May 23, 2019

That’s it, all done

The Savannah’s new instrument panel and avionics are in and the transponder has been programmed with the code that I received this morning. Let me tell you about the latter and the tortuous process that I had to go through to obtain it that would have been amusing if it hadn’t revealed such painful ineptitude.

I mentioned previously on My Trike that in anticipation of the French habit of making what should be a simple process unnecessarily complex as a result of their love of bureaucracy, I’d sent off my application for a 24-bit transponder code well before the time that I’d actually need it. However, despite now having 7 years worth of experience, I still managed to underestimate the unique capability that French bureacrats have to complicate things.

Not unexpectedly, my letter and paperwork disappeared into a black hole at the OSAC, the organisation to whom the DGAC has delegated the issue of codes, so last week-end I found an email address for the organisation and sent off a message with copies of the paperwork and a comment that the matter was now urgent. But apparently nobody in this august organisation checks either letters or emails, so my missive again went unanswered.

Until this morning when I phoned them up and apprised them of the situation. This must be quite normal for them because the lady on the other end of the phone gave no obvious reaction and said that if I dialled another number I could speak with her colleague responsible for issuing codes directly. So I did.

The very pleasant young lady who I then spoke with asked me to email copies of my paperwork yet again and promised to send me my code ‘by return’, so I did and then waited. That was after we’d spent several minutes with me trying to take down her email address. She had a long Greek surname and no knowledge of the phonetic alphabet, so she was telling me things like ‘I for Isabel’. I still can’t decipher what ‘T’ was for, and there were quite a few of them in her name, but sure as heck it wasn’t ‘Tango’.

After several minutes I got an email back, but not one that contained a transponder code. It merely said that as my aircraft is an ULM, they couldn’t help and that I had to go to the DGAC direct. It left me wondering why it had taken 6 weeks or so to discover that when they’d been sitting on my application all that time? And why the heck couldn’t she just ask the simple question this morning, while we were speaking?

I find it astonishing that an organisation responsible for a key task that presumably they know well and do every day can’t recognise when a ‘faulty’ application is received that they then refer straight back to the applicant with pre-printed advice on what to do next. It’s understandable perhaps when a letter and stamp are involved, but not when a simple question during a conversation would settle the matter. You find this time and time again in France, it’s maddening and the conclusion that you have to come to is that they just can’t be bothered. Very sad.

And so began lap two, starting with a phone call to the DGAC at Merignac and now the game got tougher because instead of a person answering the phone, you just get a recorded voice giving you a list of new numbers to phone with no indication whatsoever as to what each number covers. So having a choice of Drone/ULM Licencing, Safety and Navigation, I decided to go for Safety.

Bad choice because all I got was a message service. OK, How about Navigation then? Good one, this time a real voice answered. I told the lady what I was phoning about and she said OK, I really need to phone Safety. I told her that I already had and had just got a message service, which wasn’t a lot of use to me. She said to phone again and probably tipped off her colleague across from her in the same room, so when I did this time I got an answer.

But not the one I wanted. She told me she couldn’t help and to phone ULMs, but not the number given in the main menu when I first phoned. By this time I was beginning to lose the will to live, but took down the number that she read out, very badly and very unclearly, repeated it back twice and then rang it. Good news, another female voice answered but I sensed a note of hesitancy in it, so I asked if this was the ULM service of the DGAC. It wasn’t. It was a wrong number.

You have to wonder how such a simple, well defined process, like applying for a transponder code using paperwork downloaded from the official web site can be turned into such a cock-up, but I have to say that the French, lovely people that they are, do have a special talent for such things. Remember how it took me over a month to obtain my French driving licence, not to mention the problems that I had registering my Ford C-Max in my name on line.

And the heated argument that I had with the local tax man who had the cheek to dip into my bank account without my knowledge all because he had used my old UK address that I’d left to move to France and from which he’d naturally received no reply and it hadn’t occurred to him to try contacting me at the address that I’d just bought and moved into in France. And the list goes on, but I digress.

So what to do? The clue was in the words ‘ULM service of the DGAC’ which I googled and got yet another web link to, together with yet another telephone number. But this time I hit the jackpot – it had only taken me about three hours so far. Yes, they said, they issue transponder codes for ULMs (if only they’d made this information freely available on the web site where I’d downloaded the application form it could have saved me an awful lot of time and anguish) and could I just send them over the form that I’d filled out.

Within ten minutes or so, Olivia at the DGAC had replied with my transponder code plus a request for a bundle of other paperwork that I will only be able to return once my new system has been signed off by the relevant avionics test organisation, mine being at La Rochelle. So this afternoon I programmed the transponder, checked the Savannah’s plugs and got it ready to fly again at long last. Now all I need to do is give it a really good clean and, if the radio checks out while in the air, which it should do of course, arrange an appointment to get the system tested and signed off.

By golly, it’s been a long and winding road and a tortuous process. You have to ask yourself, why not put the application process on line under headings like ‘Commercial’, ‘General Aviation’ and ‘ULM’ with each section containing all of the links necessary for the relevant paperwork and the necessary contacts. Far too simple, one must assume, plus if you make it too straightforward you’d be putting people out of jobs. Can’t have that, even if it would benefit the victims… err, sorry, clients.

May 22, 2019

All systems are go!

At least, I think they now are. I arrived at Malbec bright and early (for me anyway) this morning with the aim of cracking on and getting the Savannah’s full new avionics and instrument panel installed and working. However, I was brought up short immediately, but only temporarily, because I found that I’d attached the extensions to the little headset brackets that I made yesterday the wrong way round.

Luckily I had my drill and pop riveter with me so all I had to do was drill the connecting pop rivets out, turn the extensions around and pop rivet them back on again. Here are a couple of shots with them finally mounted in position on each side of the cabin under the dash panel. They are a big improvement on what was there before which were very floppy and flimsy.

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Then it was time to start on installing the radio cable kit. I decided that before I went ahead and permanently installed it, I’d connect everything up and make sure it worked properly first. And that’s what I did. It wasn’t difficult because it was only a matter of connecting up the two PTT buttons, the 12V power supply and the system earth and here’s how it looked all ready to switch on and try out.

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As well as my old Aerolite headset that I haven’t used since the 1980s when we had our Piper Cherokee, I’d also taken my little hand-held Vertex VXA-220 transceiver with me ready for just such an event and as it happened, Victor had arrived a bit earlier to modify the lifting mechanism on the hangar doors. So I gave him the Vertex and told him what I wanted to do as a test.

Initially, although I could hear him very clearly on the new radio, he said that he could hear me transmitting on the Savannah’s right-hand head set but not on the left, which was just transmitting carrier wave. I surmised that this was down to my not having re-run the mic set up and this proved to be the case as afterwards transmitting and receiving turned out to be perfect.

So then it was a matter of mounting all of the cabling securely behind the Savannah’s instrument panel and finally securing the panel in position. I forgot to mention that earlier on I’d traced why the low fuel test system wasn’t working – some earth leads had become detached from the back of a gauge when I’d moved the panel forwards before I’d had a chance to record which tag they should be plugged to, due to the original cable ties being too tight. So that was a bit of luck as I hadn’t fancied trying to trace whatever the reason for the problem was.

As the end of the afternoon approached, the job was finally nearing completion and here are a couple of shots with the panel powered up and working.

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The climax came with the first engine start since I began this project over 6 weeks ago. The engine started very easily with its new carb rubbers and idled and powered up OK. All of the gauges began to read as expected, which was a relief, except for the oil temperature gauge which always takes some time to show a reading. But what of the little microelectronic device controlling the hour meter?

The hour meter didn’t start running at low revs, just as intended. It was a bit problematic running the engine up to over 3000 rpm because the Savannah was still in the barn with my car next to it. However, I ran it for a short while at an indicated 3400 rpm and the hour meter did advance, so it looks as though all of the systems, both original and newly-installed, are working as they should.

I now need to do a flight to make sure and then arrange for the new avionics to be signed off at La Rochelle. That should be a great flight if the weather is anything like today, not much wind and a high of 25 degrees Celsius, and I’m looking forward to it very much after all of the grind of the last few weeks to get the whole panel project completed. At least it now looks as though it is 😕

May 21, 2019

Clearing the logjam

At last! I’ve been tracking the Savannah’s radio wiring loom on it’s way to me from England and this morning it said that it had arrived at its distribution depot in France. No mention of it being available locally for delivery or whatever, so I was surprised when at 10.30am this morning it popped into my post box!

But not being one to look a gift-horse in the mouth, I grabbed it and began to make plans to start installing it. The first thing that I’ll need is a pair of dual-hole mounting brackets for the new headsets, so I set about making those straight away from some of the left-over aluminium sheet from the panel work. Here’s a shot of my initial attempt.

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I had to actually have two bites at the cherry, however, because I’d forgotten that the old ones, that I hadn’t removed at that point, were on little extension pieces to lower them below the dash and to bring them backwards a bit into the cabin. Here’s how I modified them this evening ready to install tomorrow, as it was too late to return to Malbec by the time I’d finished.

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But that wasn’t the only time that I went off a bit half-cocked today. I was half-way to Malbec just after lunchtime and thinking about the wiring loom when it occurred to me whether or not they had shorted pin 12 in its D-plug to earth as it will need to be in my arrangement. The D-plug that I’d bought to solder myself was already shorted but as the wiring loom allows the option of an external intercom, which requires the pin NOT to be shorted, my guess was that it wasn’t.

