April 29, 2009

Can’t put my finger on it, but….

The weather forecast here in the South-East for the remainder of this week is not good so as the TAFs for Manston and Lydd were both excellent, I decided to get another flight in today. The signs were not too hot, though as I approached Canterbury. Although it was supposed to be broken cloud at 1800ft and unlimited visibility with a light but variable wind from the south-west, there was actually a huge bank of thick clag looming up with vis reduced significantly by a misty haze! Shows how quickly things can change when you are near the coast.

However, things had improved by the time I arrived at the field and after fuelling up, carrying out the usual checks etc, pretty soon we were airborne and flying in sunny skies with broken cloud. And that’s when the problems started. Again.

It was about 1.45 pm when we took off so at that time of day, you must expect to get bumps and lift when the sun is out, but nothing like this. It was impossible to trim the AX3 for anything like level flight but that was nothing compared to the approach problems I had. There were huge amounts of lift over the copse of trees on finals coupled with bubbles of turbulence that made it impossible to get the aircraft set up for landing and then hold it right the way down. Now that’s fine when you’re an experienced pilot with a good few microlight hours under your belt, but it’s hopeless for someone in the learning phase, like me.

So I’m becoming very frustrated. Admittedly I’ve had a break of 6 months over the Winter but I really don’t think that I’m making the progress I expect. Part of it is me, of course. I’m a lot older now than I was first time around so I have to expect that re-acquiring physical and mental skills will take longer than it did to acquire them from scratch when I was young. But undoubtedly the conditions in which I’m invariably flying are also playing a major part. It seems whenever we get good weather and the sun comes out, we get these horrendously turbulent conditions. It can’t just be coincidence because it has happened every time.

So what’s the answer? At the moment I don’t know. I can’t carry on like this because constantly struggling to maintain control of a bucking aircraft with crossed controls and goodness knows what is doing nothing to help me regain the skills I’ll need to get my NPPL Microlight Licence, which is after all, the point of it all. I’m fed up with having ‘challenging’ approaches the whole time. I just want to have the flying conditions that will allow me to redevelop and perfect the skills I used to have, to consistently produce a glide or powered approach, on demand, time after time. That’s been impossible up to now. How can it be when you’re set up on final at say, 300 feet with the throttle closed for a controlled landing and suddenly the aircraft becomes a bucking bronco with first one wing up, then the other and then you’re suddenly 50, 100 or even more feet above the correct approach path.

So where do I go from here? At the moment I don’t know. If the conditions are a feature of the area because of the large number of fields and woods and the influence of the sea, then it would make sense to try somewhere else and see if it’s better there. Anyway, I’ll give it a few more tries and see if things get any better, but it’s not doing me any good having a flight and coming away every time feeling annoyed and frustrated. I expected regaining my Licence to be hard work, but enjoyable as well. At the moment. the fun seems to have gone out of it and I don’t think it is meant to be like that.

April 25, 2009

Airborne again – thank goodness!

The weather this week was gorgeous, in most of the UK actually, but especially down here in the South-East. I phoned Rosie last weekend to arrange a flight for Thursday and for once I’d got the weather exactly right. Wednesday was slightly warmer, but then because the sun was hotter, there would probably have been more thermals and turbulence. So I was very happy when I shut my office door just after mid-day and jumped in my car to head for the airfield.

I arrived to find Rosie sitting in the sun enjoying a sandwich lunch, so while she was finishing it off, I gave MZEL a pre-flight. I pulled her out into the middle of the area in front of the hangars where I took these pics.

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The Ikarus had been out but MZEL hadn’t flown for quite a few days so I had to check the fuel in the carburettor bowls for water while Rosie did a fuel drain check at the drain point just behind the right undercarriage wheel. All was clear so pretty soon we were all checked and ready to go. I think I mentioned before that I’d made my own AX3 checklist which was a real help. It’s double-sided (so it has large type that I can read without glasses 🙂 ) and laminated, so I can write on it with a chinagraph pencil. That way as well as working as a pre-flight checklist, it can also be used while in the air. Here’s a pic of it.

