, above, I shot a short video which although of poor quality, gives some idea of the size of the moth that we are talking about here.

We’ve been on the receiving end of a few days of cloud and rain here in the Dordogne which should hopefully be coming to an end this weekend, after which increasingly better weather is forecast heading towards the summer. Let’s all hope that we’ll also all be heading towards the end of this dratted Covid-19 lockdown. Until then be kind to yourself, your family and friends and stay healthy.

April 21, 2020

Things are a’changing

I found out yesterday that the relatively relaxed regime, compared to some other countries in Europe anyway, of controls and rules affecting the flying of ‘leisure’ drones in France is about to change. As from July 1 2020, France will be adopting a common pan-European system of rules and regulations meaning that there will be changes here affecting what you can and can’t do and also what you’ll have to do to even fly a drone anywhere in the country.

There are several classes of drones and I’m not going to go through the whole gamut of changes and how they will affect each class. Instead I’ll restrict myself to describing how the changes will affect me personally as well as the majority of other private drone users, as mostly they will also have drones similar in weight and characteristics to what I own and am in the process of acquiring.

My little Eachine E16 weighs 210 grams and the Fimi X8 SE 2020 that I have on order 765 grams, so both come in under the current weight limit of 800 grams. This means that neither currently has to be registered in any way and anyone can pilot them without demonstrating any kind of skill or experience. Pilots merely have to observe the relatively few regulations that apply and stick to some fairly basic rules. Penalties for breaking them can, however, be quite painful involving terms of imprisonment and fines up to 75,000€ in extreme cases as well as confiscation of equipment which would be relatively trivial in comparison.

The first requirement is that all drones must be flown only in line-of-sight. There is a possibility of allowing flights ‘in total immersion’ ie using just a FPV screen or goggles, but then there must be a second person present. I’m not sure how this would work in practice given that the drone could be out of view of the second person if at some distance, so maybe this still means that the drone must be in their line of sight, but it’s of no interest to me anyway.

The second consideration is that pilots must observe No-Fly-Zones (NFZs) and areas where height restrictions apply. Where there are no other restrictions, the maximum height at which drones can be flown is 150 metres but aside from obvious places like prisons, nuclear power stations, airports and the like there is an enormous number of other areas where height restrictions apply which can be found here on an interactive map covering the whole of France.

The map shows, for example, that there are vast tranches of countryside that are NFZs eg areas of national parks. Also, every town, village or commune of any significance is a NFZ, including Plazac, Fleurac, Rouffignac and Montignac in my area. However, where I live on a hill outside Plazac the maximum height to which I can fly my drone is 50 metres, the same as at Malbec, our airfield. However, should I want to nip across to just south-west of Fleurac, the height increases to 100 metres before increasing further out to the ‘unrestricted’ maximum of 150 metres.

There are other considerations – for example, you’re not allowed to fly over parks, other public places and rivers in ‘built-up areas’ and from time to time, temporary restrictions might apply elsewhere, for an event, for example. Although you should try to avoid them, you are allowed to fly over people and vehicles but you are not allowed to do so over assemblies or large groups. No night flying is allowed whatsoever.

There is a grey area of ‘privacy’. You need permission from a land-owner to fly over private land although this is almost a practical impossibility for an area of ‘significant’ size over which one would fly the Fimi X8, for example, due to the often highly fragmented nature of land ownership in France. I suspect it’s highlighted merely as a way to throw the book at a drone operator in the event of an incident or something going wrong in some way.

There is also a vagueness in the way that ‘personal privacy’ is approached. In a ‘built-up-area’ you are allowed to fly your drone over your garden, but if it has a still or video camera on-board, you should advise your neighbours accordingly. I’ve done that, actually, and all my neighbours know that I have a drone but will be going out of my way to respect their personal privacy and none has expressed any objection. Quite the opposite for some, in fact.

You should also avoid taking pictures of people’s faces and vehicle registrations, for example, that are recognisable or readable, and you are prohibited from publishing such items without their permission. On no account whatsover may you publish such material for commercial reward.

That more or less sums up how things are done at the moment but as from July 1 there will be some changes, some of which are relatively significant. Not all of the details have yet been published, so it’s assumed that where no change has been identified, the status quo will apply.

The most significant overall change is that the ‘unrestricted’ height at which all drones can fly will be reduced from 150 metres to 120 metres. I am not sure how much effect this will have in the normal run of things because I doubt that a change in height of 30 metres is detectable and nobody will be around trying to do checks anyway.

However, drones like the Fimy X8 create a log of each flight (eg I found the ones for the two very short flights that I achieved with the faulty EX4 that is now on its way back to China) and much like the current requirement involving getting permission from landowners to fly over their land, I think that in the event of an accident or incident, the drone operator will be required to produce the flight log for analysis and will be subject to penalty if it’s found that they were flying above the height limit.

The line-of-sight requirement and the other existing height restrictions will continue to apply after July 1.

Now onto the drones themselves. Currently the EG16 and the X8 SE fall within the same category but this will change after July 1. The EG16 will fall into Category A1, Class C0 and the X8 into Category A1, Class C1. They will both be subject to the same basic requirements but some additional demands will be made for the heavier of the two, the Fimi X8 SE.

Both drones will need to have a maximum speed of less than 19 metres/sec (both do have), to be registered on-line and conform to CE regulations, which again both do. Drones which are not CE approved will be allowed in the future but will face stringent requirements for remaining well clear of people and vehicles amongst other things, making them far less desirable.

The other major change relates to the pilots of all drones including both of mine. All pilots will have to take an on-line training course and pass a 20 question multiple-choice exam. I think, but am not sure, that the pass rate also has to be 100% but this is not an overly demanding requirement as the exam is also done on-line and can be attempted as many times as needed until you get through.

This is not the case with the heavier and/or professional classes of drone for which the demands are more stringent and their pilots have to attend the DGAC for both training and their exam.

No other technical requirements will be made of the little EG16 but this is not the case for the heavier X8 SE. The latter will have to have an on-board NFZ Recognition System which will prevent it entering such zones (the X8 SE does have) plus it will be required to have a ‘system for identification at distance’. I have no idea what this means and nobody else does either at this time.

Finally, there are differences in the ‘rules’ that will apply regarding the distances that must be maintained between the drones and people. I will be allowed to intentionally fly the EG16 over people and vehicles but not, as now, over assemblies or large groups. For the heavier X8SE, the same will apply for assemblies and large groups of people but I will only be allowed to ‘unintentionally’ fly over sundry people and vehicles.

This is, once again, a very vague requirement. It presumably means that if you are flying the drone in line-of-sight but at a distance where there are people that you cannot see, you will be excused for flying over them. But as before, if there is an incident or accident involving your drone and those people, may the Lord help you!

I think that’s about it and a reasonable summary of what’s going to happen. Other factors may come to light between now and July 1 but I’m not going to stop my drone flying and will still be going ahead with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 purchase. Actually, at the moment after watching a host of Youtube videos of it, I can’t wait to get my hands on it 😉