But I hadn’t checked, so I had to stop, turn around and return home again to do so. And lucky I did. The pin wasn’t shorted but instead they’d added a little external switch between it and its earth wire to allow the option of shorting it or not.

I wasn’t at all keen on that arrangement and as I’ll not need the option, I cut the switch off and permanently soldered the wire ends together. Actually, this wasn’t as neat as my D-plug in which the shorting was done internally, but no matter as the wires are of very small diameter and there are another couple in the loom that I won’t need with which they can be bundled together and ‘lost’ behind the panel.

So that was it for today, a start but not much more. Wim and I were going to go flying in the Weedhoppers tomorrow but sadly, I decided to put that off despite having hardly flown this year. After all this time, I couldn’t concentrate on flying knowing that the wiring loom was all ready and waiting to be installed and that I was doing something else and not actually doing it 😐

May 20, 2019

Landing light

I fitted an LED landing light on the Savannah not long after I acquired it but never really managed to get it very well secured. I started just by sealing around it with white silicone and hoped that that would be enought to hold it in, but it wasn’t.

I then tried using the ULMiste’s friend, cable ties, to stop it dropping out but they have never remained tight enough to firmly hold it for very long, to the point that a few days ago I arrived at Malbec to work on the instrument panel and found the landing light hanging out of the Savannah’s nose. Evidently the cable ties securing it had eased sufficiently in the direct sunlight to release it.

So I needed to do something and now was the ideal time, while I’m waiting for the items I need to complete the instrument panel. I’ve been thinking about alternative methods that didn’t involve screwing through the Savannah’s engine cowling and came up with an idea that uses two specially made aluminium securing collars and a large jubilee clip. Here are some shots of the finished job.

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The light can’t move backwards into the cowling because there’s enough of a lip around its lens to prevent it going through the hole. I can’t get the little collars tight enough to stop the light moving a little bit in its mounting but I think it’s quite secure enough. Only time will tell, but at least for now, that’s another little job crossed off the list 😉

May 18, 2019

Waiting again

I can’t do very much for now while I’m waiting for the cabling kit for the Savannah’s new radio to arrive from the UK. This is what I’m expecting to drop into my mail box some time during the early part of next week.

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And what an amazing resource Le Bon Coin is. I logged on yesterday evening to search for general aviation headsets. I wanted to get hold of two in very good condition and both of the same model, of course. I immediately found three of the same model that fitted me down to the ground. One (the cheapest 🙂 ) was already sold subject to payment so I went after the other two, one of which is in Albi in the far south-west and the other in the outer Paris area, and I’ve acquired both of them. Here are the shots of them that the sellers posted in their ads.

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So amazingly, after deciding that I had to completely re-do the whole radio fit in the Savannah, in under 24 hours I’ve managed to acquire all of the items I need to do so at ‘cut prices’. Now that has to be a result, if not some kind of record!

Today I removed the headsets and headset extension cords from the Savannah and tomorrow I’ll strip everything else out leaving just the PTT and power supply connections ready for the cable kit when it arrives. Some weeks ago I applied for the unique 24 bit code for the Savannah’s new transponder but, this being France, have received no reply.

So today I’ve sent the issuing organisation (NOT the DGAC) with a chaser email, so with a bit of luck I’ll have that by the time the new avionics system is ready to go. Then it’ll just be a matter of arranging a ‘rendezvous’ with the radio testing station at La Rochelle and finally I’ll be back in business and rarin’ to go!

May 17, 2019

Now we’re getting somewhere

I emailed Alphatec yesterday asking whether my headsets are compatible with my new radio and they replied very promptly this morning saying that they are not, and indeed not with any GA standard radio. And my pal Roger has, I think, put his finger on the reason why, namely that the ‘Mickey Mouse’ single jack headsets that we use in ULMs that are compatible with hand-held radios, like the Icom that was installed in my Savannah, are not signal-split ie the headset microphone and headphones all have a shared ground connection.

Or maybe they were compatible because they interfaced with the Icom via a separate Alphatec intercom, which they said I could do if I wanted to with my new radio. Obviously I wouldn’t because the new radio has an intercom built-in making an external intercom unnecessary, and that’s without thinking about the extra weight. So in any case, I’ve now got to do some more modifications to the radio installation in my Savannah as it has to be changed to a twin-jack set up with GA-type headsets in order to function.

That’s a relief to know in many respects because I at least now have an action plan again. As I spent a lot of time (but not money luckily) wiring up the radio’s D-plug I thought that I’d try to retain as much of it as possible and change the under-dash single jack plugs myself to doubles. Just sourcing the plugs was a nightmare, however, as suppliers who have them in stock either want silly money for them or to charge upwards of 20€ just to send them, or those who don’t hold them have a delivery lead-time of several weeks.

This got me thinking because the easiest and quickest way of solving the problem would be to purchase the radio manufacturer’s prefabricated wiring loom that comes complete with two pairs of headset sockets already attached. It would allow me to strip out all of the radio cabling in the Savannah as apart from plugging it into the radio itself, it only needs a power and an earth connnection and for the PTT to be connected to the appropriate wire in the loom.

And lo and behold, a Google search revealed that a new and unused one was up for sale on the AFORS web site in the UK for quite a bit less than I’d have to pay for a brand new one from a ‘proper’ supplier in Europe, so after contacting the seller (Great Western Airsports) I paid for it by Paypal and it’s now on its way to me. In the meantime, I’ve found quite a few GA headsets that will work with it for sale on Le Bon Coin and have chased two matching ones from different sellers.

Unfortunately the less expensive of the two has already been sold, but I’m in no big hurry as even if I get my radio working, while I’m waiting I still have an elderly Aerolite 360 GA headset from my Piper Cherokee days back in the 1980s which is still in good condition and should still work fine. And in the meantime I’ll keep my eyes open for a pair of matching GA headsets on Le Bon Coin and strip out the cabling that’s now in the Savannah before the cable loom arrives.

My UK flight is therefore still postponed but it least now looks as though I’ll be able to start making plans again in the not too distant future. And I must say, it will be a relief to put this instrument panel project to bed 😐

May 16, 2019

I’ve hit a brick wall

It’s quite worrying and I’m also now beginning to find this whole instrument panel project rather draining. After yesterday’s problems I returned to Malbec and working on the assumption that Alphatec had provided me with incorrect information, switched the connections around in the main under-dash headset sockets in my Savannah, so mic cables became headphone cables and vice versa.

And sure enough the radio then powered up as it should do, all of its buttons functioned normally and I could hear a small pop in the headphones when it finished booting. So it appears that Alphatec did provide me with incorrect information, raising the question of how much I would be able to trust them if I approached them asking for assistance with further problems. And further problems I do indeed have.

The radio is still dumb. It shows the RCV sign when it receives a signal but the headphones are dead. It doesn’t transmit when a PTT button is pressed and the intercom doesn’t work, so as far as I know, the mics are also dead. I have checked the wiring diagram and I’m still convinced that I’ve wired the system up correctly, so as there still appears to be a headset problem I’m wondering if my Alphatec Pro headsets are compatible with the radio.

In the set up menu, the radio detects the mics as being ‘dynamic’ but it still seems to think that there’s an external intercom, which of course, there isn’t, and I suspect that this anomaly is something to do with the mics themselves. I’m at the point when I don’t know what else I can physically do myself.

And I also don’t have a friendly radio man who I can call up and talk to, so it’s difficult to know where to go from here. I think that I’ll try contacting the radio manufacturer, giving them all of my details and seeing if they can point me in the right direction.

In the event that I don’t get help from there, I’ll have to locate a radio expert locally and get him to go through the installation. I’m worried if I do that, though, that I’ll end up ripping the whole panel back out again, with all that that entails, and you can imagine how I’d feel about that.

May 15, 2019

The new instrument panel

At last! I’m just back from Malbec for a quick lunch (salad, what else on a beautiful day like today) and here are the first shots of my Savannah’s new instrument panel actually in position, although not yet secured.

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I managed to get all of the wiring connected by cutting most of the cable ties that had been previously fitted but it was still a tricky job getting it into place and some paintwork on the surround has been scratched. The task wasn’t helped by my not releasing the throttle locking screws which prevented the throttle lever rods from sliding through the panel fittings no matter how much I pushed – until I realised.

Most things that I’ve tested after connecting the power seem to be working OK, although I’ve not yet been able to start the engine to see whether gauges like the oil pressure and the oil and water temperature gauges are functioning correctly. The test button for the low fuel warning lamp isn’t working when it was before. It’s the same lamp as is used for the low battery warning which I don’t think was working before but now is, so maybe I’ve switched them round and one isn’t working correctly. I’ll have to check later.

But what of the new radio and transponder you might be wondering? The transponder powered up correctly and seems to be functioning OK. Certainly the codes change as they should and the buttons all appear to be working correctly.

Sadly, the same can’t be said about the radio. It powered up correctly but then none of the buttons did anything and there was no sound at all in the headsets. I then disconnected the headsets and all the buttons then seemed to function correctly, so it’s a headset problem. I’m wondering whether I was right all along and Alphatec gave me the wrong information about the headset monojack connections that I mentioned in my last post?