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We back-tracked runway 02 for take off on 20 and pretty soon we were airborne. Take off not too bad but you have to expect to be a bit rusty after a 6-month lay off, because that’s how long it has been. Did a few climbing and descending manoeuvres ahead and in the turn and it felt very good to be back up in the air. Then we went off for a few circuits and landings.

Considering it’s been 6 months, things didn’t go too badly. Not surprisingly, my height control left a bit to be desired and at one time, with the lift that was around, we gained nearly 200 feet on the down-wind leg! After one landing, Rosie suggested we do a hop. A hop is when she takes off, gets us to something like 40 or 50 feet, cuts the engine to idle and asks you to land it back on what’s left of the runway. This was a totally new exercise for me and I have to confess, I was completely unprepared for it. What a disaster! We landed but all over the place and with a thump. Rosie judiciously decided to leave more hops for another time 😕

We did several right and left hand circuits and landings and things began to feel more comfortable as time went on. On one approach we gained an amazing amount of height over the large copse of trees that is there so at Rosie’s suggestion I side-slipped most of it off. I didn’t think I could get enough off and would have gone round, but Rosie said to watch this, and promptly did another huge side-slip in the other direction, which got us low enough to land. It always amazes me how much dynamic energy these little aircraft lose when you level off with power off, compared to say the Group A singles that I used to fly, so you can come in too high (but not too fast, try) and still land when a landing would have been unthinkable in the Group A.

During all this I noticed one thing of serious importance. While Rosie was doing her big side-slip, I found that because of the tightly laced ankle high boots I was wearing, I couldn’t get my right foot on the rudder pedal while it was extended. This means that in those boots, I would be unable, if necessary, to push the rudder pedal far enough to manoeuvre the aircraft, so they will have to go! That’s the last time I’ll wear them for flying – and would you believe, they are the same ones I wore 30 years ago when I first learnt to fly as a young man (yes, wearing 30 year old boots I’m ashamed to say – and it gets worse…. I also wore them while I was gliding a few years ago as well!)

Anyway, we only had enough fuel for about 1 1/2 hours (with a reserve) so eventually we headed back. Total time was 1 hour 20 mins. I said that this was the first occasion since I began flying with her that the weather was as good at the end of the flght as it was when we took off, and I just hope that 2009 continues in the same way. Rosie said that if I wanted, we could refuel and go again, but I decided not to. Just as well. That evening after all those circuits I was knackered 😕

April 14, 2009

Mission accomplished

Nipped down to Ken’s late yesterday afternoon with the newly cleaned-up carburettors and had them refitted in under quarter of an hour. Pulled trike and trailer out of the workshop and decided that it would be safest to get Our Trike off the trailer before starting the engine. Then the big moment came. Checked all round to ensure everything clear and flipped the Ignition switch to make it live. The switch promptly broke. 😕

Suppose it was to be expected as it was an old switch and it felt dodgy last time I ran the engine. It’s no big deal.

So what to do? Removed the switch and shorted across the two connections with a short length of heavy wire. Then operated the electric starter. Nothing. Tried again. And again. Still nothing.

Then I had to remove and clean the plugs as it was pretty obvious that if they weren’t already oiled up, they soon would be. Sure enough they were very wet, so cleaned, dried and replaced them.

Then the thought occurred to me. I said to Ken that if you thought about it, the Ignition switch was probably an earth, to stop the plugs sparking (ie a ‘break’ rather than a ‘make’) so I said I’d try it without the link between the switch connections. Turned the starter key and it roared into life! 🙂

So that was it – another hour or so’s tinkering and the engine was running more sweetly than it ever had done. Warmed up, full throttle gave us about 6000RPM (needed for take off, and it was hard holding Our Trike back!) and I could now fully close the choke. And we also had a nice even tick-over at around 1500RPM.

That’ll do me 😉

April 10, 2009

Carb clean-up

As I mentioned in my last post, last weekend I nipped down to see what was involved in removing Our Trike’s carburettors and it was so straightforward that I actually came away with them. I decided that as today’s a Bank Holiday for us here (Good Friday, the Friday before Easter), it would be a good time to do the cleaning I want to do with the aim of getting them refitted tomorrow or Sunday (Easter Sunday).