The Savannah has headset extension cords that run from the standard under-dash sockets to behind the seats so you don’t have cords draped across your legs while you’re in the air. When I return to Malbec shortly I’ll try plugging the headsets into the standard sockets and see if that resolves the problem. If not I’ll have to assume that I was misinformed by Alphatec or I mis-traced the wires down from my headsets. If that’s the case I don’t fancy resoldering the radio D-plug so I’ll probably either switch the connections in the standard sockets or those in the extension cables. I’ll decide depending on what I find – stay tuned!

May 14, 2019

The weirdest thing just happened

It’s now 11.40 pm and it happened 10 minutes ago. I was sitting at my computer desk as I am now typing this and I glanced down to see a tiny field mouse on the floor at my feet. Something caught my eye a short while before but something larger, more like a cat but only for a split second and I thought that I was imagining things.

I thought that the little mouse was dead but when I looked at it more closely I could see that it was still alive but was struggling to breathe and although it could kick its legs intermittently, it was unable to walk. I could see that it had two puncture wounds on either side of its body which I surmised had been caused by something like a cat or another animal that had caught it earlier but then left it to die.

My neighbours have cats but I don’t and I checked through the house to ensure that one hadn’t found its way inside, but sure enough there wasn’t one. I don’t have mice in the house and I’ve no idea where this little one had come from as there are no holes that it could have come in through, as far as I’m aware anyway. And the other strange thing was that an hour or so before I’d dropped something on the floor, which I’d bent down and picked up and the little mouse certainly wasn’t there then.

I couldn’t leave the little thing to suffer as it obviously wasn’t going to recover so I took it into my wood store and despatched it quickly with my sharp little axe. Since my recent health issues I have a great aversion to killing anything that I don’t need to, even flies and spiders, but I think that what I did was for the best.

The whole episode is a total mystery to me. I can’t understand it at all.

May 14, 2019

Total nightmare

Today was the big day when my Savannah’s new instrument panel was supposed to be all done-and-dusted, installed and working. I thought that with all the preparatory work I’d done it would be a fairly straightforward matter to get everything connected up and the complete panel installed but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first thing I found was that, as I’d suspected, the panel with most of its gauges etc mounted, missing just the airspeed indicator, fuel pressure gauge and a few switches, was unwieldy and difficult to line up and hold in position in order for its missing items and all of its connections to be installed. The very real danger was that if it was allowed to topple onto the floor of the aircraft real, and expensive, damage might be done to it.

The easy solution to that was to place my toolbox on the floor of the cabin with several wooden blocks on top of it to bring the panel up to about the correct height. The problem, of course, was although I removed the tools that I thought I might need, I then kept needing others that were still in the box and inaccessible. Here are a few shots showing what I mean.

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But that wasn’t the main problem. As soon as I came to connect up the gauges and switches I found that the wiring under the dashboard just wasn’t long enough to reach the panel. I couldn’t remember everything being so tight when I removed the old panel, but whoever had done the wiring work previously had not only cable-tied everything very tightly indeed but had also made it all into a terrible tangle.

The following picture gives an indication of how little space there was between the new panel and the instrument dash, hardly enough to be able to get my hands behind the panel, and the wiring was still too short to reach most of the gauges and switches that needed to be connected.

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By the time I’d realised just how bad things were I’d already installed and connected up the switches and gauges on the pilot’s side of the panel, and with some difficulty because of the limited space in which to work. And I was also very concerned the whole time about the possibilty of damaging the new radio and transponder by bashing them and dragging them against the metal of the panel surround.

This last shot shows how far I got before calling it a day, clearing up and heading for home in a not very positive frame of mind!

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I’m going to have to think about how to proceed tomorrow because it’s clear that I can’t continue as I’m doing. I don’t want to have to remove the panel and start all over again and my initial thought is to pull the panel as far forward as I can, get underneath it and try to cut all of the cable ties that are currently securing the wiring.

Freeing it up should, I hope, give me the amount of clearance that I’ll need but I won’t know until I give it a go. If it doesn’t work, the only alternative will be to start all over but that could turn into a fairly major undertaking and I’d like to avoid it at all costs if I can.

May 13, 2019

Slow progress

Painfully slow at times over the last couple of days, but at least it’s been steady. But it’s not surprising as the work I’ve been doing is the most critical of the whole project, namely making up the cabling for the new radio and transponder. The fact is that if I mess things up big-time, there’s a considerable amount of money at stake and things are quite a bit more complex than just wiring up an Icom hand-held through a simple interface, which is what was installed previously.

Things are by no means as straightforward as I’d like them to be, except for the transponder that only has two connections (12V positive and earth). But even that has turned out to be more complex than it appears to be, on the face of it. The problem has arisen because the radio and transponder connect into the system via D-plugs that I elected to make up myself.

Although I could have purchased wiring looms already made up, due to the multitude of configurations that are possible, for the radio at least, it seemed daft to pay a considerable amount of money only then to discard half of the installed cabling that would be otherwise unused. Plus I would also then have had lots of external connectors away from the D-plug, which is something I am trying to avoid.

At order time, the supplier offered, and I ordered, two different D-plugs for the radio and the transponder, but when they arrived, they were the same item. On close and careful inspection, I was very pleased to find that the internal cross-connections in the plug required for the radio have already been done for you thus much simplifying the soldering work that’s needed to make up the connections for the power and earth, headsets and PTTs.

However, when I compared the set-up for the transponder, although not all of the pins in the plug are used, the cross connection that is required is different from the ones already in place for the radio and although I was able to un-solder one of the latter and make the new one that’s needed for the transponder, the one that remained could not be cleared. Now it appears that this ‘short’ for want of a better term is across two unused plug pins, but what I don’t know is what’s happening inside the unit on the other side of the plug.

I’m hoping that the supplier knows what he’s doing as the plastic envelopes for the D-plug kits are clearly marked as being for BOTH the radio and the transponder, so I’m hoping that what I’ve done, which is according to the drawing except for the ‘short’ that I can’t take out, will be OK. However, although an experienced avionics engineer would know immediately, I won’t know for sure until I eventually come to connect the unit and its programmed and tested. That’s if it lights up as it should do in the first place!

Having made the decision to modify its D-plug but to leave the ‘short’ that still remained (I had no choice) I made up the connector for the transponder a couple of days ago. While I was reading the transponder installation instructions, I read that it is MOST IMPORTANT not to run its antenna cable in close proximity to any other RT or navigation antenna. I always knew that really and when I ran its cable alongside the Savannah’s existing radio antenna cable I had major misgivings. I therefore decided that I had no option but to revisit the job yesterday and relocate the radio cable from the passenger side (right) to the pilot side (left) of the aircraft.

I felt much happier once I’d done it and although I didn’t have time to do much more afterwards, it was a job worth doing. What I did manage to get done was apply my new panel labels. When I fabricated the new high-level panel in the Savannah, I used labels from a pre-printed sheet that I acquired from a supplier in the UK. I was never very happy with them. Firstly, the sheet was very much aimed at ‘GA’ aircraft so most of the labels were inappropriate for the Savannah and were unused. Secondly, some of the labels I wanted weren’t present on the sheet and I had to make do with ‘approximations’ that weren’t all that satisfactory. And thirdly, the sheet wasn’t cheap once carriage was added into the cost.

So I decided to bite the bullet and buy a little Brother hand-held labelling machine, for not much more than the total cost of the pre-printed sheet actually. I experimented a bit and eventually decided on a style before running off all the labels that I’ll need. Here’s how a few of the labelled-up gauges now look.

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I’m very happy with the result and think that the investment was well worth it, certainly given the total cost of the whole project. And I’ll also be able to label up everything now in my home and office area 🙂

So having studied the connection drawing yet again for the umpteenth time and drawn out my own simplified connection plan, today was the big day for cabling up the new radio. I still had an outstanding query, which was quite a major one. Which connection on my Alphatec Pro headsets powers the headphones and which one the mics? I thought I knew the answer and was all ready to proceed on the basis of my assumption when just before leaving for Malbec, an email from Alphatec came in.

At the end of last week I’d sent them a drawing of a monojack with each of its segments numbered asking what is connected to each one and this was their reply. And how fortunate, because it turns out that my assumption was wrong and that the mic and headphone connections are the reverse of what I’d assumed them to be. Shown below is the picture as confirmed this morning by Alphatec.

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So what a bit of luck that I hadn’t already blasted ahead and made the new connections up, because as I found today, the soldering involved was intricate and very time-consuming. It took me literally hours to do this afternoon, obviously much longer than an experienced avionics engineer would most likely have needed, but I had to be very sure that what I was doing was exactly according to the connection drawing and also that I made no mistakes, like allowing solder to run onto adjacent pins.

But eventually it was done and as well as the radio’s D-plug connections all being in place, so also were the power supply and earth and the PTT connections. Here’s how it looked – not a lot to show for the hours that it took to do.

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So I’m now in a position to connect all the new wiring up, reconnect all of the gauge and switch cabling that’s still in the aircraft and install the new panel. Connection of my new little electronic gizmo will be quite easy but along the way I’ve got to find a way to mount it so it’s secure but accessible should I need to reprogram it in due course. But somehow I think that that will probably be one of the least of tomorrow’s problems.

May 10, 2019

Getting hands on now

Not yesterday, today. Yesterday wasn’t a very nice day – rainy and a bit windy – so I spent the time indoors finishing off my little microelectronic gizmo, which has to be done in order to finish off the Savannah’s new instrument panel. I first trimmed its circuit board down to size and then made a little plastic container for it out of 1mm polycarbonate windscreen plastic.

I first tried sticking it together with superglue but it was very messy and didn’t work. I then decided that as the board and its components were to be encased in silicone inside it anyway, I may as well try using the silicone to hold the tray together, and as the following images show, it worked.

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I’ve kept the end connections on the Arduino microprocessor that are used for programming it clear of silicone so if necessary I can reprogram it in the future to modify the revs at which it will start and stop the hour meter recording but for now all I can do is wait until the instrument panel as a whole is finished and installed to see whether it works as planned.

Today was the day when work on the aircraft itself began as a preliminary to being able to install the instrument panel. The first job was to fit the new transponder antenna. I had noticed the following holes in the underbelly of the Savannah without thinking too much what they were there for but as soon as I set about ordering the new avionics fit I knew instantly.

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They were there because a transponder had already been fitted at some time in the past and then removed, so by ordering the same antenna that had fitted into them, I could fully re-use them and make a neat job of the new fit.

Getting the antenna cable through into the cabin was the simplest of jobs because there’s an unimpeded route below the seats.

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However, the best route is along the side of the fuselage and cabin, where all of the other cables have currently been run.

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Here’s how it came out inside with the antenna cable attached.

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And here’s an external view of the new antenna. Very nice I think

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The cable entered the cabin on the passenger (right hand) side at floor level. My only concern is that by running the transponder antenna cable alongside the radio antenna cable there will be interference to the radio signal, but I’ll just have to wait and see. If so, I’ll have to move the transponder cable over to the left hand side.

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Both cables now pop up in front of the passenger door and will cross over to connect with the radio and transponder in the lower centre of the panel.

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My next problem is to sort out the radio connections that are present so I can solder up the wiring looms for it and the transponder. The latter will be easy – just two wires – but I’m still trying to resolve which of the wires coming down from the headset jacks are for the microphones and which for the headphones as although I don’t think that connecting them the wrong way round will do any damage, I just don’t want to waste the time having to take them out and resolder them. I’ve emailed Alphatec, the maker of my headsets, to see if they will tell me but time is pressing and I won’t be able to wait longer than 24 hours before pressing on and finding out the hard way 😕

May 9, 2019

Another small step

I decided that I’d finish last night on a high by adding the external connections to my little microelectronic device that I made to control my Savannah’s hour meter. I finished the basic device a few days ago and all that was needed to connect it to the outside world was a set of flying leads, for the 12V power and earth, the input from the rev counter and the output to the earth of the hour meter. Here’s how it looked once I was done.

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So all ready to give it its first test by connecting it for the first time to a 12V power supply. I didn’t know what to expect but my initial hope was that it wouldn’t start smoking and fry itself because I’d made some stupid error when I worked out all of its connections and its layout on the copper strip board. Anything else I thought would be a bonus, so I approached connecting the 12V power and earth to a battery with some trepidation. Here’s what happened.

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It turned out that I needn’t have worried at all. All that happened was a lttle red light illuminated on the Arduino microprocessor and everything else stayed cool and calm, including myself. Obviously I won’t know that it’s actually doing the job that it’s intended for until I finally connect it up but it’s a big relief to know for now that nothing seems to be amiss with it.

But more seriously, it doesn’t appear at this stage as though it’ll be a source of danger, which is always the worry when you introduce a strange electronic device into an aircraft with its potential for shorting and causing a fire, especially when it’s going to be installed in an inaccessible place where it won’t be visible. However, I’ll continue to keep my guard up until it’s actually fitted, I’ve run the engine and it’s proven to be working correctly.

May 8, 2019

Fully loaded

Well, almost. The missing gauges and switches which you can see in the picture below are still in the aircraft and they’ll be fitted as soon as the completed instrument panel can be installed.

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I’m over the moon with how it’s turned out. I made the panel for my old UK AX3, G-MYRO, which is now enjoying a new life in my French AX3, 28AAD, I partially re-made a panel for an X-Air in the UK before I came to France and I then made the panel for my French X-Air from scratch after I got here. But this one for my Savannah, F-JHHP (or 77ASY to give it its local ‘name’), is the one that I’m most proud of.

It was a bit tricky today getting all of the gauges to sit nicely in their allotted holes. The new transponder in particular was the least cooperative but it wasn’t its fault. I found in the end that the seating problem was down to the amount of paint that I’d applied around the lip of the hole and after I’d cleared some of it away, its screws all eventually lined up with the mounting holes and it sat in nicely, as the new radio had.

To finish off, I’ve now got to put a dab of Loctite on each securing screw thread and a second locknut on the securing screws of the instuments that have them around the periphery of their dials. I’ll then be able to start on the work of installing the panel in the aircraft, starting with the transponder antenna and then the wiring looms for the radio and transponder.

The looms will be the tricky bits because I have to solder all of the connections in the connecting ‘D’ plugs and as of now I don’t know which cables coming from the headset plugs are for the mics and which for the headphones. But I’ll find out. The rest to complete the job should be easy as it’ll just be a matter of replacing connections etc that have all been labelled up in the aircraft. That will be the really exciting bit!

May 7, 2019

Panel nearly there

I went across to Malbec this morning and dropped the new instrument panel into 77ASY. And I couldn’t have been more pleased. It fitted so well that you might think that it had been made for the aircraft 😉

Seriously, it fitted perfectly, much better than my original effort. It dropped exactly into the correct position and all of the mounting holes lined up perfectly, unlike the last one, so I was delighted to know that I can now press on, finish it off and start loading the instruments and gauges into it. Here are some shots of it in place.

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So my job this afternoon was to complete the preparation work and give it a coat of finishing. The special aluminium primer that I used had a sort of rubbery feel to it even though I’d left it overnight and it was dry. It did in fact prove to have a rubbery character to it when I started to give it a light rub down and it sort of wouldn’t! It proved to be impossible to completely rub out the brush marks without rubbing it so hard that I would have started to remove it in some areas, around the edges of the gauge holes for example, and as I didn’t want to do that, I had to be content with some remaining slightly visible. This shouldn’t be a problem, though, when it’s installed in the aircraft and fully loaded with gauges.

After giving it a good coat of universal spray primer, I left the panel outside in the sun to dry off. It was very summer-like today with a temperature of 22 degrees Celsius, so while it was out in that drying and hardening a bit, I went off to buy a can of spray satin grey finishing coat. As usual, I went all the way to Montignac and couldn’t find what I wanted and ended up going back in the opposite direction to the smaller Bricojem store in Rouffignac, which is quite a bit closer to my home.

After giving the freshly primed panel a very light rub down with a fine sanding pad, I then gave it a final coat of the satin grey and here’s how it finished up at the end of the afternoon.

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I’m very pleased with how it’s turned out and I’m really looking forward to getting on with loading the instruments and gauges into it that I’ve had waiting on one side for what seems like an age. And you never know, I think there’s even a slim chance that I might get everything finished off and installed in the aircraft by this week-end. However, I’m not banking on it and will be content to take one step at a time making sure that nothing goes wrong while I’m doing it.

May 6, 2019

Phew!!

I finished off the new Savannah instrument panel fabrication work today and it was with a big sigh of relief I can tell you. It was tricky enough cutting all of the large instrument holes yesterday and you’d think that it would be a piece of cake drilling all of the smaller ones today. But that wasn’t the case, especially after the first two that I drilled got ‘messy’, but luckily not so much as will be visible when all of the instruments etc are installed.

There were two main problems – the first was that several holes and cutouts had to be shaped by hand and when you’re filing away, there’s always the chance that you’ll make a mistake and mess the whole thing up. Luckily that didn’t happen. The other thing is that several of the gauges have securing screw holes around their perimeter and if you don’t drill those in exactly the right positions, the gauges in question end up crooked ie not vertical. Luckily that didn’t happen either.

So I was very pleased to end up with something that will be quite presentable when it’s all finished and installed in the aircraft. It’s not perfect, but something made by hand, especially if that hand is relatively unskilled or inexperienced, is never going to be as perfect as an item made on precision machinery.

I stipped the protective film off the shiny ‘front’ face of the panel and then rubbed it down with fine wet-and-dry paper so I could then give it a coat of special aluminium primer. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to find it here in brushable form and as I’ve had it for two or three years, it’s thickened up a bit as well. My idea is to give it a good thick coat of primer and then rub the brush marks out before spraying it to get a smooth satin finish, so I’ll have to see how things work out.

Here’s a shot of the ‘finished’ panel at the end of this afternoon.

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In fact, I’ve realised that I’ve forgotten to drill the holes for the two screws that will hold the new 12V aux socket in and also the holes for the circuit breakers for the radio and transponder, but that won’t cause any problems. I’ll be taking the panel over to Malbec tomorrow to see how it fits and I’m hoping that after all my careful measuring it’ll drop straight in. Watch this space!

May 5, 2019

New and old

As I had the new sheet of aluminium that arrived from Germany on Friday and it was too windy to fly today in the Weedhopper, after completing the main assembly work on my little microelectronic gizmo, I was a able to press on today with fabricating my Savannah’s new instrument panel. Here’s how far I got. That’s the new one on the bottom below.