So I got them onto a small table in my conservatory and stripped the first one. Then I decided I’d go and buy the cleaning solvent and other items that I needed to do the job. Usually most of our local shops stay open on Bank Holidays, but not today. I ended up driving miles to a motor accessory shop that’s always open and fortunately, as the first carb was already in bits, managed to get what I wanted.

I couldn’t take any pics while they were in pieces because, quite honestly, my hands were too dirty to pick up my camera, but there were some quite thick deposits in both of the float chambers that I removed. I guess these were as a result of the fuel evaporating time after time over the years and some deposits had fallen off to form small flakes inside the chamber bowls. So it was a job worth doing as these could have worked their way through and caused a fuel blockage. I also stripped all the other parts, thoroughly cleaned them with carb cleaning solvent and made sure the jets and any other holes were clean and clear by running them through, as far as possible, with a small strand of copper wire that I had previously extracted from a short piece of electrical flex.

The job went pretty well and here’s a pic of the final result – a pair of carburettors, lovely and clean, inside and out.

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Now need to get hold of two new Jubilee clips to hold the air filters on as the ones being used at present are very poor quality and the screws are slipping before they are fully tight, which is totally unacceptable. Not a problem. Then I have to decide whether to wire-lock them on or leave it to be done later. I’ll probably do it, but although I’ll need to drill tiny holes in the filters to take the wire, I ptobably won’t drill holes in the carbs themselves. Having thought about it, a better approach will be to make up a tiny bracket for each carb to take the wire that will be held on by the float chamber screw that closest to the filter. If I choose the positions carefully, there will always be the option later of drilling an appropriate place on each carb (appropriate = drilling through a solid bit of the carb body and not into a passageway or something important!)

So that was it for today. Now looking forward to getting them back on and running the engine. Tuning them as a matched pair is likely ot be a bit more challenging, though 😕

April 4, 2009

Hmmmm… what next?

Well, March has come and gone. It wasn’t much of a month, to be honest. Not much to shout about at all. Had the odd few days of good weather, and even though it was still pretty cold, a flex-wing or two occasionally flew over my house. Wonder what this year has in store?

Just been down to Ken’s and removed Our Trike’s carburettors. They’re now down in my garage and I hope that in the next few days, I’ll be able to strip them and give them a thorough clean. That should hopefully cure the problem of the engine stopping whenever you close the choke.

We’ve been talking about what to do with Our Trike. A few months back I got hold of a trailer and recently Ken had it adapted to take Our Trike. Saw Our Trike on it today for the first time and it looks pretty good. I’ll take some pics later. Just needs a coat of blue Hammerite paint to finish it off and then Trike and Trailer together will make a nice package.

Although they may have increased a bit now that Spring’s here, prices are still at a very low level and even if we get a ‘Ticket’ (Permit to Fly) for Our Trike, there’s no doubt that we’ll not get our purchase price back if we put it on the market and are successful in selling it. So what to do?

There’s an argument that says, as suggested by one adviser, that we should get the whole package completed and looking tidy and then put it on Ebay with a modest reserve to ensure that we don’t end up giving it away. There’s a lot to be said for doing that. It’s been estimated that it could cost us something like a further £600 to cover Registration, Paperwork, Testing and Permitting, and if we then sold it after getting the Permit, we’d have no chance at all of seeing that money back again. So better to sell it as it stands and let the new owner, who would be committed to flex-wings (whereas both Ken and I now want to fly fixed-wings) incur those costs. Seems like a sound suggestion I think.

Anyway, I’ve now got to get the carbs sorted and get them back on again, and hopefully working properly. Ken also says he knows someone who might be interested in taking Our Trike off our hands, but we’ll jump that hurdle a bit later on, when everything’s back on and working.

But it would be a shame to let it go for peanuts as it’s a good-looking old machine. I’d like to have flown it, but I don’t see that happening now. When I’ve got my Licence and am happlily buzzing around in an AX3 or whatever, I don’t think I’ll mind too much, though. 😉