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I learnt the lessons well from my previous efforts and this time I took plenty of time to mark everything out and spot drill the centre of each hole that I had to drill. You can see that the main changes that I’ve made compared to the original layout are in the centre section where I’ve moved the right hand pair of large gauges (rev counter above, VSI below) a bit to the left to allow the section to accommodate four rather than just three smaller diameter instruments (slip ball and fuel pressure above and radio and transponder below). I think that the layout works pretty well and looks quite neat.

I was thinking about taking some time off tomorrow for a flight in the Weedhopper with Wim but finishing off the panel is my main priority otherwise I’ll never get away to the UK. So I’m going to press on and continue with this work instead tomorrow and will hopefully get the panel finished, bar unforeseen mishaps, all except the painting, which shouldn’t take any more than another day. Then I’ll be able to think about going flying, while the paint’s hardening, if the weather decides to play ball that is 😉

May 3, 2019

Moving forward again

The main thing that happened today was that the new sheet of aluminium for my instrument panel arrived. It’s got bent in one corner but that doesn’t matter because that will be cut off anyway, but at last I can get back to getting my Savannah ready to fly again.

I can’t see me getting much, if anything, done on it this week-end because tomorrow we’re going to a book fayre in support of the local British run dog rescue centre (Phoenix) and on Sunday I hope to be flying in the Weedhopper, but at least I’ll be able to take a running start into the coming week.

Even so, I somehow can’t see me making the third window that I identified for flying to the UK, starting on Saturday 25 May. I have to fabricate my new panel front, install all of the instruments including the new radio and transponder for which I have to create new wiring looms, fit it all in the Savannah and test it out on the ground and in the air to make sure everything works as it should.

And only then can I make an appointment to fly into La Rochelle in the Charente to get the complete avionics installation checked and tested by the approved body there for it to be signed-off so I can legally use it.

Somehow I can’t see me getting all that done in the time available so I’ll be ready to then take the aircraft on a long and demanding flight to the UK with total security, but I’ll just have to see what I can do. In the meantime I’ll have to check and see what bank holidays there will be in the UK and France in the following months which might make the basis for further flight windows (now checked – just the one in the UK, August Bank Holiday Monday 26 so not much flexibility there).

And also on a positive note, today I finished putting together the little microelectronic device for controlling my Savannah’s hour gauge. Here are a couple of shots that I took to show its front and back.

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I now have to check again that I’ve soldered all of its components in the right places, that I’ve cut the copper strip on the back of the circuit board where I was actually supposed to and that there are no shorts across the cut gaps as a result of not quite completely cutting the copper, which is not difficult to do as it’s so narrow.

Only then will I be able to try putting 12 volts across its live and ground terminals and seeing whether it promptly shorts out, overheats and fries itself because I made a mistake when I figured out the circuit board layout, which I obviously hope that it will not do. Until I’ve finished the panel I won’t be able to actually test it but in the meantime I’ll be able to make a plastic enclosure for it out of old windscreen Lexan of which I have a goodly supply.

When it is all tested and working I’ll be able to pot it (enclose it) in neutral, non-acid silicone that I’ve already acquired, although I’ll leave the programming points of the Arduino microprocessor free so the unit can be reprogrammed in the future. I set it up to start the hour gauge recording when the engine reaches a figure of 3200 RPM and switches off when it falls to 1600 RPM but only actual use will show whether these figures are suitable. Exciting times are coming back… 😉

May 2, 2019

Started work!

At last, after so many miserable weeks of delay and disappointment due to stuff not being delivered on time. Only on the little microlectronic device rather than the instrument panel itself, but that’s much better than just wasting time doing nothing constructive at all.

I was originally going to head over to Malbec and install the new transponder cable on the Savannah but our latest postie is arriving much earlier than the old ones used to and before I could leave, she’d arrived and delivered the final package of electronic parts that I’d ordered including the copper strip board. So I decided that I’d get cracking on some electronic assembly work instead and leave the transponder cable to another day.

Here’s a shot that I took a short while ago of my ‘work bench’ in front of my computer screen on my computer work station.

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I’ve soldered in the Arduino Pro Mini microcomputer plus a few more components and the LM1815N integrated circuit is in position ready to be soldered in also. I was a bit shaky to start off with but I’m getting better at handling the little components and the soldering as I slowly master the necessary techniques.

I was lucky because I already have a pair of magnifying goggles and a little 15 watt soldering iron that I haven’t used for ages. In fact it still has a UK plug on it. I was also amazed when I was searching for something yesterday in my atelier to come across two little tools that I didn’t know that I had for cutting the copper strip between adjacent holes on the circuit board.

That’s one of them in the photograph with what looks like a small drill bit in a little blue handle that you hold between your thumb and forefinger and spin in the hole on the board where you want to cut the copper strip. I just tipped them into a bag with lots of other ‘junk’ when I left the UK and they’ve been in my atelier ever since. I only now know what they are for after reading information on the internet about how to do this project, so what a coincidence and how useful!

I’m going to do a little bit more now although I’m not sure that I’ll be able to finish the whole job this evening. I’m finding it challenging because of the intense concentration needed to ensure that I position everything exactly where it should be according to the layout plan that I prepared earlier, but it’s very interesting and also very satisfying.

I just hope that it works when I’ve finished and that I won’t have made a mistake that will make it fry itself when I apply 12 volts to it! Oh well, got to get on… 😉

April 30, 2019

Do gremlins really exist?

No doubt about it. Three immediate examples from what I’m doing right now. I have already lost two possible windows for flying to the UK due to delays receiving items and materials for my Savannah’s new instrument panel. Actually getting my new radio and transponder delivered was the main problem that set me back by more than a week but once they arrived it should all have been a downhill run.

Has it been? Hardly. I have everything ready now to fit into the new panel. Only one problem. My order for the aluminium from which to make the panel never arrived and after I told the French supplier to get lost they gave me a refund with no argument. But as a result, a further two weeks lost and I’m now awaiting replacement material from Germany, which is en route.

As mentioned in my last posting, I want to incorporate a small microelectronic device to better regulate my Hobbs gauge that records engine hours. I have had nearly all of the components to hand to construct the device for several days except for what’s in a package ordered from a UK supplier. A follow-up order placed on that supplier has already arrived but my initial order seems to have gone missing. And naturally that’s the one that contains the circuit board without which I can do absolutely nothing.

Last one, which is just aggravating but not serious. I’m not happy with my panel labels and rather than buy another pre-printed sheet, it was cheaper actually to buy a proper little Brother electric label maker so I can make my own. As well as the white on black tape sample that it comes with (which is too wide for what I want) I ordered a narrower reel of white on black. I decided that the labels are not quite what I’m after so thought I’d go for black on white and ordered 1 reel of 3.5mm tape and a couple of 6mm, which I think is what I’ll be going with.

The 3.5mm, which was delivered today, is too narrow as I expected it would be and I wondered where the 6mm reels were that I ordered at the same time. Amazon tracking says that they were delivered yesterday. Huh? They weren’t, so they’ve obviously gone AWOL. In 5 minutes or less, Amazon have agreed to an instant refund so I’ll just reorder them but, as I say, aggravating.

Do gremlins ever go on holiday? I wish the one looking over my shoulder would give it a break for a while because at this rate I’ll even miss my third window for flying to the UK at the back-end of May and that I do not want to happen.

April 28, 2019

Time to tackle the tacho

Or to nobble the Hobbs. I’ll explain. Almost every aircraft, including most ultralights and ULMs, have a gauge or metre on their instrument panel for recording and displaying time. It’s widely referred to as a Hobbs gauge.

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But as in many things to do with aviation, measuring time isn’t as simple as it might seem. The reason is that there are several ways in which time is significant, the most important ones being engine and airframe time and in particular the time schedules between maintenance tasks and overhauls and the ‘life’ left in components and the airframe itself.

The first one is ‘switch on to switch off’. This refers to when the master key switch is turned on to the time it’s turned off and the aircraft’s Hobbs meter that displays hours would be connected directly to the master switch in order to show it. But it’s clearly not a very relevant measure. Just because you’ve turned the power on it doesn’t mean that anything is being used, consumed or subject to wear.

If a pilot needs to switch the cabin light on to read his navigation notes there’s no reason why time should be removed from the life of the engine or airframe while he does so. Similarly, if an engineer is installing or testing the strobe light system and needs an hour or so of electrical power for that, it has no effect on engine life and there’s no reason therefore, why it should be logged.

The next time measurement is ‘engine on to engine off’.Clearly this is much more relevant to engine life and worthy of being recorded but even so, it may not represent the whole story as I’ll go on to discuss below.

Then there’s ‘brakes on to brakes off’ and ‘wheels up to wheels down’, both measures which are relevant to flight time and ‘cycles’. Most general aviation pilots use the former for logging their flight time as it covers the total period during which they have taken control of the aircraft.

Some argue that ‘engine on to engine off’ is more relevant as that’s the period for which they’re in charge as captain of the aircraft during which they are technically flying. My own view is that that overstates flying time as I disagree that sitting on the apron warming up the engine for ten minutes prior to the flight is actually ‘flying’ even though technically you do ‘have control’ of the aircraft.

For many commercial pilots, especially those flying large passenger jets, ‘wheels up to wheels down’ has to be recorded as a measure of airframe ‘flight cycles’ but it’s not something that’s particularly relevant for general aviation pilots and especially private pilots of light aircraft.

But let’s look again at ‘engine on to engine off’. There has been much discussion over the years about this measure of time that continues on the aviation forums to this day. There are many who argue that it should be strictly applied when considering maintenance schedules and engine life as engines incur ‘a high level of stress and wear’ when being started from cold just as they do when cruising at higher revs while in flight.

I personally disagree with this. Today’s engine oils are specifically engineered not to drain from bearing surfaces, pistons and cylinder walls as they did in the past. Modern lubrication technology sees to that. So to argue that engines incur a high level of stress at start-up is, I believe, over-stating the case somewhat.

And I think that’s it’s also wrong to equate the ten minutes or so that a modern engine ticks over at low revs while warming up with a similar period during flight at cruise engine revs. So what’s the answer?

It seems to me that what is necessary is some compromise means of measuring time that is based on engine use but takes account of when an engine is running slowly and not subject to the stresses involved in climbing or working at cruise revs and luckily there is already something in existence that provides an engineering based solution.

This is the so-called ‘tacho reading’ or tacho time. Tachos, short for tachometer, are time recorders that are built into an engine’s rev counter and are designed to take into account engine revs. Tacho time is similar to Hobbs time but instead of measuring actual hours that the engine is running it measures engine RPMs. This means that the tacho time cycles through the numbers more slowly at idle and low throttle settings, and faster at higher power settings.

Tacho time varies according to aircraft type and is calculated based on the average cruise RPM of the aircraft in question. So in many ways, this represents the ideal way to measure time when considering maintenance schedules and engine life and in most situations in general aviation it is used for precisely that purpose.

But there is only one problem. Tachos are found in all normal general aviation aircraft from light singles upwards but are not usually found in ultralight aircraft and ULMs like my Savannah which usually have to use much cruder methods of measurement, especially in the form that they come ‘straight from the factory’.

So what is my concern in all of this, you may ask? As hinted above, my Savannah does not have a tacho. In fact it has the worst of all worlds, a Hobbs gauge that’s linked to the master switch that has caught me out on more than one occasion when I’ve left it on and had hours ticking up even though the engine was not switched on.

And to make things even worse, I have been keeping a strict record of tacho v flying hours and have found that my Hobbs gauge is slightly over-reading, so I’m losing out all round as the only ‘log’ that came to me with the Savannah was an Excel spreadsheet that records only the Hobbs time.

This means that if I left things as they are, not only would I be carrying out servicing at unnecessarily frequent intervals but I’d also be losing out on the value of my aircraft when I eventually come to sell it through understating the hours left on its engine. This could be by as much as 15%, so not an insignificant figure.

So what might be the solution? My original aim was to modify the Hobbs gauge circuitry so that at the very most it only began recording when the engine was started. As mentioned previously, this can be accomplished quite simply by introducing a diode into the circuitry that only switches on when the alternator starts to generate a current.

Although more acceptable than what I have at present, I did not see this as being the optimum solution however, because the Savannah’s 912 engine has to warm up at idle revs for around ten minutes before each flight and as I said before, I do not think that this should be counted against logged time. I therefore raised a question on the microlight forum and was intrigued when Sean in the UK posted a reply.

Sean came at the problem from a different direction but essentially his objectives were similar to my own. He oversees a small fleet of Ikarus C42 microlights which are frequently hired by his club members for their own use. He has to charge by the hour but needs a form of time measurement that is not only realistic given the need to maintain the aircraft correctly in accordance with published maintenance schedules but is also fair to the members.

And he also has another concern. Because members wish to keep their hire charges to a minimum, there is a great incentive for them to minimise the time spent warming up the engine and to begin their detail as soon after starting the engine as possible. This would be good for them but ultimately terrible for the engines so Sean needed to find a way to deal with it effectively but in as fair a way as possible.

And he came up with a very elegant solution in the form of a small microprocessor controlled module that powers the Hobbs meter via a signal received from the rev counter. Ideally he would probably have liked to base his charges on tacho hours, but as microlights don’t come with tachos, his method apart from being very elegant, is clearly the next best thing.

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The concept of Sean’s circuitry is relatively simple. Each aircraft’s Hobbs gauge is connected pemanently to its 12V positive electrical supply but its earth is connected and disconnected by the module. The module receives a signal from the aircraft’s rev counter and is programmed not to connect the Hobbs’s earth until a specified rev figure is attained, in his case 3200 RPM.

So after an aircraft’s engine has been started, its Hobbs gauge does not run while the engine is warming up at low revs and only starts to register when it starts to taxy. The Hobbs then continues running continuously thereafter until the engine is slowed to a specified low revs figure, in Sean’s case 500 RPM, so the members are happy as they are not charged while the engines are idling warming up and Sean’s happy because the engines are not being subjected to poor practices.

Originally I would have been content going for just the simple ‘diode in the charging circuit’ route so my Savannah’s Hobbs gauge only registered while its engine was running. However, I was so intrigued and impressed by Sean’s solution that I decided to take that route instead and over the past week or so have been busy solving the intellectual puzzle of how to convert Sean’s circuit diagram into an actual layout that I can create on copper strip circuit board.

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I think that I’ve succeeded but will have to check and check again to avoid any mishaps before I begin actual soldering work. I’ve already begun receiving the components that I need, which are not expensive, including the little Arduino Pro Mini microprocessor that’s at the heart of the module. I amended Sean’s code for my Hobbs to start recording at 3200 RPM and to stop at 1600 and uploaded it into the processor today.

The trick will be to program the module with figures that emulate a GA aircraft’s tacho output. From my experience when I was a member of a Piper Cherokee group that charged for time using tacho hours, this was somewhere around 90% of flying time, so that will be my target. I’m now looking forward not only to completing the Savannah’s panel upgrade with its new avionics but also incorporating this neat little module into its Hobbs gauge cicuitry and I’ll let you know how I get on 😉

April 26, 2019

Waiting, waiting…

From my experience, you do a lot of that in France, most especially when you are waiting for something that you’ve ordered to be delivered.

I’m delighted to say that my soopa-doopa new radio and transponder arrived yesterday, so apart from having to send off a cheque for 98€ for the transponder antenna cable and wiring loom plugs that they included but forgot to add to the invoice when they initially provided me with payment details, that saga is thankfully over.

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But even with all of the delay involved in actually getting hold of this kit, incredibly I still do not have a panel to put it in despite this notionally being, apart from the detailed fabrication work involved, the simplest thing to arrange. I initially acquired a sheet of pre-lacquered aluminium, not the easiest thing to locate in the form that I wanted it, but which was delivered just a few days after I’d ordered it.

Unfortunately my original fabrication efforts were not up to standard and after using the sheet for learning and experimental purposes, I decided that I’d order a sheet of plain aluminium as a replacement which one would expect to be much more readily available. And sure enough, it was easy enough to find an internet supplier who boasted of having the material in stock and claiming to be a leading supplier of all metal types.

That was way back on 16th April. I was immediately informed by email that the order was ‘in course of preparation’ so proceeded to wait in eager anticipation of my small sheet of standard aluminium arriving on my doorstep within a few days just as the other more elaborate pre-lacquered sheet had done. But this was not to be the case.

In the meantime various other items and components that I ordered on the internet arrived just as I expected them to but still no aluminium. So I contacted the supplier and said that if they were unable to supply this simple item would they please cancel my order and provide me with a refund so I could source it elsewhere.

I have already discovered that there are three types of internet supplier here in France. The most successful ones behave like Amazon – they take your money, communicate with you effectively and deliver your goods on the promised date. Others, however, are very pleased to take your money but don’t much like the inconvenience of actually having to supply you with the goods you’ve ordered, do so grudgingly after considerable delay and never communicate with you often even after you’ve contacted them several times.

And the last type, the worst of all, like to take your money, fail to provide any product or service at all and still want to hang onto it. I found this to my cost when I employed the services of BSP Auto in Paris to arrange a hire car for me, did not use their service and cancelled according to their terms and conditions and then had to spend weeks getting my money back from them, which I only did after legal threats.

My aluminium supplier falls into the second category, I find. After contacting them they said that they take 8 working days to turn round an order – this to cut a small sheet of material and despatch it – and if as I said in my message it was ‘urgent’ I should have said so when I placed the order.

I find such complacency astonishing. Nobody orders something they don’t need and once they have placed an order and paid for it, they expect it to be delivered in a timely way. In this respect every order is ‘urgent’ and any business that fails to recognise this does not deserve to succeed. They told me that my order would be shipped out ‘the next day’ for delivery today.

As I type this, it is already late afternoon and I have received no notification from any delivery company that my order is on the way. Naturally, I will never use this supplier again, but it’s already too late and I’m about to lose yet another week-end that I could have spent fabricating and assembling my panel.

I have important family reasons for wishing to fly back to the UK in the near future but to do so I need to have my Savannah in a fit and airworthy state. So far some of the suppliers I have chosen to assist me in achieving this have done exactly the opposite and I hope that they don’t end up costing me more dearly than just money.

April 17, 2019

New carb rubbers needed?

I’ll say so! The following picture says it all.

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Replacing them both didn’t take too long to do – a couple of hours at most – but it was well worth doing. Both carb inlet rubbers seem to be exposed to the same sort of environment, at the back of the engine and above exhaust outlets. But for some reason, whereas the right hand rubber still looked almost new, the left hand one was completely shot. No wonder the engine was running rough. In fact it’s almost a wonder that it was running at all and am I glad that I switched it off so promptly when it began to shake.

I wonder if the last time there was a problem, it only affected the right hand rubber and someone just replaced that one, leaving the left hand one alone. If so, in my opinion it was a false economy because although these things are a bit pricey for what they are, it seems to me that they should be changed before they actually split, say every three years at most or every 300 hours, as Rotax recommend. That will be my policy in the future, although at my age who knows how many times I’ll get the chance to do so 😉

Although I won’t be using it, I took the panel that I’ve been working on to Malbec with me and put it into place to see how it will look.

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I think that the layout works pretty well, but on this afternoon’s evidence, I think that I might need to move the central group of six gauges (two x 80mm, four x 57mm) slightly to the right to make sure that they clear the vertical panel supports. All I need now is for the new aluminium to arrive so I can get cracking on it.

April 16, 2019

Daddy, what’s a learning curve?

It’s what you climb up, my son, when you’re building a new Savannah instrument panel. Suffice to say that I won’t be using the panel that I’ve been working on – I can’t anyway because I drilled a large hole on the wrong side – but I’ve now learnt by my mistakes how to go about doing the next one and, hopefully, making a nice job of it.

I’ve already ordered another sheet, this time of plain aluminium instead of pre-lacquered, which I should receive in a few days time. The new sheet of 1.5mm aluminium will have a protective film on one bright side and I’ll decide when it arrives whether to leave it on or not before I start working on it.

Another thing that I’ve learned is that I must work from the front of the panel because both the drills and the cutters that I’ve been using give a clean cut on the entry face and any burring, if there is any, is left on the back where it can be removed without leaving any visible trace.

The next thing is that I’ve now managed to get clean, vertical cuts using my hole cutters. I’ve had to do several things to achieve this. Firstly, by just screwing my hole cutters onto the arber I’m using (the arber is the shaft on which the cutter is mounted that fits into the drill chuck) and not using the securing mechanism that it came with, the cutters are mounted much more securely and are rigid in use. It was mainly because the securing mechanism allowed them to wiggle a little from side to side that the holes they produced were coming out with slightly bevelled edges.

The other thing that caused the holes to be untidy was using a hand drill. I’ve now made up a temporary rig on my bench-mounted vertical drill that allows me to clamp the panel firmly in place for working on and the holes that result are vastly superior to what I was getting previously. In fact, the only holes that are critical are the three 80mm ones for the ASI, altimeter and VSI because all of those instruments are inserted from the back. I’m pretty certain now that if I take enough care I’ll be able to make good jobs of them using my bench rig.

All of the other holes in the panel are relatively much easier to cut and drill because the gauges and switches that go into them all have front bezels that will cover up any cosmetic discrepancies. The only other thing that I’ll have to do is make sure that I drill the holes accurately in their correct positions and I’ve learnt that the best way to do that is to centre-punch each one beforehand. This makes it much easier to line up the drill point before clamping the panel down on my rig.

So that should do it and I guess that taking my time so I don’t make any silly mistakes, I should get the panel finished with a couple of days of work. I received confirmation earlier this afternoon that my radio and transponder kit has all now been picked up by DHL so I’ll hopefully have that by the end of the week so with a bit of luck I could have the completed panel ready for refitting early next week.

As I then need to test everything and make sure that it all works as it should and get the transponder programmed and initialised (probably in La Rochelle), this will be too late for my first window to fly to the UK. I suspect that it may also be too late for my second window a week later but I’ll just have to do my best and see how things turn out.

April 15, 2019

Not a good day

Not entirely – it actually started off pretty well. I got an invoice this morning for my new radio and transponder that included a credit for the ATR833S radio that I returned a couple of weeks or so ago, so I did an immediate transfer of funds to the supplier’s bank account and now, although it hasn’t yet been confirmed, I assume that the kit is winging its way to me.

But from then on it all went downhill, as I’ll explain. Today was the day for starting on the new panel fabrication work, namely cutting it out and cutting the first few holes for the gauges. I don’t have all of the hole cutters that I need but at least I could do the 80mm and 57m diameter ones. Cutting the panel itself out of the 100cm x 25cm sheet that I ordered went well just using a jig saw with a fine blade but problems began when I started on the hole cutting.

Firstly, although I clamped the panel down, cutting the holes using a hand-held drill just isn’t good enough. It didn’t help that I omitted to centre-punch the centre of each gauge hole to make sure that the holes were exactly positioned and one of them is slightly out. Not by much but enough for me to notice. But in any case, the hole cutters always move sufficiently to make each hole oversize.

I’m also now thinking that it was a bad idea buying a pre-lacquered sheet. The reason is that the plastic film that protects the lacquered face melts when you are drilling and you end up with holes with messy edges. Until the job’s finished and I remove the plastic I won’t know how good or bad the holes actually are, but quite honestly, it’s not worth the extra expense and bother of working with a sheet of pre-painted aluminium.

Another consideration is that when you cut a hole, it ends up with bare metal inner edges. These won’t be seen if your holes are cut with enough precision for the gauges to fit tightly in them, but that’s not the case. So long as the extent to which they are oversize is not too great, if you then sprayed the panel yourself the edges would be covered making them far less noticeable but again, I’ll have to wait and see how the panel turns out in order to judge its appearance.

Here’s a shot of where I got to today.

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All in all, I was very disappointed with today’s progress. I’ll press on now I’ve started but I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll use this version as a learning tool and then buy another sheet of bare aluminium to see if I can do better. But it won’t be for a few days, because the other thing that happened is that I succeeded in burning out my old Black and Decker mains electric drill. And I’ve got a constant reminder because the smell was surprisingly intense and seems to have penetrated my clothes so I can’t get rid of it even hours afterwards.

I’ve ordered a modern, more powerful, replacement (the old one was only 500 watts) but as usual, it’ll be several days before it’s delivered. No point trying to buy it locally because of the time you lose trawling around the shops who always end up not having exactly what you want in stock even though they say they have, and then paying 20% more for it. Luckily, I’m expecting the Savannah’s new carb intake rubbers to arrive tomorrow, so the time waiting for the new drill won’t be wasted.

April 14, 2019

More Savannah instrument panel

Today I finished stripping out all of the surplus cabling that had been used for the old radio and intercom set up and identifying all of the connections that I’ll need for the new radio and transponder. As I suspected, although I didn’t come across any more bare connections, the wiring for the previous installation was shambolic and I look forward to making things much neater behind the panel before I’m finished.

One of the things that I found very bemusing was that the power cable feeding the radio had been wrapped around the main panel wiring loom in the form of a long coil. Now I’m no expert, but I think that that’s a no-no for any radio because the coil form has the potential to act as an antenna and introduce interference into the system, which is just what you don’t want. Anyway, I won’t be doing the same thing when I come to connect the new kit.

I also spent some time today thinking about the new panel’s layout and trying to come to a final design, which I think I now have done having had the old panel lying on my kitchen floor for several days and looking at it every time I walked past it. Unfortunately, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the panel is just too small to incorporate a tablet to run my navigation software so that has had to be left off. The design I’ve finally come up with is as shown below.

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The changes compared to the original layout are only slight and quite subtle in that I’ve changed very little on the right and left hand sides of the panel. The reason for not adding an extra gauge into the group on the right hand side is that the existing gauges are all 52mm in diameter and if I’d shifted the fuel pressure gauge over into that area it would have stood out like a sore thumb because it is a 57mm gauge and also has four fixing screws which the 52mm gauges don’t. I’ve not changed anything over on the left hand side, the pilot’s side, apart from swapping the 57mm rev counter for the new 80mm one because there isn’t really the potential on that side to do anything significant to gain space and certainly not enough for an extra gauge.

What I have done is change things in the centre of the panel. I’ve carefully measured the space available and I’m 99% certain that if I move the RPM and VSI gauges a little left of where they are in the current panel there will be enough space between them and the right hand vertical row of fixing holes to get in two columns of 57mm gauges. This means that I’ll be able to have a slip ball and the existing fuel pressure gauge on a top row and the new radio and transponder on the bottom.

There are a couple of advantages with this layout. First, by having the radio and transponder on the bottom row, the ‘D’ plugs of both units will be readily accessible. This will be especially useful for whoever programs and initialises the transponder for me because it will be possible to do the job and the subsequent testing ‘in situ’.

The other thing is that both the radio and the transponder require 3 amp in-line fuses and because there will be enough space vertically between the lower and upper rows of the 57mm gauges in the centre, I’ll be able to have 3 amp contact breakers in the panel as shown, above both the radio and the transponder. This will be much more convenient (and professional) than having in-line fuse holders that you’d have to reach up for behind the panel as was the case with the old radio that I’ve just removed.

I’ve ‘lost’ a week because I’ve not heard from my German supplier since last week-end, probably because he was at the show at Friedrichshafen all week that has just finished. I heard from him again today so I’m hoping that I’ll receive all the new kit by the end of this week. It’ll be too late for me to make my first window for flying to the UK (leaving 20th April) but I’m hoping that despite having to get everything fitted and installed and the transponder initialised and tested, I’ll make my next one leaving the following week-end. All I can do is press on and do my best 😉

April 12, 2019

More Sav panel and a piece of good fortune

I pressed on with stripping out the Savannah panel today and succeeded in getting everything removed save for one recalcitrant screw holding the small rev counter that I want to dispose of in the panel front. Everything else was out by the end of the afternoon and I lost just one gauge, an AVD temperature gauge with a plastic body that broke when a securing nut tightened up on one of its mounting bolts and wrenched the bolt out.

Unfortunately the gauge has now been discontinued and an initial search has revealed that the ones available on line all come complete with the temperature sensor at prices not far short of 200€. So that’s a big disappointment and I think that I’ll have to start by seeing if I can repair the gauge casing with Araldite or something similar, much as I don’t like the idea of doing that.

Here’s how the panel looked at the end of the day.

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So what about the piece of good fortune? Well, I got the Savannah out of the hangar a few weeks ago for the first time since I last flew it in December in order to start it up and give the engine a run. I found that it took longer than usual to start and when it had done, it seemed to be running a bit rough. But the worst thing was that when I increased the engine revs from idle, it initially began to shake rather wildly until the revs had built up to a certain level.

It had never done that before, and in fact since fitting the new scimitar blade prop, the engine has been running very smoothly indeed. On that day, I left it out for a few hours in the warm sunshine in case the problem was due to its being in the cold, damp hangar over the winter.

I didn’t restart the engine that day but I did the other day before I began to strip out the panel and this time the problem seemed to be even worse. Even before the engine had a chance to warm up I turned it off because the shaking was so bad that the whole of the nose seemed to be shaking as well and I was concerned about doing damage to the engine mountings.

I need to get the panel work finished so in the meantime while I’m doing that, I posted on the microlight forum asking for ideas about what the problem might be and the suggestion that rang the most bells and seemed most plausible to me was perished carburettor inlet rubbers.

Before leaving home today I checked through 77ASY’s papers and could find no information about when the carb rubbers might last have been changed. My guess is that if they have been, it was at least 5 years ago and probably more, so even without checking them more closely, just for my own peace of mind, I ordered a new pair before leaving the house. And lucky I did because before I left Malbec this afternoon, I wiggled the left carbrettor and it almost fell of in my hand and probably would have done if I’d kept on wiggling it.

So how lucky to discover that before taking off for my flight to the UK. And with hindsight, how fortunate that my last flight back at the end of December went off without incident, because on that occasion I was carrying a precious cargo – Wim’s granddaughter Danni. It just goes to show and makes you think, doesn’t it 😐

April 10, 2019

Another day

And this is how it started at dawn this morning. I woke up early, couldn’t get back to sleep and got up. And I’m glad I did because otherwise I’d have missed these gorgeous images of the sun just beginning to peep over the horizon. This was the view over the fields and mist-filled valleys in front of my house.

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But after I’d got today’s chores out of the way, the day’s main task was to make a start on stripping out the Savannah’s instrument panel ready for its planned upgrade. The first shot was taken after I’d disconnected the choke cable.

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The next shot was taken as I’d just started to pull the panel front forward having removed all of it’s fixings, the choke cable and the two throttle actuation rods.

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The next three shots were taken from left to right as I began to pull the panel front further out. I was already seeing signs of trouble that were not wholly unexpected after my previous experiences with the Savannah’s wiring. I’ll come back to them in a moment but I’m super glad that I’ll be able to bring all of the behind-panel wiring up to the standard that I’ll be satisfied with.

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The next shot is of the left hand side of the panel after I’d removed the trim and mag switches and the master key switch.

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And here’s a shot showing the signs of trouble that I mentioned above.

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At (1) you can see two bare connections of the 12V power supply cables for the electric turn indicator. As I found when I rewired the cabin overhead switch panel, whoever did the work was quite happy to make cable connections, in this case by soldering, and then just wrap them with insulating tape.

The trouble with that is clearly shown in the image. Over time the insulating tape’s adhesive dries out and the tape drops off, leaving the connections bare. If they had touched while live they would have shorted out with a real risk of causing a fire. Imagine that happening at 3000 feet over water or hostile terrain. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

But that’s not all. At (2) you can see some bare cut wire ends. These happen to be connected to the unused side of a 4-pole switch that has been used to power the electric turn indicator on and off. I don’t know if they are live or not but it doesn’t matter, you just don’t leave bare ends swinging in the wind like that.

Thank gooodness I’ll be able to deal with both of these issues, plus any others that I find during my panel upgrade. That’s as far as I got today because today’s efforts were mainly exploratory to find out what will be involved in removing the panel completely. Now I know I’ll be able hopefully to complete the job tomorrow when I will have all the items that I will need to hand.

April 9, 2019

Back in the barn

But only temporarily! The German supplier to whom I sent back the ATR833S radio has confirmed that it has arrived safely, but although advising that the new items that I wish to order are in stock and ready to be shipped out, hasn’t yet confirmed my revised order. So although I know that I should receive them in the next week or so, the delay is eating into the time available before my prospective April time windows for my flight to the UK.

I therefore have to get moving on the instrument panel redesign that I have planned for 77ASY. The sheet of lacquered aluminium that I ordered last week for the new panel front arrived today and knowing that this would be the case, I took the step over the week-end of moving the aircraft back up into the barn. The reason, as I found out when I did the screen replacement a couple of years or so ago (my, doesn’t time fly!), is that it will be much cleaner and brighter there to do the work.

It’s much too dark in the hangar, even with the doors open, and in any case, I don’t want to have the chore every day before starting work of having to open the doors, especially if it’s raining. Plus I can work in the barn relatively comfortably even if it is raining, just so long as it’s not also blowing a gale, unlike in the hangar where experience has shown that the bare earth floor soon becomes like a quagmire.

Here are some shots that I took of the Savannah in place in the barn together with the Weedhooper and ready for me to start work.

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The first job is to strip out the existing panel, which I hope to be able to start doing tomorrow. As I’ve got to re-use the existing headset extension cables, I’ve decided to make up my own connection cables for both the radio and the transponder.

The latter is dead easy – just a power supply – but it will be much more complicated for the radio as unless I can get the information from Alphatec, I’ll have to work out the jack plug connections for myself. But in any case, if I bought the TQ radio connector cable (199€) I’d end up discarding most of it anyway. That or having another set of connectors away from the D-plug on the rear of the unit, which I want to avoid as it would just be a potential noise source.

As usual, I’ll record progress here in My Trike. I’m looking forward now to getting cracking, and there’ll be even more of an incentive when the new radio and transponder have arrived and I can hold them in my hot little hands 😉

April 9, 2019

Weird gremlins

You have to get used to things suddenly going awry here in France. The fact is, they’re not very good at running things here, things like systems, even just keeping things going that have been running OK for months if not years.

A case in point is our communications system – our fixed phones and internet. We have to accept that our internet only runs at the snail’s-pace speed of 2 MBs, the kind of speed that we kicked out of the UK 10 or more years ago. But what I personally cannot accept is that the telephone system just keeps dying without warning. And when it does, it takes the internet down with it of course.

It’s been doing it regularly for the past few evenings and it’s no good just re-booting the system and hoping that it will come back up again. It doesn’t, and only decides to when it wants to, often the next morning, and in the meantime you just have to accept being cut-off, except for your mobile.

And there’s no point thinking that technology will come to your rescue and that as you’re paying for a 4G connection on your mobile phone, you’ll be able to tether your PC to it and carry on surfing. Sorry, 4G down here also runs at a snail’s pace – slower actually than when your phone is connected via your home internet connection.

But just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse… they do. I’m desperate to sort out my Savannah radio and transponder issues as time is now running out for me to receive the kit and get it installed in advance of my possible time windows for flying to the UK. It didn’t help, of course, changing my plans and deciding to return the radio that I originally ordered and exchange it for a different unit because that lost me over a week when time was already tight. But the latest issue takes the biscuit.

I hung around all day yesterday waiting for an email from Germany telling me that the radio that I had returned had arrived back safely and that I could now amend my order and add a transponder to it. It didn’t come until nearly midnight but I decided that as time is now of the essence, I’d write a reply straight away, which I did. However, when I pressed the ‘Send’ button it transpired that my service provider, Free.fr, has now decided to classify all of my emails as spam and refused to send it.

I tried changing to one of my several other email addresses, but to no avail, my email resolutely remained in my ‘Out’ box. I tried rewriting it instead of just replying to the email that I’d received from the supplier, but still the same result. So well done Free.fr, at a moment when any kind of delay is critical for my plans to fly to the UK in a matter of a few weeks time, you’ve rendered me totally incommunicado.

But not quite. Fortunately I have the option of using a UK-based outgoing SMTP mail server for my micro-trike email address and I was able to get my message off this morning using that address rather than the personal one I’d used previously. Hopefully it won’t be confusing for the supplier when it drops into his ‘In’ box this morning and he’ll deal with it promptly.

But one thing repeatedly reveals itself whenever these kinds of issues arise, as they do frequently. If Mr Macron thinks that France has any kind of chance of grabbing business fom the City of London after Brexit, he’s kidding himself. The French communications system and infrastructure just don’t cut it and are years behind the UK, so the response has to be, ‘Not a Chance Monsieur!’